(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 Sts. Theodosia and Theodosia, whose account is found in Volume 2 of the series.)
Saints Theodosia and Theodosia
Theodosia and Theodosia sound like a pair of names that belong on the office door of a Greek law firm but, like all other saints, they belong to the ages of Christianity whose timeless door to glory was opened to each of them, united in martyrdom suffered nearly four hundred years apart. Regarded from an earthbound view, it can be called a remarkable coincidence that in the fourth century a young girl would give her life for the Messiah, and that four centuries later on the same date her namesake would make the same sacrifice; but in God’s boundless universe of time and space coincidence loses meaning, leaving only the aspect of reverence that should be accorded the two on the same day of the year of our Lord.
The first Theodosia was a fourth-century Christian maiden who answered the call to the service of Jesus Christ, heedless of the dangers on all sides to one who dared to call himself a Christian. She lived in Caesaria, Palestine in the time of the Emperor Diocletian whose cruel persecution of Christians reached every corner of the empire and whose victims were considered enemies of the state, regardless of age or sex. Thus, at the tender age of eighteen a delicate flower of Christianity named Theodosia was crushed under the heel of Roman tyranny.
Theodosia was but one of the thousands who were paraded before the Roman magistrate Urbanus, who did nothing but reverse the progress of civilization in his relentless persecution of innocent Christians. The proceedings usually consisted of a pronouncement of a mass sentence of death with the customary wave of the official hand. The casual glance of the governor at the hapless prisoner was one of complete detachment, but the sight of the lovely girl brought a summons to his side, whereupon he methodically offered clemency for one so young and pretty, provided she would disavow the Savior and return to Roman paganism. When the proposal was refused, the girl was returned to face torture and death, giving her life for Christ on May 29, 308.
The Theodosia of the eighth century was born in the last decade of the seventh century in Constantinople, but more details of her life are known thanks largely to the writing of Constantine Akropolites, a fourteenth-century ecclesiastical historian who sifted through records dating back to the seventh and eighth centuries in setting down his findings. Like her namesake centuries before her, the second Theodosia had a very brief lifespan, some years of which are known to have been spent in the Monastery of the Resurrection in Constantinople. From these old manuscripts, the historian was able to establish that Theodosia was not only a devout nun but an extremely resolute one whose active participation brought her to one final moment in a stubborn defense of the faith that was to cost her life.
When the emperor, Leo the Isaurian, stepped up his iconoclastic campaign aimed at keeping churches and other institutions from displaying icons, it was more than the traditionalist Theodosia could bear. At a time when women’s roles were secondary to those of males in every walk of life, she took to the streets in protest so daring that even her male counterparts in the controversy were taken aback. Recruiting others about her, most of whom were women, she demonstrated with the procession at her heels, at first looked upon with amusement, but not for long. It was clearly evident that this wisp of a girl was no reactionary, but a proven iconophile whose only desire was a return to standards not to be abandoned at the command of an emperor.
Rallying support from many passive Christians more or less content to accept the royal will in support of the iconoclasts, Theodosia led a contingent of protesters to the city gates, where the prefect himself was about to remove an icon of Christ that had adorned the symbolic entrance for years. Ignoring the protests of the crowd, the prefect ascended a ladder as an act of obedience to the emperor, but as he reached the top to pry the sacred icons loose there was a surge in the crowd which tilted the ladder with a jolt that sent the prefect hurling to the ground in a fall which killed him. The puppet Patriarch Anastasios refused to intervene when full blame was placed on Theodosia, who was put to death on May 29.
Text from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints. Image from GOArch.org.