2 Maccabees 7:1-2, 9-14
*1The Maccabean martyrs chose death - tortured limb by limb, burned alive - rather than betray God’s Law. Their story is given to us in these last weeks of the Church year to strengthen us for endurance - that our feet not falter but remain steadfast on His paths.
The Maccabeans died hoping that the “King of the World” would raise them to live again forever (see 2 Maccabees . )
The Sadducees don’t believe in the Resurrection because they can’t find it literally taught in the Scriptures. To ridicule this belief they fix on a law that requires a woman to marry her husband’s brother if he should die without leaving an heir (see Genesis 38:8; Deuteronomy 25:5).
But God’s Law wasn’t given to ensure the raising up of descendants to earthly fathers. The Law was given, as Jesus explains, to make us worthy to be “children of God” - sons and daughters born of His Resurrection.
“God our Father,” today’s Epistle tells us, has given us “everlasting encouragement” in the . Through His grace, we can now direct our hearts to the .
New Covenant. Yet He will guard us in the shadow of His wing, keep us as the apple of His eye, as we sing in today’s Psalm.
The Maccabeans’ persecutors marveled at their courage. We too can glorify the Lord in our sufferings and in the daily sacrifices we make.
And we have even greater cause than they for hope. One who has risen from the dead has given us His word - that He is the God of the living, that when we awake from the sleep of death we will behold His face, be content in His presence (see Psalm 76:6; Daniel 12:2).
*1 The Seven Holy Maccabean Martyrs are seven Jewish brothers who were tortured and killed by the order of Antiochus Epiphanes in 166 BC for refusing to participate in idolatrous worship and eat illicit food in violation of God’s laws. Their teacher, Eleazar the scribe was also martyred at that time. Their mother was forced to watch her sons being cruelly put to death, and then she died. The Eastern Orthodox Church venerates her as St. Solomonia. In 2 Maccabees, the account of Eleazar’s martyrdom is followed by the story of the seven brothers who submitted to martyrdom rather than transgress God’s law. One after another, they stated their willingness to be tortured and die based on a firm hope that God would raise them from the dead.
The episode can be found in 2 Maccabees 6:18-31 and 7:1-42.
These 7 brothers refused to worship pagan gods and to break the kosher dietary laws; once they accepted the reality of who God was there was no turning away from Him, even at the threat of death. Therefore, the presence of the Jewish Martyrs on the Christian liturgical calendar signify recognition of the righteousness of many before the birth of Christ who are justly recognized as saints for the incredible faith. As they are models for the Jews they also are models for Catholics and Orthodox to live the faith with vigor. It's rather significant that Saint Ambrose of Milan spoke of the Maccabean martyrs in his work, On Jacob and the blessed life.
Here is the 7 Holy Maccabee Martyrs story in short.
The seven holy Maccabee martyrs were:
These 7 brothers and their mother Solomonia and their teacher Eleazar also suffered in the year 166 before Christ under the impious Syrian king Antiochus IV Epiphanes.
King Antiochus Epiphanes was a foolish ruler who loved pagan and Hellenistic customs, and held Jewish customs in contempt. He did everything possible to turn people from the Law of Moses and from their covenant with God. He desecrated the Temple of the Lord, placed a statue of the pagan god Zeus there, and forced the Jews to worship it. Many people abandoned the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but there were also those who continued to believe that the Savior would come.
A ninety-year-old elder, the scribe and teacher Eleazar, was brought to trial for his faithfulness to the Mosaic Law. He suffered tortures and died at Jerusalem.
The disciples of St Eleazar, the seven Maccabee brothers and their mother Solomonia, also displayed great courage. They were brought to trial in Antioch by King Antiochus Epiphanes. They fearlessly acknowledged themselves as followers of the True God, and refused to eat pig's flesh, which was forbidden by the Law.
The eldest brother acted as spokesmen for the rest, saying that they preferred to die rather than break the Law. He was subjected to fierce tortures in sight of his brothers and their mother. His tongue was cut out, he was scalped, and his hands and feet were cut off. Then a cauldron and a large frying pan were heated, and the first brother was thrown into the frying pan, and he died.
The next five brothers were tortured one after the other. The seventh and youngest brother was the last one left alive. Antiochus suggested to St Solomonia to persuade the boy to obey him, so that her last son at least would be spared. Instead, the brave mother told him to imitate the courage of his brothers.
The child upbraided the king and was tortured even more cruelly than his brothers had been. After all her seven children had died, St Solomonia, stood over their bodies, raised up her hands in prayer to God and died.
The martyric death of the Maccabee brothers inspired Judas Maccabeus, and he led a revolt against Antiochus Epiphanes. With God's help, he gained the victory, and then purified the Temple at Jerusalem. He also threw down the altars which the pagans had set up in the streets. All these events are related in the Second Book of Maccabees (Ch. 8-10).
EARLY CHURCH FATHERS REFERENCE!! ~~~> Various Fathers of the Church preached sermons on the seven Maccabees, including St Cyprian of Carthage, St Ambrose of Milan, St Gregory Nazianzus and St John Chrysostom.
The Orthodox Church in America (online: www.oca.org)
Wojciech Stattler's "Machabeusze" ("The Maccabees"), 1844