10th March 2023

Forty! A number that often appears in the Bible. The flood recounted in Genesis lasted forty days; the Israelites were forty years adrift living on manna; Christ fasted for forty days in the wilderness and he appeared to the disciples after the resurrection over a period of forty days. However, we are told that a period of forty years or days shouldn’t be taken literally – ‘forty’ simply means a long time. As Easter approaches it might be worth contemplating the thought that there were probably forty hours between Christ’s death on the cross and the resurrection – work it out for yourself!

There is another ‘forty’ that is less well known. Today is the Feast Day of the Forty Martyrs. These were forty Roman soldiers of the twelfth legion, who were Christians, stationed somewhere in modern Turkey, when the Emperor, Licinius, suddenly demanded that all Christians in the east should repudiate their faith. The authorities tried to persuade them to conform, but they stoutly refused – all except one. When a fellow soldier heard of his defection and the steadfastness of the others, he took his place. Most were tortured to death by being forced to stand naked on a frozen pond, while the few who survived that ordeal were just killed.

Martyrdom is not something we are likely to have to face. But there have been hundreds over the Christian centuries and some have to face the threat even today. We may not be very good at observing the various saints’ days, but let us spare a thought for those who died for their faith and pray for those who may be facing such a threat somewhere today.

David T Roberts