The seven holy Maccabee martyrs, Abim, Antonius, Gurias, Eleazar, Eusebonus, Alimus and Marcellus, their mother, Solomonia, and their teacher, Eleazar, suffered for Christ in 166 under Syrian King Antiochus IV. The king loved pagan and Hellenistic customs, and held Jewish customs in contempt. He did everything possible to turn people from the Law of Moses and from their covenant with God. He desecrated the Temple of the Lord, placed a statue of the pagan god Zeus there, and forced the Jews to worship it. Many people abandoned the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but there were also those who continued to believe that the Savior would come.
A ninety-year-old elder, the scribe and teacher Eleazar, was brought to trial for his faithfulness to the Mosaic Law. He suffered tortures and died at Jerusalem.
The disciples of St. Eleazar, the seven Maccabee brothers and their mother, Solomonia, also displayed great courage. They were eventually brought to trial in Antioch by King Antiochus. They fearlessly acknowledged themselves as followers of the True God, and refused to eat pork, which was forbidden by the Law.
The eldest brother acted as spokesmen for the rest, saying that they preferred to die rather than break the Law. He was subjected to fierce tortures in sight of his brothers and their mother. His tongue was cut out, he was scalped, and his hands and feet were cut off. A cauldron and a large frying pan were then heated, and the first brother was thrown into the frying pan where he offered his soul up to God.
The next five brothers were tortured one after the other. The seventh and youngest brother was the last one left alive. King Antiochus suggested to their mother, St. Solomonia, that she persuade the boy to obey him, so that her last son at least would be spared. Instead, the brave mother told him to imitate the courage of his brothers.
After all her seven children had died, St. Solomonia stood over their bodies, raised up her hands in prayer to God and died.
The martyric death of the Maccabee brothers inspired Judas Maccabeus, and he led a revolt against King Antiochus. With God’s help, he was victorious, and then purified the Temple at Jerusalem. He also destroyed the altars which the pagans had set up in the streets. All these events are related in the Second Book of Maccabees (Ch. 8-10).
Many Church Fathers preached sermons on the seven Maccabees, including St. Cyprian of Carthage, St. Ambrose of Milan, St. Gregory Nazianzus and St. John Chrysostom.