Saint Theodore Stratelatos
The martyr Theodore came from the city of Euchaita in northern Asia Minor. A soldier of many talents and a convert to Christianity, Theodore was a speaker of talent and brave as a soldier. His bravery was revealed when, with the help of God, he killed a giant serpent that lived on a precipice in the outskirts of Euchaita. The serpent had devoured many people and animals and terrorized the countryside. Theodore armed himself with a sword and vanquished the serpent, glorifying the name of Christ among the people. These skills and bravery won the esteem of the emperor Licinius who appointed him a military commander (stratelatos) and governor of the city of Heraclea.
After he came into office, Theodore showed no fear that he was a Christian, and his preaching among the pagans subject to him inflamed much of the city to the True Faith. His gift of persuasion, reinforced by his personal example of Christian living, brought many from their false gods, and soon, nearly all of Heraclea had accepted Christianity.
Late in the second decade of the fourth century emperor Licinius began a persecution against Christians. In an effort to stamp out the new faith, he persecuted the enlightened adherents of Christianity who were perceived as a threat to paganism. Among Licinius' actions was that of depriving officers in the army of their commissions if they did not sacrifice to the gods, included Theodore. Licinius tried to force Theodore to offer sacrifice to the pagan gods. The saint invited Licinius to visit him at Heraclea with his idols so both of them could offer sacrifice before the people.
Encouraged by a vision during the night announcing that it was time for him to testify in his own blood to his love of Christ, Theodore greeted the Emperor with pomp. Admiring the good order of the city, the emperor proposed to show his devotion to the gods by offering a sacrifice. Agreeing, Theodore asked only to take the idols at home during the night in order to worship before the public sacrifice. Taking the statues of gold brought by the emperor, Theodore spent the night reducing them into pieces and, in the early morning, he gave the gold to the poor. As the time of sacrifice arrived, a distraught centurion reported to the emperor that he saw a poor man wearing the golden head of a statue of Artemis.
Theodore was arrested and subjected to fierce and refined torture. He was dragged on the ground, beaten with iron rods, had his body pierced with sharp spikes, was burned with fire, and his eyes were plucked out before he was finally crucified. During the torture, the Holy Martyr only repeated: "Glory to Thee, my God!" Varus, Theodore's servant, Varus, barely had the strength to write down the incredible torments of his master.
God, however, in His great mercy, willed that the death of St. Theodore should be as fruitful for those near him as his life was. An angel healed his wounded body and took him down from the cross. The next morning, imperial soldiers found him alive and unharmed. Seeing with their own eyes the infinite might of the Christian God, they were baptized not far from the place of the failed execution.
Thus, St. Theodore became "like a day of splendor" for those pagans dwelling in the darkness of idolatry, and enlightened their souls "with the bright rays of his suffering." Unwilling to escape martyrdom for Christ, Theodore voluntarily surrendered himself to Licinius, and discouraged the Christians from rising up against the torturer, saying, "Beloved, halt! My Lord Jesus Christ, hanging upon the Cross, restrained the angels, and did not permit them to take revenge on the race of man."
Then, going to his execution, people who touched his robe were healed instantly from sicknesses and freed from demonic possession. By order of the emperor, St. Theodore was beheaded by the sword. Before his death he told Varus, " Do not fail to record the day of my death, and bury my body in Euchaita." Then, he bent his neck beneath the sword, and received the crown of martyrdom which he had sought. This occurred on February 8, 319, a Saturday at the third hour of the day.
The Holy Great Martyr Theodore Stratelates suffered for Christ in Heraclea on February 8, 319. At the time of his sufferings the St. Theodore ordered his servant Varus to bury his body on the estate of his parents in Euchaita. The transfer of his relics took place on June 8, 319.
To hide his ascetic labors from people, St. John would sometimes depart to a solitary cave, but fame of his holiness spread far beyond his enclosure, and people from all walks of life would come to him seeking a word of edification and salvation. When he was seventy-five years old, after forty years of ascetic labors in solitude, the saint was chosen to be abbot of Sinai. St. John Climacus ruled the holy monastery for four years. The Lord granted the saint many gifts of grace toward the end of his life, including clairvoyance and miracle-working.
During St. John's abbacy, another St. John, abbot of Raithu Monastery (commemorated on the Saturday of Cheesefare week) asked him to write the famous Ladder—instructions for the ascent to spiritual perfection. Knowing of the saint's wisdom and spiritual gifts, the abbot of Raithu asked on behalf of all the monks of his monastery for "true instruction for those who seek unwaveringly, and a kind of steadfast ladder that will take those who desire it to the Heavenly gates…" St. John, who had a humble opinion of himself, first balked at the task but then set about writing the treatise out of obedience to the request of the Raithu monks. He thus called the work, The Ladder, explaining his choice: "I have built a ladder of ascent… from earth to holiness… In honor of the thirty years of the Lord, I have built a ladder of thirty steps, which if we climb it to the age of the Lord, we will be righteous and safe from falls." The aim of this treatise was to teach us that the attainment of salvation requires difficult self-denial and intense ascetical labor. The Ladder first suggests the cleansing of sinful impurity, the uprooting of vices and passions of the "old man"; second, it shows the restoration of God's image in man. Although the book was written for monks, any Christian who lives in the world will find it a reliable guide on the ascent to God. Pillars of spiritual life such as St. Theodore the Studite, St. Sergius of Radonezh, St. Joseph of Volokolamsk, and others continually referred to The Ladder as the best book for soul-saving instruction.
Saint Theodore of Tyron
This holy, glorious Martyr of Christ came from Amasia in Pontus and was a Roman legionary at the time of Maximian’s great persecution (c. 303). He had been a Christian since childhood but kept his faith secret, not out of cowardice but because he had not yet received a sign from God to present himself for martyrdom. While his cohort was stationed near the town of Euchaita (Helenopontus), he learned that the people of the district went in terror of a dreadful dragon, which lurked in the surrounding forest. He realized that here was the quest in which God would show him whether the time had come to offer himself for martyrdom. Going deep into the wood, he came upon an abandoned village whose only remaining occupant, a Christian princess named Eusebia, told him where the monster had its lair. He set off to find it, arming himself with the sign of the Cross, and when he confronted the roaring, fire-spitting beast, he thrust his spear through its head and killed it.
Convinced that now, by God’s Grace, he would be able to vanquish the spiritual dragon, the Devil, just as he had felled the visible fiend, Saint Theodore returned to the camp, ready to confess his faith. When the commander of his cohort ordered a sacrifice to the gods of the Empire, Theodore remained in his tent. ‘I am a Christian,’ he told the squad who came to look for him. ‘I adore only Christ. He is the King whom I serve, and to Him only am I willing to offer sacrifice!’ After plying him with crafty questions, they left him in order to interrogate other Christian soldiers. Inflamed with divine zeal, Theodore encouraged his fellow Christians to show themselves worthy of Christ, who had chosen them to be soldiers in His army on high. That night he went to the pagan temple and reduced the altar of Rhea, the mother of the gods, to ashes. He was caught in the act by a verger, and brought unresisting to the governor Publius. There was uproar in Euchaita when the deed was known; but Theodore replied calmly to the governor’s questions, showing the absurdity of regarding as a deity a lifeless piece of wood which had been reduced to ashes in a few moments. Threatened with dire torments, the Saint responded; ‘Your threats don’t frighten me because, amid torments, the power of Christ will be joy and gladness to me.’ Grinding his teeth in rage, the governor had him thrown into a gloomy dungeon. That night, Christ appeared to His valiant servant and promised that His grace would be at once his food and drink, his joy and shield. Thus comforted, Theodore spent his time chanting hymns with the Angels, so that even though his cell was bolted and barred, his captures thought that other Christians must have joined him there.
When offered bread and water, Theodore refused it, saying that Christ had promised him food from heaven. On coming before Publius for the second time, he was offered the post of high priest of the idols, at which he laughed, and assured the governor that he was ready to be cut in pieces for love of Christ. He was then hung by his heels while his body was lacerated with iron claws. But faced with the Saint’s indomitable resolution, the tormentors labored in vain, and the governor, fearing lest his example encourage other Christians, decided to be done with him; and he condemned him to be burnt to death. When they reached the stake, the Martyr took off his clothing and sent up a fervent prayer that God would strengthen the other confessors. He walked freely into the flames, which surrounded him but left him untouched as though wanting to do him obeisance. In the midst of this triumphal circlet, Saint Theodore gave back his soul to God with thanksgiving. The pious Eusebia ransomed his body, which she took to Euchaita. A church was built there in honor of the Martyr, who obtained healing of soul and body for many pilgrims who came to seek his intercession.
In 361, Julian the Apostate was doing his utmost to restore pagan customs. Knowing that the Christians were accustomed to sanctify the first week of Lent by fasting and prayer, the wily tyrant told the Prefect of Constantinople to have all the foodstuffs set out for sale in the markets sprinkled with blood of animals sacrificed to the gods, so that no one in the City would escape the contagion of idolatry. However, the Lord did not abandon His chosen people, but sent his servant Theodore to outwit the tyrant. Appearing in a vision to Patriarch Eudoxius (360-4), the holy Martyr informed him of what was afoot and told him to instruct the Christians not to buy food from the markets but instead to eat kolyva made from grains of boiled wheat. Thus, thanks to the intervention of the holy Martyr Theodore, the Christian people were preserved from the stain of idolatry. The Church has commemorated this miracle ever since on the first Saturday of Great Lent, in order to remind the faithful that fasting and temperance have the power to cleanse all the stains of sin.
Saint Theodore Tyron wrought many other miracles for those who had recourse to him with faith, and who persevered in prayer in his church. One day, shining in glory on his white horse, he appeared to a poor widow and restored her only son who had been captured by Saracens. He often brought the tempest-tossed to safety, thieves to light and runaways back to their masters. In all his miracles, this Roman legionary showed that he had become the heavenly protector of the Christian people.
Governor Puplios, after offering promises and freedom, still met with Theodore’s stalwart resistance. Puplios ordered his executioners to suspend the saint upside down. The executioners flayed his body with iron claws. "Administer this," bellowed Puplios, "until the prisoner should die or state that he shall offer sacrifice." The minister of tortures performed their office to the extreme so that the Saint’s sides were laid open, exposing his ribs. At length, the executioners became exhausted from their brutal scraping and carving. The holy Theodore made no outward response. He chanted secretly, "I WILL BLESS THE LORD EVERY TIME, HIS PRAISE CONTINUALLY SHALL BE IN MY MOUTH" (Psalm 33:1). Puplios, at length, issued the final sentence: "Let the fire devour him, as he consumed the temple of Rhea the goddess."
Forthwith, the soldiers bound him to the execution site. Upon arrival, he was unfettered. Theodore then loosened his belt, took off his outer garment, and removed his footwear. The soldiers intended to affix him to the ground, lest he should bolt or make any sharp or quick movements. The Saint wished to be left alone and said, "Do not tie me to a stake. Christ, Who empowered me to withstand even the flame of the fire." The soldiers obliged the prisoner, but they still tied his hands in front of him. The Saint, lifting up his hands to God with tears, besought Christ in prayer for his fwllow soldiers who were found in the prison with him for the sake of Christ. The whole burnt offering Theodore, after uttering his prayer, straightway, jumped inside the fiery furnace that had been prepared. In the midst of the roaring flames, he was chanting and glorifying God! With a view to make manifest the miracles and glorify His Saint, God dispensed in His oeconomy the following marvelous occurrence. The flame of that fire arched and became as a vault that surrounded the Saint. The fire in no wise touched or injured Theodore! The Saint, who scorned death in the flames, kept giving thanks and glorifying the Lord, as he surrendered his soul into the hands of God.
The Saint’s grace-flowing relics were retrieved by means of an exorbitant sum paid by Evsevia. She returned them to her home, Efchaita, where yearly the Saint’s memory was celebrated. In every circumstance, the holy Martyr proved an excellent helper, healing every ailment of soul and body.