It is quite amazing to read about the martyrdom of the Seven Maccabee brothers, their mother Solomone, and their teacher Eleazar. The Church celebrates their memory on August 1st, and the account of their martyrdom is written in the Old Testament, in 2 Maccabees 6:18-7:40 and 4 Maccabees 15-18. Even though they lived in the 2nd century before Christ, their faith in the true God was admired by the great Fathers and Teachers of the Church. St. Ambrose, St. Basil the Great, St. Gregory the Theologian, and St. John Chrysostom all wrote in praise of these great martyrs. They are called Maccabees, because they belonged to the segment of the Jewish people in Jerusalem who remained faithful to the true God. They struggled to protect the Temple from being defiled by conquerors who worshipped idols, and they fought for the freedom of their people.
In the year 173 B.C., Judea was ruled by Antioch IV, king of Syria. He believed himself to be an incarnation of Zeus, and demanded that his subjects worship him as God. Since the Jews believed only in the One God, he used violence as a means to force them to reject the Law of Moses. In order to confirm their apostasy, they were required to eat pork, which was forbidden by the Mosaic Law. During this persecution, Eleazar, the priest of the Temple in Jerusalem (to whom Solomone had entrusted the education of her children), Solomone herself, and her seven children were all taken captive. It is impossible to fully describe the torture that these holy Martyrs went through, or the unshakeable faith and heroism which gave them the strength to endure. Eleazar was the first to die for his love and steadfast faith in the One true God, showing his disciples the way to follow. The children were the next to suffer, starting with the oldest child, and then down to the youngest. All of them held to the standard set by their teacher. Their common conviction was summarized in the words which they addressed to the king: “You, accursed wretch! You set us free from this present life, but the King of the world will raise us to an everlasting renewal of life, because we die for His laws” (2 Maccabees 7:9). They encouraged one another with remembrance of who they are: We are descendants of those who were guided by columns of fire at night, and a cloud during the day. We are descendants of those for whom the sea split in two, leaving dry land that allowed them to cross to the other side, and escape their pursuers. We are descendants of those who were fed by manna, which came down from heaven. We will not yield to the threats of the tyrant, and through our death we will gain eternal life. Let none of us show cowardice or great attachment to this life. St. Gregory the Theologian, referring to the heroism of these seven young men, cried out: “Here are courageous and noble-minded children! Here are the offspring of a noble mother! Here are honorable fighters for truth!”
And what was St. Solomone doing, while being forced to witness the martyrdom of her children? She kept hidden the pain in her heart, encouraged her children to remain faithful to the true God, and told them to not lose heart in the face of such torment. “Still a short while, and we will emerge victorious,” she kept saying to them. The thought of any of her children denying the true God was more agonizing to her than anything else she may endure. Finally, this heroic mother herself was martyred. The holy relics of St. Solomone are preserved to this day, in a large reliquary in the Patriarchal Church in Constantinople. Impressed by her courage, St. Gregory declared: “What a manly heart in a woman’s body! The magnanimous act of a mother! She delivered her children to God, by their own will, and she took care of them until God would receive them.”
My dear brothers and sisters! These Saints and Martyrs stand before us as shining examples to be observed by all. Let priests and every cleric become an imitator of Eleazar, the priest who with his teaching and life, inspired love and a fervent faith in God in his spiritual children. Let all mothers look to St. Solomone, and take care not only of their children’s physical and mental growth, but also their spiritual life by being a role model for them. May they seek to connect their children at a young age with a Spiritual Father who can guide them, so that as they mature, their knowledge of the true God can grow in faith and love. As for the children and young people, let them draw courage and strength from the brave Maccabee brothers. May they not give in to temptations amid the various pressures of everyday life. These temptations seek to lead them away from the true God, subjecting them to the false idols of our times. Just as they engage in physical activities, may they also exercise spiritually, struggling against the passions. With chastity and beauty, they will be able to go out on the open sea of life, always guided by Christ, and arrive safely to their final destination.