Every year on March 9th the Orthodox Church commemorates the 40 Martyrs killed in Sebaste. They were a group of Roman soldiers forced by the emperor Licinius of Armenia to worship idols. They refused his order and so they were subjected to a slow torture. The soldiers were imprisoned for eight days and then condemned by the emperor to be exposed naked upon a frozen pond near Sebaste on a cold night. One of the 40 martyrs came out of the frozen water and died running to the warm bath, brought by those who worshiped idols. The other martyrs began to pray and the ice melted away, and the water in the lake became warm. Next, a crown of glory appeared over the head of each martyr and then one of the guards jumped into the water, proclaiming himself a Christian. After that, the torturers took them out of the water and they crushed their legs with hammers. Then their bodies were burned and the charred bones were thrown into a river.
The Christian Feast of the Holy Forty Martyrs of Sebaste coincides with the beginning of the agricultural year when farmers start to plow the field. Therefore according to the folk tradition it is considered that on March 9th the holy martyrs gather to participate in a defrosting and heating ritual. To this end, in some parts of the country, people hit the frozen ground with sticks to let the heat out and trap the cold in.
On the evening of March 8th Christians prepare 40 cakes called mucenici, to honor the memory of the martyrs. They are shaped like a figure eight or like the infinity symbol and they are prepared in Moldova, Dobrogea and Muntenia. In Dobrogea and Muntenia they have a smaller form (3-5 mm thick and 1-2 cm long) and they are boiled in water with sugar, cinnamon and walnuts, symbolizing the water where the Holy Martyrs were thrown. The Moldavian mucenici are about the size of your palm. Both types are served chilled or at room temperature.
The ingredients for preparing the Muntenian version are flour, water, salt, walnuts, sugar, cinnamon and lemon peel. Using the flour, the water and the salt you prepare a consistent dough and then shape it in the figure of a small 8. Within 24 hours, when they are dry you can boil them for 30-60 minutes in water with sugar and lemon peel, until they rise to the surface. You can roast the walnuts in the oven for 5-10 minutes and then ground or chop them. Put the mucenici on a serving plate and after that you can spread over them the walnuts, the cinnamon and the sugar.
For the Moldavian mucenici we use milk, butter, eggs, sugar, flour and yeast to prepare the dough. Then the dough in a larger shape of the figure 8 is baked in a heated oven until it becomes golden-brown. Finally pour honey and ground walnuts on the mucenici.
For more information regarding the meaning and the traditions on the occasion of the commemoration of the martyrdom of the Holy 40 soldiers of Sebaste visit the website www.crestinortodox.ro and for detailed guidance on how to prepare the Muntenian and the Moldavian mucenici go to www.petitchef.ro and www.reteteculinare.ro .