FORTY-NINE MARTYRS OF SCETIS. The martyrdom of the forty-nine elders of the desert of SCETIS, which took place in the year 444, is commemorated in the SYNAXARION under 26 Tubah. Reference is also made to them in the liturgy with the rest of the host of saints, martyrs, and holy fathers: "Graciously, O Lord, remember all the saints who have pleased Thee since the beginning, our holy Fathers the Patriarchs, the Prophets, the Preachers, the Evangelists, the Martyrs, the Confessors, . . . and the forty-nine martyrs, the elders of Shiheet."
The story of their martyrdom, which is associated with the Berber raid of 444 on the monasteries of Scetis, began when Emperor Theodosius II, son of Arcadius, desirous of having a male heir, sent to the elders of Scetis a request to intercede on his behalf that God might bless him with a son. One of the monks, a devout elder named Isidhurus, wrote to the emperor to the effect that God refused him a son lest the child associate with heretics. Some time later it was recommended to the emperor that he marry a second wife, and again he sent a messenger to the desert monks, this time asking if his offspring from the new wife would include a male child.
In the meantime, Isidhurus had died, so the monks took the imperial letter to the place where he had been buried and placed it on his corpse. Thereupon the answer came that even if Theodosius had taken for himself ten wives, he would never have a male heir. Accordingly this response was included in a letter written by the monks and given the messenger. As the latter (whose name was Artemius and who had brought his son, Dios, to Scetis with him to be blessed by the elders) prepared to start the journey back, the Berbers came down upon them in one of their recurrent attacks on the monastery. An elderly monk, Apa John, hegumenos of Scetis, called on his brethren to take refuge in the nearby fort of Piamoun, unless they preferred to join him in martyrdom. Forty-eight monks, besides John, were massacred by the Berbers.
Meanwhile, Artemius and Dios were fast riding away, but Dios saw a vision in which angels were conducting the souls of the martyrs to paradise and placing the crowns of martyrdom on their heads. He begged his father to allow him to obtain a similar crown for himself, so both father and son rode back and shared the martyrdom of the monks.
When the Berbers had gone away, the other monks came down from the fort, collected the remains of the massacred martyrs, and buried them in a cave. In 538, during the patriarchate of THEODOSIUS I, their relics were removed to a new cave, and a chapel was built on the top. In the following century, when Pope BENJAMIN I was restored to his throne following the ARAB CONQUEST OF EGYPT, he visited Scetis and the cave where the forty-nine were buried and instituted a feast day to commemorate their reinterment, to fall on 5 Amshir.
When the chapel was dilapidated, the monks removed their relics once again to a cell opposite the fort, where they remained till 1773, when IBRAHIM AL-JAWHARI, a charitable Copt, built a new church in DAYR ANBA MAQAR, where their relics still rest.
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