August 4, 2017

The Patient Impassioned Suffering of the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus (St. Gregory of Tours)

By St. Gregory of Tours

(Glory of the Martyrs)

1. With Christian persecutions and idol worship the world over, seven noblemen were in the palace of the King at whose petty sins of ordering God to be worshipped through lifeless images they felt divine remorse and converted; after their baptism were they renamed. When Decius came to Ephesus, he ordered that Christians be persecuted to the elimination, if possible, of their faith. He burned them amidst their pleas and fear. They burned victims and the whole city went dark with fumes. The seven champions for Christ fell crying with dust pouring over their head, begging pity of God looking down from heaven that he not, in being conquered, let his people die like this.

2. When this was discovered, enemies to the Christian name went & told the Princeps: “The command of your realm, oh King, has gone throughout the world and none dare go against your rule; all offer daily sacrifice to the immortal gods — except for seven men whom you especially are fond of and adore.” The imperial commander said: “And who are these?” They replied, Maximian the son of a local magistrate & his companions.” The emperor was furious and the men were brought in chains before him with tearful looks and dirt upon their heads as they had been when praying in God’s sight. The Emperor saw them and said: “Has such great treachery of your guilty mind taken hold of that you dare defy our will and do not offer due sacrifice to the immortal gods? I say to you, by my glory: And we know about different types of torture.” The men replied: “God himself created the sky and earth & sea, we give him sacrifice everyday in praise and for his name are we prepared to die. But the powers which you urge we should adore in the name of the gods, we know do not exist at all. Because lewd statues, since they are adorned by the art of the artisans, are able to take no use of animating them, and so even those who love them are condemned by divine law that the makers become like the doers as they’re their lovers.”

3. Then the Emperor in a rage said to them all taken aback: “Be gone you scoundrels! Until you pay the price for the crime of this insult in our palace and are reconciled by the pity of the gods, you enjoy the bloom of youth. Because it is wrong that torments be applied to such charming beauty of body.” And with the iron wrenched from their neck, he ordered them to depart as free men until he himself should return to Ephesus. And so with this exception granted as favor in departing, the seven men (while the Emperor goes to another town) go home where a guard was at watch, grab their gold and silver, clothes and all of their furnishing. When this is given to the poor, they go off into a cave on Mt. Celion, carrying a little change for the necessities of life and they select Malchus to go in secret to the city to buy food and discern what the Emperor decided about his daily edict on Christians.

4. Then with the Saints under guard in prison each, and the most wicked Emperor talking constantly to the idle, returned to Ephesus and with the Christians seized for questioning as usual, he asked about Maximian and his family. The parents said that they were shut up in a cave on Mt. Celion, from which they could easily be dug up if there was a royal command of the Emperor. When the men learned this (Malchus told them), they were so scared they threw themselves to the ground and cried out with tears that god, as their protector in faith keep them from the sight of the most unjust Emperor. When they said this, god foresaw that they were in need of [assistance]; he heard their prayer and took up their souls; & lying on the earth they sleep sweet in slumber.

5. Then the angry Emperor snapped at his men: “Come and close the cavern’s mouth so those rising up to disobey the gods have no way to leave!” And two Christians, Theodore and Ruben went ahead of the men who were supposed to block up the cave’s opening and they secretly prayed to Christ about the Emperor’s threats. These men wrote on some heavy stones the whole history of the Saints, placed them just inside the entrance to the cave with no one’s knowledge and said: “When ever God wants to show the peoples the holy incense of his own athletic champions so they might teach these things they suffered them in his name.” And when arriving, those who had been sent and who roll forward great big stones closed off the cave’s ingress and departed saying, “Let them die here starving and eat themselves up as their own food: Those who hated and refused to pour our gods the proper ceremonial offerings.”

6. After this, when Decius was dead, through generations following, the highest Imperial power was bestowed upon Theodosius, Arcadius’ son, in whose era the filthy sect of the Sadduccees wanted to turn aside the hope of resurrection, (justified their claim) saying, “Because: The dead don’t rise again.” Theodore and Gaius the patriarchs, as the head of this heresy, even wanted their Emperor’s very soul to join them in this faithlessness. And so did it happen that on this account was the Emperor so stricken and brought low down to earth, he begged the Lord that whatever should follow, let it come on as he deserved. Then was Dalius at Ephesus who had a great herd of flocks he was tending on Mt. Celion and ordered his serving boys: “Prepare a fold for our sheep, because this is a real good place for our flocks to graze.” But he didn’t know what was going on in the cave. While the lads were performing their task and rolled back the massive rocks, they came to the mouth of a cavern and found great big stones which they removed and made a wall, but did not go inside the cave.

7. Then the Lord ordered the life’s spirits to be returned into the bodies of the saints and they rose up and greeted each other as usual — thinking they had slept one full night — they sat up in good spirits and strength. Well, not only were their bodies charming and gorgeous, but even their clothes were entirely unscathed just as many years before they had been covered in them. They turned to Malchus and said: “Say, what are we, our brother; what did the Emperor say tonight? Are we being sought out? Tell, so we may know.” He said to them, “You are looked and asked for to sacrifice to gods.” & Maximian told him: “We all are ready to die for Christ. But take our money & go buy us some food and listen carefully: Bring back what news you hear to us.” And so he took the money and left with silver coins inscribed in the name of Decius. When he came near the town gate, he saw the sign of the cross above and was struck dumb with amazement, saying to himself: “But how, from yesterday after the sun set when I left the city, has Decius’ heart changed; so that he strengthened the gate with cross’s sign?” He entered the city, heard men proclaiming Jesus’ name and saw a church and priests running through town, the walls made newly strong — and even more amazed — he spoke he himself, You think it’s, you entered another town? And strolling through the market held on each ninth day, he brought up his silver coins, praying food be given him.

8. But when they saw the silver coins, they said: “This man has found an ancient treasure trove; and he’s got silver from Decius’ times!” As Malchus heard this, he turned thoughts about in his heart, saying, “What do they covet these old things for? Is it possible I’m watching a dream?” But some men grabbed him and led to the bishop Marinus and to the city’s Prefect of police. He said to him: “Where are you from; or what area have you come from?” He said, “From Ephesus: But isn’t this city the Ephesians’ which I recall I saw yesterday?” “The silver coins you hold,” said the Prefect: “Where did you get them?” He replied, “I got them from my father’s home.” The Prefect said: “And where’s your father?” & he named his parents, but none recognized. The Prefect said “Tell us where you got these pieces of silver: They are from Decius’ time, & he is dead for many years. Clearly from somewhere, since you have come to trick the wisemen of Ephesus, and so will you suffer under torture until you disclose the truth.” Malchus was terrified to silence and said through tears, “I want to beg one piece of proof from you, if you think it worth: The Emperor Decius, who persecutes Christians in this town, where is he? The bishop Marinus replied: “He’s not in this city, most beloved — my child, a man who recalls anew the times of Decius: For he’s been settled & gone for many years before.”

9. Hearing this, Malchus — talking to himself — told the bishop “I thought I had slept with my brothers for but a single night; but as I now find out, the heavens have passed a great many years above our slumber. And now has the Lord ordained me with my brethren so he may teach every generation, because the re-arising of the dead has come to be: Therefore, follow me and I will show my brothers to you, who have been resurrected with me.” While Malchus was telling his brethren what happened to him in the city, the bishop entered and found the chest sealed by two silver signs; he stepped outside and, calling on the city’s multitude along with the Prefect, opened the seals & found two lead writing-tablets in which was written the whole story of their suffering just as we retold above; they recognized, because the things were true, what they were told by Malchus.

10. Then did they find the blessed Martyrs sitting in a corner of the cave with their faces so flowery red and shining like the sun in righteousness, since nothing had been taken away, either of their clothing, or from their bodies. Moreover, the bishop Marinus fell before their feet with the Prefect and did honor them & the whole crowd glorified God, who is worthy showing such a blessed miracle to his servants. The Saints related in truth to the bishop and all the folks what had happened in Decius’ era. True, the bishop and Prefect sent messengers to tell the Emperor Theodosius: Celebrate as soon as now! You can if you want to see incredible miracle which is revealed by God presenting to your generations in time. If you do come, you will know the hope of resurrection is practicable in truth, just like the guarantee of his Ministry’s promise.

11. The Emperor Theodosius heard this & leapt for joy and said, stretching out his hand to God, I thank you Lord, Jesus Christ, you son of justice who are worthy of sprinkling the mortals’ shadows with the with the light of your truth; I give you thanks, who did not permit your lamp of my thanks-giving in praise to be taken from the lands by the shades of doubtful words. And saying these, his horses were spurred on in the highest haste went he to Ephesus. But the bishop with the Prefect and the whole population of the city departed to meet the Emperor; & while they all climbed up the saintly Martyrs went out to the august Father’s path and their faces became like as the sun shining in virtuousness; Augustus [the Emperor] fell to the earth and glorified them to worship God. & rising up, he kissed them and wept upon their shoulder & one of them said, “So I see your faces just as if I saw Jesus Christ, my Lord when he called Lazarus from the tomb; I give boundless thanks to him because he did not deceive me in hoping for eternal life.

12. Then Maximian replied, “Emperor, please know that Lord ordered us to arise again for strengthening your faith. Therefore understand believing always in him, because the resurrection of the dead will occur as you see us testify after our resurrection with you, and narrate the great works of God.” People said a lot of other things along with him, but they lay down again and slept upon the earth, handing their souls to the undying King and god All-powerful. The Emperor saw these things, fell upon them and crying, kissed them; brought his own clothes & placed them over these saints and ordered golden coffins to be made that they be hidden in. But on this night the Saints appeared to him and said: "Don’t do it; leave us above the ground instead: From it the Lord God will awaken us on the great day of Resurrection for all flesh." Then the Emperor constructed them a marvelous church and there made a place of refuge for the needy & poor, commanding that they feed from the public’s store. And when the bishops were called together, he celebrated a glorious Holy Day of the Saints and everyone worshipped God whose honor unflawed is in the Trinity and grace for centuries of generations. Amen.