(Welcome to our Saint of the Day series! Each weekday, we present you with an excerpt from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints series, published by Holy Cross Orthodox Press. Today we commemorate St. Theodore of Sykeon whose account is found in Volume 2 of the series.)
Saint Theodore of Sykeon
One of Christianity’s greatest works of art is the classic mural familiar to the civilized world as “The Last Supper,” painted by the left-handed Leonardo Da Vinci. His illegitimate birth did not preclude the genius instilled in him by a merciful God whose view must be that there is no such thing as an illegitimate child, only illegitimate parents. One of our lesser-known saints was favored by God from the day he came into the world, as his life would prove, despite the fact that he was born out of wedlock.
The name of this saint has come down to us as Theodore of Sykeon, who was born in the sixth century during the reign of Justinian. His unwed mother was named Mary. Her only guilt was that she loved not wisely, but too well, a man named Kosmas. Kosmas was a government official stationed at Sykeon who returned the love of Mary, but who, unfortunately, was transferred to another post, leaving Mary behind to bear and raise the son who became a luminary of the Church as if by predestination. With the departure of Kosmas, the unhappy Mary became guilt-ridden and fearful at the prospect of bringing shame not only on herself, but also on her mother, Elpidias, a devout woman who worked as an innkeeper at the place once owned by her departed husband.
The widow Elpidias sympathized with her contrite daughter, certain in the belief that a sin confessed is half forgiven and wholly so if there is genuine repentance. A priest assured the distraught Mary that her sin would be cleansed if she sought God in prayer and thereafter reared the child with the love of the Savior uppermost in her mind. While praying at home one evening, Mary had a vision in which she perceived St. George, who asked that Mary be blessed with a son who would honor the Lord in a lifetime of service to God and man. These visions were to appear many times until Mary bore a son whom
she named Theodore, which means “gift from God.” She then placed him on a course in pursuit of the spiritual attainment to which he had been pledged.
By the time he was six years old, Theodore’s tutor and family friend told him that he had taught him all he knew – and this teacher was considered an educator and theologian of considerable merit. For the next eight years Theodore astounded thinkers and theologians not only with his profound knowledge, but also with his extreme piety; and when asked how he had come by this vast store of knowledge, he simply stated that he owed it all to St. George. The answer seemed plausible when he was seen to possess a touch of divine grace despite his tender age.
When only fourteen years old, Theodore answered a call to asceticism which led him to a monastery dedicated to St. George. There he was instantly recognized as a more-than-qualified aspirant by Father Glykerion, director of the cloister, who was added to the long list of those who never ceased to be amazed at the boy’s erudition and resolve. For the next four years Theodore lived by the strict rules of monasticism, going a step beyond in
self-denial, meditation and prayer, so that by the time he was eighteen he was the monastery’s outstanding member in a society dedicated to Jesus Christ. His proximity to God was firmly established with manifestations of the power of healing that emanates only from the divine.
Theodore was ordained a deacon and then priest by the bishop of Anastasiopolis, who allowed him to journey to the Holy Land after being assured that he would return when he had fulfi lled his mission. In Jerusalem he was prevailed upon to stay at least temporarily at a monastery, more as a guest than a member, in order to exhibit his healing power and his phenomenal erudition. The temporary stay stretched into years at the insistence of the many who sought and received his help, but he finally convinced his hosts that he had overstayed his leave and left to be welcomed warmly at his beloved St. George Monastery.
A nearby nunnery became the home of his mother and grandmother, with whom Theodore kept in close touch. He left the area only for brief periods and then only in answer to a royal call to the capital city of Constantinople. Even after his elevation to bishop he was in touch with the monastery. When he sensed death approaching, he prayed to die on the commemorative date of St. George. His wish was granted and he died on April 23, 613.