September 11, 2015

Saint Theodora of Alexandria, Who Struggled in the Guise of a Man

St. Theodora of Alexandria (Feast Day - September 11)


Theodora was a male in dress and mind,
And the great mind she shames before the end.
On the eleventh Theodora took her last repose.

"The eyes of the Lord are ten thousand times brighter than the sun, beholding all the ways of men, and considering the most secret parts. He knew all things before they were created." - Eccles. 23

The Lord likened the Kingdom of Heaven to ten virgins, which is most evidently true of the ten holy women renowned in the Church for having led the ascetic life disguised in male monasteries as men. Saint Theodora, whose name means "gift of God", and who lived in Alexandria in the reign of Emperor Zeno (474-491), is one of these ten women (among others).

She was married to a devout and respectable man called Paphnutios, but one day, led by the people-hating devil, she secretly committed adultery. No sooner had she sinned, she was so afflicted in her conscience that she dared not return home, but felt a burning desire to repent without delay.

Having heard the words of the Gospel: "For there is nothing covered that shall not be revealed; neither hid, that shall not be known" (Lk. 12), Theodora came to view her sin as something unclean and she was in need of purification from her great sin. Therefore she sought to enter a male monastery to do her penance and not risk herself being found by her husband in a convent. Hence, disguising herself as a man, she called herself Theodore, and presented herself to the abbot of Oktodeka Monastery, located approximately eighteen miles from Alexandria. The abbot, supposing her to be a eunuch, and seeing her eagerness for repentance and obedience, straightway accepted her, and soon clothed her in the angelic schema.

For the space of two years, the blessed one struggled in heavy labors and lifting for the sake of the monastery, being given the duties of a man. Meanwhile, she would spend the night in tears and fervent prayers begging the Lord's forgiveness for her sin, and to restore in her purity of heart. This angered the soul-destroying devil, who saw his prey escaping him, so he put it into the heart of some of her fellow monastics to slander the servant of God Theodora. They accused her of committing fornication with a woman in a nearby village, and even presented a child as evidence of her sin. Not wanting to reveal her true identity, Theodora remained silent before her accusers, and was expelled from the monastery with her alleged child for seven years. She settled with this child, that was in truth not her own, in a hut not far from the monastery, and endured extreme poverty, together with the summer heat and winter cold, until the completion of her penance by the abbot, at which time she was allowed to rejoin the brethren.

On her return she hardened her body with even more prayers, labors, all-night standing and vigils, to the point where she attained complete divine eros for both God and people. She also raised her adopted child in the life in Christ and love for virtue, truly making him her son in the Holy Spirit. After giving him her final words of advice, she reposed in peace. At that moment the abbot saw in a vision a woman clothed in shining raiment taken up into the heavens to join the choir of the saints. He and all the monks of the monastery were astonished by the revelation that Theodora had lived among them disguised as a man and surpassed them in ascetic labor, and they wept for their mistakes and false accusation against her, and they glorified God for glorifying His servant, who attained such purity in soul and body, that she became equal to the angels.

Apolytikion in the Third Tone
Offering your sanctified life as a divinely inspired gift to God, Venerable Theodora all-praised, having displayed fervent repentance, and amid men you shined as a philosopher, wherefore intercede without ceasing for those who glorify you, granting us the great mercy.

Kontakion in the Second Tone
With fasting, vigils and prayers you languished your body, entreating the Creator to receive complete forgiveness for your sin, and having truly received it, you show us the path of repentance.