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March 9, 2010

Discovery of the Relics of the Forty Holy Martyrs

Holy Forty Martyrs of Sebaste (Feast Day - March 9)

A woman by the name Eusebia, who was a deaconess of the Macedonian sect, had a house and garden outside the walls of Constantinople, in which she kept the holy remains of forty soldiers, who had suffered martyrdom under Licinius at Sebaste in Armenia.

When she felt death approaching, she bequeathed the aforesaid place to some Orthodox monks, and bound them by oath to bury her there, and to hew out separately a place above her head at the top of her coffin, and to deposit the relics of the martyrs with her, and to inform no one. The monks did so; but in order to render due honor to the martyrs secretly, according to the agreement with Eusebia, they formed a subterranean house of prayer near her tomb. But open to view, an edifice was erected above the foundation, enclosed with baked bricks, and a secret descent from it to the martyrs.

Soon after, Caesar, a man among those in power, who had formerly been advanced to the dignity of consul and prefect, lost his wife, and caused her to be interred near the tomb of Eusebia; for the two ladies had been knit together by the most tender friendship, and had been of one mind on all doctrinal and religious subjects. Caesar was hence induced to purchase this place so that he might be entombed near his wife. The aforesaid monks settled elsewhere, and without divulging anything about the martyrs.

After this, when the building was demolished, and when the earth and refuse were scattered about, the whole place was smoothed off. For Caesar himself erected there a magnificent temple to God to the honor of Thyrsus, the martyr. It appears probable that God designedly willed the aforesaid place to disappear, and so long a time to elapse in order that the discovery of the martyrs might be regarded as more marvelous and a more conspicuous event, and as a proof of the Divine favor towards the discoverer.

The discoverer was, in fact, no other than the Empress Pulcheria, the sister of the emperor. The admirable Thyrsus appeared to her three times, and revealed to her those concealed beneath the earth; and commanded that they should be deposited near his tomb, in order that they might share in the same position and honor. The forty martyrs themselves also appeared to her, arrayed in shining robes. But the occurrence seemed too marvelous to be credible, and altogether impossible; for the aged of clergy of that region, after having frequently prosecuted inquiries, had not been able to indicate the position of the martyrs, nor indeed had any one else.

At length, when everything was hopeless, Polychronius, a certain presbyter, who had formerly been a servant in the household of Caesar, was reminded by God that the locality in question had once been inhabited by monks. He therefore went to the clergy of the Macedonian sect to inquire concerning them. All the monks were dead, with the exception of one, who seemed to have been preserved in life for the express purpose of pointing out the spot where the relics of the holy martyrs were concealed. Polychronius questioned him closely on the subject, and finding that, on account of the agreement made with Eusebia, his answers were somewhat undecided, he made known to him the Divine revelation and the anxiety of the empress, as well as the failure of her recourses. The monk then confessed that God had declared the truth to the empress; for at the time when he was an overgrown boy, and was taught the monastic life by its aged leaders, he remembered exactly that the relics of the martyrs had been deposited near the tomb of Eusebia; but that the subsequent lapse of time, and the changes which had been carried on in that locality, deprived him of the power of recalling to his recollection whether the relics had been deposited beneath the church or in any other spot. And further said Polychronius, "I have not suffered a like lapse of memory, for I remember that I was present at the interment of the wife of Caesar, and, as well as I can judge from the relative situation of the high road, I infer that she must have been buried beneath the ambo; this is the platform for the readers. Therefore," subjoined the monk, "it must be near the remains of Caesar's wife that the tomb of Eusebia must be sought; for the two ladies lived on terms of the closest friendship and intimacy, and mutually agreed to be interred beside each other."

When it was necessary to dig, according to the aforesaid intimations, and to track out the sacred relics, and the empress had learned the facts, she commanded them to begin the work. On digging up the earth by the ambo, the coffin of Caesar's wife was discovered according to the conjecture of Polychronius. At a short distance on the side they found the pavement of baked bricks, and a marble tablet of equal dimensions, each the measure of the bricks, under which the coffin of Eusebia was disclosed; and close by was an oratory, elegantly enclosed with white and purple marble. The cover of the tomb was in the form of a holy table, and at the summit, where the relics were deposited, a small orifice was visible. A man attached to the palace, who happened to be standing by, thrust a cane which he held in his hand into the orifice; and on withdrawing the cane he held it to his nose, and inhaled a sweet odor of myrrh, which inspired the workmen and bystanders with fresh confidence.

When they had eagerly opened the coffin, the remains of Eusebia were found, and near her head was the prominent part of the tomb fashioned exactly in the form of a chest, and was concealed within by its own cover; and the iron which enclosed it on each side at the edges was firmly held together by lead. In the middle, the same orifice again appeared, and still more clearly revealed the fact of the relics being concealed within. As soon as the discovery was announced, they ran to the church of the martyr, and sent for smiths to unfasten the iron bars, and easily drew off the lid. A great many perfumes were found thereunder, and among the perfumes two silver caskets were found in which lay the holy relics.

Then the princess returned giving thanks to God for having accounted her worthy of so great a manifestation and for attaining the discovery of the holy relics. After this she honored the martyrs with the costliest casket; and on the conclusion of a public festival which was celebrated with befitting honor and with a procession to the accompaniment of psalms, and at which I was present, the relics were placed alongside of the godlike Thyrsus. And others who were present can also bear testimony that these things were done in the way described, for almost all of them still survive. And the event occurred much later, when Proclus governed the church of Constantinople.

Sozomen, Ecclesiastical History, Book IX, Ch. 2