Commemorated on January 26
The Monk Theodore the Studite
was born in the year 758 at Constantinople into a family of the imperial
tax-collector Photinos and his spouse Theoktista – both pious Christians. The
Monk Theodore received a serious and systematic education from the best
rhetoricians, philosophers and theologians within the capital city.
During this time in the Byzantine
empire the Iconoclast heresy had become widespread, and it was supported also
by the impious emperor Constantine Kopronymos (741-775). the views of the
emperor-iconoclast and his court decidedly conflicted with the religious
sensitivity of Photinos, who was fervently an adherent of Orthodoxy, and so he
left government service. Later on the parents of Saint Theodore, by mutual
consent, gave away their substance to the poor, took their leave of each other
and accepted monastic tonsure. Their son Theodore soon became widely known in
the capital for his participation of the then numerous disputes concerning
icon-veneration. Accomplished in the oratorical art, and with a free command of
terminology and logic of the philosophers, and chief thing of all, a profound
knowledge of Christian dogmatics, adept in the letter and the spirit of the
Holy Scriptures, – all this invariably brought victory in the disputes to
Saint Theodore, the zealous denouncer of the Iconoclast heresy.
The VII OEcumenical Council put an
end to the Church dissensions. It was convened through the initiative and under
the auspices of the pious Empress Irene. The OEcumenical Council through its
settings as he highest authority in the life of the Church forever denounced
and spurned Iconoclasm.
Among the fathers of the Council was
Blessed Platon (Comm. 5 April), an uncle of Saint Theodore, and who for a long
time had asceticised on Mount Olympos. An elder and lofty of life, Blessed
Platon at the conclusion of the Council summoned his nephews – Theodore
together with his brothers Joseph and Euthymios – to the monk's life in the
wilderness. The brothers gratefully accepted the guidance of their kinsman,
experienced in the spiritual life.
Having departed Constantinople, they
set off to the locale of Sakudian, not far from Olympos. The solitude and the
beauty of the place, its difficulty of access for unaspiring people, met with
the approval of the elder and his nephews, and they decided to remain here. The
brothers built a church in the name of Saint John the Theologian, and gradually
there began to throng here those thirsting for monastic deeds. And thus arose a
monastery, the hegumen of which was Blessed Platon.
The life of the Monk Theodore was
truly ascetic. He toiled at his own heavy and dirty work. He strictly kept
fast, and each day he made confession to his spiritual father – the
starets-elder Platon, revealing to him all his doings and thoughts, and
carefully he fulfilled all his counsels and guidances. Theodore daily made time
for spiritual reflection, he bared his soul to God, unburdened of any earthly
concern, making as it were a certain secret service to Him. The Monk Theodore
unfailingly read the Holy Scripture and works of the holy fathers, among them
finding his closest affinity to the works of Saint Basil the Great.
After several years of the monk's
life, the Monk Theodore accepted the dignity of presbyter at the guidance of
his spiritual father. When Blessed Platon went to his repose, the brethren
unanimously chose the Monk Theodore as hegumen of the monastery. Swayed at the
wish of his confessor, the Monk Theodore accepted being chosen, but imposed
upon himself still greater deeds of asceticism. He taught the brethren by the
example of his own virtuous life and also by fervent fatherly instruction.
When the emperor transgressed
against the Church's canons, the events of outside life disturbed the
tranquillity in the monastic cells. The Monk Theodore bravely distributed a
circular missive through the monasteries, in which he declared the emperor
Constantine VI (780-797) excommunicated from the Church for abusing the
Divine regulations concerning Christian marriage. The Monk Theodore and ten of
his co-ascetics were sent into exile to the city of Soluneia (Thessalonika).
But there also the accusing voice of the monk continued to ring out. Upon her
return to the throne, Saint Irene in 796 set free the Monk Theodore, and gave
over to him the desolate Studite monastery near Kopronyma. The saint soon
gathered to the monastery about 1,000 monks. For governing the monastery the
Monk Theodore wrote an ustav-rule of monastic life, since called the
"Studite rule". The Monk Theodore likewise came out with many
missives against the Iconoclasts. For his dogmatic works, and also the canons
and triodes written by him, Blessed Theoktistos termed the Monk Theodore
"a fiery teacher of the Church".
When Nicephoros seized the imperial
throne, deposing the pious Empress Irene, he likewise crudely transgressed
against Church regulations by restoring to the Church on his own authority an
earlier excommunicated presbyter. The Monk Theodore again came out with
denunciation of the emperor. After torture the monk was again sent into exile,
where he spent more than two years. The monk was then set free by the gentle
and pious emperor Michael, who succeeded to the throne upon the death of
Nicephoros and his son Staurikios in a war against barbarians. Their death for
a long while had been foretold by the Monk Theodore.
In order to avert civil war, the
emperor Michael abdicated the throne to his military commander Leo the
Armenian. The new emperor proved to be an iconoclast. The hierarchs and
teachers of the Church attempted to reason with the impious emperor, but in
vain. Leo prohibited the veneration of holy icons and gave them over for abuse.
In answer to such iniquity, the Monk Theodore with the brethren made a
religious procession around the monastery with highly raised icons and the
singing of the tropar to the image of the Saviour Not-Made-by-Hand (Comm. 16
August). The emperor angrily threatened the saint with death, but the monk
openly continued to encourage believers in Orthodoxy. Then the emperor
sentenced the Monk Theodore and his student Nicholas to exile, at first in
Illyria at the fortress of Metopa, and later in Anatolia at Boneta. But even
from prison the confessor continued his struggle against heresy.
Tormented by the executioners which
the emperor sent to Boneta, deprived almost of food and drink, covered over
with sores and barely alive, Theodore and Nicholas endured everything with
prayer and thanksgiving to God. At Smyrna, where they dispatched the martyrs
from Boneta, the Monk Theodore healed from a terrible illness a military
commander – a nephew of the emperor and like-minded with him, by having
ordered him to repent of the wicked doings of Iconoclasm. But the fellow again
later relapsed into heresy, and then died.
Having been murdered by his own
soldiers, Leo the Armenian was replaced by the equally impious though tolerant
emperor Michael II Traulos (the Stammerer). The new emperor set free all the
Orthodox fathers and confessors from prison, but in the capital he prohibited
icon-veneration. The Monk Theodore did not want to return to Constantinople and
so decided to settle in Bithynia in the city of Chersonessus, near the church
of the holy Martyr Tryphon. In spite of serious illness, the Monk Theodore
celebrated Divine Liturgy daily and instructed the brethren. Foreseeing his
end, the saint summoned the brethren and in last wishes bid them to preserve
Orthodoxy, to venerate holy icons and observe the monastic ustav-rule. Then he
ordered the brethren to take candles and sing the canon for the parting of the
soul from the body. Just before the singing of the words "I forget not
Thine commandments ever, for in them hath I lived" – the Monk Theodore
expired to the Lord, in the year 826.
At this selfsame hour there occurred
a vision to the Monk Ilarion of Dalmatia (Comm. 6 June). An heavenly light
shone amidst singing and the voice was heard: "This is the soul of the
Monk Theodore, having suffered even to the extent of its blood for holy icons,
which now departeth unto the Lord".
The Monk Theodore during his life
and after his death worked many a miracle: those invoking his name have been
delivered from conflagrations, from attack of wild beasts, they have received
healing, thanks to God and to His holy saint – the Monk Theodore the Studite.
On 26 January is celebrated the
memory of the transfer of the relics of the Monk Theodore the Studite from
Chersonessus to Constantinople in the year 845.
© 1996-2001 by translator Fr. S. Janos.