October 2, 2016

The Life of the Holy Great Martyr Theodore Gavras (+ 1098)

By Constantine J. Gavras, a descendant of the Saint

The glorious Great Martyr and brave athlete of the Lord, Theodore Gavras, was born in the eleventh century in a rural town of the theme of Chaldia called Atra, from pious and illustrious parents, who bestowed upon him the same piety and glory. They had great wealth, glory and and many dignities, titles and privileges. They were the supreme rulers of the Eastern Lands*; of places like Chaldia and Coloneia and with lands bordering these areas.

Blessed Theodore was a great model for the faithful, surpassing all in bravery, wisdom and prudence, therefore increasing his wealth and the size of his realm. His parents not only wanted to imitate him, but rulers of neighboring themes and kings of foreign lands as well, not because of his eminence and illustriousness, but more importantly, because of his ardent and precise observance of the teachings of Christ and His saints.

Great Martyr Theodore showed great haste in pursuing the Hagarenes and they, being faithless, desired to utterly wipe the faith off the face of the earth. He showed great bravery wherever there was an opportunity and always displayed excellent manliness and courage against his faithless enemies. Blessed Theodore had an ardent desire to preach in the name of the Lord and fervently called on the Lord to make him worthy.

Blessed Theodore also showed himself to be an extreme protector of the poor and the innocent. With the following event it is easy to see this. One of Blessed Theodore's soldiers took a bunch of grapes from a destitute woman and ate them. This came to the attention of the Saint and immediately ordered for this soldier to be taken to the center of the city and beaten with a metal club. The bunch of grapes that this disorderly soldier stole, instead of being sweet, turned sour (as in the Holy Scriptures) and was therefore made an example to the rest of his soldiers for orderliness and for making amends to the destitute woman.

As we said before, because the Blessed Martyr wanted to witness for Christ, the following fate befell the Saint: During the reign of Manuel I Komnenos, the Emir of Melitine, Ahmet Melik, who had as an ally the apostate and tyrant Andronikos Komnenos, cousin of Emperor Manuel, campaigned against Sebasteia, Caesarea, Coloneia and Nicopole. As ruler and general of Chaldia, Trebizond and Coloneia, the Saint supported these cities which were coming under attack with astonishing courage and with spiritual exultation. Having hope in the invincible power of our Savior, he fell upon the enemy and smote a great many of Melik's men.

However he was later captured under Divine Economy by one of Emir Ahmet Melik's generals called Amir Ali. Surpassing all others in physical cruelty, Amir Ali compelled Saint Theodore to deny Christ the Savior and to embrace the faith of the impious Hagarenes, promising to bestow upon the Saint riches and glory fit for a king if he submitted, otherwise he would not only be punished by various and severe forms of torture, but that he will also be killed if he refused to embrace their unfaith.

With his spirit undaunted and being a prudent and wise athlete of Christ, Theodore finally found the opportunity which he had so passionately desired. Inspired with Divine Grace, St. Theodore by no means believed the sacrilegious orders and empty promises of abandoning his faith for greater riches and, being unafraid of the tyrannical threats of Amir Ali, opened his mouth and began to preach Christ the Son of God, and True God, with a great booming voice, "Neither will your earthly riches allure me, nor will you detach my desire to suffer for Christ. Why do you promise me such glories of which you have no power to grant? Why do you grant these which in a while you shall abandon? Why do you who fears death, try to portray death as something fearful, to me who does not fear death? It is more pleasant for me to live a life in Christ, than it is to separate from Him. If you recognize His Incarnation and His sacrifice for us, you would never be an enemy of Christians. You would instead delight as a participant of the heavenly glory, and you would not be thrown into the eternal fire. Therefore believe in what I have told you and disavow the errors of your ways and believe in the Son of God who spilled His perfectly immaculate Blood on the Cross. Rise from the mess of error and be reborn with water and the Holy Spirit so that you may be fortunate enough to be forgiven of your ignorance and former sins and become a participant in the heavenly glory, so that they who do not discern the truth will see that you do not reject the Heavenly King and prefer temporary joys and show that your logic is more stubborn than a mule of all mules."

Instead of appeasing the tyrant and illuminating his heart with these salvific words of Martyr Theodore, Amir Ali became even more hardhearted to the point of submitting St. Theodore to the most severe tortures. First Amir Ali had the Saint spread face down in the snow and vigorously whipped his back, thinking that this would weaken the Saint and make him renounce our Holy and Pure Faith. Amir Ali was whipping Blessed Theodore in vain. St. Theodore not only remained steadfast, "Like Mount Zion" (Psalm 125:1) on the pious rock of our Faith, but continued to exclaim the following to the heights of Heaven, "Thank you, Most High King, Son and Word of God, that you have found me, unworthy that I am, to be brought before the stadium of struggle. Empower me, Lord, to become a worthy sacrifice before You, Master, as Your grace of salvation to mankind, with Your outstretched Hands on the Cross. Deign, Holy King, to see me become a participant in your Heavenly Kingdom."

When the tyrant witnessed and heard the words and prayers of the Saint, he burst into a frenzy, ordering his men to sever the Martyr's members beginning with his God-bearing tongue, and then he proceeded to cruelly pluck out the Saint's eyes and then to scalp him and skin his feet, hands and finally to deprive him of the rest of his members which were then thrown into a fire. Even though his God-proclaiming tongue was cut out of his mouth, the Blessed and Saintly Theodore miraculously continued to preach and praise the Savior. St. Theodore offered his tongue as a most beautiful gift with which to honor the Savior.

When the Saint's eyes were mercilessly deprived from him, Blessed Theodore exclaimed, "I offer my eyes as a sacrifice to the True Divine Light which gave us our sight."

When they were removing the skin from his head, St. Theodore was heard saying, "Whatever the Creator heaped up in my head, I am indebted to honor, observe and keep as a refuge of my faith."

When they were severing the Saint's hands, feet and the rest of his members, he thanked the Lord, praying, "Like a sweet grapevine, am I cut down and offered to God."

In the end, the remnants of St. Theodore were thrown into the fire. Just as the Three Holy Children were thrown into the fiery furnace and were not harmed, yet continued to glorify and praise God, so it was with St. Theodore Gavras, who, being thrown into a furnace was seen to be seated in a chariot in the philanthropy of the Most High One, calling all around him to chant and sing hymns to our Savior. Then he gave up his blessed soul into the hands of the Living God, finishing the race of piety with great struggle and astonishing all around him with his supernatural perseverance and valiance.

St. Theodore Gavras, the most glorious Great Martyr of Christ was martyred in the year of our Lord's salvation 1098 on the second day of October and was given by the hand of the Lord a crown for the wondrous and amazing martyric struggle and death, fighting his intelligent and sensible enemies.

The honorable skull of St. Theodore was received by the tyrant Amir Ali who fashioned it into a drinking cup and covered it in a layer of gold in honor of the Martyr and to remind himself of the Saint's supernatural bravery which continued to amaze him. This all honorable relic performed many miracles and cured many people in Theodosiople, the city where the Saint underwent his martyrdom. Afterwards, St. Theodore's skull was translated to Trebizond, the city of Protosebastor Constantine Gavras, nephew of the Great Martyr, who was now ruler of the city. Protosebastor Constantine concerned himself with translating the skull to Trebizond which he did with a great celebration and torchlight procession and with great pomp and ceremony. The procession ended when the holy relic was placed in the Holy Monastery built by his nephew Constantine Gavras and dedicated to St. Theodore Gavras where all could honor and venerate his relics.