Homily on Sts. Sophia and her Daughters, by Metropolitan Avgoustinos Kantiotes
After the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, our Church celebrates, my beloved, the memory of Saints Sophia and her three daughters: Faith, Hope and Love.
St. Sophia was born, according to the Synaxarion, in a great city of Italy. She lived during the era of early persecutions, which, as is known, lasted for at least three centuries.
During that era, for one to be a Christian, it was costly. It cost one positions, honors, money, and even this life. Millions were sacrificed then for the love of Christ. With this heroic spirit, St. Sophia lived as well, and thus raised her daughters.
It is not possible to not rouse the evil of persecutors. They seized her, therefore, together with her daughters, and led them before the governor. He gave them the opportunity of three days in order to make a response, and possibly change their minds. But, after three days, the mother and her daughters remained unshakable in their dedication towards our Lord Jesus Christ.
The mother had fear that her daughters might deny Christ, because they were very young. The first, Faith, was twelve years old. Hope was ten. and Love was nine. Despite this, their weak flesh was strengthened by the grace of God, and they endured martyrdom with unprecedented boldness.
They locked them in prison. They beat them with whips. They pierced them with fiery arrows. They threw them in cauldrons of boiling water. However, like the Three Youths in the Furnace, thus, these three girls hymned God, as those around heard the hymn harmoniously: "Praise ye the Lord, and exalt Him beyond measure unto all the ages."
In the end, the three were beheaded by the sword of the tyrant. Their martyrdom was followed by that of their holy mother.
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. And later with think that we are Christians. 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)
We are speaking about love, but we don't possess love. Love is a heavenly thing, which is ineffably joined with humility, with obedience, with discipline, the great virtues. It is not something indiscriminate, like ecumenists reach, like worldly people teach. Love differs from love. There is carnal love, love of money, love of small and meaningless things. And there is furthermore love for one's father and mother, which, in the final analysis, also contains something physical. The love which Christ brings to the world, however, has the wings of an eagle, and flies to the third Heaven, and makes man a Cherubim and Seraphim.
Love, therefore, not only for relatives and friends, not just towards Christians, but love for the whole world. Love, even for those who crucify you! For we have Christ as our prototype, Who is love crucified. This love we must have as well.
My beloved, if one were to ask now which of these three virtues are the greatest, the greatest is the third, love. Its beauty is indescribable. The Apostle Paul paints all of this in his beautiful sayings on love, which we have properly heard in vain to this point. "If," he says, "I spoke in the tongues of men and Angels," even if I have done miracles, even if I distribute my earthly goods, even if I go to martyrdom and shed my blood, "and I have not love, then I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal." "I am nothing." (I Corinthians 13:1-2)
These, my beloved, I have to tell you. Believe, in this age of faithlessness. Hope, in this age of hopelessness. Love, in this age of hatred. And first and foremost, keep love, which, as the Apostle Paul says, remains eternally. (ibid 13:7)
For what is Paradise? Is it rivers, crystalline springs? Is it the songs of the Angels, the Cherubim and the Seraphim, is it the Saints, the Martyrs, is it that whole and beautiful world, and indescribable good things? It is these things. But first and foremost, it is love, the love of God towards man. If I took out love from Paradise, immediately Paradise would become Hell.
That Paradise we ourselves should seek, if we sense the dawn of love, if we believe unshakably in the Lord, and if we have steadfast hope in the promises of God unto the ages.
Then, in the heights of Heaven, together with St. Sophia and her three daughters, Faith, Hope and Love, we will hymn the Triune God, saying: "Praise ye the Lord, and exalt Him beyond measure unto all the ages."
(+) Bishop Avgoustinos