The Nun Theodora of Alexandria

Commemorated on September 11

      The Nun Theodora of Alexandria and her husband lived in Alexandria. Love and harmony ruled in their family, and this was hateful to the enemy of salvation. Goaded on by the devil, a certain rich man was captivated by the youthful beauty of Theodora and began with all his abilities to lead her into adultery, but for a long time he was unsuccessful. Then he bribed a woman of loose morals, who led the unassuming Theodora astray by saying, that a sin committed in the night God would not account to guilt. Theodora betrayed her husband, but soon came to her senses and realising the seriousness of her downfall, she became furious with herself, incessantly slapping herself on the face and tearing at her hair. Her conscience gave her no peace, and Theodora set out to a reknown hegumeness and told her about her transgression. The hegumeness, beholding the repentance of the young woman, roused in her the faith in Divine forgiveness and reminded her of the Gospel passage about the sinful woman, who with her tears washed the feet of Christ and received from Him forgiveness of her sins. In hope on the mercy of God, Theodora said: "I do believe my God and from hence shall not commit suchlike sin, and I wilt strive to expiate my deed". At that moment Saint Theodora resolved to go off to a monastery, so as to purify herself by deed and by prayer. In secret she left her home, and having attired herself in men's garb, she set off to a men's monastery, since she feared that her husband would manage to find her in a women's monastery. The hegumen of the monastery would not even give blessing to allow her into the courtyard, in testing the resolve of the new-comer. The Nun Theodora spent the night at the gates. In the morning, having fallen down at the knees of the hegumen, she said her name was Theodore from Alexandria and entreated him to let her remain at the monastery for repentance and monastic deeds. Seeing the sincere intent of the new-comer, the hegumen consented.
      Even the experienced monks were amazed at the all-night prayers on bended-knee, the humility, the endurance and self-denial of Theodora. The saint asceticised at the monastery for eight years. Her body, once defiled by adultery, became a visible vessel of the grace of God and a receptacle of the Holy Spirit. One time the saint was sent to Alexandria for the buying of bread. Having given blessing for the journey, the hegumen indicated that in case of a stopover along the way, to stay over at the Enata monastery along the way. At the guest-house of the Enata monastery was then staying the daughter of its hegumen, who had come to visit with her father. Allured by the comeliness of the young monk, she tried to seduce the Monk Theodore into the sin of fornication, not knowing that before her was a woman. Being refused, she committed sin with another guest and became pregnant. Meanwhile the saint having bought the bread returned to the home monastery.
      After a certain while the father of the shameless girl, realising that a transgression had occurred, began to question his daughter as to who it was that had seduced her. The girl indicated that it was the Monk Theodore. The father at once reported it to the head of the monastery at which Saint Theodora asceticised. The hegumen summoned the saint and told about the accusation. The saint firmly replied: "As God is my witness, I did not do this", and the hegumen, knowing the purity and holiness of life of Theodore, did not believe the accusation. When the girl gave birth, the Enata monks brought the infant to the monastery wherein lived the ascetic, and began to reproach its monks for an unchaste life. But this time even the hegumen believed the slanderous accusation and became angry at the innocent Theodore. They entrusted the infant into the care of the saint and dishonourably threw her out of the monastery. 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 an hut. Shepherds out of pity gave her milk for the infant, and the saint herself ate only wild vegetables. Over the course of seven years, bearing her misfortune, the holy ascetic spent in banishment. Finally, at the request of the monks, the hegumen allowed her to return to the monastery together with the child, and in seclusion she spent two years instructing the child. The hegumen 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 to the signs, worked through the prayers of the saint. One time in this locale during a time of drought all the water-wells dried up. The hegumen said to the brethren, that only Theodore would be able to reverse the misfortune. Having summoned the saint, the hegumen bid her to bring forth water, and the water in the well afterwards did not dry up. The humble Theodore said, that the miracle was worked through the prayer and faith of the hegumen.
      Before her death, the Nun Theodora secluded herself in her cell with the child and in last-wishes bid him to love God, and she asked the compliance of the hegumen and the brethren, to preserve tranquility, to be meek and without malice, to shun obscenity and silliness, to love non-covetousness, and to keep in mind their community life. After this, standing at prayer, for a final time she asked of the Lord forgiveness of her sins. The child also prayed together with her. Soon the words of prayer gave way to death on the lips of the ascetic, and she peacefully expired to an higher world (+ c. 474-491).
      The Lord revealed to the hegumen the spiritual accomplishment of the saint and about her concealed secret. The hegumen, in order to remove any disrepute from the deceased, – in the presence of the hegumen and brethren of the Enata monastery, told about his vision and for proof uncovered the bosom of the saint. The Enata hegumen and brethren shrank back in terror at their great transgression, and having fallen down at the body of the saint, with tears they asked forgiveness of the Nun Theodora. News about the Nun Theodora reached her former husband. He took monastic tonsure at this selfsame monastery where his wife had been. And the child, raised by the nun, likewise followed in the footsteps of his foster-mother. Afterwards he became hegumen of this very monastery.
      [Trans. Note: One might find highly implausible a beardless monk dwelling in a monastery for so long a period of time unquestioned. But perhaps eunuch-castrates were still common at this time, and as such losing also the capacity to grow beards. The matter of cross-dressing in men's monastic attire is a literary gendre occuring also in the lives of other women saints, usually only for the purposes of concealment and for but a short time. But as the "Redaction" account introducing the Russian original of our text indicates, the Saint-Lives reflect a broad spectrum of historical sources compiled with differing intended purposes, often other than the "modern" penchant for strict recording of historical facts. Which is to say, the account may have been embellished to in entertaining edify both the common man and woman, as well as the sophisticated. Certainly many a Saint-Vita contains an account of a virtually unhurtable and well-nigh unkillable martyr, – so that one is left to wonder that the persecution of Christians by the pagans of old, who in the torturing sometimes themselves dropped down dead, – should have taken so very long, to end. But beneathe any of these embellishments is an actual historical person, who witnessed to Christ our Lord. And to write the miraculous off as mere fable, – is foolish. The spiritual task herein is one of discernment between embellishment and fact].

© 1996-2001 by translator Fr. S. Janos.