Friday, July 27, 2012

The Seven Holy Sleepers

This is a homily of Fr. Eric M. Andersen, Sacred Heart in Gervais, OR for July 27th, 2012.

The Seven Holy Sleepers of Ephesus

The Roman Martyrology for July 27th, the sixth day in the Kalends of August:

At Ephesus, the birthday of the Seven Sleepers: Saints Maximian, Malchus, Martinian, Denis, John, Serapion and Constantine.
And elsewhere, many other holy martyrs, confessors, and holy virgins.
Thanks be to God.

Sometimes a quick perusal of the Roman Martyrology can be too quick. We can easily overlook such an entry as this. When I looked over the various entries for today, I didn’t notice this one. It is the 7th entry for July 27th. But what I just read to you is the English version from 1961. The newest version of the Roman Martyrology from 2004 has never been translated into English. It is available only to us in Latin. So, I usually check both just to see if there are any new saints that I recognize. Well, when I looked at the entries for today in the Latin edition, this moved up to the first entry. I noticed it because it speaks of the Dormientium, of those who are sleeping. It was such an interesting word to use. It is a very short entry and easy to translate. This is what it says in the 2004 version:

The Commemoration of the seven holy sleepers of Ephesus, who, so it is told, consummated martyrdom, and rest in peace, expecting the day of resurrection.

I decided to see if I could find anything out about these seven sleepers. I checked a couple of sources and found a chapter in the Golden Legend of Jacobus Voragine.

He has a chapter about these seven sleepers. Fascinating!

Here is the story (from Voragine, The Golden Legend. Vol II. Ch. 101: The Seven Sleepers):

“The emperor Decius, who decreed the persecution of Christians, came to Ephesus and gave orders to build temples in the center of the city, so that all the people might join him in worshiping false gods. He further ordered that all Christians were to be rounded up and put in chains, either to sacrifice to the gods or to die; and the Christians in Ephesus were so afraid of the threatened punishments that friends betrayed friends, fathers their sons, and sons their fathers” (p. 15).

“…seven young Christian men named Maximianus, Malchus, Marcianus, Dionysius, Johannes, Serapion, and Constantinus who “held high rank in the palace…refused to sacrifice to the idols. Instead they hid in their houses and devoted themselves to fasting and prayer. For this they were denounced and brought before Decius. They affirmed their Christian faith, but the emperor gave them time to come to their senses before he came back to the city” (15).

These young men acted fast. They distributed all their wealth to the poor and together, all seven of them agreed to take refuge on Mount Celion where they would live a holy life. Among them, Malchus was chosen to dress as a beggar and go into town each week for supplies and food. Meanwhile Decius returned to Ephesus commanding that the seven be brought before his presence and forced to sacrifice. The seven men hiding in the mountain cave ate their last meal in fear and trembling and with full stomachs, “by the will of God, fell asleep” (15).

They were betrayed and denounced for having given away their wealth to the poor and by deserting the city. Decius sent his men to wall up the cave with stones so that they would die of hunger.

Two Christian men, “Theodorus and Rufinus, wrote an account of the martyrdom and left it concealed among the stones that closed the cave” (15-16). “Three hundred seventy two years later…in the thirtieth year of the reign of…the Most Christian emperor…Theodosius, there was an outbreak of heresy and widespread denial of the resurrection of the dead.”

In that year, a good citizen of Ephesus decided to build a shelter for sheepherders on Mount Celion. He hired stone masons and they found a good collection of very fine stones stacked very deliberately in a pile outside of a cave.

Click image for more info about the cave
[Meanwhile] Malchus and his companions awoke to the light of day and were gravely concerned about the actions being taken by the Emperor Decius. Malchus was sent into town as usual to buy extra loaves of bread for their sustenance should they be forced to stop making these trips into the city.

But the city which Malchus entered was visibly changed. It was the same city, but he was disoriented. There were notable changes, such as huge crosses on all the imperial property, and he kept hearing people talking and using the name Christ. He went to a bread baker to buy bread “but when he offered his money, the sellers, surprised, told each other that this youth had found some ancient treasure. Seeing them talking about him, Malchus thought they were getting ready to turn him over to the emperor” (16). He became afraid and told them to keep the bread and the money, but they thought he was suspicious and caught hold of him.

Word of this reached St. Martin, the bishop, and he ordered the citizens to bring this youth and the money to him. The bishop looked at the coins. “The inscription on the coins (was) more than 370 years old. The bishop and his proconsul questioned him and Malchus was so confused. They too were confused. The youth told the bishop that he and his friends were hiding from the Emperor Decius, and he would take the bishop and show him the cave.

“The bishop thought this over, then told the proconsul that God was trying to make them see something through this youth. So they set out with him and a great crowd followed them. Malchus went ahead to alert his friends, and the bishop came after him and found among the stones the letter sealed with two silver seals. He called the people together and read the letter to them. They marveled at what they heard, and, seeing the seven saints of God, their faces like roses in bloom, sitting in the cave, all fell to their knees and gave glory to God” (17).

The emperor Theodosius was summoned. When he arrived, “their faces shone like the sun. The emperor prostrated himself before them and gave praise to God, then rose and embraced each one and wept over them, saying: ‘Seeing you thus, it is as if I saw the Lord raising Lazarus from the dead!’” St. Maximinus proclaimed that God must have done this, without their knowledge, “so that you may believe without the shadow of a doubt in the resurrection of the dead” (18).

Then, while all looked on, the seven saints bowed their heads to the ground, fell asleep, and yielded up their spirits as God willed that they should do. The cave was embellished with guilded stones (18).

Jacobus Voragine, who presented this story as it is, added this note at the very end:

“There is reason to doubt that these saints slept for 372 years, because they arose in the year of the Lord 448. Decius reigned in 252 and his reign lasted only fifteen monts, so the saints must have slept only 195 years” (18).

Thus far the story of the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus…

Thanks be to God. 

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