On 30 September, we commemorate the Holy Martyrs Faith, Hope, Love, and their mother Sophia. Faith, Hope and Love are the names of three Christians saints, and also of three Christian virtues mentioned in the first epistle to Corinthians of Apostle Paul. All three are central to the life of any Christian and the Christian church. We all need to be faithful, loving and hopeful. All three are essential to our salvation. We need faith to embrace God and to surrender ourselves consciously to His Divine will. We need hope to have trust in our neighbours and their goodwill. Finally, we must have love to make full use of our innate capacity for goodness and righteousness. The good lives and accomplishments of the three girl saints would not have been possible without the nourishing guidance of their mother Sophia, whose name translates as 'wisdom'. Likewise, faith, hope and love as our Christian virtues would be untenable unless they were grounded in wisdom.
The holy martyrs lived in the second century. For over a century, the disciples of Christ had been preaching the Holy Gospel around the world. In those times, the largest state on earth was the Roman Empire, and it was inhabited by many Pagan peoples. Yet the number of Christians was growing fast. The zealous Pagans hated and feared them, and their sages were sending curses on them. Thousands of believers in Christ died on the cross, were burned to death, beheaded or fed to wild animals.
Sophia, a pious Christian lived in these difficult years. She was born to a wealthy family. She grew up amid multiple temptations and enticements of the world, but she always held on to her faith in Christ. Even though she married a pagan, her loving husband did not stop her from practising Christianity. A devout Christian, she raised her three daughters in the love of God. She taught them not to become attached to worldly riches and comforts. The children grew up in work and obedience and devoted a great part of their day to prayer and reading spiritual books.
Soon after the birth of her third daughter, Sophia became a widow. Yet she had enough possessions to engage in charity and almsgiving. She gave away to the poor most of her possessions and moved to Rome. She dedicated all of her time and effort to raising her three daughters.
Under the wise and loving guidance of her mother, they excelled in all endeavours. With their beauty and wisdom, they soon began to draw the attention of others in their milieu.
Word of their wisdom and elegance soon spread across Rome and reached Praetor Antiochus, governor of their area. Standing before the governor, the children did not hide their faith from him. Enraged, Antiochus reported them to Emperor Hadrian (117 - 138), who had them brought to his palace for trial. In the course of the trial, he pressured the children to renounce their faith.
Sophia knew very well what that trial meant for them. Anyone who did not renounce their faith could expect an agonising death.
Speaking to the children one after another, Hadrian urged them to make a sacrifice to the Pagan Goddess Artemis. But all three refused.
The wrathful emperor then ordered them to be tortured. He had them burned over an iron grating, thrown into a red hot furnace and boiled in a cauldron with melted tar. But the Lord preserved them.
Sophia was not subjected to any physical torture. Instead, they had a different ordeal - the mother was forced to watch the suffering of her daughters. With great courage, she urged her daughters to endure for the sake of Jesus Christ. To prolong her suffering, the emperor let her take the bodies of her daughters. Sophia put their bodies in coffins, drove them beyond the city limits and buried the maidens reverently on top of a hill. For three days, Sophia sat by the graves of her daughters until she finally gave up her soul to the Lord. The faithful buried her body beside her daughters. That martyrdom happened in 137. At the time of their death, Faith was twelve, Hope was ten, and Love was nine years of age.
The example of the martyr saints shows how the grace of the holy spirit can empower us to reach untold levels of bravery and spiritual strength, despite our physical weakness.
This week, we are preparing to celebrate the feast day of Saint Mary Magdalene, a dedicated disciple of Jesus Christ, the first to witness the resurrection of Christ and sent by Him to proclaim the news to the world.