In the days of King Antiochus Epiphanes IV (175 – 163 BC), severe edicts were issued against the Jews in the attempt of the king to wipe out the belief in the God of Israel and life according to the Torah of Moses. II Maccabees, a book that is not in the Jewish TaNaKh but is preserved within the Christian Bible, describes the suffering of the people of Israel at that time.

The Jewish tradition remembers the victory of Judah the Maccabee and his brothers over the armies of King Antiochus on the feast of Hannuka, which commemorates the miracle of the olive oil at the time of the rededication of the Temple, after it had been purified of the idol worship imposed by the evil king. However, in the Christian Bible one can read about the suffering and persecutions that were caused by the king's edicts. On August 3, the Church of Jerusalem remembers those who died as martyrs because of their fidelity to the God of Israel and the Torah of Moses during the days of these edicts of Antiochus and especially the mother and her seven sons who were put to death one after the other because they refused to disobey the Torah. The story of their death is told in chapter 7 of the Second Book of Maccabees:


"It happened also that seven brothers and their mother were arrested and were being compelled by the king, under torture with whips and thongs, to partake of unlawful swine's flesh. One of them, acting as their spokesman, said, "What do you intend to ask and learn from us? For we are ready to die rather than transgress the laws of our ancestors." The king fell into a rage, and gave orders to have pans and caldrons heated. These were heated immediately, and he commanded that the tongue of their spokesman be cut out and that they scalp him and cut off his hands and feet, while the rest of the brothers and the mother looked on. When he was utterly helpless, the king ordered them to take him to the fire, still breathing, and to fry him in a pan. The smoke from the pan spread widely, but the brothers and their mother encouraged one another to die nobly, saying, "The Lord God is watching over us and in truth has compassion on us, as Moses declared in his song that bore witness against the people to their faces, when he said, 'And he will have compassion on his servants'" (2 Maccabees 7:1-6).

All seven brothers died as martyrs before the eyes of their mother about whom it is written:

"The mother was especially admirable and worthy of honorable memory. Although she saw her seven sons perish within a single day, she bore it with good courage because of her hope in the Lord. She encouraged each of them in the language of their ancestors. Filled with a noble spirit, she reinforced her woman's reasoning with a man's courage, and said to them, "I do not know how you came into being in my womb. It was not I who gave you life and breath, nor I who set in order the elements within each of you. Therefore the Creator of the world, who shaped the beginning of humankind and devised the origin of all things, will in his mercy give life and breath back to you again, since you now forget yourselves for the sake of his laws'" (2 Maccabees 7:20-23).

The king tried to tempt the youngest son with promises of money and honor, however before he too was put to death, he proclaimed:

"'What are you waiting for? I will not obey the king's command, but I obey the command of the law that was given to our ancestors through Moses. But you, who have contrived all sorts of evil against the Hebrews, will certainly not escape the hands of God. For we are suffering because of our own sins. And if our living Lord is angry for a little while, to rebuke and discipline us, he will again be reconciled with his own servants. But you, unholy wretch, you most defiled of all mortals, do not be elated in vain and puffed up by uncertain hopes, when you raise your hand against the children of heaven. You have not yet escaped the judgment of the almighty, all-seeing God. For our brothers after enduring a brief suffering have drunk of ever-flowing life, under God's covenant; but you, by the judgment of God, will receive just punishment for your arrogance. I, like my brothers, give up body and life for the laws of our ancestors, appealing to God to show mercy soon to our nation and by trials and plagues to make you confess that he alone is God" (2 Maccabees 7:30-37).

In the icon, not only the mother and her seven sons appear but also Eleazar, the righteous martyr who died in the same persecution and whose death is described in chapter 6 of II Maccabees.

The story of the seven brothers and their mother profoundly influenced the persecuted Christians who died as martyrs during the first centuries of the Church.