The Holy Seven Youths of Ephesus: Maximilian, Iamblicus, Martinian, John, Dionysius, Exacustodianus (Constantine) and Antoninus
Commemorated on August 4 and October 22
Saint John (Maximovich) Archbishop of Shanghai and San Francisco
Belief in the resurrection is the cornerstone of our faith. If there be no resurrection, then is Christ not risen; and if Christ be not risen, then is your faith vain (I Cor. 15:13-14). If there is no resurrection, the whole Christian teaching is false. This is why the enemies of Christianity fight so much against faith in the resurrection and it is why the Church of Christ affirms faith in the resurrection. Many times the waves of unbelief have risen high, but they have rolled back before new signs which revealed the reality of the resurrection, of God’s bringing to life of what was acknowledged as dead.
In the 5th century, in the reign of the Emperor Theodosius the Younger, doubt in the resurrection of the dead was widespread, so that there were disputes about this even in the churches. It was just at this time that a wondrous event occurred, the authenticity of which is confirmed by a number of historical writings.
In the middle of the third century, in the reign of the Emperor Decius (249-251), by his decree seven youths were walled up with stones in a cave near the city of Ephesus. The son of the head of the city of Ephesus, Maximilian, and his six friends- Jamblicus, Dionysius, John, Antoninus, Martinian, and Exacustodian confessed themselves Christians and refused to offer sacrifice to the idols. They had taken advantage of the time, which had been given them for reflection, and of the temporary absence of the Emperor, and had gone away from Ephesus and hidden in a cave in the nearby mountains, (in mountain called Ochlon). When Decius returned and found out about this, he ordered that the entrance to the cave be walled up with stones so that the youths, deprived of food and air, might be buried alive. When the command of Decius had been fulfilled, two secret Christians, Theodore and Rufinus–wrote down this event on pewter plates that they hid among the stones at the entrance to the cave.
The youths who were in the cave, however, did not know what had happened. On the eve of this event, having found out about the arrival of Decius in the city, and having prayed fervently to God, they fell asleep in a powerful and unusual sleep which lasted for about 172 years. They awoke only in the reign of Theodosius the Younger, precisely when there were disputes concerning the resurrection. At that time, the owner of that place was taking out the stones that walled up the entrance to the cave and was using them for a building, without suspecting in the least that the children whom everyone had forgotten, long before, were still in the cave. The youths, having awoke, thought that they had slept one night, since they did not notice any changes in the cave, and they themselves had not changed at all. One of them, the youngest, Jamblicus, who had previously gone to the city for food, having prayed to God with his friends, likewise went to Ephesus to find out whether they were being looked for, and to buy some food for themselves. He was astonished at the change, seeing churches which, as it seemed, had not existed the day before, and hearing the name of Christ being pronounced openly. Thinking that by mistake he had come across some other city, he decided nonetheless to buy some bread here. When he gave a coin for the bread, the bread merchant began to examine it carefully and asked where he had found the treasure. When Jamblicus affirmed that he had found no treasure, but that he had received the money from his parents, people began to gather, and they tried to find out where he had found such old money. Jamblicus named the names of his parents and friends, but no one knew them. Finally, Jamblicus heard from those present that he was really in Ephesus, that there had been no Emperor Decius for a long time, and that the Christ-loving Emperor Theodosius was reigning.
The head of the city and the bishop heard about what had happened, and in order to test the words of Jamblicus they went with him to the cave where the other six youths were. At the entrance to the cave they discovered the pewter plates, and from them, they found out when and how the youths had been in the cave. Concerning all this, the head of the city immediately informed the Emperor, who personally came to Ephesus and conversed with the youths. During one of these conversations they lay down their heads and fell asleep in eternal sleep. The Emperor ordered that they be brought to the Capital, but the youths, appearing to him to be asleep, commanded him to bury them in the cave where they had already been in a wondrous sleep, for many years. This was done, and during the course of many centuries, their relics reposed in that cave; the Russian pilgrim of the 12th century, Anthony, describes how veneration was paid to them.
This miraculous awakening of the youths was accepted at that time as a prefiguration and confirmation of the resurrection. Everywhere the news spread about this. Several contemporary historians mention it, and it was discussed at the Third Ecumenical Council, which soon thereafter, convoked in the same city. This striking miracle strengthened faith in the resurrection at that time. The power of God, which had preserved the bodies and clothing of the youths incorrupt for many years, was clearly revealed. In addition, just as the Lord raised them from sleep, so will he gather the bones and raise the dead according to the vision of the Prophet Ezekiel…Thus, the Lord God revealed to Ezekiel that His promises are steadfast, and that what seems impossible to the human mind is performed by the power of God.
Shanghai, October 22, 1948
From the Sermon of Saint John (Maximovich) Archbishop of Shanghai and San Francisco: Will These Human Bones Come to Life?A Sermon given in 1948, when once again there seemed to be absolutely no hope for the deliverance of Russia from the Communist Yoke. http://passaicrussianchurch.com/books/english/sermons_john_maximovich.htm#_Toc100019550
Troparion Holy Youths “Seven Sleepers” of Ephesus— Tone 4
Your holy martyrs, O Lord, / Through their sufferings have received their incorruptible crowns from You, our God. / For having Your strength, they laid low their adversaries, / And shattered the powerless boldness of demons. / Through their intercessions, save our souls!