In the year 313 St Constantine the Great issued an edict granting
Christians's religious freedom, and officially recognizing Christianity
as equal with paganism under the law. But his co-ruler Licinius was
a pagan, and he decided to stamp out Christianity in his part of the
Empire. As Licinius prepared his army to fight Constantine, he
decided to remove Christians from his army, fearing mutiny.
One of the military commanders of that time in the Armenian city of Sebastia was Agricola, a
zealous champion of idolatry. Under his command was a company of forty Cappadocians, brave
soldiers who had distinguished themselves in many battles. When these Christian soldiers refused
to offer sacrifice to the pagan gods, Agricola locked them up in prison. The soldiers occupied
themselves with prayer and psalmody, and during the night they heard a voice saying, “Persevere
until the end, then you shall be saved.”
On the following morning, the soldiers were again taken to Agricola. This time the pagan tried
flattery. He began to praise their valor, their youth, and strength, and once more he urged them to
renounce Christ and thereby win themselves the respect and favor of their emperor.
Seven days later, the renowned judge Lincius arrived at Sebastia and put the soldiers on trial. The
saints steadfastly answered, “Take not only our military insignia but also our lives, since nothing
is more precious to us than Christ God.” Lnicius then ordered his servants to stone the holy martyrs.
But the stones missed the saints and returned to strike those who had thrown them. One stone
thrown by Licius hit Agricola in the face, smashing his teeth. The torturers realized that the saints
were guarded by some invisible power. In prison, the soldiers spent the night in prayer and again
they heard the voice of the Lord comforting them: “He who believes in me, though he die, yet shall
he live (John 11:25). Be brave and fear not, for you shall obtain imperishable crowns.”
On the following day the judge repeated the interrogation in front of the torturer, but the soldiers
It was winter, and there was a severe frost. They lined up the holy soldiers, threw them into a lake
near the city, and set a guard to prevent them from coming out of the water. In order to break the
will of the martyrs, a warm bathhouse was set up on the shore. During the first hour of the night,
when the cold had become unbearable, one of the soldiers made a dash for the bathhouse, but no
sooner had he stepped over the threshold, than he fell down dead.
During the third hour of the night, the Lord sent consolation to the martyrs. Suddenly there was
light, the ice melted away, and the water in the lake became warm. All the guards were asleep,
except for Aglaius, who was keeping watch. Looking at the lake he saw that a radiant crown had
appeared over the head of each martyr. Aglaius counted thirty-nine crowns and realized that the
soldier who fled had lost his crown.
Aggias then woke up the other guards, took off his uniform and said to them, “I too am a Christian,”
and he joined the martyrs. Standing in the water he prayed, “Lord God, I believe in You, in Whom
these soldiers believe. Add me to their number, and make me worthy to suffer with Your servants.”
Then a fortieth crown appeared over his head.
In the morning, the torturers saw with surprise that the martyrs were still alive, and their guard
Aggias was glorifying Christ together with them. They led the soldiers out of the water and broke
their legs. During this horrible execution the mother of the youngest of the soldiers, Meliton,
pleaded with her son not to persevere until death.
They put the bodies of the martyrs on a cart and committed them to fire. Young Meliton was still
breathing, and they left him to lie on the ground. His mother then picked up her son, and on her
own shoulders she carried him behind the cart. When Meliton drew his last breath, his mother put
him on the cart with the bodies of his fellow sufferers. The bodies of the saints were tossed in the
fire, and their charred bones were thrown into the water, so that Christians would not gather them
Three days later the martyrs appeared in a dream to St Peter, Bishop of Sebastia, and commanded
him to bury their remains. The bishop together with several clergy gathered up the relics of the
glorious martyrs by night and buried them with honor.
The Forty Martyrs of Sepastia are known in Armenian as Karasoon Mangoonk.