During the reign of the impious Roman Emperor Hadrian, a widow of Italian ancestry called Sophia, whose name means wisdom, lived in Rome. She was a Christian, and in accordance with her name, she lived wisely, showing that wisdom praised by the Apostle James, who says, The wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits. This wise gentlewoman, Sophia, while living in honorable wedlock, bore three daughters, whom she named after the three great virtues. The first was named Faith, the second Hope, and the third Love, for to what does Christian wisdom give birth other than to God-pleasing virtues?
Soon after the birth of her three daughters, Sophia was widowed. 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 increased in virtue, and they learned well the books of the prophets and the apostles. They became accustomed to listen 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, who was filled with divine wisdom. Thus, going from strength to strength, they were successful in all things. As they were exceedingly fair and perfect in wisdom, the eyes of all 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. Hoping in Christ, they did not doubt or falter in their love for Him, but before all they glorified Christ, showing disdain for the idols, hateful to God.
Antiochus related all these things to the Emperor Hadrian, who immediately sent his servants to bring the virgins before him. When the servants arrived at Sophia’s house, they found the mother occupied with instructing her daughters. They told her that she was to come, together with her daughters, to the Emperor. Realizing the purpose of this summons, they arose to pray and said, «0 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 terrorized by bitter death, and that nothing might separate us from Thee, our God.»
After praying and bowing down before God, all four martyrs, the mother and her daughters, took one another by the hand, forming as it were a plaited garland. They went forth, frequently looking up to the heavens, committing themselves with sighs and silent prayers to the help of Him Who commanded us to fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul. When they arrived at the Emperor’s palace, they signed themselves with the sign of the Cross and said, «Help us, 0 God our Savior, for the sake of the glory of Thy holy name!»
They were then 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, their eyes gazing gladly upon all as though they had been summoned to a banquet. Such was their joy with which they came to suffer torment for their Lord!
Seeing their honorable, fair, and fearless countenances, the Emperor questioned the mother as to their lineage, names, and faith. She, being most wise, answered so sagaciously that all were amazed at her prudence. Having spoken but briefly of the maidens’ ancestry and names, she began to tell of Him Whom she confessed and before Whose name every knee should bow. Having confessed her faith in Christ Jesus, the Son of God, she called herself His handmaiden and gave praise to His name. «I am a Christian,» she said, «and in that honorable name I rejoice.» She added that she had betrothed her daughters to Christ so that they might preserve their chastity for the incorruptible Bridegroom, the Son of God.
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 martyrs to a certain noblewoman named Palladia, whom he charged to watch over them and to present them on the third day to be judged.
Staying in Palladia’s house, Sophia had sufficient time to instruct her children. She confirmed them in the faith day and night, teaching them with words inspired by God and saying, «My beloved daughters, the time has now come for you to contend for Christ; the hour has arrived for you to be betrothed unto your immortal Bridegroom. In accordance with your names, may you display firm faith, undoubting hope, and unfeigned and never failing love. The hour has come for you to rejoice, for you shall be crowned with the crown of martyrdom by your most beloved Bridegroom and will enter with gladsome voices into His bridal chamber.
«My daughters, for the sake of the honor in which you will be held by Christ, Who is more comely than the sons of men, do not spare your flesh. For the sake of life eternal, pity not the bloom of your youth nor hesitate to suffer the deprivation of this fleeting life, for your Beloved, Jesus Christ, Who dwells in the heavens, is eternal well-being and beauty inexpressible. When your bodies have been tortured to death for His sake, He will robe them in incorruption, and the wounds which you bear on your flesh will shine like the stars in heaven.
«When you have been deprived of your beauty for His sake, He will adorn you with heavenly beauty, such as the eye has not beheld. When you have laid down your souls for your Lord and suffered the loss of your temporal lives, He will grant you life eternal, and He will glorify you unto the ages before His heavenly Father and before His holy angels. You will be called Christ’s brides and His confessors by all the hosts of heaven; all the holy monastics shall praise you, and the wise virgins will rejoice over you and will receive you into their company.
«My sweet children, do not allow yourselves to be deceived by the enemy’s allurements, for the Emperor will entice you greatly and promise you rich presents, offering you glory, wealth, honor, and all the beautiful and sweet things of this corruptible and vain world. But love none of these things, for they all vanish like smoke and are scattered like dust by the wind and like a flower or grass wither and return to the earth. Neither be daunted by the prospect of grievous tortures, for having suffered them but a short while and having overcome the foe, you will rejoice forever.
«I believe that my God, Jesus Christ, will not forsake you should you resolve to suffer for Him, for He said, Even if a woman should forget her offspring, yet I shall not forget thee. He will remain with you throughout all the tortures you will suffer, looking upon your struggles, strengthening your infirmity, and preparing a plaited crown for your reward.
«My good daughters, remember the pains which I underwent in bearing you! Remember the labors I endured in rearing you, remember my words by which I taught you the fear of God, and comfort your mother in her old age with your good and brave confession of Christ. When I am deemed worthy to be called the mother of martyrs and will behold you suffering bravely for Christ, confessing His holy name and dying for Him, I will have more happiness, joy, honor, and glory than any of the faithful. My soul will be magnified and my spirit will rejoice and I will be strengthened in my old age. Having obeyed the instructions of your mother you will truly be my daughters, if you contest for your Lord even unto the shedding of your blood and with fervor submit to death for Him.»
Having hearkened with compunction to their mother’s words, the daughters were stricken in heart, and they rejoiced in spirit, awaiting the time of their martyrdom as though it were the hour of their nuptials. Being the holy branches of a sacred root, they desired with all their heart that which their most wise mother Sophia had taught them to thirst after. They stored her words in their hearts and prepared themselves for the contest of martyrdom as though they were to enter a bridal chamber. Girding themselves with faith, bolstering themselves with hope, and kindling in themselves the fire of love for the Lord, they strengthened one another and promised their mother that with Christ’s help they would translate into deeds her edifying words to them.
When the third day had come, 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 fair, 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. I will summon the eparchs, governors, and all of my counselors and shall adopt you in their presence, and they all will hold you in the highest respect and praise you. But if you do not obey me and do not submit to my ordinance, then much evil will befall you, and you will bring much grief to your mother in her old age. You will yourselves perish at an age when you should be happy and dwell amid the sweet, good things and the joys of this world. I will cause you to perish miserably and will cast out your severed limbs to be food for dogs, and you will be despised by all. Therefore, obey me, that it might 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, Who takes care for our life and has mercy on our souls. His love we desire, and we wish to be called His true children. We keep His commandments, and we spit on your gods. Your threats do not frighten us, for we wish to suffer and bear bitter torments for the sake of our sweet God, Jesus Christ.»
The Emperor, having heard them answer thus, 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 impiety, beginning with Faith, the eldest sister, to whom he said, «Sacrifice to the great goddess Artemis!»
But Faith would not agree to submit. Therefore, the Emperor had her stripped naked and ordered that she be beaten severely. The torturers thrashed her mercilessly, saying, «Sacrifice to the great goddess Artemis!» She remained silent, however, as though it were another’s body which bore the suffering. Since the tormentor accomplished nothing by flogging her, he had her virginal breasts cut off. Seeing milk instead of blood flow forth from her wounds, the people shook their heads and secretly reproached the Emperor for his foolishness and cruelty, saying, «In what has this fair maiden transgressed? Why does she suffer thus? What a pity! Such is the mindlessness of the Emperor and his beastly cruelty that he not only tortures to death the aged but young children as well!»
Then a metal gridiron was brought, which was placed on a great fire which had been kindled. When it had been heated red hot, giving forth sparks, the holy martyr Faith was placed upon it. She lay there for two hours, calling out to her Lord, but she was not burnt at all, to the astonishment of everyone present. Then she was cast into a cauldron filled with boiling pitch and oil, but there too she remained unharmed, sitting as though she were in cool water, singing to God. The persecutor, not knowing what else to do with her to weaken her faith in Christ, pronounced upon her the sentence of death by the sword.
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.»
Then Faith said to her sisters, «You know, my dear sisters, to Whom we have promised ourselves and to Whom we have been betrothed. You know that we have been signed with the holy Cross of our Lord to serve Him to eternity. Therefore, let us endure unto the end. A single mother has borne us and has reared and instructed us, so let us accept a common death since we are sisters and share a single will. May I be an example to you, that you both might follow me to our Bridegroom, Who summons us to Himself.»
Having said this, Faith kissed her mother, and embracing her sisters, she kissed them and then submitted herself to the sword. Her mother did not sorrow for her daughter, for her love for God overcame her maternal love and pity for her children. She only feared that one of her daughters might renounce the Lord, so she said to Faith, «My daughter, I bore you and on this account endured suffering. But you will redeem my suffering if you die for Christ’s sake, confessing Him and shedding the blood which you received in my womb. Go to Him, my beloved offspring, stained with your blood, as if clothed in crimson. When you appear most fair before the eyes of your Bridegroom, remember before Him your lowly mother and pray to Him for your sisters, that He strengthen them so that they might have the same patience which you possess.»
And so Saint Faith’s honorable head was cut off and she departed to Christ God her Master. Her mother took her much-suffering body, and as she kissed it, she rejoiced and glorified Christ God, Who had received her daughter Faith into the heavenly bridal chamber.
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, «0 Emperor, was it not my sister whom you put to death? Were we not born of the same mother? Were we not fed with the same milk? Did I not receive the same Baptism as my holy sister? I grew up with her, and from the same books and the same maternal instruction I learned to know the one God, our Lord Jesus Christ, and to believe in Him and to worship Him alone. Therefore, 0 Emperor, do not imagine that I shall reason, think, or desire other than as did my sister Faith. I am ready to follow her path; therefore, do not delay or weary yourself with much speaking, 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. She only gazed upon her mother, the blessed Sophia, who stood nearby and who valiantly looked on as her child underwent torment, fervently praying to God that He grant her daughter firm patience.
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 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. Her countenance shone with the grace of the Holy Spirit, and she mocked the persecutor because he was unable to overcome even a young maiden. 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 a cauldron be filled with pitch and oil and heated over a fire and that the saint be cast into it. When the cauldron had come to a boil and the Emperor’s servants were preparing to hurl the saint into it, the kettle suddenly melted down like wax, and the hot pitch and oil poured forth from it upon all who stood nearby.
Such was the wondrous power of God which guarded Saint Hope. Although the persecutor saw all these things, he did not wish to know the true God, for his heart was ensnared by demonic darkness and pernicious error. Thus, seeing himself put to shame by a young maiden and not wishing to bear further humiliation, he condemned the saint to beheading.
When the maiden heard that she was to be put to death, 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, you are blessed by the Lord God on high in Whom you trust and for Whose sake you have not spared your blood. Go now to your sister Faith, to stand in the presence of our Beloved.»
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 went to the headless corpse of her sister, Saint Faith, and kissed it lovingly. Nature compelled her to shed tears, but love for Christ turned her tears into joy. Then she bowed her head beneath the sword, and thus Saint Hope was beheaded. Her mother took her body and glorified God, rejoicing over the courage of her two daughters. She then inspired her third daughter with sweet words and wise counsels to contest in like manner.
The persecutor summoned Love, the third maiden, seeking to entice her to abandon the Crucified One 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, even as it is written, Love is as strong as death; many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it.
The many waters of the world’s temptations did not quench the fire of love for God in that maiden, neither was it drowned in the floods of misfortunes and sufferings. Her great love was made manifest in that she was prepared to lay down her soul for her beloved Jesus Christ, for greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for another.
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. The saint’s young body was stretched in such a way that her members were pulled from their sockets, and she was beaten until she had been dyed as red as scarlet by her blood, which watered the earth like rain.
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 without delay be burnt in the fiery furnace.»
The saint said, «Great is my God Jesus Christ, but 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 fire 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. Within the furnace other radiant persons could be seen rejoicing together with the martyr. Thus the name of Christ was magnified while the impious were put to shame.
When the furnace was extinguished, the saint, Christ’s fair bride, emerged radiant and unharmed as though from a bridal chamber. The torturers, in accordance with the Emperor’s command, seized her and bored through her members with drills, but God’s help strengthened the saint as she endured these torments so that she did not die. For how could she otherwise bear such torments and not perish immediately? Her beloved Bridegroom, Jesus Christ, strengthened her so that the impious might be filled with shame and so that she might receive a greater reward and that God’s mighty power might be glorified in a frail vessel.
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, 0 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.»
Her mother Saint Sophia did not cease praying to God for her third daughter, that He grant her patience to the end. She said to Love, «My third offspring, my beloved child: endure to the end! You are traveling along the path which is good, and a crown has already been woven for you. The bridal chamber has been prepared and stands open for you. The Bridegroom awaits you, looking down from on high on your contest so that when you have bent your head beneath the sword, He might receive and embrace your pure and immaculate soul and grant you repose together with your sisters. Remember me, your mother, in the kingdom of your Bridegroom, that He might be merciful to me and not deprive me of an inheritance and portion with you in His holy glory.»
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 corpses of Faith and Hope, adorning their bodies as was fitting. She placed them in a chariot, took them several miles outside the city, and reverently buried her daughters there upon a lofty hill, weeping for joy. She sat by their grave, praying with compunction to God for three days, after which she slept the sleep of death in the Lord and 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 wisely finished her course, having brought as a gift to the Trinity her three virtuous daughters, Faith, Hope, and Love.
O holy and righteous Sophia! What woman hath been thus saved through childbearing as thou, who bore children who were betrothed to the Savior and suffered for Him and now reign and are glorified together with Him? In truth thou art a wondrous mother, worthy of remembrance, for having beheld the cruel and bitter torments which thy beloved children underwent and their death, thou hast not, as is the custom with mothers, suffered grief, but thou dost rejoice, comforted by the grace of God. Thou didst encourage them to accept martyrdom and to pray, that they might not weaken and preserve their fleeting lives but that they should instead resolutely offer to shed their blood for Christ. And now exulting in the vision of His most radiant countenance, 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-bestowing Trinity, unto the ages of ages. Amen.
On this same day we commemorate the holy martyr Theodota and the one hundred and fifty-six holy martyrs who perished by fire.
From The Great Collection of the Lives of the Saints, Volume 1: September,