Welcome to our Saint of the Day series! Each weekday, we present you with an excerpt from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints series, published by Holy Cross Orthodox Press. Today we commemorate St. Sophia and her daughters, whose account is found in Volume 3 of the series.)
Saint Sophia and her Three Daughters: Faith, Hope, and Charity
The story of a second-century Roman mother who sacrificed herself and her three children in the name of Jesus Christ is not the often-repeated family tale, principally because it is anything but a bedtime story, and for sheer horror is unsurpassed even in the imaginations of today’s writers of grisly screen scenarios. It would be far better to tell of the family delights and Christian fidelity and to mention in passing that they were put to death for their faith, but the stark truth has to be faced to underscore the depth of belief in the Savior. The spiritual attainment of this family alone is positive proof that Christianity transcends every aspect of human life to focus on the eternity of the soul.
The mother of this rare family bore the classical Greek name of Sophia; her three daughters bear the familiar anglicized names of Faith, Hope and Charity. This quartet of frail females stood up to the brutal might of Rome at a time when a mere whisper of dissent could mean death to a Roman citizen, Christian or pagan. Sophia was a widow under whose loving care three daughters acquired a poise and Christian virtue looked upon with respect by the village which they left for the more rewarding city life of Rome, the Eternal City where Christians had firm roots and where Christians could melt in the crowds to escape persecution.
Sophia and her three lovely little girls milled about unobtrusively in the teeming city, but in the Christian community that gathered in candlelight in the catacombs to worship the Messiah, they became highly respected figures, the children all the more so because of their display of deep devotion to the Savior and to their mother. In the dark recesses of the subterranean shelters, the family drew themselves closer to God and to their fellow man, emerging into the light to convert others, who perceived the glow of happiness which was not to be found in the pagan temples nor in the company of those who shared their spiritual darkness. Fate decreed that this blessed family would be called upon to assert their faith in an incredibly monstrous test of Christian endurance.
The Emperor Hadrian did not share the majority view that Christianity was a harmless form of worship practiced by patriotic Romans, but looked upon them as enemies of the state whose kingdom of heaven sought to displace his authority. He instituted a sweeping wave of persecution with an army of operatives infiltrating all sections of the city, spinning a giant web which caught up with Sophia and her children. Not even the most hardened pagans anticipated that three girls, aged twelve, ten and nine respectively, would be punished for what could be construed as the offense of the mother.
The magistrate Antiochos on the other hand saw in the arrest of the entire family an opportunity to wrest from the mother a disavowal of Christ rather than allow her flesh and blood to be punished. Sophia and her three daughters appeared as a group before the judgment of the pagan court, which offered to release the entire family providing that the mother would deny the Savior and raise her children as pagans. All three daughters looked up to their mother to assure her that they would remain as steadfast Christians with her and that she should feel no guilt should they be put to death.
The agonized Sophia was torn between the love for her children and the love for Jesus Christ. She turned to the court to plead that her children be released, and they could inflict their tortures upon her. In a chorus of small voices that would have melted the flintiest of hearts, the youngsters cried out to their mother that they would rather join her in death to be reunited in the Kingdom of God than to remain behind without her. Sophia’s glance at the magistrate told her the next move was his.
Incredibly, the magistrate was unmoved and ordered the first of the girls, Faith, to be put to torture before the eyes of the mother, and when that brought not anguished pleas for mercy but praises of the Lord, the devout Faith was put to the sword. Hope followed her sister in death, as did her sister Charity, three innocents whose horrified mother was dragged to the side of the bodies, over which she continued to pray as she died for the Lord. The commemoration of these sweet saints on September 17 has an added solemnity when their complete story is unfolded.
Text from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints. Image from GOArch.org.