Mar 092014


The Forty Martyrs of Sebaste or the Holy Forty were a group of Roman soldiers in the famous Legio XII Fulminata, also known simply as the 12th legion, whose martyrdom in 320 for the Christian faith is recounted in traditional martyrologies. They were killed near the city of Sebaste (present-day Sivas in Turkey), in Lesser Armenia, victims of the persecutions of Licinius, who after 316, persecuted the Christians of the East. The earliest account of their existence and martyrdom is given by Bishop Basil of Caesarea (370–379) in a homily delivered on the feast of the Forty Martyrs. The feast is consequently more ancient than the episcopate of Basil, whose eulogy on them was pronounced only fifty or sixty years after martyrdom.

According to Basil, forty soldiers who had openly confessed themselves Christians were condemned by the prefect to be exposed naked upon a frozen pond near Sebaste on a bitterly cold night, so that they would freeze to death. Among the confessors, one yielded and, leaving his companions, sought the warm baths near the lake which had been prepared for any who might prove inconstant. One of the guards set to keep watch over the martyrs saw at this moment a supernatural brilliancy overshadowing the martyrs and at once proclaimed himself a Christian, threw off his garments, and joined the remaining thirty-nine. Thus the number of forty remained complete. At daybreak, the stiffened bodies of the confessors, which still showed signs of life, were burned and the ashes cast into a river. Christians, however, collected the precious remains, and the relics were distributed throughout many cities. In this way, veneration of the Forty Martyrs became widespread, and numerous churches were erected in their honor.

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One of these churches was built at Caesarea, in Cappadocia, and it was in this church that Basil publicly delivered his homily. Gregory of Nyssa was a special devotee of these holy martyrs. Two discourses in praise of them, preached by him in the church dedicated to them, are still preserved, and upon the death of his parents, he laid them beside the relics of the confessors. Ephrem the Syrian has also eulogized the forty Martyrs. Sozomen, who was an eye-witness, has left an interesting account of the finding of the relics in Constantinople, in the shrine of saint Thyrsus built by Caesarius, through the instrumentality of the Empress Pulcheria.


Byzantine artists were fascinated with the subject that allowed them to graphically show human despair. The martyrs were typically represented at the point when they were about to freeze to death, shivering from the cold, hugging themselves for warmth, or clasping hands to their faces or wrists in pain and despair. This is particularly evident in the large 10th-century ivory plaque from the Bode Museum and the Palaiologan portable mosaic set in wax, from Dumbarton Oaks.

The cult of the Forty Martyrs is widespread all over the East. The Churches of St. Sophia in Ohrid (modern-day Republic of Macedonia) and Kiev (Ukraine) contain their depictions, datable to the 11th and 12th centuries, respectively. A number of auxiliary chapels were dedicated to the Forty, and there are several instances when an entire temple (church building) is dedicated to them: for example Xiropotamou Monastery on Mount Athos and the 13th-century Holy Forty Martyrs Church, in Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria. In Aleppo (Syria) the Armenian Cathedral is dedicated to the Forty Martyrs.


The feast day of the Forty Martyrs falls on March 9, and is intentionally placed that it will always fall during Great Lent. There is an intentional play on the number forty being both the number of martyrs and the days in the fast. Their feast also falls during Great Lent so that the endurance of the martyrs will serve as an example to the faithful to persevere to the end (i.e., throughout the forty days of the fast) in order to attain heavenly reward (participation in Easter, the Resurrection of Jesus).

A prayer mentioning the Forty Holy Martyrs of Sebaste is also placed in the Orthodox Wedding Service (referred to as a “crowning”) to remind the bride and groom that spiritual crowns await them in Heaven also if they remain as faithful to Christ as these saints of long ago.

Special devotion to the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste was introduced at an early date into the West where their feast day is 10 March. Bishop Gaudentius of Brescia (d. about 410 or 427) received particles of the ashes of martyrs during a voyage in the East, and placed them with other relics in the altar of the basilica which he had erected, at the consecration of which he delivered a discourse, still extant. The Church of Santa Maria Antiqua in the Roman Forum, built in the fifth century, contains a chapel, built like the church itself on an ancient site, and consecrated to the Forty Martyrs. A mural there of the sixth or seventh century depicts the martyrdom. The names of the confessors, as we find them also in later sources, were formerly inscribed on this fresco.

Acts of these martyrs, written subsequently, in Greek, Syriac and Latin, are extant, also a “Testament of the Forty Martyrs.”

The cooking in Sivas is to some extent unique to the region and in some ways classic Turkish.  The Turkish word for soup, çorba (chorba), is a Turkish corruption of the Persian word shuraba, which in turn is derived shur (salty) and aba (food). The word shurabaj is an Arabicized form of the same word, and in Arabic, means “meat broth.” The word çorba is used in the Balkans with the same meaning as it has in Turkish, i.e. soup.

A broad variety of soups are made in Anatolia; most of these are based on grains and legumes flavored with yoghurt. Just as one soup may be made in different regions, there are also different soups known by the same name. The word a? is also used in Anatolia for soup.  One distinct feature of Sivas cooking is the use of Madimak which is a local herb similar to spinach, but more bitter. Sivas has a greater variety of soups than any other province of Anatolia. They include:

Peskütan çorbası, pancar çorbası (made with wild greens), kesme çorbası (also known as hamur çorbası – hand cut noodle soup), toyga çorbası, tarhana çorbası (from tarhana made with cracked wheat and yogurt), urumeli (from tarhana made from flour and yogurt), ayran çorbası (yogurt soup), kavurma herlesi (flour soup), mercimek herlesi (flour soup with lentils), mercimek çorbası (lentil), bulgur çorbası (bulgur), pirinç çorbası (rice soup), şehriye çorbası (vermicelli or orzo soup), patates çorbası (potato soup), şalgam çorbası (turnip soup), madımak çorbası (knotweed soup)

I am going to give you a three-fer: two based on tripe and one on cooked yoghurt.


İşkembe Çorbası


1 ¼ lb/600 gm veal or lamb’s tripe
1 tbsp salt
2 tbsps butter
1 tbsp flour
2 meat stock cubes
2 egg yolks
juice of 1 lemon
1 cup vinegar
3 cloves of crushed garlic
3 tbsps butter
1 tbsp ground red pepper


Clean the tripe well. Boil it in 6 pints/3 liters of salted water on low heat, until it becomes tender. There really is no easily designated amount of time for this step.  Check after 2 hours, and keep checking every 30 minutes until it is tender but not soggy.

Take the tripe out of the water and cut it into thin strips. Put them back into the soup. Let simmer.

In, a small saucepan, melt 2 tablespoons of butter. Add the flour and lightly brown. Stirring constantly, slowly add 6-7 ladles of boiling soup. Add this smooth mixture back into the soup, together with the meat stock cubes. Let simmer for 15 minutes,

In a small bowl, beat the egg yolks with the lemon juice. Slowly add some boiling soup to it. Add this sauce to the soup. When it starts boiling again, turn the heat off. Serve accompanied with a bowl of vinegar mixed with crushed garlic. Pour over each individual serving, heated butter mixed with red pepper.

Serves 6


İşkembe Yahni


1 ¾ lb/750 g  lamb’s tripe
juice of 1 lemon (juice only)
2 tbsps Butter
1 large onion; chopped
¼ cup chopped parsley
¼ cup tomato paste
1 cup water
½ cup dry white wine
salt and freshly ground black pepper
chopped parsley to garnish


Wash tripe well,

drain and cut into small squares or fingers.  Place in a dish, add lemon juice, stir and leave for 1 hour.

Place tripe in pan, add water to cover and bring to the boil.   Reduce to a simmer and cook covered until the tripe is tender.  Boiling tripe is not the most pleasant smell in the world, but a few drops of vanilla extract in the boiling water cuts it completely.

When cooked, take off the heat, drain, and reserve the tripe.

Clean the pan and add butter.  Melt over medium heat and add onion.  Sauté  gently until transparent.  Stir in the parsley, cook 1 minute, then add the tomato paste, water, wine and salt and pepper to taste.  Bring to a slow simmer.

Return the tripe to the pan, cover and simmer gently for 30 minutes.

Place in a serving dish, garnish with parsley and serve hot with rice pilaf and a tossed salad.

Yield: 4 servings


 Yayla Çorbasi


¼ cup rice
5 cups of 50-50 water and chicken stock
2 cups of plain yoghurt
1 egg
2 tbsps flour
2 tbsps butter
2 tsps dried mint
1 tsp salt


Boil rice in 5 cups of salted water until tender. Reserve.

In a bowl, beat the egg and flour well, and then add yogurt and mix. Dilute the mixture with 1-2 tablespoons of water.

Put the yoghurt mix in a pot and start cooking on very low. It is important that you start with low heat, otherwise yogurt would curdle. Cook on low heat for approximately 15 minutes, stirring constantly.

Slowly pour the rice along with the cooking water into the soup. Keep stirring. First let it boil on medium and then turn it down and cook for another 10 minutes.

Heat butter in a pan. Once it sizzles, add mint flakes and stir for 20-30 seconds. Then, pour it into the soup and serve.