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SERMON FOR SUNDAY AFTER ELEVATION OF THE HOLY CROSS
fr_basil
September 17, 2017
Ss. Sophia, Faith, Hope and Love, the Martyrs of Rome
The Lord said in the Gospel today: “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it... (and) whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.”
There is no greater example of such devotion and self-sacrificial love than that exhibited by the holy martyrs; and today we celebrate the memory of some truly remarkable ones – St Sophia and her daughters Faith, Hope, and Love. This morning’s homily will be a greatly abbreviated yet still very edifying account of their their suffering and their triumph in fulfilling those words of our Lord Jesus. So here we go...
During the reign of the impious Roman Emperor Hadrian, a Christian widow called Sophia, whose name means wisdom, lived in Rome. This wise woman, while living in honorable wedlock, bore three daughters, whom she named after the three great virtues: Faith, Hope and Love. Soon after the birth of her three daughters, Sophia lost her husband. Living piously, she pleased God by prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. She reared her three daughters in a manner befitting a wise mother so that they, being the namesakes of virtues, might in truth acquire those traits, the names of which they bore. As they matured, they paid attention to the words of their teachers and earnestly occupied themselves with spiritual reading, prayer, and household chores. Moreover, they submitted themselves in all things to their holy mother. Thus, going from strength to strength, they were successful in all things. As they were exceedingly beautiful and perfect in wisdom, all eyes were soon upon them.
Word spread throughout Rome of the wisdom and beauty of the three sisters, and even the Eparch Antiochus wished to see them. When they were brought before him, Antiochus learned that they were Christians, for they did not hide their faith in Christ. Antiochus related all these things to the Emperor Hadrian, who immediately sent his servants to bring the virgins before him. Realizing the purpose of this summons, they arose to pray and said, “O Almighty God, do with us according to Thy holy will, and forsake us not, but rather grant us Thy holy aid, that our hearts be not frightened by the proud tormentor, that we be not terrified by his fearful tortures nor the thought of bitter death, and that nothing might separate us from Thee, our God.”
Soon they were led before the Emperor, who sat proudly upon his throne. They rendered him fitting honor, but stood before him without fear, their faces radiant, their hearts steadfast. Seeing their honorable, beautiful, and fearless faces, the Emperor questioned the mother as to their lineage, names, and faith. She spoke briefly of the maidens’ ancestry and names, and then began to tell him about the One in Whom they believed. “I am a Christian,” she said, “and in that honorable name I rejoice.” The Emperor, seeing that Sophia was a wise woman, did not wish at that time to speak further with her or pass judgment on her. He laid the matter aside for a time and sent all four of them to a certain noblewoman named Palladia, whom he charged to watch over them and to present them on the third day to be judged. When the third day arrived, the saints were brought to judgment before the impious Emperor. Thinking that they were but young maidens who could easily be brought to obey his deceptive words, he began to speak to them thus, “I see, children, that you are lovely, and I feel pity for your youth. I advise you as a father, to worship the gods who rule the universe. If you obey me and do what I command, then I shall call you my own children.  But if you do not obey me and do not submit to my command, then much evil will befall you. I will cause you to perish miserably. Therefore, obey me, that all will go well with you. I care for you and do not wish to destroy your beauty and to deprive you of this present life; rather, I desire to have you as my children.” The holy virgins answered the persecutor as though with a single voice, saying, “God, Who dwells in heaven, is our Father. It is He Who takes care for our life and has mercy on our souls. It is His love we desire, and we wish to be called His true children. We keep His commandments, and we despise your gods. Your threats do not frighten us, for we wish to suffer and bear bitter torments for the sake of our sweet Lord and God, Jesus Christ.”
The Emperor, having heard their answer, questioned their mother Sophia as to their names and ages. She replied, “My eldest child is named Faith and is twelve years old. The second is Hope, who is ten years of age. My third child’s name is Love, and she is nine years old.” The Emperor marveled at the maidens’ spirit, intelligence, and ready answers, especially since they were so young. He then began to attempt to force each of them to submit to his evil will, beginning with Faith, the eldest sister, to whom he said, “Sacrifice to the great goddess Artemis!” But Faith would not. Therefore, the Emperor had her tortured in many cruel and barbarous ways – stripped, beaten mercilessly, parts of her body sliced off, placed upon a super-heated griddle, and finally she was placed in a cauldron of hot pitch. By the grace of God she miraculously endured. She remained silent, as though it were another’s body which bore the suffering. The persecutor, not knowing what else to do with her to weaken her faith in Christ, pronounced upon her the sentence of death by beheading. When Saint Faith heard this, she was filled with joy and said to her mother, “Pray for me, Mother, that I may complete my course and arrive at the end which I desire, to behold my beloved Lord and Savior and be filled with the vision of His divinity.” Having said this, Faith kissed her mother, and embracing her sisters, she kissed them and then submitted herself to the sword and she departed to Christ God her Master.
Then the impious Emperor had the second sister, the holy virgin Hope, brought before him, and he said to her, “Good child, I appeal to you as a father who loves you. Heed my advice and worship the great Artemis so that you might not perish as your elder sister did. You have seen her bitter death. Do you wish to suffer likewise? Believe me, child; I pity your youth and would have you as my daughter if you would agree to obey my command.”
But Saint Hope replied, “O Emperor, do not imagine that I shall reason, think, or desire any other than did my sister Faith. I am ready to follow her path; therefore, do not delay but begin that which you have resolved to do. You will see that I am of the same mind as my sister who has gone before me.” When the Emperor heard this reply, he handed Hope over to the torturers. His henchmen stripped her as they had Faith, and they beat her so long and mercilessly that they grew weary. But she remained silent as though she suffered no pain. Then the wicked Emperor commanded that Hope be cast into fire, but she remained unharmed, praising God like the Three Youths. After this, she was suspended on hooks and scraped with iron claws. Her flesh was torn off, streams of her blood gushed out, and a wondrous fragrance came forth from her wounds. With her face shining with the grace of the Holy Spirit, she said, “Having Christ’s help, I fear no torments; rather, I desire them as I desire the sweet things of paradise, so sweet is my Lord to me. But unending fiery torments and the demons which you regard as gods await you in Gehenna.” These words greatly angered the tormentor, who ordered that Hope, too, should be beheaded by the sword. When the maiden heard that, she hastened joyfully to her mother and said, “Peace and salvation to you, mother: remember your child!” Her mother embraced and kissed her, saying, “My daughter Hope, go now to your sister Faith, to stand in the presence of our Beloved Lord.” Hope then kissed her sister Love, who had been watching her torture, and she said to her, “Do not linger here, sister, but hasten, that we might enter the presence of the Holy Trinity together.” Then she bowed her head beneath the sword, and sped to her Sweet Jesus.
The persecutor then summoned Love, the third maiden, seeking to entice her to abandon the Christ and to worship Artemis. But the deceiver labored in vain, for no one has so desired to contend for our beloved Lord as did Love. The persecutor, realizing that he was unable to accomplish anything with his flatteries, began to torture Love, hoping by various torments to separate Love from the love of Christ. But she replied with the words of the Apostle, “Who shall separate me from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Nay, in all these things, I am more than a conqueror through Him that loved me.” The persecutor began her torture by ordering that she be stretched out upon a wheel and beaten with rods, all to no avail. The tormentor then showed the saint a furnace which had been heated white hot, and he said, “Maiden, say only that the goddess Artemis is great, and I will release you. But if you will not, you will immediately be burned in the fiery furnace.” The saint replied, “Great is my God Jesus Christ, but as for you, may you perish, together with Artemis!” The persecutor became enraged, and he ordered those standing nearby to hurl Love into the furnace. The saint did not wait for another to cast her into the furnace, but she hastened to enter it herself. She walked into the furnace but was not burned, and she rejoiced as though she were in a cool place, singing and blessing God. And at once flames shot forth from the furnace, consuming the unbelievers standing nearby, burning some to ashes and scorching others. The Emperor himself was singed, and he fled far from the furnace. Finally, the persecutor, stricken with pain from being burned by the fire, commanded that the saint be beheaded by the sword. When she heard that she was to be beheaded, she rejoiced and said, “I sing to Thee, and I bless Thy much-hymned name, O Lord Jesus Christ, Who hast loved Thy handmaiden Love! Number me together with my sisters, and count me worthy to suffer for Thy name, even as they suffered.” At that moment Saint Love was beheaded by the sword. Her mother took her body and laid it in a beautiful coffin, together with the relics of Faith and Hope, adorning their bodies as was fitting. She placed them in a wagon, took them several miles outside the city, and reverently buried her daughters there upon a lofty hill. She sat by their grave, weeping, rejoicing, and praying with compunction to God for three days, after which she herself fell asleep in the Lord. She was buried by the faithful in that same place, together with her daughters. She was deprived neither of an inheritance with them in the heavenly kingdom nor of a martyr’s crown, inasmuch as she suffered for Christ, not in the flesh but rather in her heart. Thus the most wise Sophia finished her course, having brought as a gift to the Trinity her three virtuous daughters, Faith, Hope, and Love.
O holy and righteous Sophia, together with thy holy daughters, do thou enlighten us, that we may be preserved in the virtues of faith, hope, and love and be deemed worthy to glorify and stand in the presence of the most holy, uncreated, and life-giving Trinity, unto the ages of ages. Amen.

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