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How 40 soldiers chose death over worshiping pagan gods

Once upon a time, some brave men decided to sacrifice themselves for their faith.

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On March 9, A.D. 320, some Christian soldiers in Sevaste, located in present-day Turkey, were faced with a difficult choice — to bow to pagan gods and live or be killed?

According to the history books, these men, who were part of the legion known as “Fulminata,” “The Lightning or Thundering Legion,” refused to bow.

They were taken to Governor Agricola, who tried to intimidate them with threats.

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Speaking mildly but firmly, he said, “I am told you refuse to offer the sacrifice ordered by

“We will not sacrifice. To do so is to betray our holy faith,” one soldier replied.

The governor asked, “But what about your comrades? Consider — you alone of Caesar’s troops defy him! Think of the disgrace you bring upon your legion. How can you do it?”

Once again, a soldier said, “To disgrace, the name of our Lord Jesus Christ is more terrible still.”

“Give up this stubborn folly. You have no lord but Caesar! In his name, I promise promotion to the first of you who steps forward and does his duty,” the governor promised.

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When no one moved, he continued, “You persist in your rebellion? Then prepare for torture, prison, death! This is your last chance. Will you obey your emperor?”

Standing firm, the soldiers said, “Nothing you can offer us would replace what we would lose in the next world. As for your threats — we’ve learned to deny our bodies where the welfare of our souls is at stake.”

Their resistance was met with an order from the governor, who told the guards to flog them.

They were taken into the cold, where they were stripped, tied to posts and flogged with hooks of iron.

Despite the pain, loss of blood and severed bruises, the soldiers refused to give in.

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“Chain them in my dungeons!” roared Agricola. “We’ll see what has to say about this.”

When the soldiers were brought before Lysias, the commander of the 12th Legion, he said, “You will obey me or pay a sharp penalty.”

Faced with their defiance, the governor had an idea to have them stripped and put in the icy pond.

He told the soldiers, “You will stand naked on the ice until you agree to sacrifice to the gods.

"Take them down to the pond,” he ordered.

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To his surprise, the soldiers did not wait to be stripped. Instead, they ran into the water as they removed their clothes.

“We are soldiers of the Lord and fear no hardship,” they sang. “What is our death but entrance into eternal life?”

In an attempt to tempt them, the governor ordered the guards to “heat baths of warm water.”

“Place them around the pond. That ought to lure them out pretty quickly,” he said with a smirk.

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As the sun went down, they were heard praying, “Lord, there are forty of us engaged in this battle; grant that forty may be crowned and not one be missing from this sacred number.”

The shivering guards, waiting on the shore, shouted, “Don’t be idiots. What’s the point? Come on out. Warm yourselves!”

Then, one guard pointed towards the sky, saying, “Look. Don’t you see them? Spirits…hovering with golden crowns over those fellows heads, holding out rich robes for them!”

To which, another guard replied, “Are you out of your mind? It’s pitch black. Hey! There’s someone coming! It’s one of them.”

He was right as one of the soldiers had lost his nerve and crawled out off the ice towards the hot water bath.

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The soldier is said to have died as soon as his body touched the hot water.

He was replaced by the guard who had seen the vision of crowns. Without delay, he removed his clothes and joined the 39 soldiers in the ice.

When morning came, Governor Agricola was told that the forty were dead.  “Well, get the bodies off the ice,” he commanded. “Burn them. And dump the ashes in the river.”

Their ashes were later collected and preserved in local churches.

350 years later, a plaque was dedicated to these brave 40 martyrs in the chapel in the forum of Rome.

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“Here die 40 men for Christ,” are the words engraved on it.

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