....I expect the resurrection from the dead and life of the world to come. Amen.
We say this phrase daily. We are taught to believe that one day, when God so chooses, our earthly bodies, no matter how long dead, no matter what state it is in, visible or invisible due to degeneration, will rise from the dead, become glorified in state and be reunited with our spirit, and will live forever in the new kingdom. To deny this teaching would be heresy. It was exactly this heresy which was being committed in the fifth century. Yet Our God, in His infinite wisdom and love, foresaw that his beloved children would cease to fully understand and accept this truth at that time in history and provided.
One day in the fifth century, on Mount Eschlon near the city of Ephesus a man was walking around his property when he came upon some strange stone masonry blocking the entrance of a cave. Deciding it was not useful to him there, he had the masonry torn down. Little did he know that within that cave, there were seven young men in hiding. These men were fugitives. They were hiding from their emperor who determined they should be put to death for their loyalty to Christ. Finding themselves very hungry and desperate, one of them decided to dress as a beggar and sneak into town to buy the group some food. But when he did, the entire town was astonished. The coin the young man used to pay for the bread he wanted to buy, was over 200 years old. The shop keeper questioned the man as to where he obtained the coin and called in authorities to help him understand who this man was and where he came from. Iamblicus, the young man, revealed to them that he was, indeed amazed that when he entered his home city, he noticed that the churches, which had been previously abandoned and neglected, were now open. He saw open signs of Christianity, and heard people speaking openly of Jesus, although he knew it had been forbidden by the emperor. He was indeed a confused young man. The authorities convinced him to escort them to the cave, where they saw the other six young men and heard the same story from them...he was not insane.
The young men explained that they were hiding from the Emperor Decius, an emperor during the third century era of persecution, who accused the men, who were all soldiers, of the crime of Christianity. As God would have it orchestrated, the city administrator who was listening to the story was none other than the Bishop of Ephesus, who began to recognize that God was surely at work. At the entrance of the cave, they found a sealed metal box, inside of which was a plaque, stating the names of each of the young Christians, the date of the masonry and the reason for it. It seems someone had seen the men enter the cave and reported it to Decius, who ordered the construction. Two of the men assigned to guard the masonry were secret Christians and decided to mark the site as it was surely the scene of true martyrdom. The truth was now becoming very apparent to the Bishop. These men had been asleep for two hundred years, yet here they were, bodies and minds intact, indistinguishable from those who had been born hundreds of years later. The resurrection of the body was truly possible!
The people of the town rejoiced at the goodness of God that he would correct this heresy and reveal the truth to them in such a remarkable way. Later on that day, the young men, by divine inspiration, would bid their new friends goodbye, lay down again in their cave, and ask that the masonry be restored and the grave site be marked. They then joyfully and peacefully fell asleep in the Lord once again, awaiting the day when they would arise for all time.
This is a favorite story, and you can mark it every year by making this family favorite. Children love to pick out the seven ingredients of these little commemorative pies, and to tuck them all in, safe and sound with their little biscuit blankets before sealing them in their cave ( the oven!) for 200 years....just kidding! It only takes 45 minutes!
Seven Sleepers Pot Pies:
Begin by deciding on seven ingredients to go inside your pies, one for each of the seven sleepers, and cut them into uniform bite sized pieces. Some favorites are:
Carrots Parsnips Chicken
Potatoes Sweet potato Sausage
Green peas Corn kernels Apple
Onions Celery Turnip
In a deep skillet, make your favorite gravy. We begin by making a roux, 1/2 stick of butter (or 1/4 c oil) and 1/4 c flour, whisked till melted and smooth and lightly toasted. To this we add a quart of our favorite stock, ( chicken, veggie, beef, etc. depending on the ingredient list you choose). If you're making more than four pies, you may need to double the gravy recipe. At this point you can add your favorite seasonings, salt and pepper, sage, oregano, a splash of wine or Worcestershire sauce, etc. Bring this to a good boil to thicken the gravy and then add the vegetables, cooking only slightly to soften.
Once your mixture is hot, spoon it into each individual baking dish and cover with biscuit dough. You can either use a prepared dough, or make your own!
2 1/2 cups flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 stick cold butter (coconut oil, or olive oil works well on a fast day)
3/4 cup buttermilk, (or milk/almond milk with a splash of lemon juice or vinegar)
Combine all dry ingredients in a bowl or food processor. Cut in cold butter till mixture resembles a coarse meal, then add milk and stir just enough to form a workable dough. Roll out to desired thickness and cut into shapes to cover your pies. A drinking glass makes a perfect circle for covering most baking crocks. Children however, love to cut shapes like fall leaves or hearts with cookie cutters and layer them over each pie before baking, being sure to leave vents for steam. You can brush the tops with butter if you like and bake each at 350 degrees for about 30-45 minutes, depending on the size of your pies, until hot and golden brown.
As a variation:
You really can change up these ingredients to suit your pantry, diet, or taste! Because our family has been making this dish for so many years, we've come up with several variations of it. Tonight we'll be enjoying it as a potted shepherd's pie, with onions, carrots, jackfruit, potatoes, mushrooms, parsnips, and squash, in a rosemary and red wine reduction and topped with a mashed potato blanket! The possibilities really are endless!
Do we know anyone who has trouble sleeping? We can make them a helpful gift in honor of the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus. Our saintly friends had no trouble sleeping soundly for 200 years, but sometimes we can have trouble staying asleep through the night! These herbal sleep pillows smell wonderfully relaxing and can be heated up in the microwave to become even more snuggly. The key is in the stuffing.
Herbal Sleep Pillows
In a large bowl, mix about 4 cups of flaxseeds and 1 cup of dried herbs of your choice for each pillow. While lavender, chamomile or rose petals are the usual favorites, rosemary or lemon balm work nicely too. You'll need two pieces of cotton or muslin cloth, cut to any size and shape you like, for the pillow insert. An 8"x8" square is fine, but if you cut those pieces in half, 8"x4", you can make a pillow which is just the right size to place over your eyes. Placing the right sides of the fabric together, sew these two pieces almost all the way around, leaving a 2" opening. Through this hole, turn your pillow right side out, and using a funnel, fill your pillow a little more than half-way-full with the flaxseed and herb filling. Be sure not to stuff it too full! It's more comfortable if it's a bit floppy. Using a blanket stitch, hand-stitch the remaining hole closed, from the outside, to complete your pillow. As an option, you may want to run a top-stitch all along the edge of your pillow to finish it nicely. Now, this little pillow is wonderful as it is, but it may not be washed unless you want your flaxseeds to sprout! Spot clean it only. You can even take old socks who've lost their mate and recycle them by filling them with the seed and herb mixture. These can then be sewn shut, and are great to wrap around the back of your neck as you nap. Not only can all these pillows be microwaved for a few minutes to release their aroma and make them cuddly and warm, but they can be placed into the freezer and used as cold-packs in warm weather as well. Make up a bunch of these and give them as gifts in honor of our sleepy saints.
Another fine idea for a commemorative activity is to mix up a batch of 7 Sleepers Night Time Tea!
You'll have to gather some dried herbs for this, either at a natural foods store or from an online source such as Mountain Rose Herb Company...I just love to get my herbs there.
Mix together equal parts dried peppermint leaves, chamomile flowers, and rose hips and put it into a pretty jar, decorate with a nice ribbon and hand made label. Steep a tablespoon of the mix in a large mug of hot water to make a wonderful, sleep inducing, tea to help you relax at bedtime. These make wonderful Christmas gifts, by the way!