August 3, 2015

Saints Theodora the Wonderworker of Thessaloniki and Her Daughter Theopisti

Sts. Theodora and Theopisti (Feast Day - August 3rd)


Theodora left this perishable life,
Finding an imperishable home in the celestial sphere.

Saint Theodora was born in the village of Paliachora on the island of Aegina in 812. She was the third child of the priest Anthony and his wife Chrysanthi, and at baptism was given the name Agapi. At a young age she was orphaned of a mother and her father gave his children to be raised by relatives. Her brother became a deacon and her sister a nun in a local convent. Agapi's father betrothed her at the age of seven to a virtuous and pious young man named Theodorinos.

At that time the islands of the Aegean were invaded with raids from Saracen pirates. This led to Agapi leaving Aegina with her betrothed and father and other residents of Paliachora to go to Thessaloniki. There, when she became of legal age, she married Theodorinos.

In her marriage she gave birth to three children, but only her first-born daughter survived, who was born in 829-830. The loss of two of her children caused Agapi to fall into depression, and she asked her husband if they could dedicate their daughter to the Lord in the hopes that she could bear more children with the blessing of God. Agapi and Theodorinos then decided for their daughter at the age of seven to be brought to the Monastery of Saint Luke the Evangelist, where their daughter was given the name Theopisti by the abbess there named Katherine.

When Agapi was 25 years old she became a widow. Immediately she distributed her belongings to the poor and decided to become a nun in the Monastery of Saint Stephen the Protomartyr in Thessaloniki, where she took the name Theodora at tonsure. She lived there for fifty-five years, from 837 till her repose in 892, living in strict asceticism, obedience and humility.

The abbess of this Monastery was named Anna, who was a confessor of the faith against the iconoclasts. Abbess Anna, who admired Theodora for her great humility, instructed Theodora to receive a blessing for any work that she undertook. This she did eagerly under the wise leadership of Abbess Anna.

It happened at one point that the abbess Katherine reposed and the nun Theopisti came to live with her natural mother Theodora in the same cell at the Monastery of Saint Stephen. Living in the same cenobitic quarters as her daughter, Theodora found it hard to deny her maternal affections for Theopisti, who was now wearing ragged clothes and was thin from her strict fasting and asceticism. Abbess Anna, seeing this affection and condemning it because it violated holy vows, punished both women to fifteen years of silence between them. They were made to live in the same cell and share in the same chores and duties of the convent. After fifteen years, the penance of silence was lifted.

Once, when a kettle had boiled over onto the floor on which she slept (soaking it), Theodora moved her mat without notifying the abbess. As penance for appearing selfish and for disobeying the orderly set-up of her fellow sisters, Theodora was made to spend the night sitting on her heels in the courtyard during a snowstorm. It proved enlightening for, when it was thought she would freeze, she reportedly said she felt warmed by the presence of God. Another nun, in similarity to the story of the Forty Martyrs (who died in a freezing lake for not denouncing their faith), saw a halo descend from heaven and crown Theodora's head while she knelt outside.

Often Theodora would hear angelic chanting as well in the convent church, which she disclosed to Theopisti. For her virtues and holy way of life, an Archimandrite named John showed great admiration for Theodora and wanted to make her an abbess of another monastery, but Theodora refused. She preferred the life of toil in her own monastery.

When Nun Theodora was fifty-six years old, the abbess Anna, being advanced in age, stepped down from her position, and the nun Theopisti was elevated to be abbess in 868. Thus the natural daughter of Theodora became her spiritual mother. Meanwhile, Anna had stumbled and fallen, fracturing her thigh bone. She was confined to her bed for four years, and Theodora cared for her the entire time. Then Anna was afflicted with madness for three years, and Theodora looked after her during this time as well, caring for her as if it was her own mother. In return, Anna would insult and beat Theodora, not being in her right mind. Anna finally reposed at the age of 120 as a confessor of the faith, when Theodora was sixty-eight.

When the nun Theodora reached seventy-five years of age, she became feeble due to her many years of strict asceticism. Though weakened, she continued to toil, laboring as much as she was able. On August 5th in the year 892 she became ill, and was divinely informed of her repose beforehand. On her last day, August 29th, she sought to receive the Holy Mysteries, then after placing her hands on her chest while lying down on her bed, she shut her eyes and lips and surrendered her soul at the age of eighty.

Upon her repose, at her funeral, it was noticed that the aged countenance of Theodora, wrinkled and unattractive, became joyous and beautiful, without any wrinkles. Then her face became radiant, happy and smiling. This was followed by a divine and sweet fragrance emitting from her sacred relics that were imbued with grace. Immediately after this, her sacred relics began to work miracles for those who came and offered her a last kiss who had diseases and illnesses. On the day of her repose, she was buried.

Her daughter Theopisti, who loved her, had seven priests celebrate on a rotational basis a Divine Liturgy every day for forty days after the repose of Theodora, at her grave site.

A vigil lamp, suspended over the grave of the holy Theodora, miraculously remained lit. This miracle served to magnify the name of Saint Theodora throughout the world. This began on the ninth day of Saint Theodora's translation, and there was a little oil remaining in the oil lamp over her grave; yet, the flame was high. None of the nuns added oil to replenish the diminishing amount. The following day no oil remained, yet it continued to burn brightly. The nuns left the lamp, without adding oil, to see where this phenomenon would lead.

The following day, September 9th, eleven days after the repose of Saint Theodora, the nuns beheld oil spilling everywhere from the oil lamp. Abbess Theopisti was informed and news of this miracle spread throughout Thessaloniki. Multitudes came to the Monastery to behold this incredible event, and a jar was placed under the lamp to catch the oil. This oil was seen as a manifestation of Saint Theodora's mercy and sympathy for those who were suffering and approached her with faith. From that time forward, Saint Theodora became known for being a wonderworker, working numerous miracles that have been recorded to the glory of God.

Within a month of her death, when it was sought that an icon in Saint Theodora's likeness would benefit the church that contained her relics, a painter named John was commissioned. Without knowing any description of Theodora and relying only on the visions he had in a dream, John painted with exactness the image of a young Theodora. Theodora is most commonly portrayed in a youthful way, as we see in the earliest preserved image of her in the Church of Hagia Sophia in Thessaloniki. This imaged painted by John emitted sweet scented oil through the right palm that also carried with it healing powers.

A year after Theodora's repose, the Monastery of Saint Stephen was renamed the Monastery of Saint Theodora in August 893. In 1430, when Thessaloniki was captured by the Turks, they invaded the Monastery and sliced to pieces the relics of Saint Theodora. Yet they neither confiscated or converted the Monastery into a mosque. It remained as one of three monasteries operating in Thessaloniki, containing over 200 nuns. In Turkish it came to be called Kizlar Manastir (Monastery for Girls) and was in one of the twelve Christian neighborhoods of the city. In 1917 a fire completely destroyed the Katholikon of the Monastery. The only building that survived was the belltower. A new church was built next to the ruined one in 1935. In 1974 it began to function as a male monastery. The Center of Hagiographical Studies was opened on the grounds of the Monastery in 1989. It has five dependencies - the Church of Saint Anthony, the Chapel of Saint Nicholas the Tranos, the Church of Saint Panteleimon, the Chapel of Panagia Eleousa and the Church of Saint David.

Today her sacred relics rest in a chapel of Hagia Sophia in Thessaloniki, with portions in the Church of All Saints of Aegina in Livadi, Aegina. In the village of Sfentouri in southern Aegina there is also a chapel dedicated to Saint Theodora. (Read also: The Tomb of Saint Theodora Discovered in Thessaloniki).

Saint Theodora and Saint Theopisti have a feast day on August 29th, but because it is a strict fast day in honor of the Beheading of Saint John the Forerunner, their feast is celebrated annually on August 3rd.