As is the tradition in the Orthodox Church, Sophia Catherine officially received her name with the eighth day naming prayers. Our priest came to our house and prayed:
O Lord our God, we entreat You, and we supplicate You, that the light of Your countenance be signed on this Your handmaid Sophia Catherine and that the Cross of Your Only-begotten Son be signed in her heart and understanding, so that she may flee from the vanity of the world and from every evil snare of the enemy, and may follow after Your commandments. And grant, O Lord, that Your holy name may remain unrejected by her, and that, in due time, she may be joined to Your Holy Church, and that she may be perfected by the dread Mysteries of Your Christ, so that, having lived according to Your commandments, and having preserved the seal unbroken, she may receive the blessedness of the elect in Your kingdom.
If someone had told me when I was a teenager that I would name my second daughter the most popular girl’s name in America, I never would have believed you. I loved having an uncommon name, and would make lists of names that I thought I would name my future children (some of which were both ridiculous and unpronounceable). But I have both grown up a little, thankfully, and no longer think a “unique” name is needed to make a person unique, and becoming Orthodox means that who my children are named for is much more important than how interesting or uncommon the name is. Classic names are popular because they are good names!
Sophia means “wisdom” in Greek. It seems a perfect name for the daughter of my husband, who spent the first several years of our marriage in a PhD program studying ancient Greek and Latin and reading Greek philosophy. Sophia is also the word used for the holy wisdom of Christ, and it is in that sense that the greatest cathedral of the Eastern church, the Hagia Sophia, was named. For her patron saint, we chose a lesser-known St. Sophia, St. Sophia of Ainos (sometimes referred to as “of Thrace”), known as “the Mother of Orphans.” She was the mother of six, and lost her husband and all six children to a plague. She spent the rest of her life as an ascetic, giving away all her possessions and serving those around her in need. She cared for orphans for the rest of her life, and over the course of her life adopted as her own over 100 children!
Paul and I both love St. Catherine of Alexandria (and please do click over to the link, as it has more wonderful details than I can share here), and coincidentally both have a personal connection to her. St. Catherine was the daughter of a governor in Alexandria and well known for her great intellect and beauty. She received an extensive education in Greek philosophy and rhetoric. She came to faith in Christ through the influence of her mother and received a vision of Christ the heavenly Bridegroom. She then refused marriage, wishing to be wed to Christ alone. The emperor himself wished to marry her, and brought fifty of the greatest rhetoricians to convince her to forsake Christ. With her great wisdom, she instead convinced them of the truth of Christ. After failing in his attempts to change her mind, he ordered Catherine tortured and killed. Angels brought her relics to the top of Mt. Sinai, where they were discovered and eventually preserved in the Monastery of St. Catherine at the base of Mt. Sinai, one of the oldest monasteries in the world and where her relics still reside. Both Paul and I climbed Mt. Sinai long before we met, at the top of which is a small chapel marking the place where her relics were found, and Paul has stayed as a guest at St. Catherine’s. I walked right around the walls of St. Catherine’s and did not go in, one of the biggest missed opportunities of my life (I was with a university group and it wasn’t in our plans, which I have since complained to the director of my program about!) While we chose Sophia Catherine’s name long before we knew this, Catherine (of various spellings) also happens to be the name of both Sophia’s soon-to-be godmother and of the only other person present for her birth 🙂
The origins of the name Catherine are not certain, but probably relate to the goddess Hecate. In the Christian community the name became associated with the Greek word for “purity” (katharos) and the Latins changed the spelling to reflect this. So to us the two names seem fitting together, Sophia meaning “wisdom” and Catherine a woman of great wisdom. A name meaning “pure” and two women of great purity of heart. May our daughter be blessed to exhibit both wisdom and purity and emulate the virtues of the holy women she was named for.