This Saturday, March 17, the Armenian Church commemorates the Forty Martyrs of Sebastia. Although the backgrounds and identities of the forty young soldiers are not certain, it is believed they came from Lesser Armenia and served in the Roman army. According to St. Basil of Caesarea, forty Christian soldiers refused to worship the Roman emperor while stationed in Sebastia in Armenia in 320. They remained faithful to their Christian faith. The soldiers were tried and condemned to death by stoning. Miraculously, when the sentence was being carried out, the stones would not reach the condemned soldiers, but would instead come back striking those throwing the stones. The soldiers were then thrown into a frozen lake and forced to stay there, unless they renounced their faith. Warm baths were prepared for anyone who would recant. Of the forty, only one gave up. When he did, another soldier, moved by the example of the suffering Christians, declared himself a Christian and took the apostate’s place. All forty died.
Some of our great Church Fathers like Basil, Gregory of Nyssa, Ephraim the Assyrian, and Sisian of Sebastia, wrote panegyrics about the forty martyrs, who are remembered each year during Lent on the Saturday following the median day of Lent. The Armenians have built and named churches in memory of the Forty Martyrs in various parts of the world.