The Forty Holy Martyrs were amongst the most greatly venerated Martyrs of early times. They were forty soldiers at Sebaste, a city of Armenia, who in the year 320 gave a singular instance of faith in Jesus Christ, and bravery under suffering. After being often remanded to a horrid prison-house, bound in fetters, and their mouths bruised with stones, they were ordered out in the depth of winter, stripped naked, and put upon a frozen pool, to die of cold during the night. The prayer of them all was the same : O Lord, forty of us have begun to run in the race ; grant that all forty of us may receive the crown ; let not one be wanting at the last. * When the keepers were all asleep, and the watchman only was awake, the latter saw on of them whose courage could not bear the cold, which same came and leaped into a warm bath that stood ready at hand. Whereby the other thirty-nine were sorrowed grievously. Nevertheless God suffered not that their prayer should return unto them void ; for the watchman thereupon stripped himself of his clothes, and with a loud voice confessed himself a Christian, and joined the Martyrs. When the pagans knew that the watchman also had become a Christian, they went with clubs and brake the legs of the forty men. * Under this torment they died, except Melito who was the youngest. Now his mother stood by, land when she saw that his legs were broken, but that he was yet alive, she cried out to him ; My son, have patience but a little longer ; behold how Christ standeth at the door to help thee. When she saw the bodies of all the others put upon carts and taken away to be buried, and that her son was left behind, because the multitude wickedly hoped that being but a lad, if he lived, he might yet be drawn to commit idolatry, the holy mother took him on her own shoulders and bravely followed behind the carts laden with the bodies of the Martyrs. In her arms Melito gave up his soul to God, and the mother who loved him so well laid his body with her own hands upon the pile, with those of the other Martyrs, that, as they had all been one in faith and strength, in death they might not be divided. Their bodies were burned, but their ashes were rescued and laid in an honorable sepulchre. These holy Martyrs are spoken of by saints Basil the Great, Gregory of Nyssa, Gaudentius of Brescia, and by many other writers, and a copy of the document or testament which the Martyrs themselves executed on the verge of martyrdom is still extant.
Collect:Grant, we beseech thee, Almighty God: that, like as we have known thy glorious Martyrs to be constant in their confession of thy Faith, so we may feel the succour of their loving intercession, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.