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E02697: John Chrysostom, in his homily On Eleazar and the Seven Boys, delivered one day before a feast held at a shrine of the *Maccabean Martyrs (pre-Christian Jewish martyrs of Antioch, S00303) in the outskirts of Constantinople, defends the validity of the martyrdom and cult of these martyrs, even though they died before Christ. Written in Greek at Constantinople, 397/399.

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posted on 2017-04-12, 00:00 authored by erizos
John Chrysostom, On Eleazar and the Seven Boys (CPG 4441.13; BHG 1010a)


John speaks after an elderly clergyman has preached. He initially intended not to speak, but both the lay audience and the clergy insisted that he take the pulpit. Although he intended to continue on the subject of an earlier sermon, he prefers to talk about the Maccabees, whose festival is on the next day. This sermon is given in advance of the feast, for the correction of those members of the community, who refuse to venerate these figures as martyrs. The Maccabees are not only proper martyrs, but also greater than the others, because they suffered martyrdom in an era when death had not been defeated. Before Christ’s resurrection death was terrifying even for holy men like Abraham or Peter. It is therefore clear that their martyrdom was an act of great courage. To argue that the Maccabees suffered for the Law rather than for Christ is wrong, because Christ had given the Law. Chrysostom discusses the continuity between the Old and the New Covenant, based on various Scriptural passages. He concludes as follows:

Ἀλλ’ ὅτι μὲν τὸν νόμον ὁ Χριστὸς ἔδωκεν, ἀπὸ τούτων δῆλον· καὶ ὅτι σφαγέντες ὑπὲρ τοῦ νόμου, ὑπὲρ τοῦ νομοθέτου τὸ αἷμα ἐξέχεον καὶ τοῦτο σαφές· παρακαλῶ δὲ λοιπὸν τὴν ὑμετέραν ἀγάπην μετὰ πολλῆς τῆς προθυμίας εἰς τὴν πανήγυριν ἀπαντῆσαι· καθάπερ μέλισσαι τῶν σίμβλων ἐκπηδήσατε ἐπὶ τὰ τραύματα τῶν μαρτύρων, καὶ περιπτύξασθε αὐτῶν τὰς βασάνους, μηδὲν πρὸς τὸ τῆς ὁδοῦ κατοκνήσαντες μῆκος. Εἰ γὰρ γέρων ὁ Ἐλεάζαρος πυρὸς κατετόλμησε, καὶ ἡ μήτηρ τῶν μακαρίων ἐκείνων ἐν ἐσχάτῳ γήρᾳ τοσαύτας ὑπέμεινεν ὀδύνας· ποίαν ἂν σχοίητε ἀπολογίαν, ποίαν συγγνώμην, μηδὲ ὀλίγους σταδίους διαπερῶντες ὑπὲρ τῆς θεωρίας τῶν παλαισμάτων ἐκείνων;

‘It is then obvious from all these things that Christ gave the Law. And the fact that those slain for the sake of the Law poured out their blood for the sake of the Lawgiver is also clear. Accordingly, I beg of your love to join the festival with great eagerness. Like bees from the hives, leap off to the wounds of the martyrs, embrace their torments, without shrinking at all from the length of the journey. For if Eleazar, an old man, braved fire, and the mother of those blessed men endured so much pain in extreme old age, what defence would you have, what excuse, for not traversing a few stades in order to watch those struggles?’

Text: J.-P. Migne, Patrologiae cursus completus (series Graeca) (MPG) 63, Paris: Migne, 1857-1866: 523-530. (quote: col. 530, 42-55).
Summary and translation: E. Rizos


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Maccabean Brothers, 2nd-century BC Jewish martyrs in Antioch : S00303

Saint Name in Source

Μακκαβαῖοι, Ἐλεάζαρος

Type of Evidence

Literary - Sermons/Homilies



Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Constantinople and region

Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

Constantinople Κωνσταντινούπολις Konstantinoupolis Constantinopolis Constantinople Istanbul

Major author/Major anonymous work

John Chrysostom

Cult activities - Liturgical Activity

  • Sermon/homily

Cult activities - Festivals

  • Saint’s feast

Cult activities - Places

Cult building - unspecified

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Visiting graves and shrines

Cult activities - Rejection, Condemnation, Scepticism

Uncertainty/scepticism/rejection of a saint

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Women Ecclesiastics - bishops Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy Jews


John of Antioch, bishop of Constantinople, who came to be known as Chrysostom (the Golden Mouth), was born in 344/354 in Antioch on the Orontes where he studied under Libanius. He joined the Nicene Christian community of Antioch, led by bishop Meletios of Antioch, and was ordained priest by Meletios’ successor, Flavianos in 386. Acquiring a great reputation as a preacher, John was appointed as bishop of Constantinople in 397. Clashing with the bishop of Alexandria Theophilos and the empress Eudoxia in 403/404, Chrysostom was deposed and banished to Cucusus in Cappadocia and died in Comana of Pontus in 407. This sermon is preserved in a fragmentary state in two manuscripts: Vat. 431, ff. 230v-236v Stavronikita 6 On the restoration of the text, see Wenger 1987 and Mayer 2006.


The date and venue of this homily are not obvious in the text, but Constantinople appears more convincing than Antioch. In the concluding paragraph, Chrysostom alludes to the remote location of the shrine, which apparently discouraged many from visiting it. Chrysostom’s words make more sense, if we associate them with the shrine of the Maccabees in the outskirts of Sycae/Galata, across the Golden Horn in broader Constantinople (see Janin 1969, 313; Berger 2012, 105-109). This was one of the two shrines of this cult recorded by the 10th-century Synaxarion of the Church of Constantinople. It was certainly an early shrine, since it is mentioned by the Chronicon Paschale in the context of the Persian siege of 626 (ed. Bonn, p. 718; E00). Chrysostom's exhortations for people to undertake the long trip to the shrine would make little sense in Antioch. There, the Christian shrine of the Maccabees was located within the city, in the quarter of Keration. There was also a major Jewish shrine in the suburb of Daphne, which was known as the cave of Matrona, but it is doubtful if that was acquired by the Christians in Chrysostom’s times. In the early period of his ministry, it was still in the hands of the Jews, and Chrysostom reproached those Christians who visited it (E02541). At any rate, it is hard to imagine that the Antiochenes needed a special exhortation to visit the remote but greatly popular suburb of Daphne. Perhaps the main reason favouring Constantinople, however, is the main theme of the author’s discourse, namely to remove the doubts of those who questioned the validity of the cult of the Maccabaean martyrs. The same theme dominates the homily of Gregory of Nazianzus on the same subject, which was most probably delivered in Constantinople in 379/380 (E01043). There are hardly any reasons to believe that the cult of the Maccabees needed a justification or apology at its cradle, Antioch, where it was massively popular among Jews and Chrisitans alike, mainly because of the presence of the saints' tomb. There, the main challenge for the ecclesiastical leadership was to regulate the Christian version of the cult and to dissociate it from its Jewish counterpart, rather than to promote it among reluctant Christians. It seems that in Constantinople the cult of the Maccabean martyrs, most probably having been imported from Antioch at some unknown point in the fourth century, was met with scepticism and questions regarding its position in the Christian tradition. These figures died before the coming of Christ, and only for the cause of avoiding the consumption of pork. How could they be counted as equal to those who died after Christ and for Christ? Chrysostom’s answer is that any death for the sake of the Law in the Old Testament was a death for the sake of the Lawgiver who was Christ, and that martyrdoms which took place without the knowledge of Christ’s resurrection were even braver than those performed in the certain expectation of resurrection. Chrysostom’s points are very close to those of Gregory of Nazianzus, and it is reasonable to accept that both texts address the same Constantinopolitan context. The idea that the martyrdom of the Maccabees was offered to Christ is also central in the other two homilies of Chrysostom on the Maccabees, delivered in Antioch in the late 380s (E02742). Significantly, these texts make no allusion to doubts or scepticism.


Text: Migne, J.-P., Patrologia Graeca 63 (Paris, 1862), 523-530 (incomplete text). Wenger, A., "Restauration de l’ Homélie de Chrysostome sur Eléazar et les sept frères Maccabées (PG 63.523-530)," in: Dummer, J. (ed.) Text und Textkritik: Eine Aufsatzsammlung (Texte und Untersuchungen 133; Akademie Verlag: Berlin, 1987), 599-604 (missing parts, retrieved from Codex Stavronikita 6). Translation of the restored text: Mayer, W., St John Chrysostom, The Cult of the Saints: Select Homilies and Letters Introduced, Translated, and Annotated (Popular Patristics Series; New York: St Vladimir's Seminary Press, 2006) (translation of the full restored text). Further Reading: Berger, A., "The Cult of the Maccabees in the Eastern Orthodox Church," in: G. Signori (ed.), Dying for the Faith, Killing for the Faith: Old-Testament Faith-Warriors (1 and 2 Maccabees) in Historical Perspective (Leiden: Brill, 2012), 105-23. Delehaye, H., Les passions des martyrs et les genres littéraires (Brussels: Société des Bollandistes, 1921). Downey, G., Ancient Antioch (Princeton, 1961). Drobner, H.R., The Fathers of the Church: A Comprehensive Introduction (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007), 327-337, esp. 334-335. Hahn, J., "The Veneration of the Maccabean Brothers in Fourth Century Antioch: Religious Competition, Martyrdom, and Innovation," in: G. Signori (ed.), Dying for the Faith, Killing for the Faith : Old-Testament Faith-Warriors (1 and 2 Maccabees) in Historical Perspective (Leiden: Brill, 2012), 79-104. Janin, R., La Géographie ecclésiastique de l'empire Byzantin. I 3: Les églises et les monastères de la ville de Constantinople. 2nd ed. (Paris, 1969). Joslyn-Siemiatkoski, D., Christian Memories of the Maccabean Martyrs (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009). Kelly, J.N.D., Golden Mouth: The Story of John Chrysostom. Ascetic, Preacher, Bishop (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1995). Mayer, W., The Homilies of St John Chrysostom, Provenance: Reshaping the Foundations (Rome: Pontificio Istituto Orientale, 2005). Schneider, A.B., "Makkabäische Märtyrer," in: Reallexikon für Antike und Christentum 23 (Stuttgart: Hiersemann, 2010), 1234-51. Van Henten, J.W., "The Christianisation of the Maccabean Martyrs: The Case of Origen," in: J. Leemans (ed.), Martyrdom and Persecution in Late Antique Christianity: Festschrift Boudewijn Dehandschutter (Bibliotheca Ephemeridum Theologicarum Lovaniensium; Leuven: Peeters, 2010), 333-351. Vinson, M. "Gregory Nazianzen's Homily 15 and the Genesis of the Christian Cult of Maccabean Martyrs," Byzantion 64 (1994), 165-92. Ziadé, R. Les Martyrs Maccabées: De l’histoire juive au culte chrétien. Les homélies de Grégoire de Nazianze et de Jean Chrysostome (Supplements to Vigiliae Christianae 80; Leiden: Brill, 2007).

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