In the Spotlight: The St. Sophia Cross
Gallery Byzantium’s St. Sophia Cross is based on a 6th-century Byzantine cross (pictured right). Its name is derived from the Greek word “σοφία” meaning “Holy wisdom.” At first glance, this cross may seem to be a relatively simple design. However, there is hidden meaning within the sleek lines of this cross.
The arms of the cross have six sides representing the six days of creation. The jewel represents the incarnation of the God man, who is the “crowning jewel of salvation” in whom created man and un-created God become one.
The Life of St. Sophia
A woman of great piety, St. Sophia was a widow tasked with raising three daughters whom she had named for the three Christian virtues: Faith, Hope, and Love. She had hoped that the names would bestow the virtues behind them onto each daughter and raised them in her own quiet piety and wisdom.
Each of the daughters grew up to be fair and echoed their mother’s maturity. They weren’t simply precocious young girls, but rather had a sagacity about them – stories of which had spread throughout Italy, eventually reaching the Roman Emperor Hadrian. They had been denounced to the emperor by government official Antiochus. An impious and irreverent ruler, Hadrian was piqued by the accounts of Faith (12), Hope (10), and Love (9) and summoned the family before him to test their supposed unyielding devotion.
The girls knew what lay ahead of them. The emperor was merciless and this “test” would be brutal. They prayed with their mother for the strength not to fear their impending torture and death. The family stood before the emperor, confident and composed.
Thinking that this adult-like comportment stemmed from their familial support, the girls were individually brought forth and ordered to denounce their faith. The girls remained unyielding and, with their mother, watched as each sister was tortured and beheaded. Twelve-year old Faith was beaten and her breasts were torn off (her wounds flowing milk rather than blood). Ten-year old Hope was beaten and thrown into a furnace. Nine-year old Love was hung from the gallows and thrown into the furnace as well.
Yet, despite the vicious torture, each girl was protected from feeling the pain of their suffering. As Sophia looked on, she stood strong and and “urged her daughters to endure their torments.” They would be rewarded for their sacrifice.
And so, each girl willfully accepted her inevitable death, giving thanks to God for their strength, was beheaded. Although she pained the loss of her daughters, Sophia “rejoiced in spirit to see her daughters so gloriously making their way to the abodes of the righteous.”
She buried the girls atop a hill and sat at their grave for three days before “she gave up her soul to the Lord. Even though she did not suffer for Christ in the flesh, she was not deprived of a martyr’s crown. Instead, she suffered in her heart. Believers buried her body there beside her daughters.”
Today, the sacrifice of Sophia and her daughters stands as a testament to their strength and unwavering faith. Our St. Sophia Cross was named for the wise and pious mother as, like the cross, Sophia and her daughters outwardly appeared to be simple. However, looking into the meaning of the cross and into the lives of the four believers, appearances can be deceiving. The jewel at the center of the cross symbolizes God as not only a “crowning jewel of salvation,” but also (looking at the cross as a body), an anchor within the hearts of believers. It was this anchor and faith that allowed for Faith, Hope, and Love to stand for their beliefs and accept what ever punishment or torture came their way.
The cross itself stands for a corporeal symbol of that faith and makes for a wonderful gift for mothers, daughters, or baby girls being baptized (for whom the cross serves as a reminder of the strength, wisdom, and maturity that comes with their newfound faith).
As the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese writes, “‘We’ve all heard of thousands of saints and martyrs giving their lives to Christ and suffering in this world so that they could rejoice in the next. But how many of them have been about children?'” The maturity and steadfast faith of Hope, Faith, and Love – three girls under the age of 13 – makes their story especially remarkable. St. Sophia is celebrated on her feast day of September 17th.
Saint Sophia – http://antiochian.org/saint_sophia
Tags: Byzantine, Byzantine Cross, Christian cross, christian symbols, Cross, In the Spotlight, Jewelry, July 2017, Orthodox cross, Orthodox lives of saints, St. Sophia
About St. Sophia and Her Three Daughters, Faith, Hope and Love – http://www.st-sophia.com/st-sophia/
Martyr Sophia and her three daughters at Rome – https://oca.org/saints/lives/1999/09/17/102638-martyr-sophia-and-her-three-daughters-at-rome
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