Monday, May 21, 2018

The Seven Sleepers of Ephesus

Over the weekend, I got involved in a thread at the blog, Allan Ruhl - Truth Without Compromise, under the title: Ibn Khaldun on Christianity (LINK).

Though I have been a keen student of Islam for over two decades now, it had been about six months since I was last engaged in extensive research focusing on Islamic studies. As my weekend research continued into Monday, I came across a historical legend—some folk believe that it was an actual event—in a Festschrift honoring the famous British orientalist, E. G. Browne, that I had never heard of: The Seven Sleepers of Ephesus.

The title of the Festschrift is, A Volume of Oriental Studies Presented to Edward G. Browne On His 60th Birthday (link to PDF copy HERE). The specific paper that discusses The Seven Sleepers of Ephesus, was C. C. Torrey's, "Three Difficult Passages in the Koran" (pages 457- 471).

I am a bit embarrassed to admit that I had never heard of this event/legend before this morning. I have been studying early Christian history for over thirty years now, yet never came across it. More embarrassing is the fact that I have read the Qur'an, cover-to-cover, two times and did not realize that this event/legend is mentioned in Surah 18, The Cave—though not by name. But with that said, I am quite pleased that I am now fully cognizant of this wonderful story of seven Christian youths who escaped the Decian persecution of 250 A.D. by fleeing to a cave outside of Ephesus where they miraculously sleep for some 180-309 years (length varies in different versions), and then emerged from the cave not having aged a single day. Lending credence to this event is the fact that the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches have feast days for it—October 22/23, August 2 for the Orthodox, and July 27 for Catholics.

There is a good deal of information on the internet about the The Seven Sleepers of Ephesus—the following links are some of my recommendations:

Tony Devaney Morinelli's English translation - LINK 1 ; LINK 2

Orthodox Church of America, online article 

Wikipedia entry

Catholic Encyclopedia entry via New Advent

Martyrs For The Faith

Huffington Post, blog contribution by Bob Schulman

Bartłomiej Grysa's, The Legend of the Seven Sleepers in Syriac and Arab Sources

Looking forward to dialogue on this event/legend...

Grace and peace,



Rory said...

The Roman Martyrology contains brief accounts of the exploits of the martyrs of the Catholic Church typically given on the days of their graduations to heaven. It is for that reason, divided in to 365 day sections, 366 for leap year. It seems that July 27 is rather typical in length, and to get a taste for how this great record is presented, I am sure some might like to see the entire selection which makes a mention of the "Seven Holy Sleepers."

"At Nicomedia, the martyrdom of St. Pantaleon, a physician. For the faith of Christ he was apprehended by Emperor Maximian, subjected to the torture and burned with torches, during which torments he was comforted by an apparition of our Lord. He ended his martyrdom by a stroke of the sword...At Bisceglia in Apulia, the holy martyrs Maur, a bishop, Pantaleon, and Sergius, who suffered under Trajan...At Nicomedia, St. Hermolaus, priestpriest by whose instructions blessed Pantaleon was converted to the faith...Also, the Saints Hermisppus and Hermocrates, brothers. After many sufferings borne for the confession of Christ, they were condemned to death by the same Maximian...At Cordova in Spain, during the Arab persecution, the holy martyrs George, a deacon, Aurelius and his wife Natalia, Felix and his wife, Liliosa...At Nola, the holy martyrs Felix, Julia, and Jucunda...In the country of the Homerites in Arabia, the commemoration of the Holy martyrs, who were delivered to the flames for the faith of Christ under the tyrant Dunaan...At Ephesus, the Seven Holy Sleepers, Maximian, Malchus, Martinian, Denis, John, Serapion, and Constantine...At Rome, Pope St. Celestine I, who had condemned Nestorius, bishop of Constantinople, and put Pelagius to flight. By his command the holy universal Council of Ephesus was also held against the same Nestorius...At Auxerre, the death of blessed Aetherius, bishop and confessor...At Constantinople, blessed Anthusa, virgin. After being scourged and banished by Constantine Copronymus for the veneration of holy images, she rested in the Lord."

In the Old Rite, the Roman Martyrology is read daily at the Office of Prime, which was before the reforms of Vatican II required for all clergy and religious. I presume that all Catholic clergy and religious that adhere to the Traditional Mass today, would also recite the ancient Office including the martyrology as it had been for centuries and even millenia without ceasing. May these heroes, the fathers and mothers of our faith, never be forgotten.


David Waltz said...

Hi Rory,

Thanks much for your post. Reading through the section of "The Roman Martyrology" that you provided, a question came to mind: do you believe that the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus being included in "The Roman Martyrology" lends a high degree of probability that the story is essentially true?

Changing topics, I was able to track down liturgical commentary on Isaiah 63 that you mentioned to me. Note the following:

>>The Liturgical Year - Dom Prosper Guéranger (1870)

Translated by Dom Laurence Shepard

Passiontide and Holy Week

Lesson from Isaias the Prophet.

Ch. LXII. and LXIII.

Thus saith the Lord God : Tell the daughter of Sion : Behold thy Saviour cometh. Who is this that cometh from Edom, with dyed garments from Bosra, this beautiful one in his robe, walking in the greatness of his strength ? I, that speak justice, and am a defender to save. Why then is thy apparel red, and thy garments like them that tread in the wine-press ?. I have trodden the wine-press alone, and of the Gentiles there is not a man with me ; I have trampled on them in my indignation, and have trodden them down in my wrath, and their blood is sprinkled upon my garments, and I have stained all my apparel. For the day of vengeance is in my heart, the year of my redemption is come. I looked about, and there was none to help ; I sought, and there was none to give aid ; and my own arm hath saved me, and my indignation itself hath helped me. And I have trodden down the people in my wrath, and made them drunk in my indignation, and have brought down their strength to the earth. I will remember the tender mercies of the Lord, the praise of the Lord, for all the things that the Lord hath bestowed on thus.

How terrible is this our Defender, who tramples his enemies beneath his feet, as they that tread in the wine-press ; so that their blood is sprinkled upon his garments ! But is not this the fittest time for us to proclaim his power, now that he is being treated with ignominy, and sold to his enemies by one of His Disciples ? These humiliations will soon pass away ; he will rise in glory, and his might will be shown by the chastisements, wherewith he will crush them that now persecute him. Jerusalem will stone them that shall preach in his name ; she will be a cruel step-mother to those true Israelites, who, docile to the teaching of the Prophets, have recognised Jesus as the promised Messias. The Synagogue will seek to stifle the Church in her infancy; but no sooner shall the Church, shaking the dust from her feet, turn from Jerusalem to the Gentiles, than the vengeance of Christ will fall on the City, which bought, betrayed, and crucified him. Her citizens will have to pay dearly for these crimes. We learn from the Jewish historian, Josephus, (who was an eye-witness to the siege,) that the fire which was raging in one of the streets, was quenched by the torrents of their blood. Thus were fulfilled the threats pronounced by our Lord against this faithless City, as he sat on Mount Olivet, the day after his triumphant Entry.>>

PDF copy of full book available online HERE.

Grace and peace,


Rory said...


You ask if the Roman Martyrology lends a high degree of probability that the legend of the Sleepers of Ephesus might be true.

I need more faith. God help mine unbelief. I don't think the Martyrology lends a "high degree of probability" to this story. I tend towards doubt about this one. The Seven Sleepers are not de fide. If Catholics in good standing today today can deny Fatima, how much more after all the centuries, this story?

In my incredulity, I would still rather err on the side of gullibility than skepticism though. Why might it not be true? It seems to me to add a little to the probability/possibility of the legend when the ancient record adds its witness. It isn't contrary to the faith. I could never believe that the Martyrology is deliberate fiction any more than I could believe that about the Gospels. The difference of course is that the Gospels are more than mere non-fiction; they are inspired by the Holy Ghost.

I believe the Gospels and the Apostles Creed without any reservations. They are more fantastic than the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus. I am Catholic with or without the Sleepers. And I trust they will accept my apologies if I make it there, when I may happily meet them in heaven, to sleep no more.


Rory said...


I missed those remarks from Dom Gueranger during Lent. I had only noticed Is. 63 in connection with the Ascension. You will recall that St. Jerome thought the prophecy applied to Judas Maccabeus and his wars described in the Catholic Old Testament. Without differing with Jerome, it seems like we could understand the Macabbean wars as prophetically symbolizing something much more significant...our Lord's triumph over death and hell. Alleluia.