The saints, now known as the 40 Martyrs of Sebaste, lived during the reign of Emperor Licinius (308–323). In 320, the Roman emperor, who reigned together with his brother Constantine, broke off relations with the Christian emperor. He published edicts directed against Christians, and sent magistrates to all the provinces subordinate to him, who were obliged to carry out his orders.
The ruler Agricolaus, appointed for Cappadocia and Lesser Armenia, was one of the most zealous executors of the decrees of persecution. He summoned the twelfth Imperial Legion, called the Lightning Legion, to Sebastia, where his residence was located. Apparently, knowing that there were Christians among the soldiers of this legion, Agricolaus decided to arrange a "purge"…
The warriors had to bow to the imperial idols and sacrifice to them. But 40 people from the legion called themselves Christians and refused to perform the ritual.
Agricolaus first tried to persuade the soldiers with gentleness, praising their military exploits and promising honors and rewards from the emperor if they would obey his command. The soldiers refused and were imprisoned.
Soon, the commander of the Twelfth Legion, Lycias, arrived in Sebastia. He began to persuade the soldiers to sacrifice to idols, but recieving their stubborn refusal, he ordered the other soldiers to knock out their teeth with by flinging stones at them. But when they started to carry out the order, they suddenly went blind and mistakenly threw the stones at each other., Overcome with rage, Lycias grabbed a stone and wanted to throw it at the saints, but the stone hit Agricolaus, seriously wounding the ruler.
Agricolaus ordered the Christian soldiers to be thrown naked into a frozen lake, which was located near Sebastia. And on the shore, he ordered a bathhouse to be heated so that those wishing to renounce their faith could get out of the water and warm up.
All night the warriors stood naked on the ice of the lake. A piercing wind was blowing, the martyrs suffered from the cold, but they prayed to Christ. However, one of the soldiers, unable to withstand the suffering, ran to the bath to warm up, but such a rapid change in temperature led to the fact that his heart could not stand it and he died.
The other thirty-nine soldiers, saddened at the loss of their comrade, redoubled their prayers—and suddenly a light shone in the sky and began to warm them. Seeing this miracle, one of the guards, Aglaius, woke up his comrades-in-arms, threw his clothes to them and quickly ran to the ice to join the martyrs, crying: “I am also Christian!”. So once again there were forty martyrs of Sebaste.
The next morning, when Agricolaus received news of what had happened, he ordered his soldiers to take the martyrs’ lives by breaking their shins, and then to burn the bodies. The ashes were scattered to the wind, and the bones were thrown into the river. Three days later, the saints appeared in a vision to Bishop Peter of Sebaste and showed him the place in the river where their remains lay. There were then extricated from that place by Christians for veneration.
The Church commemorates the martyric labors of the Sebaste Martyrs on March 22. On this day, the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts is served. On the eve of the feast day, believers bake "larks" from lenten dough—these “Larks” symbolize the souls of martyrs flying to God. According to another version, the song of these birds symbolizes the prayer of the Sebaste martyrs to God.