United States Army Special Forces soldiers, who to carry on an active witness for Christ within their units have worn this patch, sometimes sewed into the lining of their Green Berets, in the same spirit of devotion to Christ as the Roman soldiers depicted in this story.
Forty good warriors for Christ they were! All were from Cappadocia, and all were members of the vaunted Twelfth or “Thundering” Legion of Rome’s imperial army. For three centuries, this elite command had maintained an unmatched record in the art of war.
An edict came down from Licinius, the Ceasar in the East: Civil servants, including soldiers, were to lose their appointments if they refused to offer sacrifice on pagan altars before the local deities. And civil servants included the troops!
At the time (midwinter of 320A.D.) the 40 Cappadocians were stationed with the Twelfth Legion at Sebaste, a city of Lesser Armenia south of the Pontus Euxinus, (Black Sea). In command was the captain, Agricolas, a seasoned veteran. Upon receiving the edict he assembled the troops and read out the instructions.
“Men of the Twelfth Legion”, he shouted, “you have shown your valor and unity in battle in a way that has brought victory after victory over the enemy’s forces. Now I am calling upon you to demonstrate once again your support of our imperial Caesar, Valerius Licinius, and your obedience to his laws. It is most important, because of a new threat to our armies, that we desire a favorable issue out of this campaign by making appropriate sacrifice to the gods. The ceremony will be tomorrow.”
Two spokesmen for the Cappadocians informed Agricolas that there were 40 Christians in the ranks of the Legion who would have nothing to do with the proposed ritual of sacrifice.
“Inform the troops”, replied Agricolas, and with some heat, “that two choices lie before them. If they take part in the sacrifice they will be eligible for promotion and honor. If they do not, their armor and their military status will be taken away from them.
“If it rests with us,” said Kandidas, one of the spokesmen, “we have made our choice. We shall devote our love to God.”
They were taken to a place of confinement to await trial before a Roman tribunal.
A week later, before the tribunal that demanded they recant their faith and offer pagan sacrifices, Kandidas again spoke for the 40 men and delivered their final answer to the court.
“You can have our armor, and our bodies as well. We prefer Christ.”
At 9 o’clock the following morning, they reported to Agricolas and he pronounced the command sentence. Their arms were to be bound, ropes were to be placed over their necks, and they were to be led to the shore of a nearby frozen lake.
A bitter wind whipped over the lake’s surface as the men of Cappadocia were driven out shivering in the dusk. Guards were posted on the shore, and the military jailer, Aglaios, stood by with arms folded, watching.
“Forty good soldiers for Christ: We shall not depart from You as long as you give us life. We shall call upon Your Name whom all creation praises: fire and hail, snow and wind and storm. On You we have hoped and we were not ashamed!”
Their songs grew more feeble at the day passed and midnight approached. Then a strange thing occurred. On of the forty was seen emerging from the darkness of the lake, staggering towards the shore. He fell to his knees and began crawling towards the bath house. The guards posted there were dozing. Only the jailer, Aglaios, was awake, his eyes peering into the blackness, his ears straining to catch the mumbled prayers of the doomed Christians.
“Thirty nine good soldiers for Christ!” came a thin quivering note from the distance. Aglaios watched the man enter the bathhouse then emerge quickly, apparently overcome by the heat. He saw the man collapse on the ground and lie still.
At that moment, something happened in the heart of Aglaios the jailer. What it was, only he and God will ever know, but the guards reported hearing a great shout that jerked them awake. Rubbing their eyes, they watched him wrench off his armor and girdle and dash to the edge of the lake. There, after lifting his right hand and crying, “Forty good soldiers for Christ!” he disappeared over the ice and into the darkness.
I first received that patch in the late 70’s. More recently, in the late 90’s, I had the opportunity to share that patch and the story with one of the Chaplains of the 10th Special Forces Group at Ft. Carson, Colorado. As a result, the 10th SF Chaplain who gave me my original patch provided a contact through whom I could have more produced, which I gave the 10th Gp chaplains. They in turn had some made that were much smaller, green and black, that could be worn on the shoulders of their uniforms. Some of the soldiers of the 10th have worn those patches in combat, as symbols for their ‘first’ allegiance.