Saint Sophia (whose name means "wisdom") was a widow with three daughters, the Saints Faith, Hope and Love (or Charity) in the Roman Empire under the Emperor Hadrian. They were devout Christians during a time of intense persecution of the Christian faith. They were taken to the emperor, who demanded that Saints Faith, Hope and Love sacrifice to the pagan goddess Artemis. When they refused, they were tortured and killed. Saint Sophia herself died soon after burying her daughters. These saints are celebrated for their martyrdom and devotion to Christ, personifying the virtues they are named after: wisdom, faith, hope and love.
God is glorious in his saints!
Welcome to the Christian Saints Podcast. My name is dr Darren Ong, recording from Sepang in Malaysia. In this podcast, we explore the lives of the Christian saints, from the Anglican, Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions. Today, we commemorate Saint Sophia and Her Daughters, Faith, Hope and Charity.
Saint Sophia was a widow in Italy, who lived during one of the Roman Empire’s persecutions of Christians. Her name, Sophia means wisdom. She had three daughters with similarly meaningful names, Faith, Hope and Charity (we can alternatively translate them Faith, Hope and Love). The names Faith Hope and Charity are taken from this famous passage in 1 Corinthians 13, as the three virtues that endure. Sophia, or wisdom, is a common theme in the scriptures, particularly in the old testement. Here is this passage in the book of Proverbs, where wisdom is personified as a woman:
Does not wisdom call out?
Does not understanding raise her voice?
At the highest point along the way,
where the paths meet, she takes her stand;
beside the gate leading into the city,
at the entrance, she cries aloud:
“To you, O people, I call out;
I raise my voice to all mankind.
You who are simple, gain prudence;
you who are foolish, set your hearts on it.
Listen, for I have trustworthy things to say;
I open my lips to speak what is right.
My mouth speaks what is true,
for my lips detest wickedness.
All the words of my mouth are just;
none of them is crooked or perverse.
To the discerning all of them are right;
they are upright to those who have found knowledge.
Choose my instruction instead of silver,
knowledge rather than choice gold,
for wisdom is more precious than rubies,
and nothing you desire can compare with her.
“I, wisdom, dwell together with prudence;
I possess knowledge and discretion.
To fear the Lord is to hate evil;
I hate pride and arrogance,
evil behavior and perverse speech.
Counsel and sound judgment are mine;
I have insight, I have power.
By me kings reign
and rulers issue decrees that are just;
by me princes govern,
and nobles—all who rule on earth.
I love those who love me,
and those who seek me find me.
With me are riches and honor,
enduring wealth and prosperity.
My fruit is better than fine gold;
what I yield surpasses choice silver.
I walk in the way of righteousness,
along the paths of justice,
bestowing a rich inheritance on those who love me
and making their treasuries full.
“Now then, my children, listen to me;
blessed are those who keep my ways.
Listen to my instruction and be wise;
do not disregard it.
Blessed are those who listen to me,
watching daily at my doors,
waiting at my doorway.
For those who find me find life
and receive favor from the Lord.
But those who fail to find me harm themselves;
all who hate me love death.”
Saint Sophia and her daughters lived in Rome during the reign of the Emperor Hadrian. The widow and her three daughters were not shy about their faith in Christ, and word of them soon reached the emperor. They were taken to the Emperor Hadrian to face his judgment.
In the account of their story written by the Russian hagiographer Saint Dmitri of Rostov the night before facing the emperor Saint Sophia relays these words to her daughters. This translation is by Father Thomas Maretta.
Sophia had sufficient time to instruct her children. She confirmed them in the faith day and night, teaching them with words inspired by God and saying, "My beloved daughters, the time has now come for you to contend for Christ; the hour has arrived for you to be betrothed unto your immortal Bridegroom. In accordance with your names, may you display firm faith, undoubting hope, and unfeigned and never failing love. The hour has come for you to rejoice, for you shall be crowned with the crown of martyrdom by your most beloved Bridegroom and will enter with gladsome voices into His bridal chamber.
"My daughters, for the sake of the honor in which you will be held by Christ, Who is more comely than the sons of men, do not spare your flesh. For the sake of life eternal, pity not the bloom of your youth nor hesitate to suffer the deprivation of this fleeting life, for your Beloved, Jesus Christ, Who dwells in the heavens, is eternal well-being and beauty inexpressible. When your bodies have been tortured to death for His sake, He will robe them in incorruption, and the wounds which you bear on your flesh will shine like the stars in heaven.
"When you have been deprived of your beauty for His sake, He will adorn you with heavenly beauty, such as the eye has not beheld. When you have laid down your souls for your Lord and suffered the loss of your temporal lives, He will grant you life eternal, and He will glorify you unto the ages before His heavenly Father and before His holy angels. You will be called Christ's brides and His confessors by all the hosts of heaven; all the holy monastics shall praise you, and the wise virgins will rejoice over you and will receive you into their company.
"My sweet children, do not allow yourselves to be deceived by the enemy's allurements, for the Emperor will entice you greatly and promise you rich presents, offering you glory, wealth, honor, and all the beautiful and sweet things of this corruptible and vain world. But love none of these things, for they all vanish like smoke and are scattered like dust by the wind and like a flower or grass wither and return to the earth. Neither be daunted by the prospect of grievous tortures, for having suffered them but a short while and having overcome the foe, you will rejoice forever.
"I believe that my God, Jesus Christ, will not forsake you should you resolve to suffer for Him, for He said, Even if a woman should forget her offspring, yet I shall not forget thee. He will remain with you throughout all the tortures you will suffer, looking upon your struggles, strengthening your infirmity, and preparing a plaited crown for your reward.
"My good daughters, remember the pains which I underwent in bearing you! Remember the labors I endured in rearing you, remember my words by which I taught you the fear of God, and comfort your mother in her old age with your good and brave confession of Christ. When I am deemed worthy to be called the mother of martyrs and will behold you suffering bravely for Christ, confessing His holy name and dying for Him, I will have more happiness, joy, honor, and glory than any of the faithful. My soul will be magnified and my spirit will rejoice and I will be strengthened in my old age. Having obeyed the instructions of your mother you will truly be my daughters, if you contest for your Lord even unto the shedding of your blood and with fervor submit to death for Him."
Having hearkened with compunction to their mother's words, the daughters were stricken in heart, and they rejoiced in spirit, awaiting the time of their martyrdom as though it were the hour of their nuptials. Being the holy branches of a sacred root, they desired with all their heart that which their most wise mother Sophia had taught them to thirst after. They stored her words in their hearts and prepared themselves for the contest of martyrdom as though they were to enter a bridal chamber. Girding themselves with faith, bolstering themselves with hope, and kindling in themselves the fire of love for the Lord, they strengthened one another and promised their mother that with Christ's help they would translate into deeds her edifying words to them.
The emperor sought to convince the three children to renounce their faith, by offering sacrifices to the pagan goddess Artemis. We will follow this account from the website of the Orthodox Church in America
When the holy virgins and their mother came before the emperor, everyone present was amazed at their composure. They looked as though they had been brought to some happy festival, rather than to torture. Summoning each of the sisters in turn, Hadrian urged them to offer sacrifice to the goddess Artemis. The young girls remained unyielding.
Then the emperor ordered them to be tortured. They burned the holy virgins over an iron grating, then threw them into a red-hot oven, and finally into a cauldron with boiling tar, but the Lord preserved them.
The youngest child, Love, was tied to a wheel and they beat her with rods until her body was covered all over with bloody welts. After undergoing unspeakable torments, the holy virgins glorified their Heavenly Bridegroom and remained steadfast in the Faith.
They subjected Saint Sophia to another grievous torture: the mother was forced to watch the suffering of her daughters. She displayed adamant courage, and urged her daughters to endure their torments for the sake of the Heavenly Bridegroom. All three maidens were beheaded, and joyfully bent their necks beneath the sword.
In order to intensify Saint Sophia’s inner suffering, the emperor permitted her to take the bodies of her daughters. She placed their remains in coffins and loaded them on a wagon. She drove beyond the city limits and reverently buried them on a high hill. Saint Sophia sat there by the graves of her daughters for three days, and finally she gave up her soul to the Lord. Even though she did not suffer for Christ in the flesh, she was not deprived of a martyr’s crown. Instead, she suffered in her heart. Believers buried her body there beside her daughters.
Let us hear an excerpt of a homily by Greek Orthodox Archbishop, Metropolitan Avgustinos of Florina about Saint Sophia and the three daughters:
St. Sophia and her three daughters teach us, my beloved, that, if we wish to be faithful Christians, that Christianity will cost us. And the more faithful we are, the more it will cost us.
Many of us have become successful in this world. We find a myriad of ways to justify our seemingly proper and scandalous station. Woe to us, if we do not set as a foundation the heroic mindset which defined the holy martyrs. These three little girls should censure the world. And their mother, St. Sophia, censures those mothers who are upset and tremble, thinking that through their fasting, prayer and reading, that the bodily strength of their little girls will be lessened.
The Martyrs are the greatest censure of our lukewarm, miserable and thrice-wretched Christianity.
However, St. Sophia and her three daughters teach us not only through their martyrdoms, but also through their names.
The name "Sophia", what does this teach us? "Wisdom", we hear in Church when the Priest holds the Gospel and raises it, showing it to the whole multitude of the faithful. The Gospel, in other words, is full of wisdom. There is no wiser book. Wisdom is Christ Himself, the Logos of God. Do you remember the wondrous apostolic reading which we read three days ago, on the feast of the Cross? He said: "But we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God." (I Corinthians 1) Christ is wisdom, truth and life.
St. Sophia, therefore, through her name, brings to mind that we must seek from God the illumination of divine wisdom. The names of her three daughters bring to mind the three great theological virtues.
Faith! Awesome power, light, a star, foundation and root. Oh, if there were within our hearts this virtue! We could even bring down the stars from the heavens to the earth, and we could melt the mountains, and even the greatest hindrances would be solved. Do we have faith? If we had faith, 100% faith, the world would be different. But today, people don't even believe 1%. Take almost any Christian and ask him, and you would see that he is full of doubts, totally full of "ifs." If one has an "if", then you don't have faith. Faith is to believe 100% in reality that which our holy Church teaches us.
Hope also brings to mind that, in this world, we have a need for life-giving hope, which would warm us like the sun. The Christian who believes that God is a loving and nurturing Father, an almighty Father and all-wise, he would hope that all those things that God promised, all kinds of great and uplifted and indescribable good things, He will give to him.
And finally, Love, with her name reminds us of the fulfillment and the crown of the virtues. In this world of hatred, egotism, greed, and other evils, love today has grown cold. It is truly a terrible thing, as the sacred Chrysostom says, for us to see the sun be quenched one day. But it is even more terrible for love to be quenched. It is better for the sun to be quenched than for love to be quenched, because it is the sun for our souls. And Christ Himself prophesied, that there will come a cursed day, in which the sun of love will be quenched, and cold and frost will reign upon the earth. (Matthew 24:12)
Saint Sophia and her daughters are commemorated on 15 May in the western church, and on September 17 in the eastern church. The Hagia Sophia, the church that formerly served as the seat of the Patriarch of Constantinople, is named in her honour, as is the city of Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria.
Thanks for listening to this episode of the Christian saints podcast. Look for the Christian Saints podcast page on Facebook or Instagram, or look for us on Twitter at podcast_saints. All music in this episode was composed by my good friend, James John Marks of Generative sounds. Please check out his music at https://generativesoundsjjm.bandcamp.com/. If you enjoyed this podcast, please consider giving us a rating on Itunes or whatever podcast app you use, so more people can find the Christian Saints Podcast
Apolytikion (Tone 4)
The Church celebrates and rejoices
In the feast of the three daughters: Faith, Hope, and Love
And their Mother, Sophia, so named for her Wisdom;
For in them she gave birth to the three godly virtues.
Now they eternally behold their bridegroom, God the Word.
Let us spiritually rejoice in their memory and cry out:
O, our three heavenly protectors!
Establish, confirm, and strengthen us
In Faith, Hope, and Love!
Kondak (Tone 1)
The children Faith, Hope, and Love,
Were as three young promises of holiness
to the Venerable Sophia.
Through divine grace, they confounded Greek philosophy;
They fought and obtained an incorruptible crown
from Christ, the Master of all!