Martyrs for the Faith, the Maccabees
King Antiochus Epiphanes wanted all of his subjects to speak the same language, Greek, and to worship only Greek gods, that is, idols. Many of the Jews obeyed the King, but there were others who were ready to die rather than to forsake the true faith.
The royal rulers tried to force the elder Eleazar to eat food forbidden by the law of Moses — pork. When he refused, they tried to persuade him to bring his own meat, such as was lawful for him to use, and to pretend that he ate the flesh taken of the sacrifice commanded by the King. To this he answered, "It is not becoming at my age to be a hypocrite; if young people find out that Eleazar, being fourscore and ten years old, has now gone to a strange religion, then they may be tempted to desert the faith." Then they turned him over to the torturers, and Eleazar died courageously for the faith.
Once the woman Solomonia and her seven sons were brought before the king himself. The King compelled them to eat pork, but they boldly replied, "We are ready to die, rather than to transgress the laws of our fathers." Then the King handed them over to brutal torture. They cut out their tongues, cut off their fingers and toes, pulled the skin off their heads, and burned them alive in hot frying pans. Thus six of the brothers were martyred. The King tenderly tried to convince the youngest not to oppose him. He assured him with oaths that he would reward him, and finally turned to his mother to counsel her son to save his life. But she bowed herself toward him and said, "O my son, fear not this tormentor, but being worthy of thy brethren, accept death, that I may receive thee again in the future eternal life." The King then turned the youngest son over to death by torture harsher than all the rest. Last of all, after the sons the mother died. This family of martyrs is known as the Maccabean martyrs.
In defense of the true faith and their homeland there arose a priest Mattathias with his five sons. Many zealots of the Law of God soon gathered around them. One of the sons of Mattathias was especially distinguished for bravery, Judas Maccabeus (named for the Maccabean martyrs). Judas Maccabeus won many victories over the Syrians with only a small group of soldiers. But once, he was surrounded by a large army of Syrians (22,000 troops), and he had only 800 men. Judas died the death of a hero. He would not consent to flee from his enemy and thereby darken his glory.
His brother Simon finally defeated the Syrian army, and having rid the city of Jerusalem of them, purified the Temple, and freed his people from the power of the Greek kings. In gratitude for this, the Jews established that from that time until the advent of the Saviour, the eldest of the family of Simon would be the chief priest and ruler of the people.
Note: See the Books of the Maccabees.
Translator’s note: In the King James Version, these books are found in the apocrypha of the Old Testament. KJV does not include the story of Simon.
(from: The Law of God by Fr. Seraphim Slobodskoy)