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February 11, 2016

Saint Theodora the Empress of the Romans, Who Restored Orthodoxy (+ 867)

St. Theodora the Augusta of the Romans (Feast Day - February 11)


Royal Theodora most-revered,
You were made worthy of the divine crown of Christ the King.

By Hieromonk Makarios of Simonopetra

Saint Theodora came from a distinguished family of Paphlagonia that had long resided in Constantinople, and whose members had attained high office in public service. She was blessed with great beauty and high intelligence and had also inherited the fervent piety and unshakable devotion to the Orthodox faith of her mother Theoktista. On being chosen from among the young daughters of the nobility to become the wife of Emperor Theophilos (830), she faithfully fulfilled her duties as wife and empress, while doing all that gentleness and patience could accomplish to mitigate the cruelty of Theophilos when he revived persecution against the holy icons with unheard of ferocity.

While the Confessors of Orthodoxy, the holiest people of the time, were being harassed, tortured and exiled to the farthest boundaries of the Empire, Theodora remained steadfast in the true faith and secretly venerated the holy icons, which were hidden in her bedchamber. One day a court-jester surprised her as she was kissing her icons (which she called her little "dolls") and went off to tell the Emperor, who summoned her to his presence in great anger. However, she skillfully circumvented the jester's allegation and persisted in offering discreet support to the Confessors of the faith. Notwithstanding her husband's prohibition, she often went with their five daughters to visit her mother Theoktista, who had become a nun in the monastery she had founded, and who was an open and fearless critic of Theophilos' impious policy, and of the ruthless persecution of the Orthodox.

Emperor Theophilos chooses Theodora as his wife.

After twelve years, Theophilos was stricken by God with severe dysentery. In her distress and compassion at seeing her husband delirious and racked with pain, Theodora brought out a hidden icon of the Mother of God and placed it on the face of the sick man. Coming to himself for a moment after a terrifying vision, Theophilos kissed the holy icon and confessed the true faith before giving his soul to God.1

Since the heir to the throne, Michael III, was only four years old, Theodora assumed the regency. She relied on the wise counsels of the logothete Theoktistos (Nov. 20) and took in hand the immediate restoration of the holy icons and the recall of the Confessors of Orthodoxy from exile. In March 843, she summoned a Synod which deposed the heretical Patriarch John VII, the author of so many woes, and raised Saint Methodios the Confessor (June 14) to the patriarchal throne.

The five daughters of Theodora being instructed by their grandmother Theoktista

After anathematizing the heretics and confirming the decrees of the Seventh Ecumenical Synod (787), the Holy Fathers assembled on the First Sunday of the Great Fast (843) with all the Confessors, Priests and Monks who had come from the far corners of the Empire, bearing on their bodies the still bloody wounds of their confession of the true faith. In a long procession, which wound its way through the City watched by all the people, they inaugurated the official restoration of veneration of the holy icons. This feast has been celebrated annually ever since on the First Sunday of the Great Fast, and it has become the symbol of the Triumph of Orthodoxy over all heresies.2

Triumph of Orthodoxy

With the peace of the Church restored, Theodora showed a remarkable talent for government, especially in the economic field. The evangelization of Moravia and Bulgaria by missionaries from the Roman Empire resulted from her initiative.3 But despite the care she took for the education of Michael III, he requited her with ingratitude. Her brother Bardas, an able man of immoral life, who had come to power thanks to Theodora, exerted a baleful influence on the young Emperor. He persuaded him to terminate the regency even though he was not yet of age, and to oblige Theodora and her daughters to retire to the Monastery of Gastria (858), even though Patriarch Ignatios refused to tonsure them.

The incorrupt relics of St. Theodora in Kerkyra

Submissive to the decrees of Divine Providence, Theodora devoted herself from then on to fasting, prayer and all the observances of the angelic life. She delivered her soul to God on the 11th of February in 867. Not long after Constantinople fell to the Ottomans in 1453, her relics, which remained incorrupt, were taken to Kerkyra (Corfu) together with those of Saint Spyridon. Enshrined in the Cathedral, they were miraculously preserved from destruction in the bombardment during the Second World War, and they remain an unfailing source of blessings for the faithful.


1. This account of the deathbed conversion of Theophilos has been hotly contested. According to others, the Emperor died in heresy and even extracted promises from Theodora and the logothete Theoktistos that they would continue his ecclesiastical policy. As a pious and loving wife, Theodora may have promoted belief in his conversion in order not to deprive his soul of the prayers of the Church.

2. In some Churches, besides the procession with the holy icons, there is a reading of the Synodikon of Orthodoxy, drawn up in 843 in order to anathematize the heretics and to eulogize the Confessors of the faith, The text has been enlarged in the course of time and adapted by each local Church, so as to include condemnation of all heresies that appeared before and since iconoclasm.

3. See the lives of Saint Photios the Great (Feb. 6) and Saints Cyril and Methodios (May 11).

Apolytikion in the Plagal of the First Tone
As a right worthy namesake of gifts bestowed of God, and a divinely-wrought image of holy wisdom and faith, thou didst make the Church to shine with godly piety; for thou didst demonstrate to all that the Saints in every age have shown honor to the icons, O Theodora, thou righteous and fair adornment of the Orthodox.

Kontakion in the Plagal of the Fourth Tone
We sing thy praises as the gem and fairness of the Church, and as a diadem and pattern of all Christian queens, O all-lauded and divinely-crowned Theodora; for in bringing back the icons to their rightful place, thou didst cast usurping heresy out of the Church. Hence, we cry to thee: Rejoice, O Sovereign most ven'rable.