(Welcome to our Saint of the Day series! Each weekday, we present you with an excerpt from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints series, published by Holy Cross Orthodox Press. Today we commemorate the Seven Saints of Ephesus, whose account is found in Volume 3 of the series.)
The Seven Saints of Ephesus
A confusion of dates, corrected after careful scrutiny, cannot detract from the extraordinary account of seven men who defied a pagan emperor in an apparent sacrifice of their lives in a highly unusual manifestation of the power of the Lord. It has been established that in the year 252, seven true Christians, who answered to the names of Maximilianus, Exakustodianus, Iamblichos, Martinianus, Dionysios, Antonius and Constantine, simply did what thousands of other Christians did when threatened with persecution and death. They fled into the hills, and after entering what they presumed to be a place of refuge they found not only a haven but a divine intervention that had marked them for all time as the most unique, yet among the least known, of the saints of the Church.
The strange saga commenced in that fateful year 252 and ended nearly two hundred years later, but because there had been accounts that there was a time lapse of nearly four hundred years, the credibility of the account was not fully accepted until painstaking research established the chronological accuracy of a story that once again proves that truth is stranger than fiction.
The third-century Emperor Decius had issued a decree requiring all to submit to the pagan gods, causing thousands of Christians to go into hiding rather than obey this affront to God. The seven men of Ephesus found a cave in which they were relatively safe, principally because of the great depth of the grotto whose narrow entrance belied the labyrinth within. When their hideaway was discovered and the futility of a chase within the bowels of the mountain was fully realized, the entrance was sealed off with huge boulders and the occupants left to die of starvation.
Long presumed dead, the seven men were all but forgotten for almost two centuries until 446, when a Christian emperor named Theodosios II caused to be recorded the fantastic discovery of the seven entombed refugees. When a curious property owner decided to have this obviously manmade stone pile removed, he was dumbfounded to find seven hale and hearty young men awaken from a nearly two-hundred-year slumber by the din of falling rubble. They had lain down to sleep when the tomb was sealed, anticipating death, but when awakened in the sunlight that streamed into the cave, they simply arose and strode out into the fresh air unaware that they had been in a divine limbo, presuming they had spent only the night there before being rescued by fellow Christians. Their appearance was exactly what it was when they entered the cave, having been preserved by the hand of God.
Styles had not changed appreciably in the intervening years, but when they went into a bakery of Ephesus and offered an ancient coin bearing the likeness of Decius, a suspicious breadmaker summoned the authorities to question the strangers. What ensued thereafter created a wave of wonderment that rippled throughout the civilized world. The seven Ephesians were hailed as instruments of the Lord and were borne in triumph to a delighted Emperor Theodosios, who received them as something more than royalty. The seven themselves were overawed by the fact that they had been in divine limbo for nearly two centuries, but when they realized that they had returned from a presumed death to fellow Christians, who were not only friendly but worshipful in their presence, it was a little too much to bear.
The emperor, who saw in the seven the truth of the Resurrection, prevailed upon these obvious saints to remain and receive the thousands who were streaming into the city to witness for themselves the living miracles. The multitudes who came were orderly and solemn, taking care that the occasion of their visits not be transformed into overzealous mob expressions, but when they had considered their duty to mankind fulfilled, the revered seven then wished to be relieved of earthly stress to find everlasting peace in the care of heaven.
After they passed on, Theodosios made plans to have them interred in caskets of gold, but in a dream he was told that the seven preferred to be entombed in the cave in which they had found the Lord. They were laid to rest for eternity where they had slept for two centuries. Where once they ran from pagans, they now walked into the kingdom of heaven.
Text from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints. Image from GOArch.org.