Today is the feast day of Saint Theodore Tyro. Ora pro nobis.
by Father Francis Xavier Weninger, 1876
St. Theodore was born a heathen. When grown up, he went into the army, and though still young in years, gave many signal proofs of his valor. By associating with Christian soldiers, he came to the knowledge of the true faith, and no sooner was he convinced of its life-giving truth, than he embraced it, but without making his conversion known, following in this the example of many others at that period. When his heathen comrades used to sacrifice to their gods, he stole away to the Christian assemblies and assisted at them with great devotion, but had not the courage to confess Christ openly. When, however, the cruel command came from the Imperial Court, that all Christians should either leave Christ, or prepare themselves for the most terrible martyrdom, Theodore neither could nor would any longer hide his Christianity, but cried publicly and fearlessly: “I am a Christian, and ready to shed the last drop of my blood in defence of the Christian faith.” Some heathens, hearing this confession, seized him and brought him before the judge, who had pity on him as he was young and of fine appearance. He gave him a few days to consider whether he would renounce Christianity and thus make himself a partaker of the imperial grace, or end his life in the most horrid torments.
Theodore desired no time for considering, but said: “It is not necessary that I consider long. I have long since determined rather to bear all possible pain, than to forsake the true faith.” But he received the time offered him, to prepare himself better for the approaching trial. At the expiration of the appointed time, he desired to show by works what his determination was; hence he went during the night to a celebrated idolatrous temple and setting fire to it, burned it to the ground. At break of day, the people, filled with rage, sought everywhere for the perpetrator of the deed. Theodore voluntarily surrendered himself, saying: “What need is there for this seeking? I am he, who set fire to that temple of abominations, in which sacrifice was offered to Satan, and not to the true God.” The heathens, wild with rage, dragged the fearless youth before the judge, who asked him whether it was true that he had burned the temple, and whether he repented of this sacrilege and would forsake the Christian faith. “As far as the first part of your question is concerned,” said Theodore firmly, “I confess freely that I did, but I cannot add that I repent of it; on the contrary, I am ready to do the same at any moment. In regard to the Christian faith, I am so far from forsaking it, that I would rather die a thousand deaths.” The judge foaming with wrath, commanded him to be cruelly beaten, and then cast into a dungeon, the air of which was damp and foul, with the threat that he should there die of hunger, if he changed not his mind. The Christian hero, however, was not terrified, but, turning to his God, called on Him for aid. In the middle of the night, Christ appeared to him in his sleep, and said: “Be of good courage; for I am with thee: fear not!” Theodore awoke, and began cheerfully to sing psalms, and to give thanks to the Lord for so gracious a promise.
After the expiration of some days, he was again brought before the judge, who, seeing him as firm as before, ordered him to be tied to a column, and torn with iron combs and burnt with torches. This torture was more than cruel; for the executioners did not cease until the ribs were almost bare. But the greater the cruelty of these barbarians, the more Theodore rejoiced, repeating the words of the Psalmist: “I will praise and exalt the Lord at all times. His praise shall be ever on my lips.” As the tyrant saw that he effected nothing by this inhuman torment, he ordered Theodore to be burnt at the stake, as an enemy of the gods. On the way to the place of execution, Theodore saw one of his friends, who, pitying him most sincerely, shed bitter tears. “Cleonicus,” cried Theodore; “follow me soon, I shall wait for thee!” As soon as the Christian hero had arrived at the stake, he crossed himself, approached it cheerfully, and with a beaming countenance began to sing the praises of God, which he continued to do until he expired in the flames and smoke. This glorious martyrdom happened in 304. St Gregory preached a magnificent sermon in honor of this holy martyr, in which he extolled his heroic constancy, and asked for his intercession as a glorious Saint reigning with Christ in heaven. (6)
The Greeks and Armenians honour him also on the first Saturday of Lent, while the Roman Martyrology records him on 9 Nov. In the twelfth century his body was transferred to Brindisi, and he is there honoured as patron; his head is enshrined at Gaeta. There are churches bearing his name at Constantinople, Jerusalem, Damascus, and other places of the East. An ancient church of Venice, of which he is titular, is said to have been built by Narses.
At the foot of the Palatine in Rome is a very old church, circular in shape and dedicated to S. Teodoro, whom the Roman people call S. Toto, which was made a collegiate church by Felix IV. The people showed their confidence in the saint by bringing their sick children to his temple. His martyrdom is represented in the choir of the cathedral of Chartres by thirty-eight glass paintings of the thirteenth century (Migne, “Dict. iconogr.”, 599). He is invoked against storms. Emblems: temple, torch, crocodile, pyre, crown of thorns.
Image: Saint Theodore Tyron and Saint Theodore Stratilates – a fresco from Rila Monastery, Bulgaria (8)
Research by REGINA Staff