August 13, 2016

Saint Eudocia the Empress, Wife of Emperor Theodosius the Younger

St. Eudocia the Empress (Feast Day - August 13)


Now Savior as before is suitable to your Father,
When of old you said: "In your good pleasure Father."

Eudocia was born around 400 AD in Athens into a family of Greek descent. Her father, a Greek philosopher named Leontius, taught rhetoric at the Academy of Athens, where people from all over the Mediterranean came to either teach or learn. Eudocia's given name was Athenais, chosen by her parents in honor of the city's protector, the pagan goddess Pallas Athena. Her father was rich and had a magnificent house on the Acropolis with a large courtyard in which young Athenais frequently played as a child.

When Athenais was 12 years old, her mother died and she became her father's comfort, taking on the responsibilities of household chores, raising her siblings and tending to her father. She had two brothers, Gessius and Valerius, who would later receive honors at court from their sister and brother-in-law. In return for her household activities, her father spent time giving her a thorough training in rhetoric, literature and philosophy. He taught her the Socratic virtue of knowledge of moderation, and predicted that she would have a great destiny. She had a gift for memorization, and easily learned the poetry of Homer and Pindar, which her father would recite to her. Both as a teacher and a role model, he had a great impact on her, prepared her for her destiny and influenced the literary work she created after she became Empress.

When he died in 420, she was devastated. In his will, he left all his property to her brothers, with only 100 coins reserved for her, saying that "sufficient for her is her destiny, which will be the greatest of any woman." Athenais had been her father's confidante and had expected more than this meager 100-coin inheritance. She begged her brothers to be fair and give her an equal share of their father's property, but they refused.

Shortly after her father's death, at the age of 20, Athenais went to live with her aunt, who advised her to go to Constantinople and "ask for justice from the Emperor," confident she would receive her fair share of her father's wealth.

Legend has it that when Theodosius II was 20 years old, he wanted to get married. He talked to his sister Pulcheria, who began to search for a maiden fit for her brother, that was either "patrician or imperial blood." His longtime childhood friend, Paulinus, also helped Theodosius in his search. The Emperor's search had begun fortuitously at the same time that Athenais had arrived in Constantinople. Pulcheria had heard about this young girl, who had only 100 coins to her name, and when she met her, she was "astonished at her beauty and at the intelligence and sophistication with which she presented her grievance." Upon reporting back to her brother, she told him she had "found a young girl, a Greek maid, very beautiful, pure and dainty, eloquent as well, the daughter of a philosopher," and young Theodosius fell in love instantly.

Athenais had been raised pagan, and before her marriage to Theodosius II was baptized by Patriarch Atticus to Christianity and was renamed Eudocia. They were married on June 7, 421 and there were "reports that Theodosius celebrated his wedding with chariot races in the hippodrome." Her brothers, who had rejected her after their father's death, fled since they were fearful of the punishment they thought they were going to receive when they learned that she became Empress. However, instead of punishing them, Eudocia called them back to Constantinople, and Theodosius rewarded them. The emperor made Gessius praetorian prefect of Illyricum and made Valerius magister officiorum. Both Gessius and Valerius were rewarded because Eudocia believed that their mistreatment of her was part of her destiny. He also honored his best friend, Paulinus with the title of magister officiorum, for he had helped find his wife.*

Eudocia had three children with Theodosius II. Licinia Eudoxia, born in 422, was the oldest. Licinia Eudoxia had been betrothed to her cousin, the Western Roman Emperor Valentinian III since her birth, and whom she married on October 29, 437. The second child, Flaccilla, died in 431. Arcadius was the only son and died in infancy. Only a year after she gave birth to her first child, Eudocia was proclaimed Augusta by her husband on January 2, 423, succeeding her sister-in-law, Pulcheria, who had been Augusta since 414.

The historian Socrates writes the following about Eudocia after the Romans under Theodosius defeated the Persians in battle: "To signal a victory having through Divine favor been achieved by the Romans, many who were illustrious for their eloquence, wrote panegyrics in honor of the emperor, and recited them in public. The empress herself also composed a poem in heroic verse: for she had excellent literary taste; being the daughter of Leontius the Athenian sophist, she had been instructed in every kind of learning by her father."

While in Constantinople, Saint Melania the Younger encouraged her new friend Empress Eudocia to go on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. After Melania persuaded Theodosius to allow her to go, they agreed to meet in Sidon, where the Canaanite woman was said to have lived. This must have been a source of relief for Eudocia, who had just bid farewell to her newly-married daughter that now lived in Ravenna, and allowed her some respite from increased tensions between her and Pulcheria.

While on her pilgrimage to Jerusalem in the spring of 438, Eudocia stopped in Antioch, and during her stay she addressed the senate of that city in Hellenic style (i.e., encomium cast in Homeric hexameters) and distributed funds for the repair of its buildings. She was very conscious of her Greek heritage, as demonstrated in her famous address to the citizens of Antioch where she included the line "Υμετέρης γενεής τε καί αίματος εύχομαι είναι" ("Of your proud line and blood I claim to be"). The last words of Eudocia's oration brought down the house, which resulted in the citizens of Antioch celebrating the Empress Eudocia's Christian Hellenism and commemorating her by erecting a golden statue of her in the curia and a bronze statue in the museum.

Eudocia continued on her pilgrimage to Jerusalem in 438. She met Melania and together they venerated the holy places. While travelling, the Empress dislocated her foot. She was in great discomfort, but as soon as Saint Melania touched the foot, the pain vanished. Socrates writes of her pilgrimage: "He [Theodosius] also sent his wife Eudocia to Jerusalem, she having bound herself by a vow to go there, should she live to see the marriage of her daughter. The empress therefore, on her visit to the sacred city, adorned its churches with the most costly gifts; and both then, and after her return, decorated all the churches in the other cities of the East with a variety of ornaments." And the historian Evagrius writes: "At all events, when visiting the holy city of Christ, she [Eudocia] did many things for the honor of our Savior God, even so far as to erect holy monasteries, and what are termed lavras... After having conversed with many persons of this description [monastics and anchorites], and founded, as I have already said, many such seats of contemplation, and, besides, restored the walls of Jerusalem, the consort of Theodosius also erected a very large sanctuary, conspicuous for elevation and beauty, in honor of Stephen, the first of deacons and martyrs, distant less than a stadium from Jerusalem. Here her own remains were deposited, when she had departed to the unfading life." The restoration of the walls of Jerusalem by Eudocia were seen as a fulfillment of prophecy: "Aγάθυνον Kύριε εν τη Eυδοκία σου την Σιών, και οικοδομηθήσεται τα τείχη Iερουσαλήμ" ("In your good pleasure (eudokia) do good to Zion, and build up the walls of Jerusalem" Ps. 51:18).

In 439 she brought back with her to Constantinople holy relics to prove her faith and enhance her position in the empire, including those of Saint Stephen the Protomartyr, and Theodosius had a great celebration in her honor. Soon her position was undermined by the jealousy of Pulcheria and the groundless suspicion of an intrigue with her protégé, Paulinus, the master of the offices. Rumor has it that Eudocia was banished from the court towards the latter part of her life for adultery. Theodosius suspected that she was having an affair with his long-time childhood friend and court advisor, Paulinus. According to Malalas's account of this story, Theodosius II had given Eudocia a very large Phrygian apple as a gift. One day Paulinus had shown the emperor the same apple, not knowing that the emperor had given it to Eudocia as a gift. Theodosius recognized the apple and confronted Eudocia who had sworn she had eaten it. Eudocia's denials made the emperor believe that she had fallen in love with Paulinus and was having an affair, and had given his best friend the same apple he had given to her as a symbol of his love. Theodosius had Paulinus executed and he dismissed Eudocia from the court in 443.

Eudocia returned to Jerusalem in 443, where she lived for the last part of her life. In Jerusalem she focused on her writing. Here she was accused of the murder of an officer who had killed two of her followers who were clergymen, for which she suffered the loss of her imperial staff; she nevertheless retained great influence and wealth. She owned extensive land in Palestine, repaired the walls of Jerusalem, erected shelters for the indigent, the aged, and pilgrims who visited the city, and built and decorated churches. Her wealth she distributed to these projects, as well as to clergy, monks and the poor.

Eudocia also promoted religious tolerance towards pagans and Jews, and even allowed the Jews to pray in the ruins of the Temple of Solomon. This tolerance was not welcomed by all the Christians. A group of monks, at the instigation of their leader, Barsauma, killed some Jews as they prayed. Eudocia ordered that they be put to death without a trial, although prior to this Barsauma was greatly admired by Eudocia for his holiness. A large crowd gathered outside of her estate to protest this decision, and the governor intervened. As the governor was questioning Barsauma, a mild earthquake occurred, which was seen as a sign of disapproval for Eudocia's decision, therefore the monks were set free.

By the time the Synod of Chalcedon convened in 451, Emperor Theodosius II had reposed and Marcian came to the throne of the empire. Cyril of Scythopolis, in his Life of Saint Euthymius, then informs us how Eudocia was led to embrace the doctrine of the Monophysites by a monk named Theodosius, who went on to usurp the Patriarchal Throne of Jerusalem from Saint Juvenal: "When the news had circulated, as people reported that the great Euthymius had accepted the definition of the faith proclaimed at Chalcedon, all the monks were about to accept it, had they not been prevented by one Theodosius, in appearance a monk but in reality a precursor of Antichrist. Coming to Palestine, this man beguiled the empress Eudocia, who was here at that time, and seduced all the monastic population, inveighing against the Synod of Chalcedon as having subverted the true faith and approved the doctrine of Nestorius… While at that time almost all the urban population and the monks of the desert followed his apostasy, of the whole desert only the great Euthymius refused to be of his communion." The empress Pulcheria, having become reconciled to her sister-in-law (now removed to a safe distance), wished to see her become orthodox, and employed every possible influence to this end. Eudocia, half persuaded by the letters and entreaties she received, finally wrote to Saint Symeon the Stylite, asking his guidance and promising to follow it. The letter was sent by the chorepiscopus Anastasius. Symeon replied:

"Know, my child, that the devil, seeing the wealth of your virtues, sought to sift you as wheat; moreover, that corrupter Theodosius, having become the receptacle and instrument of the evil one, both darkened and disturbed your God-beloved soul. But be of good courage, for your faith has not left you. I wonder, however, exceedingly at this, that having the fountain close at hand you do not recognize it, but hasten to draw the water from afar. You have nearby the inspired Euthymius; follow his counsels and admonitions, and it will be well with you."

Eudocia followed this advice, and was directed by Euthymius to hold to the doctrine of the four synods of Nicaea (325), Constantinople (381), Ephesus (431), and Chalcedon (451). Embracing Orthodoxy, Eudocia helped in having Theodosius removed and having Juvenal reinstated to the Patriarchal Throne. She thus died an Orthodox Christian in Jerusalem on October 20, 460, having devoted her last years to literature. She was buried in Jerusalem in the Church of Saint Stephen, which she had built. The empress never returned to the imperial court in Constantinople, but "she maintained her imperial dignity and engaged in substantial euergetistic programs."

While Eudocia could have written a lot of literature after leaving the court, only some of her work survived. Eudocia "wrote in hexameters, which is the verse of epic poetry, on Christian themes." She wrote a poem titled The Martyrdom of St. Cyprian in three books, of which 900 lines survived, and an inscription of a poem on the baths at Hamat Gader. Her most studied piece of literature is her Homeric cento. These centos are a clear representation of who Eudocia was, and what she believed in. This epic poem combined her classical Athens educational background by composing Homeric centos, but adding stories from the book of Genesis and the New Testament of the life of Christ.


* This rags-to-riches story, though it claims to be authentic and is accepted among historians, leads one to believe that the tale may have been twisted due to the detail of how the romance was portrayed. The earliest version of this story appeared more than a century after Eudocia's death in the "World Chronicle of John Malalas, an author who did not always distinguish between authentic history and a popular memory of events infused with folk-tale motifs." The facts are that she was the daughter of Leontius and she did originally have the name Athenais, according to the Greek historian Socrates of Constantinople, and a contemporary historian named Priscus of Panion; however, they leave out any mention of Pulcheria's role in playing match-maker for her brother. The historians Sozomen and Theodoret did not include Eudocia in their respective historical works perhaps because they wrote after 443 AD when Eudocia had fallen into disgrace.