Several clergy joined the dean and seminarians in commemorating the Feast of the Forty Martyrs of Sebastia on Saturday evening, March 5 in the seminary chapel. During the solemn Evening Service (Yeregoyan Zham) V. Rev. Fr. Daniel Findikyan lifted high above his head a golden reliquary containing a tiny relic of the Forty Martyrs, as the seminarians sang the hymn (sharagan) of the day.
Commemorated on the fourth Saturday of Great Lent in the calendar of the Armenian Church, the Forty Martyrs were Armenian Christians who were soldiers in the eastern garrison of the Roman army during the reign of Emperor Licinius in 320 AD. At this time the Emperor had initiatied a major persecution of Christians throughout the Empire.
Young Armenian Soldiers Sacrifice their Lives for Christ
When the Armenian youths were found to be Christian, and repeatedly refused to renounce their faith, they were subjected to grueling and horrible tortures. Finally, they were stripped of their clothing and cast into the freezing waters of a pond on the outskirts of the western Armenian town of Sebastia on a bitter cold winter night. To further tantalize the youths, guards had set up cauldrons of hot water on the shore, hoping to lure the young men to reject their public profession of Christianity. One of the youths did yield but as he set foot on solid ground he collapsed dead.
Early the next morning, the guards were instructed to collect the remains of the forty martyrs and to burn them to prevent other Christians from being emboldened by the Christian conviction of the Armenian youths. The ashes were cast back into the pond. Nevertheless, local Christians harvested the holy relics of the martyrs, which radiated a bright light from beneath the water.
One of these relics is now in the protection of St. Nersess Seminary. The tiny relic, together with documentation certifying its authenticity, was given to the Seminary in 2001 by the Franciscan Friars of St. Crispus, who live near the Seminary in Yonkers, NY. They offered the gift as a gesture of love and friendship on the 1700th anniversary of Armenia's Christian conversion.
Participating in the Evening Service with the dean and seminarians were Rev. Fr. Karekin Kasparian, a member of the Board of Directors and Pastor of St. Gregory the Enlightener Armenian Church (White Plains, NY); Rev. Fr. Antranig Baljian, Pastor of St. Stephen Armenian Church (Watertown, MA) and father of seminarian Deacon Nishan Baljian; and Rev. Fr. Daniel Karadjian, a priest from Plovdiv, Bulgaria studying this year at St. Nersess.
Are You Ready to Testify to the Truth of Your Faith?
"The Forty Martyrs of Sebastia are particularly important to us at St. Nersess," said Fr. Karadjian in his sermon following the service. "Like them, we too are surrounded by people who question or deny the truth of our faith in Jesus Christ. Are you ready to testify in word and deed to the truth of our faith?," he asked the seminarians provocatively.
Following a tradition of the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem, a basin of water had earlier been set up on a table in the seminary chapel. In it floated forty burning candles, a poignant symbol of the light of Christ burning in hearts of the Forty Martyrs of Sebastia as they sacrificed their earthly lives for Him.
At the conclusion of the service, those present came forward to venerate the sacred relic of the Forty Martyrs.