Sts Maximilian, Iamblichus, Martinian, John, Dionysius, Exacustodianus (Constantine) and Antoninus, were seven youths that lived in the third century. St Maximilian was the son of the Ephesus city administrator, and the other six youths were sons of illustrious citizens of Ephesus. The youths were friends from childhood, and all were in military service together.
When the emperor Decius (249-251 AD) arrived in Ephesus, he commanded all the citizenry to offer sacrifice to the pagan gods. Torture and death awaited the recalcitrant. Denounced by those currying the emperor’s favour, the seven youths of Ephesus were summoned to reply to the charges. Standing before the emperor, the seven youths confessed their faith in Christ. Their illustrious military decorations and military belts were quickly taken from them. Decius, however, set them at liberty, hoping that they would change their minds while he was away on a military campaign. The youths fled from the city and hid in a cave on Mount Ochlon, where they passed their time in prayer, preparing for the exploit of martyrdom.
St Iamblichus, the youngest of them, having clothed himself in beggar’s attire, went into the city and bought bread. In one of these journeys into the city, he heard that the emperor had returned and sought them to bring them to trial. St Maximilian exhorted his companions to come out of the cave and bravely appear at trial.
Having learned where the young men were hidden, the emperor gave orders to seal the entrance of the cave with stones, so that the saints would perish from hunger and thirst. Two of the dignitaries, coming before the walled-up entrance to the cave, were secret Christians. Wanting to preserve the memory of the saints, they placed a sealed container among the stones, containing two metal plaques. On them were inscribed the names of the seven youths and the details of their suffering and death.
The Lord placed the youths into a miraculous sleep lasting almost two centuries. During this time the persecutions against Christians had ceased. During the reign of the holy emperor Theodosius the Younger (408-450 AD) there were heretics who rejected the belief in the resurrection of the dead at the Second Coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Some of them said, “How can there be a resurrection of the dead when there will be neither soul nor body, since they are disintegrated?” Others affirmed, “The souls alone will have a restoration, since it would be impossible for bodies to arise and live after a thousand years, when even their dust would not remain”. Therefore, the Lord revealed the mystery of the Resurrection of the Dead and of the future life through His seven youths.
The owner of the land on which Mount Ochlon was situated, discovered the stone construction, and his workers opened up the entrance to the cave. The Lord had kept the youths alive, and they awoke from their sleep, not suspecting that almost 200 years had elapsed. Their bodies and clothing were completely preserved.
Preparing to accept torture, the youths entrusted St Iamblichus yet once again to buy bread for them in the city to keep up their strength. Going towards the city, the youth was astonished to see the holy cross on the gates. Hearing the Name of Jesus Christ freely spoken, he began to doubt that he was approaching his own city. When he paid for the bread, the youth gave the merchant coins with the image of the emperor Decius on it, and he was detained, as one possibly concealing a horde of old money. They took St Iamblichus to the city administrator, who at this time happened to be the Bishop of Ephesus. Hearing the bewildering answers of the youth, the bishop perceived that God was revealing some sort of mystery through him, and went with other people to the cave.
At the entrance to the cave the bishop took out the sealed container and opened it. He read upon the metal plaques the names of the seven youths and the details of the sealing-up of the cave on the orders of the emperor Decius. Going into the cave and seeing the youths alive, everyone rejoiced and perceived that the Lord, through their awakening from long sleep, was disclosing to the Church the mystery of the Resurrection of the Dead.
Soon the emperor himself arrived in Ephesus and spoke with the youths in the cave. Then the holy youths in view of everyone lay their heads upon the ground and again fell asleep, this time until the General Resurrection. The emperor wanted to place each of the youths into a jewelled coffin, but appearing to him in a dream, the holy youths said, that their bodies were to be left upon the ground in the cave. In the twelfth century, the Russian pilgrim Igumen Daniel saw in the cave the holy relics of the seven youths.
A second commemoration of the seven youths is celebrated on October 22. By one tradition, the youths fell asleep a second time on this day. According to the notes of the Greek MENAION of 1870 AD, they fell asleep first on August 4, and woke up on October 22. The holy youths are mentioned also in the service of the Church New Year, September 1.
Dismissal Hymn (Fourth Tone)
Your Martyrs, O Lord, in their courageous contest for You received as the prize the crowns of incorruption and life from You, our immortal God. For since they possessed You strength, they cast down the tyrants and wholly destroyed the demons’ powerless presumption. O Christ God, by their prayers, save our souls, since You are merciful.
Kontakion (Fourth Tone)
They that scorned all things in the world as corrupted and found the gifts that nothing ever corrupts, behold, they died, and yet corruption touched them not. Wherefore after many years once again they all rose up, burying all unbelief of malicious revilers. You faithful, let us laud the seven youths with hymns of praise on this day, while extolling Christ.