(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's saint, Theodore, comes from Volume 4 of the series.)
Saint Theodore of Alexandria
"The merciless persecution of Christians in the seventh century continued unabated from the days of Nero, sparing not even the highest and most respected figures of the Church, among whom was Theodore of Alexandria, Egypt, who had the courage to defy those who brutally murdered him because he would not deny Jesus Christ. Over the centuries, Christians were put to horrible death, until it became a sport to be looked upon with fiendish glee by the dregs of humanity who knew that if the situation were reversed they would swoon at the sight of a whipping post. It was because Christians had the courage to face far worse than whipping posts that this bestiality continued for centuries.
The inhuman practices of oppressors was far exceeded by the superhuman courage of Christians such as Theodore of Alexandria, whose tormentors felt cheated because they lacked the quiet fortitude of this gentle churchman. It is one thing to speak of the horrors of long ago, but quite another to be thrust into the midst of this suffering by reading an eyewitness account of scenes of reality that make today’s make-believe cinematic horror depictions Sunday School picnics. It is in order, therefore, to quote Eusebios, the ecclesiastical historian generally acknowledged to be very authoritative, who had this to say:
To see them was to wonder; these shining lights of Christendom, God’s champions on earth, flogged and beaten until the mind lost count, but bearing all with courage and restraint. Then fresh from their floggings, they were thrown to wild beasts; to lions falling on them to devour them; to bears of every size and color; to wild boars; to bulls maddened with burning irons; and each of them in turn their victims faced with miraculous endurance. We saw these happenings with our own eyes. We saw the holy strength of Jesus Christ in them – yes, that same Jesus Christ of whom they testified. We saw the revelation of that strength to these, the martyrs. For a long time the ravenous beasts did not dare approach them. Rather than touch the flesh of those beloved by God, they turned upon the others posted around the cage, supposedly to urge them on.
And though God’s champions stood naked and defenseless, and with their own hands beckoning the beast toward them (for thus their jailers had commanded them to do), they were the only ones spared. Now and again the animals would make a rush toward them only to be held back by some divine power and turned in their tracks. As they watched this happen again and again, the spectators were filled with great wonder. Beast after beast was let loose against the same martyr, and each in turn failed.
This same Eusebios recorded the monstrous slaughter in Nikomedia, where twenty-six thousand Christians were put to death, following the burning of the churches and the wholesale imprisonment of the clergy: “In every city, prisons built originally to hold grave-robbers and cuthroats were now so crammed with bishops, deacons and elders of the Church, with readers and exorcists, that there was no space in the cells for condemned criminals.” Christianity withstood hundreds of years of death camps whose “poisonous gas” emanated from the mouths of their captors and whose deaths of epidemic proportions stagger the mind of our modern era.
The noble Theodore of Alexandria reigned as bishop for only a brief period, but he was a prelate in the great tradition of the Church Fathers, devoting all of his time to the Church and to the community in an unceasing labor of Christian love. In spite of the harassment of pagans, he continued his holy work unabated and undaunted.Theodore was to achieve in two years what ordinary prelates could not in a lifetime, but the antagonism against him reached its peak when a band of pagans, driven to blind fury by his unrelenting campaign for Christ, dragged him out of his cathedral into the street, where they flogged and blinded him and then cast him into the sea. Changing their minds, they then snatched him from the water and dragged him to a public square where they beheaded him. He died for Christ on December 3, 609."
Text from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints. Image from Wikimedia.