Monday, April 24, 2017

The Role of St. George in the Life of St. Theodore Sykeote


St. George the Great Martyr played a pivitol role in the life of St. Theodore Sykeote, a sixth century Saint who is commemorated on April 22nd. In his Life we read the following:

When her full time was accomplished, Mary bore the servant of God; and after some days had passed, she carried him, as is the custom among Christians, to the Holy Church of the Orthodox and showed him to the priests who baptized him in the name of the Holy Trinity and named him 'Theodore', thus showing by this name that he would be the 'gift of God'. When the child was about six years old, his mother wanted him to enter the Emperor's service in the capital, so she made ready for him a gold belt and expensive clothes and everything else necessary, and then she prepared herself for the journey. On the night when she intended to start, God's holy martyr, St. George, appeared to her and said, 'What is this plan, lady, which you have made for the boy? Do not labour in vain, for the King in heaven has need of him'. And in the morning she arose and related her vision and wept saying, 'Assuredly death has drawn near to my boy'. After this she abandoned her journey. She wore herself away with increasing care of her son, and when he was eight years old she gave him to a teacher to be taught his letters. By the grace of God he was quicker at learning than all the other boys and made great progress

He was beloved by all and in his daily life became known to all for his virtues; for when he played with the others he always beat them, but no oath or blasphemy nor any unfitting word ever escaped his lips, nor did he allow the others to use one. And whenever any dispute arose in their games, he at once withdrew and through his actions put an end to it....

When he came out of school he went up the rocky hill which lay near the village. Here there was a shrine dedicated to the martyr St. George. The Saint would guide him to the spot appearing visibly before his eyes in the form of a young man. Entering the shrine Theodore would sit down and busy himself with the study of the Holy Scriptures; and after midday he went back to the school and returned home in the evening. When his mother inquired why he had not appeared at dinnertime, he tricked her saying either that he had not been able to say his lesson and was therefore kept in; or that he had a pain in his stomach and therefore had no appetite. So she again sent word to the master to send him home with the others, and he replied that since he had received her message he always did send him away with the others. Then she found out that he went up to the shrine and so she sent some of her servants to fetch him, and they brought him down to her. She threatened him and told him to come straight home from school to her; but he continued to act as he had been accustomed to do. His mother was very troubled about him, but in spite of all her threats and advice she was quite unable to make him change his fixed purpose, or to break the rules of abstinence which he had prescribed for himself.

When he was about twelve years old an epidemic of bubonic plague fell upon the village and it attacked him along with the others so that he came near to dying. They took him to the shrine of St. John the Baptist near the village and laid him at the entrance to the sanctuary, and above him where the cross was set there hung an icon of our Saviour Jesus Christ. As he was suffering great pain from the plague suddenly drops of dew fell upon him from the icon, and immediately by the grace of God, freed from his suffering, he recovered and returned to his home.

As Theodore was sleeping at night with his mother and the women who lived with her, Christ's martyr, George, came to him, and, steeping all the others in deep slumber, woke him up. The first few nights he came in the form of the Stephen whom we have already mentioned, and later, in his own person, and said to him, 'Get up, master Theodore, the dawn has risen, let us go and pray at the shrine of St. George'. Theodore got up readily and with great joy and the Saint led him away from the house up to his shrine, while it was still dark, so that the boy beheld some of the temptations caused by the demons, for the wicked demons, the enemies of truth, appeared on either side of him in the semblance of wolves and other wild beasts, and with gaping mouths they rushed upon him as though to kill him, in order that they might cause him through fear to give up his good purpose. But Christ's martyr took hold of him and, like a man wielding a sword, chased them from him, so that Theodore was no whit alarmed by the sight of the wild beasts but became even more zealous and never missed his visits to the shrine.

When he began to adopt this habit, his mother and the women sleeping with her would wake up in the morning, and not seeing him in his bed they suspected that he had crept out and was spending the nights in the martyr's shrine; and they wondered how it was, since he slept between them, that he got out so successfully without anybody noticing it. They were afraid he might be devoured by some beast, since a fierce wolf, which carried off children, had lately been haunting the neighbourhood; so they tried to coax him not to go up to the shrine, at least before sunrise, as it was a wild, and fearsome place. However, the boy would not be persuaded and when awakened by the martyr at the appointed hour he went off to the shrine. When the women did not find him in bed in the morning, they became very angry and sent servants who brought him back dragging him by the hair. His mother whipped him and tied him to the bed with his arms behind his back, and gave him no food.

That night God's holy martyr, George, appeared to Theodore's mother and the other women, girt with a sword, which he drew as he came towards them saying threateningly, 'Now I shall cut off your heads because you ill-treat and punish the boy and prevent his coming to me'. On their swearing solemnly that they would never do it again, he took back his threat and disappeared.

The women woke up from fright and loosed the boy and comforted him, imploring him not to be angry with them for their mistakes. They asked him how he dared go up to the shrine before dawn, to which he replied, 'First I went up with Stephen and afterwards with a very handsome and fine young man'. So they concluded that that must be the martyr they had seen in their dream, and yielding to the martyr's urgency they no longer tried to force the boy but said, 'God's will be done!'

Theodore had a tiny sister called Blatta who sympathized with him and loved him dearly. Her heart was set on doing God's will and often she went up with Theodore to the shrine in the daytime, and she tried to imitate him in every act of self denial....

Now when the devil, the enemy of truth, saw that Theodore was industriously acquiring the spiritual weapons of virtue against him, he determined to destroy him. Accordingly one day he assumed the appearance of one of Theodore's school fellows, Gerontius by name, and took him and led him up to the cliffs of a place called Tzidrama, and, setting him on a lofty crag of the cliffs there, put the temptation to him which was put to our Saviour, and said. 'If you are willing, master Theodore, to display your powers of conquest, display them here and jump down from this cliff.' But Theodore looked at the height which was really great and said to Gerontius, 'It is high and I am afraid'. The devil said to him, 'In the eyes of all the boys you are considered braver than I, and you outshine me, but in this matter I am no coward and will throw myself down'. The boy answered him, 'Don't do it! You may lame yourself, or even be killed'. As the other asserted he could do the feat without any danger, Theodore finally said to him, 'If you will, then I will too'. So the devil standing with him on the rock jumped down, and alighting on his feet shouted up to the boy Theodore, saying 'See, I have done it! If you dare, come down too, that I may see your bravery: if you can, as in all else, distinguish yourself in this test too'. Whilst the boy stood debating within himself full of fear at this utterly useless ordeal, and staggered at the boldness of the supposed Gerontius, who had never previously been so bold, George, the martyr of Christ, suddenly appeared and taking Theodore by the hand, led him away from the place, saying, 'Come, follow me, and do not listen to the tempting of him who is seeking your soul; for he is not Gerontius but the enemy of our race'. And so saying the holy martyr brought him to his oratory.

One day when Theodore was staying in the chapel of St. George his mother and his mother's mother came up to him and with much coaxing tried to force him to come down home saying that they expected the visit of some important friends. But the boy could not be persuaded by them to go down, for he fulfilled literally the words of holy scripture which says, 'The friendship of this world is emnity with God, and whoever would be a friend of the world maketh himself an enemy of God.' [Jam 4:4] and 'No one can serve God and Mammon'[Luke 16:13]. He also regarded the wealth of the world as nought and wishing to get rid of it, he unbuckled his gold belt, took off his necklace and the bracelet from his wrist and threw them down in front of the women saying, 'You suspect that these things may get lost and it is because of them you trouble me. Take them then and begone! for I will not leave this place.' And the women took them and went as they could not persuade him. For all his thoughts were towards the Lord Whom he imitated and in Whose footsteps he followed; he fled from his parents and ran to God; he gave up wealth and houses in order to be rewarded a hundredfold and inherit eternal life, [Luke 18:29] as the Lord who has promised this says: 'He that wishes to come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me!' [Mat 16:24]

For the boy nobly mortified his body, keeping it under and wearing it down, as though it were some alien thing which warred against his soul; and on his forehead he bore the Cross; and just as Peter and James and John and the rest of the apostles 'left all and followed Jesus' [Luke 5:11] so this boy likewise believed in the witness of the Scriptures and sought earnestly to mould his life thereon....

After the feast of holy Easter a man appeared in the oratory one day with his only son who was troubled by an unclean spirit; and the man, emboldened by faith, besought the virtuous boy, Theodore, to heal his son. But the virtuous child of Christ did not know what he ought to do for him and indeed was greatly perplexed, for he was so young. But the father of the demoniac gave him a little whip and said to him with tears, 'Dear master, servant of Christ, take this and rebuke my child and beat him and say, "Come out, come out from this boy, you unclean demon, in the name of my Lord"'

The righteous boy did as he was told; and the demon was disturbed and began to disparage him and to call him an impostor, and if Theodore said anything to him the devil just repeated the same words, and for two days he gave him no answer at all. Then on the third day Theodore, the child of Christ, did as he had done before with the boy and the demon, now disturbed again, began to cry out; 'I am coming out, boy, I am coming out, I will not resist you, give me one hour!' Then Theodore moved away to the altar and the demon shouted out, 'Oh, the violence of the Nazarene who excites these forces against us ! for ever since He came down upon the earth He wins men against us, and now He has given authority to the son of the harlot to cast us out. Woe is me, wretch that I am, to be expelled by such a child! for I cannot withstand the grace which has been sent down upon him from heaven. Woe will come upon our kind from this harlot's action, because he will drive out many of us from men. But the dreadful thing for me is that he has made a beginning with me and I dare not return to my father the Devil, after being expelled by such a child. For if it had been done by an old man, my shame would not be great; accursed be the day on which you were born!' Whilst he was speaking Theodore, the child of God, took some oil from the lamp and touched the boy's head and with the sign of the Cross rebuked the demon saying, 'Come out then, you most wicked spirit, and do not talk so much nonsense!' And the demon with a shriek cast down the boy at his feet and went out of him. And the boy that was healed lay like a corpse, so that Theodore was in much concern and thought that he was dead. But the father said to him, 'Give him your hand, master, and raise him up. And immediately the boy came to himself and stood up, and through the grace of God Theodore restored him to his father in complete health. And this became known throughout all the neighbourhood so that all gave glory to God who bestows wisdom and grace even upon children....

So then Theodore, the most holy servant of God, was deemed worthy of the priesthood by our Saviour God at the age of eighteen, and with godly wisdom he strove to show himself like unto a prudent man in accordance with the Lord's appointment, praised be His name.* Thus he left his parental home which was built upon sand and all the earthly things therein, resolving within himself never to set foot in it again and in full assurance of faith he devoted himself body and so and with a sincere heart to God.

He founded his dwelling on the hallowed spot which was literally and figuratively made of rock [Matt 7:24-25], where there stood the revered oratory of the holy and glorious martyr George, in order easily to repel the attacks of alien winds* and to ward off the uprising of the flood, that came like waters in their wake. And thus with his faith firmly based on the rock of Christ and with the help of the holy martyr commemorated in the oratory he spent his time on all the God-inspired Scriptures deeming them to be the sources of eternal life. Most often did he ponder over the holy Gospel and he was continually pricked in heart, especially when he considered the descent from heaven of our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, His incarnation and life on earth, and how He deigned to suffer and be crucified in Jerusalem, and to be buried and to rise again. Through marvelling and wondering that these things should have taken place on earth, he was seized with the desire to travel and to worship at the holy places of the Christ which His immaculate feet had trodden, and also because of the words of the prophet Zecharias, 'Every race and every tribe shall be accursed which goeth not up to worship them' [Zech. 14:17]....


Through the grace bestowed on him by God Theodore continued to work many miracles against every kind of illness and weakness, but especially did he make supplications to God for aid against unclean spirits; hence, if he merely rebuked them, or even sent them a threat through another, they would immediately come out of people. Some persons were so profoundly impressed by these miracles that they left their homes, journeyed to him, and entering upon a life of contemplation Joined the monastery; others again who had obtained healing would not leave him but stayed with him, giving him such service as he needed.

Now since the oratory of the holy martyr George was small* and could not contain those who recited the offices as well as those who stayed with the Saint and others* who came up to pray, he built on its right hand side a very fine house (dedicated to Michael, the holy commande-in-chief of the angels) which was comfortable both in winter and summer; on its left it had a small oratory dedicated to St. John the Baptist, and one on the right dedicated to the most blessed Mother of God, the ever-virgin Mary. In this house he ordained that the community of Brothers should officiate in order that both those who were waiting either to be healed of an illness, or for the expulsion of evil spirits, and those who had come up to pray, might rest awhile in the hallowed church of the Archangel which was open day and night, and listen to the service and join in the prayers and find healing.

At that time Tiberius of pious memory was ruling over the empire, and after appointing Maurice, the Chartularius, as general he sent him to the East to the Persian war to fight against them. And after Maurice had defeated them he was , ordered by the Emperor to return to the capital. As he was passing through the districts of Galatia he heard talk about the servant of Christi (These were the days of the blessed man's abstinence and' he was in seclusion in his cave.)

Maurice went up with his brother Peter and his attendants and fell at the Saint's feet and begged him to pray for them that their journey to the Emperor might have a happy issue. The blessed and glorious man bade him stand up and prayed to God for him, as if by divine revelation he said to Maurice, 'My son, if you bear in mind to pray to the holy martyr George, you will shortly learn to what glorious post in the Empire you are called; only, when you reach those heights be sure to remember the needs of the poor'. When Maurice asked to know precisely what dignity he meant to which he should be called, the Saint led him apart from his companions and told him plainly that he would become emperor.

After Maurice and all the men with him had received the Saint's blessing he left with joy and reached Constantinople.

And according to the Saint's prophecy Maurice succeeded to the imperial throne on the death of Tiberius, and remembering Theodore's words he sent him a letter asking him to pray for him and for his Empire that it might be preserved in T peace and untroubled by enemies and bade him make any request he liked.

The blessed man sent the most blessed Philoumenus, the abbot, to the Emperor and also wrote a letter in order to secure some small gift of food for the monastery to meet the needs of the poor who looked to them for support. On receiving the letter the Emperor made a grant to the monastery of 200 modii of corn annually, and sent it to him together with a chalice and a paten.

(The fame of Theodore spreads ever more widely and the monastery continuously gains new recruits.)

When the blessed man saw the vast crowds that assembled and realized that the chapel of St. George was too small, he gave the rest of the money he had inherited to build a church worthy of the holy martyr George with three apses and an oratory on the right dedicated to the holy martyr Plato.

A trench was being dug for the foundations of the building which was to be set apart for the catechumens and dedicated to the holy martyrs Sergius and Bacchus. This lay higher up the hill. The workmen had blasted several rocks with fire and vinegar and then rolled them down (the land being uncultivated and rocky), when they happened to come across one enormous rock which they got out and tried to roll down into the garden behind the apse: but it stuck in one place and could not be moved in any way. After a large number of workmen had tried hard for a long time and yet could not move it, the servant of God hearing about it came to the place, touched the rock and said, 'Blessed Lord, move it away from here further down, for we need this space', and at once at his words it moved and began rolling down at a violent pace. Now right in its course stood an apple tree, and as it was likely to be caught by the rock the blessed man was grieved at heart and cried out, 'Go to one side of the tree and do not do it any harm !' And immediately, like an intelligent person, the rock bent aside from its attack on the tree, and passed it by without hurting it....

He therefore laid the matter of his resignation before St. George in prayer and besought God that he might without condemnation deliver up his bishopric. He received assurance that his request was granted. So he summoned a meeting of the clergy and landowners of the town. They had refused to listen to his protests, he said, and had persisted in making him their bishop, though he knew that he was unfitted for the government of the church. 'And now this is the eleventh year that I have troubled you and been troubled by you, I beseech you, therefore, choose for yourselves a shepherd in whom you may find satisfaction, one who can take charge of your affairs.' As for himself, henceforth he was no longer their bishop, but as a humble monk he was returning to the monastery in which he had vowed to serve his Lord all the days of his life. Bidding them farewell he set out for the capital of the province, Ancyra, taking with him John, the archdeacon of his monastery.

And that night a man of the city saw, in a dream, how a bright and radiant star, casting its light over the city and standing above the church, moved away and was taken from them and then could scarcely be seen far away in the distance. When he saw this, he understood that it had its fulfilment in the holy man's departure from the city....

A wrestler, wrought upon by an unclean spirit, suffered terribly in his head and all his limbs and came to the Saint for healing. Theodore prayed over him and gave him wine and oil: 'Go, my son,' he said, 'to your home and when you lie down to sleep on your bed in the evening anoint yourself with the wine and oil and whatever you see in a dream come and tell me.' The next day the wrestler returned and said that in his sleep he had seen a young man wearing a cloak and 'coming to me, as it seemed, from your holiness: he seized me by the hair of my head and drew me to himself and immediately all the pain was drawn off from my joints and bones and from all my limbs and through my hair there came forth, as it were, a violent wind'. The man was cured and Theodore explained to him that the young man whom he had seen in his sleep was Christ's glorious martyr, George....

A woman who had suffered for ten years from an issue of blood came for the Saint's blessing, bringing an alabaster box with myrrh in it. Round Theodore she saw a great press of people and secretly mixed with the throng hoping to pour the myrrh on his feet. Knowing this, the Saint gathered his feet up underneath him and called out to her: 'Cease, woman; what do you intend to do? This is a grievous thing which you have planned to do to me', and in fear the woman gave him the myrrh and besought him to pray for her. And he prayed and said to her, 'The Lord Jesus Christ, Who knoweth secrets, will give effect to the mediation of the holy martyr George according to your faith and He will fulfil your request'. And immediately through God's grace the flow of blood was stayed and, declaring to all the miracle, she glorified God.....

The blessed man greatly longed to find some relics of the glorious and victorious martyr George, and prayed to the latter to satisfy this longing. Now Aemilianus, the very holy bishop of Germia, had a piece of the martyr's head and one finger of a hand and one of his teeth and another small piece. So the martyr appeared to the bishop and exhorted him to give these relics to his servant Theodore for the church that the latter had built in his honour. The bishop sent to the monastery to the servant of God and invited him to come and offer up prayers in the venerable church of the Archangel in order that he might welcome him and give him the much-desired relics of the martyr. Theodore was filled with joy by this promise and left the monastery and went to the town of Germia and offered up prayer in the church of the Archangel. The very holy bishop, Aemilianus, welcomed him warmly, and then conducted him to the monastery of the Mother of God, called of Aligete.

At that time there was a great drought in the metropolis of Pessinus and the fruits of the trees and crops were withering. Consequently when the men of that metropolis heard that the servant of God, Theodore, was the guest of the Bishop Aemilianus in the monastery of Aligete, they hastened to him. Their headmen (domestikoi) and the clergy and a goodly number of the people came to this monastery of the Mother of God-a distance of some fifteen miles-and after receiving permission from the Bishop Aemilianus they took the servant of Christ and led him to their own city in order that they, too, might entertain him and that by his prayers their country might obtain rain from heaven. Now there was a garden about six miles from their city, and in this garden was a swarm of locusts which were ruining all the young vegetables. When the owner of the garden heard of the inspired man's approach he ran a distance of three miles from his garden to meet him, and falling at his feet, told him of the damage which the locusts had done to his garden. Theodore said to him, 'Go, son, and bring me some water in a pot'. So the man ran and fetched some water from the river close at hand and brought it to him. After the servant of God had blessed the water, he gave it to him, saying, Go back and water the four corners of your garden with this and the Lord will fulfil thy desire'. The man returned to his garden with all speed, and did this; and when he returned to the spot which he had watered first, he did not find a single locust. He went out again in the evening and found in the same way that all the locusts had vanished, so he filled his hands with all kinds of vegetables and went out in great haste to find Theodore whom he recognized as in very truth a worker of miracles.

Now the procession from the city had met Theodore some three miles beyond the city walls. Whilst he was entering the city with the procession, the owner of the garden came up and fell at his feet and offered him the vegetables he was carrying proclaiming the wonder worked for him. When the Saint had entered the city the most blessed metropolitan George went to greet him and received him with joy; and Theodore, the servant of Christ, bade him announce a religious procession for the morrow. When the morning came the whole town was gathered together in the principal [Katholikon] of the Holy Wisdom. After offering up prayer the blessed Theodore and the metropolitan George with all the people marched in procession, singing a litany, to the venerable church of the Holy Hosts of Angels outside the walls. And there they read the Gospel and returned again in procession, singing a litany, to the church of the Holy Wisdom. The saintly man at the desire of the metropolitan celebrated Communion, at the same time beseeching the merciful God to send down rain upon their country. After all had partaken and had sat down to a feast, the sky became overcast and that same day rain fell so heavily over the whole of their land that for two or three days there were streams of water and the land to the west of the town was impassable owing to the flooding of the river; and they all rejoiced and glorified God Who shewed kindness to His creatures at the request of His servants. And so, escorted by the metropolitan and the citizens, the holy and blessed Theodore left the city and went back to the Bishop Aemilianus; from him he received the relics of the holy martyr George, which had endured much suffering, and after embracing him and taking his leave he quickly reached his holy monastery with great joy....

And leaving Amorion he came to Sozopolis; and as he was on the point of entering the church of the Mother of God, behold! there lay a man stricken of palsy by a demon, for the unclean spirit had lain concealed in him for several years and had not shown itself, for the ever-Virgin Mother of God was reserving this great miracle for her servant. At that minute the paralytic suddenly leapt up and began to be tormented and met Theodore with these cries, 'Oh violence, why have you come here, iron-eater, with George the Cappadocian to my open shame? I have lain hidden so many years, and now through you I am found out!' and all who saw it were filled with amazement. But the blessed man rebuked the unclean spirit by prayer and by the sign of the Cross and cured him who had been paralyzed.

Then he entered the venerable church of the all-holy Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, where the God-given myrrh flows, and stretched out his arms, and standing thus in the shape of a cross, he prayed and steadfastly gazed at the miraculous 'Icon of the myrrh' opposite him. By divine working, the myrrh gathered into a bubble and then rained down plentifully upon his eyes and anointed his whole face so that all who witnessed this divine testimony said, 'Verily he is a worthy servant of God'....

This holy, thrice-blessed and saintly servant and faithful follower of Christ, Theodore, died in the third year [613 CE] of the reign of our pious and Christ-loving Emperor, Heraclius [610-641 AD], and in the first year of the reign of his divinely-protected and divinely-crowned son Heraclius, the new Constantine, the eternal Augusti and Emperors, in the first indiction in the month of April at dawn of the twenty-second day, a Sunday, it being the first Sunday after Easter.

May we find mercy at the judgment-seat of Christ our God through the prayers and intercession of this Saint, and may we be deemed worthy of the Kingdom of Heaven together with him and with all those who cherish his memory, to the glory of our Saviour Jesus Christ; with Whom to the Father and to the Holy Spirit be glory both now and for ever and world without end, Amen!


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