THE NUMBER FORTY IS A HOLY NUMBER. Often it means a great or long time, as in spending a long time with God or God working over a long time. Today is the feast of the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste, Armenia. The feast was dropped from the liturgical calender in the reforms of 1969. I won't side-track by opion-ating about that. Rather....
While the Emperor Constantine legitimized Christianity, Licius was one of those more local imperial rulers who rejected it, and even required all of his soldiers to worship idols. A group of forty Christian elite soldiers set themselves apart and refused to abandon their Christianity. As enticements they were offered pay-raises, promotions and other benefits, but they persisted in their refusal.
Licius had them imprisoned, threatened and beaten - they remained steadfast. Finally he had them thrown naked onto a frozen pond in the depths of winter. Baths were placed around the perimeter of the ice to entice them to renege. While they prayed ardently to maintain the number forty, one left the group, but a soldier who guarded the group, edified by their strength, joined the group restoring the number to forty.
It took them three days of die of exposure. They continually prayed the 91st Psalm. In Nigeria where Christians are targeted, an American group asked, "What can we give you; what do you need?" They answered, "Send us black clergy shirts so we can see our priests when we are being killed." Stunning.
It is said that the Forty Martyrs sang the 91st psalm throughout the ordeal We might pray this psalm as well in our own trials and burden-carrying. It is very beautiful and featured in the movie A Trip to Bountiful, with Geraldine Page. A must-see.
He who dwells under the shelter of the Most High,
Who abides under the shadow of the Almighty,
Says of the Lord, "My refuge and my fortress,My God, in whom I trust."
For he rescues you from the snare of the fowler,
From the deadly pestilence;
With his pinions he covers you,
And under his wings you find refuge.
His faithfulness is a shield and buckler.
You will not be afraid of the terror by night,
Nor the arrow that flies by day,
Not the pestilence that stalks in darkness,
Nor the devastating plague that lays waste at noon.
A thousand may fall at your side.
And ten thousand at your right hand;
But it will not come near you.
You will but gaze upon with your eyes
And see the reward of the wicked.
Because you have made the Lord your refuge.
And the Most High your habitation.
No disaster will befall you,
Nor calamity come near your tent.
For he will give his angels charge over you,
To guard you in all your ways.
They will bear you up upon their hands,
Lest you dash your foot against a stone.
Upon the lion and the viper you will tread;
Upon the young lion and the dragon you may trample.
Because he cling fast to me in love, I will deliver him;
I will set him on high because he knows my name.
When he calls upon me, I will answer him;
I will be with him in time of trouble;
I will set him free and honor him,
With long life I will content him,
And show him my salvation.