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For the Preservation of the Deposit of the Faith
For the Kingdom of God to come!
Exclusive Representation of the Nativity Scene.
Some children had planned to go on a canoe trip. “I need my mother’s permission first,” said one of them, “because I promised her I would never go in a canoe without her permission.” The others laughed at him and called him a coward. “On the contrary,” he replied, “I would be a coward if by your mockery I allowed myself to be pushed into disobedience.”
So it is with the martyrs. In appearance, they are defeated because they lost their lives when they could have saved them by trampling on the law of God; in reality, they are heroes and therefore victors, who rightly bear the palm of triumph.
The Doctor of the Church, St. Basil (330-378), tells us the following story that happened in Asia Minor. Licinius, the lieutenant of Constantine the Great, persecuted the Christians and forced them, on pain of death, to sacrifice to idols. Around 320, the 12th legion, the fulminant legion, was garrisoned at Sebaste in Armenia, and was ordered to attend the sacrifices. Immediately forty officers came out of the ranks and declared to the tribune commanding the legion that they would not violate their oath to God any more than they would violate their oath to the emperor. It was the middle of a very severe winter, and the tribune ordered that these officers be stripped of their clothes and exposed to the bitter cold in a frozen pond. On the banks he had a warm bath prepared for those who, overcome by suffering, would end up sacrificing to idols. The valiant warriors were waiting, singing hymns, for death to come and deliver them from their torments, when one of the soldiers standing guard by the pond, saw 40 brilliant crowns descend from the firmament on the heads of the martyrs, except for one of them which remained suspended without destination. While the soldier was reflecting on this astonishing apparition, the one on whose head no crown had descended, went out of the pond to immerse himself in the warm bath, where he was struck by apoplexy and died instantly. Immediately this soldier declared himself a Christian; stripped of his clothes he was associated with the sufferings and death of the 39 other martyrs who were taken out of the water to be burned, most of them still alive, on a pyre.
The crowns that came down from heaven indicated the victory of the 40 martyrs, for the crown is the sign and reward of triumph.