August 4, 2010

The Seven Holy Youths of Ephesus and their Contemporary Veneration

The Seven Holy Youths of Ephesus (Feast Day - August 4 and October 22); 
Icon from the Monastery of St. Nicholas Philanthropinon in Ioannina (16th cent.)

The Seven Youths hid themselves in a certain cave near Ephesus in the year 250, to escape the persecution of Decius. By divine grace, a sleep came upon them and they slept for 184 years, until the reign of Saint Theodosius the Younger, when the doctrine of the resurrection was being assailed by heretics. They then awoke, that is, were resurrected, confirming in the sight of all the bodily resurrection; and again after a short time, by divine command, they reposed in the Lord in the year 434.

Contemporary Veneration of the Seven Holy Sleepers Among Orthodox

Pious devotion to the Seven Holy Sleepers of Ephesus is more common in the private devotions of Orthodox Christians than in public. Though one finds remnants of churches and monasteries dedicated to them in the first thousand years of Christianity, it is not popular these days to dedicate churches to them. One would be hard-pressed to find a church dedicated to them today or even find an icon of them in churches, though they do exist. Typically icons of the Holy Seven Youths are found in homes, and in Greece especially, they are placed in homes when one suffers from sleeplessness. In fact, in the Euchologion (Book of Needs) there is a prayer for those suffering from insomnia titled "Prayer for the Sick and Those Who Cannot Sleep, Known as that of the Seven Holy Youths". This prayer is not very old, as it mentions St. Athanasios of Athos (c. 950).


By St. Nikolai Velimirovich

When the last rays of the sun turned the west bloody red,
Seven Youths, to God prayed,
That, on the morrow again find themselves alive and healthy,
Before Emperor Decius, brought forth to torture.
And lay down to sleep a long dream, a deep dream,
Time walked by a wide step.

One morning, from the east, the sun dawned
And the Seven from their deep sleep awakened.
And Jamblichus the youngest, to Ephesus hurried
To see, to hear, about everything he inquired,
Does Decius, even them, seek to slaughter,
And bread to buy for the Seven of them.

But behold, what kind of miracle: this is not the gate!
And even the town is totally different!
Everywhere, beautiful churches, domes, crosses,
Jamblichus asks himself: are those not dreams?
Nowhere a familiar face, nowhere kinsmen,
There are no persecutions; there are no martyrs.

"Tell me brethren, the name of this town,
And tell me the name of the emperor, who now reigns?"
Thus Jamblichus inquires. The people, at him, look,
And about him, everyone judges differently.

"This town is Ephesus, now and before,
In Christ, reigns Emperor Theodosius."
This Antipater [The Consul] heard and [Martin] the graying bishop,
The entire town was perplexed,
Everyone, to the cave hurries.
And saw the miracle, glorified God,
And the resurrected servants of Christ the Resurrected One.