The 40 Martyrs of Sebaste refused to deny Jesus Christ, even though it cost their lives.
Emperor Constantine issued the Edict of Milan in 313, granting Christians freedom of worship. However, not all of his military commanders were ready to accept it and decided instead to eliminate any Christians within their ranks.
Around the year 320, a commander named Agricola from the Armenian city of Sebaste despised Christians and required all under his command to make a sacrifice to the gods. A group of Christian soldiers confronted Agricola and refused to deny their faith.
Agricola tried to lure the men into making the sacrifice, offering wonderful promises and favors to those who renounced their faith. This did not dissuade the men, who continued in their defiance. This outraged Agricola, who threw them into prison. While there one of the soldiers gave an exhortation, encouraging his fellow soldiers to remain steadfast.
God so ordained that we made friends with each other in this temporary life; let us try not to separate even in eternity; just as we have been found plea sing to a mortal king, so let us strive to be worthy of the favor of the immortal King, Christ our God.
They tried to torture the soldiers but they were miraculously protected. Desiring to end their insubordination, Agricola sent the soldiers to stand naked on top of a frozen pond with a warm bath nearby for anyone who wanted to renounce their faith.
Forty men freely went on the pond, stripped down, and prayed, “Lord, we are forty who are engaged in this combat; grant that we may be forty crowned, and that not one be wanting to this sacred number.” One of the soldiers lost courage and ran to the warm bath.
However, a guard who was present to watch over the men saw a heavenly vision over the pond, “of blessed spirits descending from heaven on the martyrs, and distributing, as from their king, rich presents and precious garments.” After seeing such a sight the soldier took of his garments and ran to join the others in martyrdom.
The 40 men died the next morning and their bodies were burned. Their story was quickly spread throughout the Empire and their heroic faith inspired many.
The Forty Martyrs of Sebaste are celebrated in the East on March 9 and in the West on March 10.