February 5, 2016

Saint Theodosios the Ascetic of Antioch

St. Theodosios the Ascetic (Feast Day - February 5)


You journeyed along the narrow road Theodosios,
Now you walk on the wide road of Eden.

By Bishop Theodoret of Cyrus, Syria

Rhosus is a Cilician city, on the right as one sails into the Cilician Gulf. South and east of it is a high mountain, thickly grown and shaded; it teems with wild beasts in its thickets. Finding here a dale sloping towards the sea, the great and celebrated Theodosios,1 building a small cell, embraced the evangelical life in solitude. A man originating from Antioch, distinguished for the luster of his family,2 he nevertheless abandoned home, family, and all the rest, in order, in the Gospel phrase, to buy the pearl of great price. About his fasting, sleeping on the ground, and hair clothing it is superfluous to speak to those who have seen his followers and disciples and beheld in them this way of life. It was, however, in an exceptional manner that he observed these practices, in that he offered himself as an example to those under his direction. To these practices he added a load of iron on his neck, his loins, and both his hands. He wore his hair unkempt and stretching down to his feet and even further, and for this reason had it tied round his waist. By continual recourse to prayer and hymnody he put to sleep desire, anger, pride, and all the other wild beasts of the soul. Always adding toil to toil, he also practiced manual labor, now weaving what are called creels and mats, now ploughing small fields in the dale, sowing seed and gathering therefrom sufficient food.

When with the passing of time his fame circulated everywhere, many hastened from all sides, wishing to share his dwelling, labors, and way of life; these he welcomed and guided in this life. One could observe some weaving sails, others hair coats, some plaiting mats or creels, others assigned agriculture. And since the place was on the sea, he later built a landing-place which he used for the needs of merchandise, exporting the products of the brethren and importing what was needed. He remembered the apostolic utterance which runs, "Working night and day, that we might not burden any of you," and, "These hands assisted both myself and those with me." And so he both labored himself and urged his companions to add to the labors of the soul exertion of the body: "While those engaged in life toil and labor to support children and wives, and in addition pay taxes and are dunned for tribute, and also offer the first-fruits to God and supply the needs of beggars as far as they are able, it would be absurd for us not to supply our essential needs from labor - especially since we use scanty and simple food and simple dress -, but to sit indoors with our arms crossed, reaping the handiwork of others." By this and similar remarks he stimulated them to work, performing at the proper times the divine liturgies that are customary everywhere and allotting the time in between to work. Not least did he attend to looking after guests, entrusting this charge to men adorned with gentleness and modesty of spirit and possessing love for their neighbor. He himself examined everything minutely, checking to see if each detail was carried out in accordance with the rules laid down.

He became so famous as a result of all this that sailors even more than a thousand stades away invoked in danger the God of Theodosios and by naming Theodosios lulled the surge of the sea. He was respected even by the audacious and savage enemies who plundered and enslaved most of the East - who of those who live in our part of the world has not heard of the misfortunes that occurred at this time because of those formerly called Solymi and now Isaurians? Nevertheless, men who spared neither city nor village, but plundered and burnt all those they could seize, showed respect to his philosophy, and after merely asking for bread and requesting prayers, left that ascetic dwelling unharmed; and this they did not once but even twice. However, the leaders of the churches conceived a fear that the devil might inspire love of money in these barbarians and make this great luminary a captive - for it was likely that a huge ransom for him would be sent to them from all sides by those who honor the things of God - and so they persuaded him by entreaty to make his way to Antioch. For they had already taken two church leaders captive, and treated them with every attention, and after receiving fourteen thousand gold pieces for them, then allowed them to return wherever they might wish. When he arrived at Antioch, he settled in an abode beside the river, and attracted to himself all who knew how to gather such a harvest.

Carried away by the flow of the account, I have omitted to relate a miracle performed by this inspired man, which, although to the many it will seem perhaps incredible, yet continues even now to confirm the account, and to show what favor and familiar access with God was possessed by this wonderful man. A precipitous rock overhangs the retreat which he had built; it had hitherto been completely dry and moistureless. Here he made a conduit, leading from the summit to the monastery, as if the production of water was in his power. Full of trust in God, clearly confident that he had won God's goodwill, and with unwavering faith, he rose in the night and went up to the top of the conduit before rousing his disciples for the customary prayers. After entreating God in prayer, with confidence in the One who does the will of those who fear him, he struck the rock with the staff with which he happened to be supporting himself. Water burst forth and poured out like a river; entering the monastery by the conduit and abundantly serving every need, it is evacuated into the sea nearby, and to this day is manifested the operation of the grace, like that of Moses, of the great Theodosios. This story on its own suffices to manifest the man's familiar access to God.

After living on a short time, he migrated to the angelic choir. His sacred body was carried through the middle of the city, adorned with that famous iron as if with gold chaplets, and escorted by everyone, including those entrusted with the great offices. There was strife and dispute round the bier, as everyone pressed eagerly to carry it, in their desire for blessing therefrom. So borne along, he was buried in the shrine of the holy martyrs, obtaining the same abode and roof as Julian the victorious contestant in piety; the same tomb received him that received also the inspired and blessed Aphrahat. To the leadership of the flock succeeded the wonderful Helladius, who continued for sixty years in that place, and then received from God the first see of Cilicia, not abandoning his earlier philosophy but each day adding to those labors the exertions of the episcopal office. The blessed Romulus, who had been his disciple, was made leader of a huge flock, and his choir has continued to this day loyal to the same mode of life. (By the retreat lies a village called in Syriac Marato.) I myself, having brought the account to this termination, beg to receive his blessing as well.


1. Theodosios, a native of Antioch, set up a hermitage, and then a monastery, on Mt Amanus in south-east Cilicia. His successor as superior, Helladius, was a monk there for sixty years before becoming bishop of Tarsus, where we hear of him in the 430's. Th1s establishes 370 as the terminus ante quem for the monastery's foundation. This chapter contains two indications of Theodosios's date of death: the Isaurian raids that shortly preceded it started in 403; and Aphrahat, whose tomb Theodosios shared, died c.410.

2. Theodoret means that Theodosios belonged to one of the great curial families of Antioch and enjoyed the honorary rank of clarissimus (implymg membership of the senatorial order.).

From History of the Monks of Syria.