The forty martyrs of Sebaste were Christian soldiers who died for their faith in fourth-century Rome. They distinguished themselves in battles with bravery and valour and glorified themselves in eternity by remaining loyal to Christ despite flattery and brutal torture.
When in 313 the Roman emperor Constantine the Great, a Christian Saint, granted Christians equal status with the Pagans, his co-ruler, Licinius, a Pagan, began to prepare a mutiny against him. To stamp out potential opposition, he resolved to rid his armies of all Christians.
Serving under the command of a zealous Pagan general were forty Christian soldiers. When they refused to worship a Pagan idol, they were thrown in prison pending trial. In their cells, they prayed incessantly to the Lord and sang psalms. The Lord heard their prayers, and at night the soldiers heard a voice from above calling them to persevere until the end to have salvation.
They went before a judge who sentenced them to torture and death. Their executioners threw them in the cold waters of Lake Sebastia. To add pressure on the victims to apostatise, they put up on the bank of the lake several hot steambaths within their sight. They also ordered a team of guards commanded by a Pagan named Aglais to watch over them. The martyrs had spent one night in the lake when one of them dashed to the shore, unable to endure the cold any longer. But the moment he reached the shore, he fell dead.
After that, Agelaius saw in a vision thirty-nine wreaths placed on the heads of the thirty-nine martyrs who remained in the water. Impressed, he believed in Christ and said so to everyone present. Immediately, he joined the martyrs on the lake.
Almost dead, the martyrs were taken out of the lake to be burned, and their remains were thrown into the lake. On the third day after their death, an angel appeared in a dream to a local bishop commanding him to look for the martyrs' remains and give them a dignified burial. According to tradition, when the bishop and his clergy came to the lake at night, the bones of the martyrs rose to the surface and burned like candles.