The Seven Sleepers Revered By Muslims & Christians
Here’s something odd and wonderful. Tonight at the vespers service, we commemorated the Seven Sleepers Of Ephesus. Huh? Matthew whispered to me, “That sounds like a Ray Bradbury story.”
Have you heard of the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus? I have never heard of the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus. When we made it home, we looked up the story online. The Seven Sleepers were young third-century Ephesian Christians who were facing the prospect of martyrdom under the pagan Emperor Decius. According to the legend, they hid in a cave on a nearby mountain, praying and waiting to be taken away and murdered for refusing to honor the pagan gods. Later, when Decius returned to Ephesus, he ordered the cave sealed by a rock, with the young men inside. Nearly 200 years later, after the empire had become Christian, the owner of the land where the cave was had the rock moved, and discovered that the young men had been sleeping for all that time. The story goes that the Seven Sleepers appeared in the city, said what happened to them, were seen by many, then died. The detailed account of the miracle is here.
It’s a beautiful tale, one that is well known in the Middle East, and was widely known in the Christian West in the first millennium. Today, it is largely forgotten, even in Orthodoxy. John Sanidopoulos writes about them here. Sanidopoulos says it sounds like a myth or a legend, but there are enough historical details in the account, and it was celebrated by the church right after it supposedly happened, to make it more than something made up out of whole cloth. He cites the 1953 work by a modern scholar who doesn’t believe in the miracle, but who concluded based on historical analysis that something happened, and the people convinced themselves it was a miracle. Fascinating stuff.
Here’s an even more fascinating aspect of this story: a version of it is told in the Quran, where they are identified as the Sleepers Of The Cave.
The Seven Sleepers are considered the patron saint of those who suffer with insomnia. Archaeological digs in northern Europe and Iceland show the names of the Seven Sleepers inscribed on amulets and charms used to help the sleepless find rest.
The things you learn at church!