January 18, 2020

Saint Theodouli the Martyr as a Model for our Lives

St. Theodouli the Martyr (Feast Day - January 18)

By Protopresbyter Fr. George Papavarnavas

Saint Theodouli was from Diocaesarea and lived in the third century, during a period of severe persecution against the Church. She was arrested by the governor Pelagius, and led to a pagan temple where she was ordered to sacrifice to the idols. There the Saint prayed and the idol of Hadrian fell and broke to pieces. When the emperor Hadrian was informed of this, he considered Pelagius responsible for this disrespect and ordered that he be cast to the wild beasts. Then Pelagius, terrified, fell at the feet of the Saint and begged her to pity him and to save his life by repairing the statue. He even publicly promised that he would become a Christian. The Saint then fervently prayed, and the statue was restored to its original form and put back in place. Pelagius was pleased, but instead of keeping his promise and expressing his gratitude to the Saint who saved his life, instead he had her horribly tortured in inhumane ways.

However, the perseverance, serenity, fervent prayer and inspired teachings of the Saint, throughout the duration of her tortures, as well as the subsequent healing of all her wounds, became the cause of many to believe and become confessors and martyrs of the faith, such as the executioners Komentaresios and Boethos, as well as many other pagans. Contrary to these, Pelagius remained hard and unrepentant, or rather he became more hardened and ordered for a large furnace to be lit in order to burn her alive. Saint Theodouli was cast into the furnace with those who believed and confessed their faith in Christ, and in this way together they were made worthy to receive the unfading crown of martyrdom by the Lord who presided over the contest.

The life and conduct of the Saint, as well as all of the above events, gives us the opportunity to highlight the following:

First, it is not good to make promises, but when they are given they must be kept, except if they are contrary to the will of God, since then they become the cause for the condemnation of the one keeping the promise and lead to eternal destruction. When they are lawful however, and especially when they are God-pleasing, they must be kept, because they bring spiritual-incorruptible good things and eternal life. In order to be clear and understandable on this matter, I will give two examples. First is the example of King Herod, for whom it would have been preferred to not keep his promise, instead of keeping it and becoming a plaything of an obscene woman and thus condemning himself to eternal destruction by committing the heinous crime of cutting off the honorable head of Saint John the Forerunner. Second is the example of Governor Pelagius, whose not keeping of a promise became the cause of his destruction, but if he kept the promise he would have secured a bright seat among the choir of martyrs.

Those who are accustomed to easily make various promises in order to achieve what they want, and then do not keep them, they deceive their fellow human beings, and they will be accountable to God. The observance of a lawful, and most especially God-pleasing, promise, as well as not keeping a bad promise, implies you have courage, bravery and that you love God, respect yourself as well as others. It is preferable to do something which is good, beneficial and God-pleasing without promising it, rather than making a promise and not doing it. Then the least thing that will happen is to lose your dignity and your credibility, like the lying shepherd of the well-known myth. And, of course, it is important to safeguard your reputation and credibility, as it is also important to respect the community as a whole, but more importantly, one should not play with their eternal future.

Second, in the Old Testament, the three children who were imprisoned in Babylon, were cast into the furnace to be burnt alive, because they worshiped the God of their fathers, kept His commandments, and refused to worship King Nebuchadnezzar who had deified himself, and venerate his golden statue. And, as we know, they were saved from the fire, since the "Angel of Great Counsel," the Son and Word of God, came down into the burning furnace, refreshed them and protected them. Many martyrs of the New Testament also were cast into the fire to be burnt alive, but by the grace of God some of them were protected and saved. However, even those whose bodies were burnt were in reality saved, since their souls flew off to the heavenly dwellings of Paradise where they experience eternal refreshment, revival and sweetness in the glory of God.

It seems that throughout the ages those who are given authority over the nations like to burn people in every form of fire. Abusing their power, they use various forms of fire to exploit and retain captives to their authority, especially those who are socially weak, thereby satisfying themselves in every way. Thankfully the last word is had by Christ, the Just Judge, who judges the living and the dead and grants to each of us according to our works. Then each of us, depending on our life and conduct, either will enjoy heavenly refreshment in the Light of God, or will burn in eternal fire. Christ, His mother the Panagia, and His friends the Saints, are the refreshment, sweetness and joy of all those who put their trust in their love and call upon them continuously.

I read somewhere: "There are times when we feel something burning inside us, that is, a kind of self-pity, depression, despair, and sometimes we explain it away in terms of seasons, such as autumn or winter. Certainly, to a certain degree the seasons could have an effect on us. Perhaps, however, autumn or winter are not to blame, but rather it is that we haven't opened up our souls within?"

The true spring, however, is the presence of God in our lives, which heats us, but it also refreshes us. It burns our passions and at the same time brings refreshment, sweetness, joy, hope and meaning to life.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.