Last night we looked at a somewhat puzzling passage in Philippians, puzzling if you look at from a worldly perspective. Paul speaks of his suffering and imprisonment emboldening other Christians to ‘speak the word without fear’ (Phil 1:14). That passage made me think of this story from church history. I first heard the story in a song from back early in my childhood (my dad sang it in church every once and a while). You can listen to the song here for free. It’s a little ‘Jesus People’ish, and the website isn’t much to look at (ok, it’s a lot to look at), but I like the song if only because it reminds me of my dad as my pastor.
Here’s a less glamorized version of the story:
Emperor Constantine legalized Christianity in the Roman Empire in A.D. 320. However, Licinius, who controlled the Eastern half of the empire, broke allegiance with the West and continued to suppress Christianity.
When Licinius demanded that every soldier under his command sacrifice to the Roman gods, the forty Christian men of the “Thundering Legion” refused. Their general, Lysias, had them whipped, torn with hooks, and then imprisoned in chains. When they still refused to bow down and give up their worship of God, he ordered them stripped of their clothing and left in the middle of a frozen lake until they relented.
A warm bath was poured for any who would give up their convictions. The men prayed together that their number would not be broken. However, as it grew dark, one could not bear the cold any longer and ran to the warm bath.
One of the guards who had watched the forty brave soldiers sing to Christ became angry that one would give in to Lysias’s orders. His anger turned to conviction, and then his conviction turned to faith. He tore off his clothes and ran out on the icy lake, fulfilling their promise to be “forty brave soldiers for Christ!”
The forty died together that day. The one who gave up his faith for a warm bath also died.