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September 11, 2016

The Life of Saint Theodora of Vasta


The essence of this publication is the desire that it will be of use to its readers: those who venerate Saint Theodora, and the pilgrims who come from all over the world to honor Saint Theodora and admire the unique appearance of this miraculous church; a church which must surely be regarded as one of the wonders of the world.

With this book I want to benefit you. In addition, it is hoped that this publication will be of use to students of the Greek Orthodox faith and in particular the martyrdom of Saint Theodora.

It must be made clear that this is not a factual account. Although the church itself has been dated to around the 12th century, information about Saint Theodora is scarce. The time in which Saint Theodora lived is distant and therefore it is not possible to be scientifically accurate without written statements or records. What has been constructed within these pages is a spiritual belief of venerators of Saint Theodora, based on information gathered from the region, in conjunction with popular belief.

The church is no longer in excellent condition as time has ravaged the stonework. As for the seventeen trees which appear to hold the church together, they can only be described as a miracle of nature.

Using local legend, I will try to bridge the gap between fact and fiction and forge a complete story. Maybe in details I am not close to the actual events which took place. However, my story is based on my belief and my admiration for the martyr Saint Theodora. My heartfelt desire is to honor both her and her church.

In 1980, Demetris Ioannou Kapernekas wrote a short biography of Saint Theodora based on the available information. This account has been invaluable for me as I have taken his work into consideration whilst researching my book. Much of his work uses information gathered directly from the people of Vasta and therefore cannot be ignored.

It goes without saying that my work on Saint Theodora is different. Even though I have utilized the same traditions and beliefs, I have weaved a story, filling in the gaps. I have done what others do when writing historical tracts. Through my description of Saint Theodora’s martyrdom I wish to teach and to express my own beliefs as well as the contents of my heart.

I was encouraged to write this book when I visited the church on a misty February 21 for a Memorial Service. Although I had heard of Saint Theodora’s church, I knew very little else about her life. After the Divine Liturgy the people of Vasta spoke to me about the need for a biography based on her life, which could be given to pilgrims from all over the world, especially for her feast on September 11. I gave them a promise that I would write such a book when the weather improved and I would have time to research it thoroughly and return to speak to the people about everything they knew. The next day, early in the morning, I am writing this Prologue for the book.

I ask for enlightenment from the heavens to write with a clear mind and clean heart. I also ask Saint Theodora’s protection and intercessions in ensuring that this book is read in good will by everyone, so that those who hold it in their hands will study it and benefit from it.

Megalopolis 22 February 1982

+ The Metropolitan of Gortynos and Megalopolis

Life of Saint Theodora of Vasta

Byzantium, Army Service and Paid Service

It is a historical fact that during the Byzantine period there were two armies – one consisting of conscripts and the other consisting of volunteers who were trained and paid by the state in time of war. Wars were infrequent, but Byzantium had many enemies who coveted its vast empire. Men willingly served in the salaried army as the pay was satisfactory and life was good. Those soldiers who were doing their National Service were responsible for internal affairs whilst the salaried soldiers guarded the border regions. All soldiers were well-skilled in the art of war.

There is some information which states that those who did not want to do military service had to subsidize the army. In other words, each and every household had an obligation to provide either a soldier to serve the empire or, if there was no available male, pay for a replacement. Sometimes, because no male could be spared from a household or simply because nobody wanted to serve in the army, a replacement was sent anyway. Whatever the case, no one was exempt from this obligation.

According to tradition, a regiment of soldiers guarded and protected a wealthy and important monastery near Gargaliani, which belonged to the province of Christianopoleos. A manuscript belonging to the monastery, it is said, states that in return for this protection the monastery provided food and catered for the soldier’s every need.

This situation was not unique. Until the Greek Revolution of 1821, many guerrillas received aid from the wealthier monasteries especially during periods of conflict. Contrary to what has been reported by Turkoyiannis, the monasteries were not responsible for organizing the army, they simply gave the soldiers money and provisions. There are many examples of letters kept by monasteries concerning requests fro provisions from army officers.

Tourkoyiannis, a Turk who converted to Christianity, wrote that he had read a manuscript in a monastery referring to the law that each household must send a male to serve in the army or pay for a soldier. This is further evidence in support of this belief.

A Christian Family

According to local tradition, in a village on the borders of Messinia and Arcadia, in Ancient Melpeia, lived a poor Christian family. The family consisted of the two parents and three daughters. Their village was situated close to the largest and wealthiest monastery of that region near the border of Arcadia, the well-known Monastery of the Panagitsa.

Today this monastery shows none of its former radiance nor treasures, which was the reason for the large body of soldiers that were stationed nearby. This monastery was then a metropolis, and the Monastery of Panagia Volkanos near Valyra was one of its metochia. It had fields, olive trees and estates. The monks lived in cells they had built and cultivated the land. Later, the monastery was granted the rights to the land, thereby ensuring its wealth.

The birthplace of Theodora was somewhere in the Ancient Melpeia area between today’s Vasta of Isari and Likouresi-Dasohorias. Well known to all today is this: This was a Christian family, yet very poor. They had to comply with the law of the day, and send money to the State in order to recruit to the army someone to protect the monastery. Unfortunately, this family was poor and they had no males. The anguish of this family with three daughters is obvious.

Theodora wanted to help her family in this difficult situation. Theodora was the middle daughter; a beautiful daughter who possessed many of the virtues which others envied. She presented a proposition to her father suggesting that under the male pseudonym Theodoris (or Theodore) she would fulfill the family’s obligation to the State and enter the army. On hearing this, Theodora’s mother was terrified to death. Her father hesitated before responding to the suggestion: “This cannot happen, my child. It is difficult to fool an entire army. It is not just one day. Further, the life of a soldier is hard. This is why they do not allow women in the army.”

But Theodora was adamant, saying: “Don’t be afraid father. I will succeed. I may not be a man, but the need to defend my position and my true identity will assist me. God gives strength to those in need. He gives strength to the widow with many children allowing her to become a man and rule the house.”

Theodora’s mother and sisters also objected, but her conviction, commitment and reasoning won them over. They realized they didn’t have the money to pay for a soldier, and as time was running short, Theodora’s suggestion solved the need. Eventually the parents gave their blessing and the sisters transformed Theodora into Theodoris. This was not a large task, as they could see that the idea that Theodora was going to serve in the army as a man had grown in her heart. She began her preparations at home, exercising so that she would not arouse suspicions. When the day of Theodora’s departure came, the family kept her true destination secret from the neighbors. They instead spread the rumor that Theodora had emigrated.

It is easy to comprehend the situation in Theodora’s house; there was their daughter, disguised as a man, joining the army, and above all this was the very real fear that this deceit would be revealed. After their daughter left, there must have been a period of prayer and anxiety. We can only speculate what it must have been like for her parents; the heartache at having to send their own flesh and blood into the army as a replacement for the son they never had and the money they could not provide for a replacement.
Theodoris In The Army

Theodora's separation from her home and her family was very emotional and almost indescribable. The fear that she might be recognized was nestled in everyone's heart. In order to hide their true emotions, they tried to find something else to say. Theodora's decision was neither simple nor ordinary. Was it possible for a woman to pass herself off as a man?

However, there was someone strangely calm in the house; the daughter who was leaving to join the army which was based at the nearby monastery. Soldiers were trained there and their headquarters were in the monastery itself.

The daughter was not anxious at all. From the moment she made her decision she lived as if she had taken on a mission from the Panagia's hand. Her heart began to beat with faith in Christ, and she believed whole-heartedly in the protection of the Panagia.

The day she arrived at the monastery and the army camp was, for her, a glorious day. She dedicated herself to the monastery of the Panagia. She gave no thought about how to behave, as if she was being divinely guided. Her only thoughts were of how she could earn the esteem of the monastery and the army. She knew that the only way she could do this was by her virtue, good character, and her ability as a soldier. First and foremost, however, was by her love. She would be able to find success in all these aims through her prayers, if her heart continuously clung to heaven.

With these thoughts, with this mindset and with great faith, Theodora arrived at the army camp. Nobody noticed anything strange about her bearing. Everyone accepted her as Theodoris from Melpeia.

She gave her father's name as she was the 'boy' of the family of the appropriate age to fulfill the obligation of joining the army. After showing her papers she was issued her combat gear. Though she had to be careful dressing, ut she managed easily and nobody suspected anything. She was transformed into an upstanding young soldier.

'He' was distinguished for 'his' beauty and many said that 'his' skin was as soft as a woman's. Theodoris earned everyone's admiration. Though widely respected, some were envious of his beauty and good character. Although women were attracted to him, he paid no attention. He was more afraid of the men, but they had no reason to be suspicious.

Many would ask Theodoris if he wanted to become a monk in the monastery, since he very much loved the church and was distinguished for his virtue above every soldier. He would go as often as possible to the monastery and attend Vespers. He became infamous not only for his dedication to the Church but also for his character and obedience to those in high positions and to his fellow soldiers. He wanted to please everyone, and he achieved it. In this way, time passed.

The Temptress

‘Theodoris’ managed to evade danger. Nobody suspected him and he was never afraid. In time, he adapted to life in the army and even started to believe he was a soldier. He hid his true identity very well, for it would have been very difficult for someone to discover it. Of course, she was a pure woman and in this was her strength. When a man keeps his purity and does not waste his manliness, he becomes very strong. The same is true for a woman. The only danger a woman faces when she lives with men is herself. When she succeeds in keeping her purity, she need never be afraid because she is very strong.

While Theodora was strong through being pure, there was another woman in the camp who was not pure and had relationships with many soldiers. ‘Theodoris’ would see her walking around carelessly and he wanted to help her see the error of her ways and to advise her to be more cautious. However, he did not dare. As a woman she would have nothing to fear in approaching this other woman, but everyone knew her as ‘Theodoris’ – a man. How would he be able to explain his actions when the others saw him associating with this woman? So Theodora contented herself with fervent prayer for her, knowing that this woman was weak.

Theodoris, being wise, did not go near the woman, however the woman noticed him and was attracted to him. Yet he wanted to help her understand that there was no possibility for a relationship, but this rejection caused the woman to be further attracted to him. Other soldiers began to notice her interest in Theodoris and they began to tease him.

It is unclear who this temptress was. Some people say that she was a young woman who visited the camp to wash the soldier’s uniforms. Others say she was a nun who brought supplies with a donkey. Most like the former was true, since tradition states that Panagitsa Monastery was a male monastery and there were no monasteries for females in the region. Surely the monastery would have sent out a monk for provisions rather than have a nun bring them what they needed. Even if not a monk, they would have sent a soldier. It thus seems likely this woman was a local who came to wash the clothes of the soldiers, and she was probably having an affair with one of them or an officer at the time Theodoris was giving her no attention, as she was allowed to move around the camp freely.

Evil did not take long to emerge, for a great scandal emerged among the soldiers and the monks. The local woman’s mother arrived at the army camp one day and went directly to the General accusing a soldier of having defiled her daughter and made her pregnant. The mother demanded that the person responsible should marry her daughter or be court-martialed to set an example to the other soldiers. She was also to bring her daughter to identify the soldier who had deflowered her.

The Terrible Accusation

This incident with the woman coincided exactly with the monastery’s nomination of ‘Theodoris’ as Colonel. That May the army Colonel who maintained the monastery had died from an epidemic which also claimed the lives of many other soldiers. The mother’s accusation occurred while the Colonel was seriously ill, and he was expected to give a decision upon his recovery. The Abbot’s attention turned to the seriously ill Colonel and away from the accusation.

Upon the Colonel’s death, the Abbot assembled the officer’s to ask for an opinion as to who would be an appropriate replacement for the deceased Colonel. The monastery, which had the final word, inclined towards Theodoris because of his virtue and because he stood out from the rest of the soldiers in the camp. He was summoned to the monastery where he was proclaimed Colonel. His first duty was to attend to the accusation that a woman had been deflowered by a soldier and had consequently conceived a child.

Colonel Theodoris did not hesitate to invite the woman and her father to the monastery. When they arrived, in front of an audience of monks, Theodoris announced his intention: “We will go to the camp together so that you do not feel alone and I will assemble the soldiers in front of you so you can show me the one who wronged you. If you know his name, I will order him to come here, sign the necessary papers, and your marriage will take place with me as best man.”
The woman however had her own pre-conceived plan, because without shame and without hanging her head down she proudly looked at the Colonel, and turning to the Abbot she said: “We don’t need to go to the camp, Colonel, or bring any soldier here. The man guilty of this act is here in this monastery.” She insolently looked at the Colonel and said: “Didn’t you deceive me? Didn’t you promise to marry me one day?”

Colonel Theodoris was struck dumb. He could not believe what he was hearing. When he came to he found his voice and turned to the Abbot, and looking him straight in the eyes he stated loudly and clearly: “Venerable Abbot, look at me. This is a terrible accusation. I rejected this woman’s advances. I never accepted her invitation. This is a terrible accusation.”

The Abbot looked at Theodoris knowing that those eyes could not lie. Then the woman was suddenly afraid that they would believe Theodoris, so she shouted: “I, Abbot, can prove his crime. Order the soldiers to come here. There are soldiers who can testify that what I am saying is the truth. There are many soldiers who suspected our relationship because they teased me about it.” What the woman said was logical, so the Abbot agreed to assemble all the soldiers at the monastery.
Who Was Guilty?

The news spread like wild fire and opinions were divided. The good and honorable soldiers who knew Theodoris believed it was a defamation of his character. They supported this belief as they had noticed the woman had approached him and he had paid no attention to her.

However, there were misguided soldiers of low character who believed the charge. They were soldiers who were jealous of the upright Theodoris, as he was pure, loyal, strict and handsome. One man who tended to be influenced by words, and who may have been the true guilty one, said: “I believe this man, whom others consider important and holy, is guilty. I saw her approaching the Colonel and he always noticed her and talked to her. We saw nothing else, as some things do not take place in front of other people.” With this, he laughed. In fact, it was this man who would approach the woman when she would come to the monastery, which is why he was jealous.

In the meantime, this woman, it was said, had affairs with other soldiers. It seems clear she had an agreement with them, for when they arrived at the monastery at the invitation of the Abbot, they whole-heartedly supported the woman’s statement: “We firmly believe in Colonel Theodoris’ guilt, because not only did we see them in each others company, but because the woman herself confessed her love for Theodoris to other soldiers who were attracted to her. She clearly told them, ‘I love Colonel Theodoris, and he loves me too. We are going to marry.’” These accusations prevailed, although Theodoris refused to accept them.

Due to the jealousy of the officers, they aimed to destroy Theodoris and managed to do so. With the officers and soldiers assembled at the monastery, the Abbot reached a decision: “Colonel Theodoris, it is with grief that I have accepted this accusation as true. All the facts are against you. You cannot remain a Colonel or an officer in the army. The regulations state that you must marry this woman or face court-martial.”

Colonel Theodoris was faced with a dilemma. What could he do? Should he reveal his true identity and embarrass them? He could restore peace by doing this. The real guilty person could then be exposed. As he could not accept marriage, he would have to accept court-martial. He preferred that. If he revealed his true identity, what would people say about this deceit? What would happen to his father? He made his decision: he would accept the sacrifice.

The Trial, the Prayer and the Execution

Theodora walked towards her martyrdom. She went calmly as she made her decision. Her honor was no longer in danger. All that she was preoccupied with was being at ease with her conscience. She knew that a refusal by a soldier to reestablish a girl’s honor meant being sentenced to death by the court. With this knowledge, she proceeded towards her sacrifice. For martyrs, their suffering takes place after they have made a decision. Theodora received the strength to make her decision from Jesus Christ, whose icon she could see from where she was standing in the Holy Altar, where He was depicted crucified like a criminal for His enemies though He was no guilty. Why could she not be sacrificed without guilt, to save her father, her home and her honor? Who knew what would happen after the revelation? She knew that she was pure and a Christian and that a Christian’s gift was to sacrifice.

In this state of mind she appeared before the court-martial, and as she had denied this accusation, she refused to marry this woman who was a liar and slanderer. Besides, she could not make such a sacrifice. She could only have done it if she was a man and wanted to save herself.

The court sentenced her to death, as the regulations dictated for soldiers who disgraced a woman and subsequently did not marry her. She listened to the sentencing calmly and requested she be left alone in the monastery to pray.

In the monastery there was an atmosphere of sadness, but the oil lamps which lit the icons comforted her. She prayed:

“My Lord, I leave it to You to strengthen my resolve. I leave life without having lived its joys. I thank you, because you always gave me the strength to appear strong. You glorified me with Your grace and power. My modesty will be kept for a little while longer. Do comfort my father and my sisters. Forgive this woman also, as she will face a difficult situation when my identity is revealed. I want this to happen, not to show my virtue, but that Your Name be glorified. Help me, Lord, to receive the honor of my martyrdom, and accept this small sacrifice of mine as payment for my gratitude. Lord, make trees to grow at my tomb to bear witness Your protection of my purity, and under my grave may my blood become water to water those trees. Amen.”

The Revelation

Upon Theodora’s conviction, the camp and the monastery were shaken, while the evil and envious were pleased. However, this was nothing compared to the scandal which erupted after the revelation that Colonel Theodoris was, in reality, a woman.

The convicted Theodoris was taken to a huge ravine ten kilometers from the monastery. There ‘he’ was executed. After the execution, perhaps because Theodora’s prayers had been heard and she should be exonerated in front of all the soldiers and monks, it was decided to remove the executed Theodoris’ uniform before returning his body to the camp.

Can anyone imagine what those soldiers must have felt upon witnessing such a terrible sight? Inside the uniform of this upright young man lay the body of a woman; a well disguised young lady whose body was fragrant with purity and holiness. It must have hit them like a bolt of lightning, blinding them for a few seconds upon witnessing this event. At first, they could not get over their initial surprise, but it soon turned to distress. Now they understood why he never bathed with the other soldiers. Now they realized why there was a strange light in his eyes; a reflection of the purity of her soul.

They fell to their knees, covered her holy body and bowed to venerate her. Returning to the monastery, they struggled to find the words to tell the Abbot about their discovery. Upon hearing the terrible news, it was like a revelation. The pain he had felt at convicting Theodoris was nothing compared to what he felt now. He had studied the accusations objectively and did not allow his heart to speak when it told him that it was not possible for Theodoris to commit such a sin.

The Abbot felt such a terrible burden on his conscience that he thought he would die. That a great ‘man’ such as Theodoris, who was devoted to the Church and given his heart to God, should die in such disgrace! He felt joy at the triumph of virtue, but great grief for this Saint who had been convicted, suffered and died. But is this not true for all saints? Are they not envied and ultimately judged on account of their purity? The Abbot reflected on his actions. “Why me? Why did the evil words deceive me? Why did I not listen to the voice of the holy Colonel, in whose eyes purity reflected? How will I answer for my actions?”

While the Abbot reflected on this, a martyr’s venerable soul was carried by angels towards the heavens for her virtue and crowned.

The Confusion

Within a few hours, the news spread throughout the countryside. The whole region was in shock. The Abbot was very sad and called for a gathering of the Brotherhood to make an announcement:

“My brothers, today the sun is brighter. However, a short time ago, if we had our eyes open, we would have seen that it had lost its glow. Tonight, there will be another star in the sky; the star of Saint Theodora. Do not look at me strangely. I am not insane. Today, a woman accepted martyrdom. An officer was brought to court on the charge of dishonoring a woman. He was considered immoral. For witnesses, they brought a loose woman and five other officers who were motivated by jealousy. The court did not listen to the voice of the innocent, the pure Saint. We all listened to the voice of the loose woman and the officers. The soldiers took Theodoris and led him to a ravine where he was executed. Upon undressing him they discovered he was in fact a woman. Why are you looking at me aghast? Is it not true that a bright star of a martyr will shine in the heavens tonight?”

Many people may say: “Where did you hear these words and where did you see all these images?” And they will be right. I have not heard or seen anything personally, but can anyone refuse to accept them because he knows exactly what happened? This moment of history, this incident; the trial, the conviction, the execution and the revelation, are enough to help us recreate the story. The Abbot may not have used these exact words at the gathering following Saint Theodora’s death. He may have used more passionate words which would touch your hearts more. What feelings were born in the hearts of the monks? What happened at the camp when news arrived there? Did the sinful shudder? Did the soldiers cross themselves and want to witness this miracle? This truly was a strange phenomenon; an executed officer whose clothes hid the body of a woman!

I can assure you that it happened this way. When the monks overcame their shock, they decided to honor the Saint as a martyr. She had already been nominated a Saint in the hearts of those who knew the story and who had witnessed the virtue of her character – the monks, the officers, the judges, the guilty, and the martyr.

There was a procession to the monastery. The monks carried the Cross and a Bible, while many people gathered around the Abbot and kneeled weeping. The procession took two hours to arrive at the site where Saint Theodora’s body had been covered by an officer’s cloak. The Abbot sobbed and continued the procession. He knelt before Saint Theodora’s body and fearfully uncovered it, so there could be no doubt. His voice cracked as he prayed:

“Lord Jesus Christ, everyone agrees that we stand before Your martyr. You gave us a sign to repent. We who were deceived by a woman and those who out of envy and hatred accused her, we, all the repentant, ask forgiveness before her holy body. You who forgave those who crucified You, forgive everyone and myself. We did not understand what we were deciding on, what we did. Lord, at the feet of this body we unburden our repentance and plead for her intercessions, the new martyr Theodora. Amen.”

The Father, the Mother and the Sisters

Naturally, Theodora’s family had remained anxious from the moment that she had made the decision to join the army as a man. They had accepted her decision and always watched and waited for information. They had not heard of any woman being found out as having deceived the army. However they had learnt about the respected soldier Theodoris become Colonel Theodoris.

Although the monastery was not far from where they lived, they had not heard of a court-martial or the charge against Colonel Theodoris, but they did learn about a death sentence. They heard about the scandal, but did not think it had anything to do with Theodora, so they were not anxious. How could they imagine what Satan was capable of. Only when it was too late did they realize that the scandal involved their daughter, but by then the execution of their child was taking place.

The mother, on realizing that it was her daughter who was to be executed, set off the next day for the monastery like a woman possessed. She aimed to clear up the situation, to confess the truth about her daughter; to say that ‘he’ was in fact a ‘she’. On her way, she heard the execution taking place, for she had to pass through the ravine where Theodora had been taken in order to reach the monastery. Just behind her were her husband and daughters. Upon arriving at the scene of execution, she saw a few people gathered and realized something serious had happened. Running faster to where the people were gathered, she caught a glimpse of the body of her daughter and fainted.

There was confusion. Who was this woman and what was she doing there? Her husband and daughters arrived just as she was regaining consciousness. They are burst into tears when they realized what they were witnessing, except for the father who stared at his dead daughter’s body in silence. Local legend has it that Theodora’s mother wailed so loud that it caused the rocks to break and the trees to shudder.

The mother yelled: “Didn’t you soldiers have eyes to see? Were the eyes of my daughter so sinful? All this time didn’t you realize that it was a woman who was deceiving you and not a man? You have punished a woman who didn’t bear a son and therefore didn’t have a boy to send to the army. Why did no one try to prevent this evil?”

There were many who felt this woman would go insane. When they realized this woman was Theodora’s broken-hearted mother, they remained speechless. What words of comfort could they offer? Their daughter had sacrificed herself because her family had been unable to afford to send a soldier to the army. She had accepted danger and joined the army, been accused of being dishonest and immoral and accepted her sentence because she did not want to reveal the secret and thereby endanger her family. An innocent girl had been executed as an immoral man.

Everyone remained speechless having witnessed this tragic event.

The Relics at the Monastery

On the evening of the day of martyrdom and the revelation, Theodora’s relics were carried to the monastery. She arrived during the night. People came in hordes and the monastery church was full of deeply moved people. Young and old, ordinary citizens, soldiers, clerics, women and children, all followed the Vigil that took place in the monastery. Priests from nearby had gathered on hearing the news of the martyr Theodora. At the end of the Divine Liturgy, dawn broke and the Funeral Service began which in ancient times was chanted for the monks.

The Abbot had contacted a convent, and devout nuns came to wash the Saint’s holy body with wine and then dressed her in the monastic Angelic Schema, the burial robes which all women who retain their purity till death and who accept the baptism of blood with their martyrdom deserve. This is why she is considered a Venerable Virgin Martyr, like Saint Kyriake and other venerable virgin martyrs.

At the end of the Funeral Service, the monastery offered everyone kolyva and food. The Abbot called on the brotherhood and the priests from the area to gather and decide on the burial of the Saint. It was decided that a simple tomb would be built in the place of her martrydom, near her birthplace.

It is generally accepted that the Saint’s birthplace was a large settlement with many houses where the church stands today. Regarding the traditional idea concerning Ancient Melpeia, many people disagree. From an old man I heard that in the place where the church stands there was a building which Theodora’s family built, and the people who lived there were the ancestors of the inhabitants of today’s Vasta. What is certain is that before the present day’s church there was a tomb which, for many years, was the areas shrine, which caused demand for a church to be built there. It is also certain that still under the Saint’s grave and after her burial, a lot of water runs. It’s as if an angel listened to Theodora’s prayer and took it to heaven, while down on earth her blood became pure and holy water and huge tress grew around the church to protect it from wear.

The Church, the Shrine

Tracing details of the church’s construction without having written records would be in vain, as so many centuries have passed. It appears that for many years, maybe centuries, the grave was the first shrine. The first person who wrote about Saint Theodora states that the decision to proceed with her execution was decided by the Abbot and his advisors. We consider this to be implausible, as the monastery merely maintained the army.

Demetris Kapernakis states that it is impossible Theodora was sentenced to be executed by decapitation since she was a soldier. How can we be sure without written records? What could have survived so many centuries?

For many years hundreds of pilgrims arrived at the shrine to venerate Saint Theodora everyday. Finally a devout Christian, maybe even a monk, committed himself to build the church which stands today. It is believed the church was built in the twelfth century and possibly the monastery paid for the expenses. It must have been constructed by a local craftsman, as the techniques of that period were not utilized. Nonetheless, it is undeniably beautiful.

At the church we can observe a miracle of nature that is related to the martyrdom of Saint Theodora. The church is embraced by trees, their branches are fed by the surrounding water from an unknown source and enriches the River Harados. There are seventeen trees. We do not know exactly where their roots are, but they can be found around and under the church.

If the trees, which have protected the church from the ravages of time, were to be separated from the church, it would collapse. It is obvious to the true believer that a divine hand cradles the church, holding it together. It is said that it was the Saint’s dying and fervent prayer that her blood run like water and that trees would grow at her grave to protect it from evil.

Every year on September 11th, at the place of martyrdom, people arrive to venerate and pay homage to the Saint. They admire the cluster of trees which surround the church, they attend the Divine Liturgy and discuss the story and martyrdom of Saint Theodora.

With this book I want to contribute to the celebration of Saint Theodora; to offer the believer a small and poor teaching; to touch every believer who has come to this place of martyrdom because of their faith, with the intention to seek help and grace from the Saint, or even if they came just for an excursion. Whatever brought the reader to Saint Theodora, I greet and bless every pilgrim who reads this book, and I pray from the depths of my heart that this shrine brings them closer to Heaven, that their hearts be moved in their homes, and that the blessing of the Church of Jesus Christ, the God of love, and of Saint Theodora the Venerable Virgin Martyr, be theirs.

Apolytikion in the Fourth Tone
A most-precious gift, and rational offering, your blood was proved to be, to Christ the God over all, O all-pure one. Therefore Venerable Martyr Theodora, grant to those who praise your divine struggles, entreaties for the remission of our sins and the salvation of our souls.

Translated by John Sanidopoulos.