The Forty Martyrs 2023: history and traditions of the holiday, what not to do

Maria ShevchukLife
Cookies in the shape of birds were baked for the Holy Forty

Every year on March 22, the Orthodox Church honors the memory of the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste, also popularly called Holy Forty or The Larks. On this day, Mykola, Leontii, Illia, Taras, Valerii, Oleksandr, Opanas and Kyrylo celebrate their namesakes.

OBOZREVATEL told about the origin of the holiday, its history and traditions. And also about what you can do on this day and what is forbidden.

How the Feast of the Forty Martyrs came about?

The Forty Martyrs were the best soldiers in the Legion XII of the ancient Roman Emperor Licinius. Despite the fact that the ruler was a pagan and persecuted Christians, the soldiers refused to renounce their faith. The military commander Agricola demanded that they sacrifice to many gods and then, as punishment for their refusal, forced the soldiers to stand naked in the middle of a frozen lake. Their faith did not allow them to die, so they were maimed and killed, and their remains were burned and thrown into the river.

This happened near the city of Sebaste, now Sivas, Türkiye. Hence the name of the feast of the Forty Martyrs of Sevastia. In honor of them, the Orthodox Church relaxes the fast, allowing people to eat fish and drink wine on this day.

Prohibitions on the Holy Forty

Despite the fact that fasting on the holiday is somewhat easier, meat, milk and dairy products, as well as eggs, remain prohibited for believers.

It is also not recommended to engage in physical labor on this day. Even cleaning is forbidden. So is sewing, washing, and repairing things.

It is considered inappropriate to borrow or lend money on the Holy Forty.

Traditions of celebrating the Holy Forty

The popular name of the Feast, The Larks, comes from the traditional bird-shaped cookies that were baked on this day. They don't have to be skylarks. They could be storks, magpies, and so on. They symbolized the birds that had returned from warm lands after the winter. Sometimes, these cookies were strung on sticks and given to children and neighbors in this form. It was supposed to bring health to poultry.

Holy Forty is also considered a day of divination for unmarried girls. They would perform rituals to call for spring, breaking 40 twigs or tearing 40 threads.

In church on this day, it is necessary to light 40 candles and make 40 bows in thanksgiving to God.

Relatives were invited to the house. It was believed that the more guests gathered at the table, the stronger and happier the family would be.

On this day, the memory of the clouds is honored. Everyone went out to the field, even the old and weak, to look like the first green. It was believed that this would bring health. They would say: "I'm trampling, trampling on the squishy stuff. May God grant to trample and wait for it next year."

Omens of March 22

Our ancestors noticed whether the weather was good on this day. It was believed that the weather on Holy Forty would be the same for the next 40 days.

If the birds that returned from warm lands began to nest on the sunny side, it portended a fruitful but cold summer.

Snow on the holiday was considered to be a sign of a very cold Easter week.

Precipitation and the absence of sun were seen as a harbinger of a summer without showers and a warm and dry fall.

Prayer for the Forty Martyrs

O holy, glorious Forty Martyrs of Christ, who suffered for Christ's sake in the city of Sebaste, having passed through fire and water and having entered the tranquility of the heavenly kingdom as friends of Christ, pray generously to the Most Holy Trinity for the Christian people, in particular for those who honor your holy memory and turn to you with faith and love in their prayers.

Ask the Most High God for forgiveness of our sins and the restoration of our lives so that in repentance and unselfish love, one by one, we may stand with boldness before the Last Judgment of Christ and, through your prayers, become the right hands of the Righteous Judge.

O saints of God, be our defenders against all enemies visible and invisible, so that under the cover of your prayers we may be delivered from all evil, trouble, and danger to the end of our lives, thus glorifying the great and mighty worship of the holy Trinity of The Father, and Son, and the Holy Spirit now and ever and forever.


Earlier, OBOZREVATEL told when in Ukraine will celebrate Easter in 2023 and whether it will be a day off.

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