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The Seven Sleepers of Ephesus

There were seven holy youths from Ephesus named: Maximilian, Iamblicus, Martinian, John, Dionysius, Exacustodianus (Constantine) and Antoninus. Their Feast Day is celebrated twice a year: on August 4th and October 22nd. 
 
What is interesting about these Saints is that they lived during two different time periods. Saint Maximilian was the son of the city administrator of Ephesus and the other six were sons of illustrious citizens of Ephesus. They all knew each other well and served in the military together.
 
When the Emperor Decius arrived in Ephesus around the middle of the 3rd Century, he commanded all the citizens to offer sacrifice to the pagan gods. Anyone who refused would be subjected to torture and subsequently death. 
 
Without any hesitation, when brought before the Emperor, the seven youths confessed their faith in Christ. They were fortunate that they were only stripped of their military ranks. So, once they were released, they decided to hide in a cave on Mount Ochlon. 
 
Saint Iamblicus who was the youngest of them, would sneak into the town to buy bread in order for the youths to survive. However, one day after learning where the youths were hiding, the Emperor ordered that the cave be sealed off. They were trapped in there and at risk of dying from starvation. 
 
Yet, two of the dignitaries were secret Christians and placed in the cave, near the entrance, a sealed container containing two metal plaques. On them were the details of the seven youths: their names and the account of their martyrdom. This account was like a synaxarion, similar to what we hear read at every matins. Then the Lord placed the seven youths in a miraculous sleep that lasted about two centuries. 
 
When they awoke from their long sleep, it was around the middle of the 5th Century, during the reign of Theodosius the Younger. Persecutions against Christians had ceased for about a century at that point, since Christianity was legal and on the rise. However, during this time, there were heretics who did not believe in the general resurrection of the dead at the Second Coming of Christ. Some believed that both the body and the soul disintegrates when someone dies. Others said that only the soul will have restoration.
 
One day, the owner of the land on Mount Ochlon discovered the cave and had his workers make a clearance for an entrance. Soon after, the Lord awakened the seven youths from their sleep. When one of them went into town to buy bread he used a coin with Decius imprinted on it. The merchant was shocked to see such old money and notified the authorities.
 
The authorities wanted to charge Iamblicus for hording money, since the coin was two hundred years old. However, the administrator who was also the Bishop of Ephesus, listened to Iamblicus’ story and followed him to the cave. There, the Bishop met the other six youths and saw the plaque that was posted by the entrance of the cave two centuries earlier. Then the Emperor came to witness this as well. After he arrived, the Seven Sleepers then placed down their heads onto the ground and reposed, awaiting the Common Resurrection. 
 
Immediately, the Bishop realized that God was trying to reveal to the faithful the mystery of the Resurrection of the Dead through these seven youths. Indeed, this was an ecclesiastical Rip Van Winkle story. Of course, he was a fictional character, the seven youths were real.
 
At the time the Seven Sleepers awakened from their two-century long sleep, there was a debate over the Common Resurrection (Κοίνή Ανάσταση). It is certainly not coincidental but rather the Lord’s divine plan, that he awakened them at that time, so that others may believe. 
 
Come, all creation, let us send up praise, according to the Psalms, with resounding and triumphant cymbals, to God, who showed us the resurrection, even before the general resurrection. For through the prayers of the pious Emperor, He resurrected from the earth the Seven Holy Youths, who had died three hundred seventy-two years earlier, in order to put down the unbelieving opponents and send them to eternal shame, and for the glory and praise of those who fear Him. Indeed, the Lord knows how to glorify those who glorify Him. And He does the will of those who fear Him in truth, as the only compassionate Lord who loves humanity (2nd Doxastikon of Festal Vespers).
 
The Seven Sleepers can also be understood as an allegory of Enoch and Elijah who both have yet to experience death. Thus Enoch was well-pleasing to God, and was not found for God translated him (Gn 5:24). Thus it came to be, as they walked and continued to talk, behold a chariot of fire appeared with horses of fire, and the fire separated them from the other; and Elijah was taken up into heaven by a whirlwind (4 Kgdms 2:11). 
 
According to the Tradition of the Orthodox Church, both Enoch and Elijah are to be the Second Forerunners of Christ when He returns in all His Glory to judge the living and the dead at the dreadful Day of Judgment. It is believed that they both will preach in the last days and will face their physical death by the Antichrist who will reign on earth before the Second Coming of Christ. 
 
And I will give power to my two witnesses, and they will prophecy one thousand two hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth. These have power to shut heaven, so that no rain falls in the days of their prophecy; and they have power over waters to turn them to blood, and to strike the earth with all plagues, as often as they desire. And their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified (Revelations 11 3:3, 6 &7).
 
The common opinion of the Church Fathers is that the two witnesses are Enoch and Elijah. The description in the Book of Revelations mentions the power to shut heaven, so that no rain falls. This sounds very familiar to when Elijah prayed to God to not send down rain for three and a half years.
 
The same way Enoch and Elijah are preserved by the Lord to come back one day for a specific purpose, so were the Seven Sleepers when they were awakened by the Lord during the time of a heresy over the Common Resurrection. 
 
May we all seek the intercessions of these Saints before the Lord our God! 
 
-John Athanasatos 

 

A graduate of Long Island University, College of Pharmacy, and Saint Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary, John works to share the richness and beauty of the Orthodox Faith with the wider community.

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