THE MARTYRS OF SEBASTE

 

BY LADY LINDSAY.

 

Date about A.D. 320. The Emperor Licinius published an edict commanding the Christians, on pain of death, to abandon their religion. Forty brave young soldiers of the Thundering Legion, having refused to sacrifice to idols, were sentenced to he exposed naked through the bitter winter night on the ice of a lake, a fire and warm bath being prepared hard-by for temptation. The names of the martyrs, and their words in the poem, are as historically recorded.

 

Forty valiant soldiers,

Martyrs of Sebaste,

Forty noble heroes

Of the Thundering Legion,

Young and brave; for martial weal

True as steel.

 

Forty fearless Christians,

Ne'er a one among them

Who to pagan idols

Stooped and rendered homage;

Ne'er a one but shaped his course

By the Cross.

 

Crowded close in prison,

As the darkness deepened,

Sang they; "Under shadow

Of our God abiding;"

Spake the Lord Christ through their song:

"Be ye strong!"

 

Then uprose young Cyrio:

"Us hath God united,

Brethren in communion

Of our Faith and Warfare.

Pray that we together see Victory! "

 

Scarce seven days thereafter,

This the martyrs' sentence:

Naked, frozen, shall they

Through the wintry night-time

Stand, till on yon ice-bound lake

Death o'ertake.

 

Some may Death let linger,

Some he grasps more roughly;

All the while a shelter

Warmth, and food, and comfort

Tempts the bravest to forswear

Palm and prayer.

 

Just one spark irradiate

Beckoning through the darkness

Lamps and ruddy embers,

Breathing scent of spices.

Outside, torture fierce or slow

In the snow.

 

"Lord, bless now our number!

Forty days stayed Moses

On the holy mountain;

Forty days Thou gavest

To uphold Elijah,

And to Nineveh, for grace,

This same space.

 

Forty days of fasting,

Forty hours of burial

Those were Thine, 0 Saviour!

Now, Thy forty wrestlers

To the arena enter in:

Let them win!

 

By the red logs sleeping,

Yonder dreamed a warder

Dreamed that to the chanting

Drew an answering angel,

Bearing, while he floated down,

One bright crown.

 

Yet another brought he,

Nay, a third, and many

Coronals most radiant,

Flushed as wings of cherubs;

On his arm those circlets shine-

Thirty-nine.

 

Shall the strong hearts falter?

Yea, just one - one only.

Unnerved, languid, fainting,

He has sought the shelter.

All the rest with dying voice

Loud rejoice.

 

But the dreamer, waking,

Christ his King confesses,

Martyrdom embracing

For the rite baptismal.

So the fortieth of the band

Yet shall stand.

 

What though one bath fallen?

I am here, to barter

Our poor world of phantasm

For a truer glory.

Mine the crown, since mine the death!

Thus he saith.

 

Where is now thy splendour,

Where thy power, Licinius?

Lord of Cappadocia,

Yet so poor a tyrant,

Conquered by the unweaponed arm

Thou wouldst harm?

 

Dawned the sombre morning

O'er those deadly snow-fields.

Here and there a victim,

Faint of breath, still murmured:

From the snare our souls shall be

Scaped and free.

 

Ah ! by cruel order

See the stark limbs broken!

With the dead, the dying

Must be heaped and carried,

'Mid the fierce funereal fire

To expire.

 

Melithon, the bright-haired,

Of that band the youngest,

Wounded lay, and crippled

Life robust slow ebbing.

Thus his mother found the lad.

Yet was glad.

 

"Dear my boy, heart's darling!

God, Who gave thee, takes thee.

Thou to Christ art yielding

All sweet youth and promise.

Blest am I, that own for son

Such an one."

 

In her arms, most tender,

Did she raise and clasp him;

For her dear sake smiled he,

Laid upon her bosom,

While the farewell moments grew

Quick and few.

 

To the flames they threw him,

With the burning bodies

Of his martyred comrades

Stacked around for fuel.

Thus the Forty entered in,

Life to win!