The Seven Holy Youths (“Seven Sleepers”) of Ephesus
The 7 Holy Youths “Seven Sleepers” of Ephesus—Maximilian, Iamblicus, Martinian, John, Dionysius, Exacustodianus (Constantine) and Antoninus—lived in Ephesus in the third century. Friends from childhood, the Seven Youths all served in the military together. During the time of the youths’ service, Emperor Decius commanded all the people of Ephesus to offer sacrifice to the pagan gods, and those who did not obey would be tortured and killed. Despite the threat of death, the Seven Youths refused to offer sacrifices to the gods.
The Seven Youths were summoned by Decius, appeared before him, and proclaimed their faith in Christ. The Emperor, hoping the youths would change their mind while he was on his military campaign, released them. Meanwhile, the youths fled into a cave on Mount Ochlon and passed their time in prayer in preparation for martyrdom.
When Saint Iamblicus, one of the seven, dressed up as a beggar to fetch bread in town, he heard the Emperor was back in town. Saint Maximilian implored them to present themselves to Emperor Decius. However, before they could turn themselves in, Decius learned where they were hidden. The Emperor, hoping the holy youths would die from hunger and thirst, commanded the entrance to the cave to be sealed. Two Christians, wanting the Youths to be remembered for their dedication to Christ, placed a plaque outside of the cave detailing their date of martyrdom and death.
While everyone believed the saints to have perished, they lived on, for the Lord placed them in a miraculous sleep for almost two centuries.
After 200 years, the Seven Youths woke up unaware that 200 years had passed since the cave they were hiding in was sealed. Their clothes and their bodies remained miraculously undecayed. It was only when Saint Iamblicus left the cave and paid for bread with coins bearing Emperor Decius’ image that they were found alive. Believing the saint to have a hoard of old money, the people detained him.
On hearing his bewildering story, the Bishop of Ephesus opened the cave and discovered the rest of the youths in the cave. In sight of everyone, the Holy Youths all lay their heads down and fell asleep in the Lord until the General Resurrection. Their lives reveal the mystery of the Resurrection in Christ, which surpasses all wordly time. They are commemorated on August 4th. May the 7 Holy Youths of Ephesus intercede for us all!
Adapted from Orthodox Church in America, “Lives of the Saints.”
How can the Seven Holy Youths intercede for us?
The Seven Sleepers were brave in the face of certain persecution, and the Lord saved them because of their faith. Pray to them when you need courage facing hard situations. Ask the Seven Sleepers to intercede for you when you feel spiritually “dry” and to help you find your zeal for Christ.
Apolytikion of Holy 7 Youths of Ephesus
Thy Martyrs, O Lord, in their courageous contest for Thee received as the prize the crowns of incorruption and life from Thee, our immortal God. For since they possessed Thy strength, they cast down the tyrants and wholly destroyed the demons’ strengthless presumption. O Christ God, by their prayers, save our souls, since Thou art merciful.
Kontakion of Holy 7 Youths of Ephesus
They that scorned all things in the world as corrupted and found the gifts that nothing ever corrupteth, behold, they died, and yet corruption touched them not. Wherefore after many years once again they all rose up, burying all unbelief of malicious revilers. Ye faithful, let us laud the seven youths with hymns of praise on this day, while extolling Christ.
- The Seven Holy Sleepers existed outside of normal time for a bit and in this sense, were preserved from the dangers of their fallen world. When we participate in the Divine Liturgy, it is said that we are worshiping outside of time, in a timeless space that is both past, present, and future. How does stepping out of time and into the Mystical life of the Church help preserve us from the dangers of our fallen world?
- Despite the threat of persecution, the Seven Sleepers held fast to God and their faith, risking their lives to do so. Yet they also sought to escape the dangerous persecution of the emperor by hiding in a cave. In what ways can we learn from the Seven Sleepers’ zeal for God? How can we explain their willingness to risk their lives like other martyrs while also taking into account their God-blessed efforts to preserve them?
- The Seven Holy Youths refused to sacrifice to Emperor Decius. What are some things in the world today that demand our attention/sacrifice? How can we pull our attention away from these false idols and shift it back to God?