February 28, 2015

The Banquet of Empress Theodora on the First Sunday of Orthodoxy

The formal restoration of the sacred icons took place in the Church of Hagia Sophia on the 11th day of March, in the year 843.

The Empress Theodora (Feb. 11) held a great and open banquet for the entire day, where she entertained the venerable ones and the confessors. The holy Lazarus (Nov. 17), a celebrated iconographer, suffered much under Emperor Theophilos who had ordered his men to put horseshoes into the fire, heat them till they glowed red, and then place them in the hands of Father Lazarus. He was so badly burnt that he was near death, but he was preserved by divine grace. Therefore, when the tyrant himself learned that Lazarus was about to die, by the mediation of the pious Empress Theodora and certain other notable persons of the palace, Lazarus was released and freed from prison. Theodora was able to prevail upon her husband to permit Father Lazarus to recover at the Monastery of Saint John the Forerunner at Phoberos. Though the iconographer's hands healed miraculously, at the court banquet, he said to the empress in a marked and pointed tone, "God is not so unjust as to forget our sufferings and honor our persecutor." Theodora made no reply and took no offense. The hostess wished no wrangling or disputation on that happy day.

There was also present the saintly confessor Theophanes the Branded (Oct. 11), who sat near the end of the table. The empress observed Theophanes' face carefully and sighed in wonderment. He inquired why she sighed, and she replied, "I admire your courage and perseverance, and am appalled at the villainous and fiendish cruelty of the one who engraved letters upon your forehead, O holy one!" Without respect for the royal crown nor consideration for what had been decided about Theophilos, or perhaps, out of human weakness, Theophanes uttered the followed discordant sound: "For these letters, O devout empress, I shall be judged side by side with your husband on the day of judgement, before the fearful throne of God!" As she heard this, she was grieved and answered in tears: "Are these your promises and assurances? Is this how you have come to terms, O saint of God? So not only has my husband not been forgiven by you, but you contemplate yet chastising him further!" 

On hearing this, the patriarch among the fathers, Methodios (June 14), did not hesitate, but with the rest of the saints rose and cried aloud, "Nay, my lady, never! Your husband shall not be judged any longer. For those things that have been decided on earth have been decided in the heavens as well. Let Theophanes mutter all that he will! Our promises stand; and if they weigh lightly upon some, that is of no importance."

Following this, the banquet came to a close, and the blessed Methodios took great pains to maintain peace.

From The Great Synaxaristes of the Orthodox Church: February, Holy Apostles Convent, Buena Vista, Coloroda, 2004, pp. 500-501.