The Monk Theodore the Studite
Commemorated on November 11
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.