sleepers(Luke 24:36-53 Matins); Romans 12:6-14; Matthew 9:1-8

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Christ is in our midst! He is and shall be!

Today we celebrate the lives of seven very famous saints in the Orthodox Church, known as the “Seven Sleepers of Ephesus.” The lives of these 7 ties in nicely with our Gospel reading this morning, especially seeing the power of God as it is revealed by Christ in the world. The paralytic man from the Gospel is forgiven, restored to God, and physically healed – we see a similarly amazing miracle in the hagiography of the 7 Holy Sleepers.

The 7 Holy Youths were named Maximilian, Iamblicus, Martinian, John, Dionysius, Constantine, and Antonius. All of the young men were from well to do families in Ephesus, and Maximilian’s father was even the city administrator. The 7 were friends from childhood, and all entered the military together. At some point the pagan emperor Decius made a visit to Ephesus, and he commanded everyone to make sacrifice to the pagan gods. The 7 youths did not participate, since they were Christian, and someone in their unit told the emperor. They were summoned before him, and there they confessed their faith in Christ. The emperor removed them from the military, but decided to set them free while he was away on a military campaign, hoping they would change their minds by the time he returned.

The youths found a cave on Mt. Ochlon, and there they went to stay, spending their days in prayer and fasting, preparing for torture and death. They knew that they would never deny their Beloved Christ. From time to time the youngest, St. Iamblicus, would dress as a beggar and go into the town to buy bread. One day he heard that the emperor had returned and was looking for them. They prepared themselves to go and face him, but before their return the emperor heard what they had done. He knew that they were preparing for martyrdom, and so he decided on something worse. He commanded that they be sealed in the cave, to die a horrible death of thirst and starvation. It happened that one of the officials there at the sealing of the cave was a secret Christian, and he placed a container in cave with two metal plaques in it – one containing the names of the 7, the other detailing their martyrdom.

God, at this point, placed the 7 in a miraculous sleep that was to last for almost the next 200 years. During the time they slept, most of the Empire became Christian. At some point there arose a certain tension in the Church – with a large group of heretics denying the resurrection of the dead. They claimed that since the body disintegrated in the grave, the body and soul could not be re-united at the end of days. It was at this point that the Lord chose to reveal these 7 Holy Sleepers.

The man who owned the land where Mt. Ochlon was one day discovered the covered cave, and has his workers open the entrance to the cave. The youths were not discovered at this point, and neither was the container or plaques. The Lord woke the youths, and it was as if they had fallen asleep the day before. Their bodies and clothes were unchanged, and they again began to prepare for martyrdom. St. Iamblicus was sent to the town to buy bread, and he could hardly believe what he saw. There was a cross on the town gate, and churches throughout the town, and people openly spoke the name of Christ in the town square. He went to buy his bread but was detained because his money had the image of Decius on it, and not of Theodocius, the emperor at that time. He was brought before the town administrator, who was also the bishop of Ephesus, and question. The bishop immediately recognized that something strange and wonderful had happened, and accompanied the young man to the cave.

The container and plaques were found at the entrance to the cave, detailing the martyrdom of these 7 Holy Youths. The bishop then entered the cave and saw that all 7 were miraculously awoken from sleep. The Church understood this miracle as a revelation from Christ about the Resurrection from the dead on the last day – that God could do all things, and that the bodies of the dead would indeed be reunited with their souls at the glorious resurrection. Even the emperor came to see the 7 Sleepers, having heard about the great miracle and being a Christian himself. Finally the time came, and the 7 lay back down on the ground, and fell into their final sleep, from which they will awaken on the last day.

In the Kontakion for the saints we sing: “Those who renounced the perishing comforts of the world, preferring the eternal things of heaven, were incorrupt after death and rose from the dead and buried the snares of the devils! O Faithful, let us then honor them, singing a hymn of praise to Christ!” Though they are referred to as sleepers, we see here that the Holy Ones reposed in their cave, and were reawakened by Christ to destroy the snare of the devil, which was the temptation to the heresy of denying the final Resurrection.

Our Lord works miracles for many external reasons – He heals paralysis, makes the blind to see, makes the mute to talk, and even raises the dead. The center, the purpose, of all of the miracles is one – our salvation. In the Gospel, Christ first forgives the sin of the paralytic, and only after does He heal him. And in all of our Lord’s miracles, He forgives sin, and often tells the healed “now go, and sin no more.” With the 7 Sleepers, the miracle is worked to preserve people from falling away from the Faith and into heresy. So as we encounter miracles – in the Bible, in the Saints, even in our own lives – remember that they are always for our salvation. We seek to discern how our Lord is revealing Himself, and how He is leading us to Him and each and every miracle we encounter.

May the many miracles of Christ lead us all to that greatest of all miracles – the regeneration of our own lives and souls in Him, and our eternal salvation. Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!

Posted by Matthew Jackson

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