The ancient story of the marytrdom of the Forty Holy Martyrs of Sebaste is related on MIT's website:
The story of these mysterious martyrs unfolds in the city of Sebaste during the reign of Emperor Licinius in 320 A.D. A garrison of Roman soldiers-- 40 in number -- were stationed in this remote Armenian town. While they were bold, courageous soldiers, they were also devout Christians. Upon hearing of this in Rome, the infuriated Emperor issued an edict, stating that those throughout the Empire who would not worship pagan gods would be tortured and put to death. An additional contingent of soldiers was sent to Sebaste to see exactly where the loyalties of these 40 Christians actually stood.St. Ephrem gave a powerful homily in honor of the festivity of the 40 Holy Martyrs of Sebaste. His conclusion is especially relevant to us:
We are told that to a man, all forty soldiers refused to reject Christ. A cruel death was planned for them. It was bitterly cold in Sebaste at this time of the year, and they were forced to remove their clothes and stand along the shores of a frozen lake, looking across the waters at the glowing fires of the pagans -- where they could go if they would renounce the Lord. Still they refused! As death approached, a band of angels came down from heaven and placed crowns on the heads of these dying saints. It is said that one of the Roman guards was so moved by this glorious sight that he removed his own garments and rushed to die himself at the side of these Christian warriors.
Though we are not all called to the trial of martyrdom, we are all bound daily to fight, and to conquer too. By multiplied victories which we gain over our passions and spiritual enemies, by the exercise of meekness, patience, humility, purity, and all other virtues, we shall render our triumph complete, and attain to the crown of bliss. But are we not confounded at our sloth in our spiritual warfare when we look on the conflicts of the martyrs? "The eloquence of the greatest orators, and the wisdom of the philosophers were struck dumb: the very tyrants and judges stood amazed and were not able to find words to express their admiration, when they beheld the faith, the cheerfulness and constancy of the holy martyrs in their sufferings.
But what excuse shall we allege in the tremendous judgment, who, without meeting with such cruel persecution and torments, are so remiss and slothful in maintaining the spiritual life of our souls, and the charity of God! What shall we do in that terrible day when the holy martyrs, placed near the throne of God, with great confidence shall display their glorious scars, the proofs of their fidelity? What shall we then show? shall we produce our love for God? true faith? a disengagement of our affections from earthly things? souls freed from the tyranny of the passions? retirement and peace of mind? meekness? alms-deeds and compassion? holy and pure prayer? sincere compunction? watching and tears?
Happy shall he be whom these works shall attend. He shall then be the companion of the martyrs, and shall appear with the same confidence before Christ and his angels. We beseech you, O most holy martyrs, who cheerfully suffered torments and death for his love, and are now more familiarly united to him, that you intercede with God for us slothful and wretched sinners, that he bestow on us the grace of Christ, by which we may be enlightened and enabled to love him."