In the winter of 320 AD, the Emperor Licinius ordered all Roman soldiers to offer a sacrifice to the Roman gods. Licinius was persecuting Christians at this time. His edict reached the Thundering Legion at Sabaste, and the order was passed down to the legionaries. Forty Christians in the legion refused to obey the edict, choosing instead to obey a higher authority: "You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them"
In retaliation, the legion marched the men to a frozen lake where they were ordered to remove their armour and clothing and stand naked, as a form of torture to death, on a frozen lake. The legion lit a large fire on the shore with a warm bath and food to tempt the Christians to make the pagan sacrifice, renounce their Christian faith, and save their lives. The men began to pray,
"O Lord, 40 wrestlers have come forth to fight for Thee.
Grant that 40 wrestlers may gain the victory!"
One legionary eventually did succumb to the temptation and left the ice for the warm house that was guarded by a centurion named Sempronius. On the ice, the remaining Christian legionaries continued to cry out, "O Lord, 40 wrestlers have come forth to fight for thee. Grant that 40 wrestlers may gain the victory!" In response, Centurion Sempronius confessed Jesus as Christ, removed his armor, weapons, and clothing, and joined the 39 remaining Christians on the lake. The next morning the Forty Martyrs of Sabaste were found on the ice and forever recorded their faithful resistance in the annals of history.
Almighty God, Commander of the Host, who strengthened the Martyrs of Sabaste to keep the faith, and inspired the Centurion Sempronius to join the Christians in their trial of faith; strengthen us to resist evil and the false gods of our day, while ever proclaiming your sovereignty; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Sprit, one God, for ever and ever, Amen.
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