Tomorrow, September 17, we commemorate the Holy Martyrs Saint Sophia and her daughters Faith, Hope, and Love who lived in Italy during the 2nd century. Saint Sophia was a pious Christian widow who named her daughters after three Christian virtues. Faith was twelve, Hope was ten, and Love, or Agape, was nine. Saint Sophia raised them to love Jesus Christ in a time when it was more than unpopular. Saint Sophia and her daughters did not hide their faith in Christ, but rather, they confessed it openly before everyone they encountered. When the emperor discovered them and learned of their Christian piety, he tempted each daughter to deny their faith or else face great torture. One after the other, Saint Sophia’s daughters stood strong in their faith unto their death by torture. Saint Sophia inevitably fell asleep in the Lord at the graves of her beloved pious daughters from the heartbreak of their martyrdom.
Thankfully in modern times, our youth are not facing the same physical persecution as the world’s response to their Christian faith, and God willing, we will never see this in our lifetime. However, they are facing great spiritual warfare every day as evil insidiously tries to lead them off of a path toward Christ. While our school is not able to protect our students from the pitfalls of this world, we are able to guide them and try to equip them with courage, wisdom, and goodness through their daily lessons and special events throughout the year.
One specifically edifying school event is the annual High School Retreat, which takes place during the second week of school. Having the honor of being a House Head, I was given the opportunity to attend, as well. As a second-grade homeroom teacher, I had not had much time with the high school students at The Saint Constantine School before this retreat, and it was a joyfully eye-opening experience. Through the retreat Field Day, I saw firsthand how our upper school students support and lift one another up. Students cheered their House-mates on, high-fived other houses, and celebrated each other's incredible efforts. During free time, their phones were left in Yondr bags in the cabins, long forgotten, and the students shone with joy as they spent time together laughing, singing, taking walks, and playing outdoors. Each day, we were all given an hour of silent prayer time in nature where students often returned with comments on the beauty and peace in God’s creation. The joy of witnessing these students reveling in fellowship with one another combined with the beauty of the campsite felt like a small slice of heaven.
Deans from the Upper School gave talks highlighting what it takes to be courageous and undaunted, asserting that courage is truly the point at which all other virtues are tested. Courage is not for the faint of heart. While I cannot speak for anyone else at the retreat, the word courage brought me back to Theodore Roosevelt’s “Man in the Arena” speech from 1910.
"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."
Courage is not facing fears unafraid, but instead facing fear in spite of it. Sometimes the fear, especially in our modern time, is the potential disapproval of the onlookers, those who are not in the arena. Our young people feel as if they are under a magnifying glass. They are asked to be so many different things and to be the best at so many different things all while the crowd sits back and critiques. They are the men and women in the arena. They, like the daughters of Saint Sophia, are tested by this world, and they daily choose to be courageous. The best plan of action for we as adults who wish to guide them on the path toward Christ is to serve as examples of Christ ourselves, and to continue to fight in our own arenas. To lead with courage, undaunted. Through our choices, our words, our faith, hope, and love.