14. The three holy noble children
(The life of St. Sophia)
When the Emperor of Rome was Hadrian (117 A.D.- 138 A.D.) there lived in a town in Italy, a young and wealthy noble Christian woman whose name was Sophia.
She had lost her husband very early and lived alone with her three beautiful daughters, Faith, who was 12 years old, Hope, who was 10 years old and Love, who was just 9 years old. All three girls had a radiant beauty, not only physical beauty, but essentially from the many mental and spiritual gifts they had.
Sophia, as a mother, was a very good role model. She was kind, modest, humble, with a burning love for Christ in her heart, but also she was incredibly tender-hearted towards all poor and suffering people.
She tried to teach her children, with the example of her virtuous life. To love, that is, what is good and pleasing to God and to adorn their souls with virtues and divine gifts. She taught them to avoid anything that could contaminate the pure white covering of their soul, which they wore when they became Christians. Many times when her children had fallen asleep with the sweet motherly sound of her telling the stories of the life of Christ, humble Sophia was kneeling beside their beds and letting the fiery prayer of her heart ascend to the throne of her well-beloved Christ the king. She was begging Him to guide her children to good and to virtue and to protect them from all evil.
Their home was workshop of love. In their free time they were embroidering, sewing and knitting warm clothes for the poor of their region. Their good reputation was known everywhere and everyone praised them for their good deeds, but also for their holy life, that was a terrifying discord with the sinful and idolatrous life of that era.
At that time the Church of Christ lived one of the most blood-stained, but also the most heroic periods of its history. Masses of Christians wrote with their blood moving pages of love for the crucified Jesus and His Gospel.
Sophia was forced to leave the small town, in which they had lived until then, and went to live with her three daughters in the famous capital of Italy; glorious Rome. There the Christian Church was big and strong and she would be able to find protection and help for her and her girls for every circumstance of their lives.
Once there, it didn't take long for the reputation of their virtue and good deeds to spread everywhere. Everyone spoke of the four angels who had come to their town. Many pagans, who saw their virtuous life, were seduced by the new faith in the true God and became Christians.
However, the wicked commander of the city, Antiochus, did not like this and he denounced them to the Emperor as Christians who scorned their pagan gods. So, one day they arrested Sophia with her three daughters, to respond to these charges in front of the Roman judge.
-I was informed, noble lady, that you and your three daughters belong to the ranks of the Christians. I do not want to believe it ...
-You should believe it, Sophia calmly replied. My daughters and I are Christians.
-Keep in mind, that you and your daughters will face harsh tortures and death, if you don't deny your stupid faith? And while you can devote yourself as you want, don't you feel sorry for your beautiful daughters, who will leave this life before they have had time to be happy? I'll give you three days deadline to think about it. Until then I will send the four of you to stay confined in the house of a noble lady, Palladia.
The impious judge hoped that the pagan, Palladia, could persuade Sophia and her children with her feminine cunning.
In vain, Palladia was trying to persuade sometimes the mother and other times the daughters. In vain she promised them various gifts and praised the joys of this life. Those three days were an ordeal for Sophia. She was scared thinking that her children could lose their faith and deny Christ. Therefore, her fiery prayer rose to heaven, so that Christ would strengthen her children to bravely acknowledge their faith.
Three days later the four of them were taken in front of the court. The judge tried to scare them:
-If you do not deny Christ, he said, your beautiful and tender faces will be scarred. Your bodies will be deformed. Have pity on yourselves.
-We will not deny our Lord, they responded altogether. We prefer to die rather than deny Christ, said Sophia. The same words were repeated with serenity by her three girls.
-And how will you bear the tortures? Look here! These tools rip apart bodies and those over there break bones. Think about what you will suffer!
-We love Christ more than anything else! They declared.
Then the furious judge ordered them to start the tortures. They tied Sophia to a chair, so she could watch her girls being tortured. They started with the eldest daughter. They undressed Faith and began to beat her with violent ruthlessness with rods that opened wounds on her body. And while the torturers changed one after the other from fatigue, our saint, calm, without pain, was praying with all the power of her heart to her well-beloved Jesus. After whipping her they started to tear her tender body apart with sharp knives. When they cut off her breasts, instead of blood, milk poured out!
-Deny Christ and you will be saved! Cried the judge!
-I love my Christ and will not deny Him, she answered.
While her body was full of wounds and blood, they stood her upright and again they began to whip her. Meanwhile, a large grill was heated to an extremely high temperature. They lay brave Faith's body on it. However, not even the fire could hurt the small daughter. Angels were invisibly beside her to support and help her so she would not feel any pain. Many pagans, who were seeing the power of the Christian faith, through these miracles, became Christians. This angered the wicked judge who immediately ordered that she be beheaded.
On hearing the decision Faith's heart leapt with joy. A bright radiance came from her beautiful little face and with a voice that vibrated with enthusiasm she said:
-I can see heaven full of angels opening for me. My Jesus, I love you!
Then she bowed her head to accept death by the sword.
- Well? The fierce judge asked, maybe you are regretting your decision?
- Go ahead with your atrocious efforts! Sophia said, none of us will deny Christ.
The same tortures were resumed with the second daughter, Hope. After they first flogged her mercilessly, they then put her on a flaming grill to burn her. The fire, however, went out so Hope remained untouched. Then they threw her into a furnace to burn her completely. But, also there she was not touched at all by the fire. Angels stood beside her and cooled the flames. Then they hung her on a tree by her hair and tore her body apart with iron nails. Her wounds, however, poured out a wonderful myrrh that spread its fragrance throughout the surrounding area. Then they placed her in a bronze pot full of hot tar and resin, but even then nothing happened to her. Many pagans, who watched all these miracles abandoned their idols and became Christians. After that the judge ordered them to behead her.
-What do you have to say now, stupid mother? Asked the judge. Do you also want to see your third daughter die?
Before Sophia could speak, nine-year Love jumped in front of the judge and said:
- I'm also a Christian and not at all afraid of your tortures, you barbarian judge.
The furious judge ordered them to hang little Love from a tree and to whip her mercilessly. Then he threw her into a furnace to be burned. Angels, however, protected the body of the small martyr, so she suffered no harm. When the judge saw that even nails plunged into her childish breast didn't harm her, he gave the order to also behead the third daughter.
When Sophia saw the tender head of her third daughter fall under the sword of the executioner, she jumped up and shouted:
-Now hard and heartless idolater, kill me also so I can quickly go to heaven and be with my girls.
The judge, however, was furious, because he was humiliated by the three little girls, he shouted furiously:
-Go to your house, silly woman. I won’t kill you. I will let you live, because your life, without your children, will be more agonizing.
She left running. Sophia got precious myrrh and buried the bodies of her three heroic daughters. For three days Sophia stayed by the graves of her three children. On the third day, there where she prayed, they heard her say:
-Oh, my tender offspring, accept your mother where you are now!
Having said that, she let her soul fly high up to heaven close to Him, Whom she and also her three children loved more than anything on this earth.Our Church appointed September 17th to celebrate every year the memory of the three virgin martyrs, Faith, Hope and Love, along with their holy mother, Sophia.