Commemorated on September 11
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Theodora betrayed her husband, but soon came to her senses and realizing the seriousness of her fall, she became furious with herself, slapping herself on the face and tearing at her hair. Her conscience gave her no peace, and she went to a renowned abbess and confessed her transgression. Seeing the young woman’s repentance, the abbess spoke to her of God's forgiveness and reminded her of the sinful woman in the Gospel who washed the feet of Christ with her tears and received from Him forgiveness.
In hope of the mercy of God, Theodora said: "I believe my God, and from now on, I shall not commit such a sin, and I will strive to atone for my deeds." St. Theodora resolved to go off to a monastery to purify herself by labor and by prayer. She left her home secretly, and dressing herself in men's clothes, she went to a men's monastery, since she feared that her husband would find her in a community of women.
In order to test the newcomer, the monastery’s abbot would not permit her to enter. St. Theodora spent the night at the gates. In the morning, she fell down at the knees of the abbot telling him her name was Theodore from Alexandria, and entreated him to let her remain at the monastery for repentance and monastic labors. Seeing the sincere intent of the newcomer, the abbot consented. Even the experienced monks were amazed at Theodora's all-night prayers on bended knee, her humility, endurance and self-denial. The saint labored at the monastery for eight years. Her body, once defiled by adultery, now became a vessel of the grace of God and a receptacle of the Holy Spirit.
While on a journey to buy provisions, Theodora was instructed by her abbot to stay at the Enata Monastery if there was cause for delay. There was also a young woman staying at the guest house of this same monastery. She tried to seduce St. Theodora, not realizing the monk before her was a woman. Discouraged that she had been rejected, the girl undertook a liaison with another guest and became pregnant. Ultimately, the father of this shameless girl began to question his daughter about the father of the child. The girl told him the father was the Monk Theodore, which was immediately reported to the abbot of St. Theodora’s monastery. Upon being confronted, St. Theodora replied, "As God is my witness, I did not do this." Knowing of Theodore's purity and holiness of life, the abbot did not believe the accusation. When the infant was born, the monks brought the infant to the monastery where St. Theodora lived and reproached all of their monastics for leading an unchaste life. The abbot became angry at the innocent Theodore and entrusted the infant into the care of the saint, throwing her out of the monastery in disgrace. The saint humbly submitted to this new trial, seeing in it the expiation of her former sin. She settled with the child not far from the monastery in a hut. Shepherds, out of pity, gave her milk for the infant, and the saint herself ate only wild vegetables.
Bearing her misfortune, St. Theodora spent seven years in banishment. Finally, at the request of the monks, the abbot allowed her to return to the monastery with the infant, and in seclusion she spent two years instructing the child. The abbot of the monastery received a revelation from God that the sin of the monk Theodore was forgiven. The grace of God dwelt upon the monk Theodore, and soon all the monks began to witness the signs worked through the prayers of the saint.
Before her death, St Theodora shut herself in her cell with the child and instructed him to love God above all things. She told him to obey the abbot, to preserve tranquility, to be meek and without malice, to avoid obscenity and silliness, to love non-covetousness, and not to neglect their communal prayer. After this, she prayed and, for the last time, she asked the Lord to forgive her sins. The child also prayed together with her. Soon the words of prayer faded from the lips of St. Theodora, and she peacefully departed to a better world.
The Lord revealed to the abbot the spiritual accomplishments of the saint, and also her secret. The abbot, in order to remove any dishonor told of his vision and uncovered the bosom of the saint as proof. The monastics shrank back in terror. Falling down before the body of the saint, with tears they asked forgiveness of St. Theodora. News of St. Theodora’s death reached her former husband, and he received monastic tonsure at this same monastery where his wife had lived. The child also followed in the footsteps of his foster-mother. Afterwards, he became abbot of this very monastery.
Troparion (Tone 4) –
You offered your life as a holy gift, O righteous Theodora,
For resplendent with the light of repentance, you illumined mankind.
Now pray to Christ who has magnified you to grant us his great mercy!
Kontakion (Tone 2) –
You depleted your bodily strength by fasting, vigil, and prayers,
entreating the Creator to grant forgiveness of your sin;
having received it, you showed us the way of repentance,
venerable Mother Theodora.
The "Secret" Sin of Saint Theodora of Alexandria
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Notice, as you read the excerpt from the Life of St. Theodora below, the five stages that lead to the sin of St. Theodora and which are the same five stages we all go through when we sin against the Lord:
1. Assault - When a thought/temptation knocks on the door of our mind; at this point there is no sin.
2. Interaction - This is the stage when we open our mind to the thought; at this point things become dangerous.
3. Consent - At this point you consent to do what the thought is urging you to do; the decision is made and it has taken root, becoming extremely difficult to escape.
4. Captivity - When you finally give in to your consent, you have been defeated; you are now the captive of your thought and have lost your true freedom over yourself.
5. Passion - Being a captive of your thought you are now spiritually sick; this sickness will become worse and worse throughout your life unless you repent and purify your mind of the germ which you allowed to enter your heart. (...)
St. Nikolai Velimirovich summarizes her life in his Prologue with the following words:
Theodora was from Alexandria and the wife of a young man. Persuaded by a fortune-teller, she committed adultery with another man and immediately felt the bitter pangs of conscience. She cut her hair, dressed in men's clothing and entered the Monastery of Octodecatos, under the male name of Theodore.
Her labor, fasting, vigilance, humbleness and tearful repentance amazed the entire brotherhood. When a promiscuous young woman slandered her, saying that Theodore had made her pregnant, Theodora did not want to justify herself, but considered this slander as a punishment from God for her earlier sin. Banished from the monastery, she spent seven years living in the forest and wilderness and, in addition, caring for the child of that promiscuous girl.
She overcame all diabolical temptations: she refused to worship Satan, refused to accept food from the hands of a soldier, and refused to heed the pleas of her husband to return to him - for all of this was only a diabolical illusion, and as soon as Theodora made the sign of the Cross everything vanished as smoke. After seven years, the abbot received her back into the monastery, where she lived for two more years, and reposed in the Lord.
Only then did the monks learn that she was a woman; an angel appeared to the abbot and explained everything to him. Her husband came to the burial, and then remained in the cell of his former wife until his repose. St. Theodora possessed much grace from God: she tamed wild beasts, healed infirmities, and brought forth water from a dry well. Thus, God glorified a true penitent, who with heroic patience repented nine years for just one sin. She reposed in the year 490.
St. Nikolai goes on to offer the following reflection about how St. Theodora went to live in a convent following her sin without telling her husband. It should be noted that the Holy Fathers in a later Canon ruled that husbands or wives are no longer permitted to do such a thing without mutual consent, yet St. Nikolai offers the following advice if the desire comes up in at least one spouse:
One must not hinder anyone on the path of perfect devotion and service to God. Many saintly women who wanted to flee from marriage and devote themselves to God were pursued and hindered in this by their husbands. These women were usually victorious in the end, remaining steadfast in their intention, and often awakened the consciences of their husbands by their example, and directed them on the path of salvation.
St. Theodora, dressed in men's clothing, had to carefully hide from her husband, and she retreated to a men's monastery. However, there were prudent husbands who approved their wives' intentions, permitting their withdrawal from the world to devote their lives completely to God. King Frederick was betrothed to a Czech maiden, Agnes. But she never agreed to enter into marriage, and broke her betrothal, fleeing to a monastery. Then the prudent king said: "Had she left me for a mortal man, I would have sought revenge; but I must not find myself insulted that she chose the Heavenly King in place of me."
Lastly I would like to offer a hymn also written by St. Nikolai in honor of the Venerable Theodora of Alexandria:
Wretched Theodora was tangled in sin;
Glorious Theodora was forgiven her sin.
One sin she ransomed with a hundred virtues
And the eternal mercy of the Son of God.
She thrust from herself into diabolical suggestions,
And meekly endured the slanders of men.
Her mind immersed in her Lord,
Her thoughts were freed from earthly dust.
To the end, she submitted to God's will,
And thus was worthy of God's Paradise.
St. Theodora, citizen of Paradise,
Now help us, O God-pleaser!
That we sinners also be delivered from sin
And live with you as inhabitants of Paradise.
You were given power, before and after death,
To destroy all the snares of the enemy.
Because of your love, God gave you power,
And even the demons fear your power.
Now you worship Christ with all the saints,
And protect us from bitter attacks.
Apolytikion in the Plagal of the Fourth Tone
In thee the image was preserved with exactness, O Mother; for taking up thy cross, thou didst follow Christ, and by thy deeds thou didst teach us to overlook the flesh, for it passeth away, but to attend to the soul since it is immortal. Wherefore, O righteous Theodora, thy spirit rejoiceth with the Angels.
Kontakion in the Second Tone
With fasting didst thou consume thy body utterly; with vigilant prayer didst thou entreat thy Fashioner, that thou shouldst receive the complete forgiveness of the sin thou hadst wrought; which receiving in truth, thou didst mark out the path of repentance for us all.
LIVE, BEYOND THE LIMITS!
Hymn to the African Saints
Theosis (deification): The True Purpose of Human Life
Saint Syncletika of Alexandria, the First Great Holy Mother of the Egyprian Desert (Feast Day January 5)