February 8, 2014

Saint Theodore the General as a Model for our Lives

Holy Great Martyr Theodore the Stratilatis (Feast Day - February 8)

By Protopresbyter Fr. George Papavarnavas

Saint Theodore the General lived during the reign of Licinius (late 3rd and early 4th century). He was from Euchaita in Galatia and lived in Heraclea near the Black Sea. He was an officer in the Roman army and was distinguished for his bravery. He had the gift of speech, which he used in the best way, since it was a tool that helped a lot in sowing the word of God. With the fiery missionary zeal that distinguished him he preached the word of God with boldness and courage and attracted many who were well-intentioned to the faith of Christ.

Licinius admired the bravery of Theodore, together with the gift of speech he had, and expressed a desire to meet with him and speak, despite being informed he was a Christian. Saint Theodore met him at the main gate of the city and Licinius suggested they go to the pagan temple to pray and sacrifice to idols. Saint Theodore asked to entrust to him the gold and silver statues of the gods he brought with him, in order to pray at his house. The Saint prayed to the true God and broke the statues into tiny pieces and distributed them to the poor. When Licinius was informed of this he ordered that he be harshly tortured. The Saint endured with patience, inner peace and joy during the terrible torture, imprisonment and crucifixion, glorifying God who healed him of all his wounds, but He also sent angels to take him down from the cross. When Licinius saw the Saint before him totally healthy he ordered that he be beheaded, and in this way he handed his holy soul "into the hands of the living God".

His life and deeds give us the opportunity to highlight the following:

The Word of God, with a capital "W", is Christ, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. And the word of God with a small "w" is whatever God says to His people, His exhortations, promises and precepts, which were communicated to the people by the Prophets, and are "words of eternal life", as the Apostle Peter responded to a question of Christ. That is, Christ had asked His Twelve Disciples if they wanted to distance themselves from being near Him, as others had done, because His words seemed difficult to accept that referred to the partaking of His Body and Blood, and the Apostle Peter responded: "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life" (Jn. 6:68). In other words, the words of God are not new words, but they hide life within it. It has energy and Grace, as well as the power to renew man and lead him to communion with God. When the word of God finds listeners, who have the disposition to implement what they hear, then they bear fruit, as the seed has fallen on fertile ground. But the fruition of the word of God does not only depend on the audience but also on preachers of the divine word, who should try to teach and inspire mainly by example. Besides, as Saint Seraphim of Sarov says, the best evangelism is that which takes place with "the intensity of prayer and example".

The words of a teacher of the Church, who has the blessing to speak and to comfort the faithful, must be words of God and not words about God. This means that his words must be empirical words and not reflective and philosophical. That is, they should convey to the people what they saw and heard from God, like the Prophets, who preceded their speech with the words: "Thus says the Lord." Listen well, for since the Prophet says that these words are not his words, but are words spoken to him by God to speak to the people, that if they obey or disobey they will have to answer to God and not him.

Preachers of the divine word must do the same today, namely Bishops, who are the predominant teachers of the Church, as well as Presbyters, Catechists, etc., who teach the word of God with the blessing of the Bishop. And if they don't have personal knowledge of God, then they must rely on the experience of the Holy Fathers, who participate in the glory of God, and therefore their words are not the result of reflection, but are empirical words, the words of God. And, of course, there is a big difference between empirical and reflective speech, because the former has the power to regenerate man, while the latter is empty human reasoning, without regenerative power. Saint Diadochos of Photiki calls the words of the Holy Fathers "spiritual words" which satiate the soul, while the intellect reflects and philosophizes about God, and is considered more impoverished than anything in the world. He urges the preacher of the divine word to pray and seek illumination from God before he speaks. Of course, the same should be done by those who study or hear the word, that God may enlighten them to understand correctly, and then make it a part of their life.

The words of God are "pure words", according to the sacred Psalmist, which makes man wise, illuminates the mind and entirely sweetens the heart. It is mighty like an earthquake, but gentle like a sprinkling of rain. It is spiritual water that refreshes, but also solid food that supports and strengthens the faithful and helps them exceed daily problems, maintain inner peace, and have a joyful disposition before God and people.

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "Μεγαλομάρτυς Θεόδωρος ο Στρατηλάτης", January 2012. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.