The Life and Labors of Our Holy Mother
Theodora of Alexandria
ways of men, and considering the most secret parts. He knew all things ere ever they
were created.”[Ecclesiasticus 23]
There once lived in the city of Alexandria a noblewoman named Theodora who did not
know this truth. She hearkened rather unto the enemy, who whispered to her, saying,
“The sin committed secretly, which the sun does not see, is likewise unknown to God.”
When she learned later that nothing can be concealed from God, great was her
Abiding with her husband in honorable wedlock, she was tempted in the following
way. A wealthy man, young and childish of mind, moved by the devil, was wounded
with lust for her, and he tried by every means to lead her into adultery. He sent her
costly presents and promised her yet greater gifts, seeking to seduce her by his
words. Unable to achieve his wish with these devices, he employed a certain
sorceress to bewitch the chaste Theodora, hoping thus to ensnare her in his evil
designs. Having Satan as her helper, the sorceress found a convenient time to speak
to Theodora concerning the youth.
However, Theodora replied, “Oh, that I could be delivered from that man, who has
vexed me for so long! If I hearken unto him, the very sun will be the witness of my
sin before God!”
The temptress responded, “Then when the sun sets and the darkness of night falls,
do what the youth desires in some secret place, and no one, not even God, shall
know of your deed, for the deep darkness of night hides all.”
“Oh, how good it would be,”said Theodora, “were it true that God did not know the
sin which is committed in the night!”The seductress answered, “It is true; God sees
only those sins upon which the sun shines. As for those committed in the dark, how
can He see them?”
With such words the temptress ensnared Theodora, who was a young woman,
guileless   and inexperienced. In this the sorceress was assisted much by the
temptations of the demons, whose power is strong, whereas ours is feeble. Theodora
consented to the counsel of the evil one, and in the depth of night she committed the
sin of adultery. However, with the rising of the sun, the light of the ready mercy of
God shone in her heart, for she acknowledged her sin and repented of it, striking
herself on the face, reviling herself, and tearing her hair in shame. Thus, the mercy of
God, Who desires not the death of a sinner, roused her to repentance and
amendment because of her former chastity. Indeed, God sometimes permits man to
fall so that, amending himself and rising up, he may labor more earnestly and display
more zeal for God, Who has forgiven his sin.
Weeping and grieving over the sin she had committed, Theodora consoled herself
somewhat and said, “God does not know of my sin. Nevertheless, it shames me and
causes me anguish.”Seeking to lighten her sorrow, she went to a convent to visit the
abbess, with whom she was acquainted. The abbess, seeing her sorrowful face,
questioned her, saying, “What is wrong, my daughter? Have you offended your
Theodora answered, “No, my lady. I do not know why my heart is so heavy.”
The abbess, moved by the Spirit of God and wishing to comfort Theodora, began to
speak in an edifying manner and to read to her from the writings of the Fathers. As
she was reading a certain homily, she came to this citation from the Gospel: For
there is nothing covered that shall not be revealed; neither hid, that shall not be
known. Therefore, whatsoever ye have spoken in darkness shall be heard in the light;
and that which ye have spoken in the ear in closets shall be proclaimed upon the
When Theodora heard these words from the Gospel, she beat herself on the breast
and said, “Woe is me, the wretched one! Now I have perished! I have been deceived,
thinking that God did not know my sin!”and she struck herself, crying and weeping.
The abbess then discerned the nature of her fall, and she began to ask her exactly
what she had done. Because of her weeping, Theodora could scarcely speak, but she
succeeded in telling the abbess all in detail, and she fell at her feet, crying, “Forgive
me, for I am perishing, and tell me what I should do! Is it possible for me to be
saved, or am I lost for all eternity? Can I hope for God’s mercy, or must I only
The abbess said to her, “In hearkening to the enemy you have not done well, my
daughter. You were mistaken, thinking that you could hide from God, Who searches
the hearts and reins, Who knows the thoughts of men from afar, and Whose eye sees
even that which has not yet been done. No night, no dark place, is able to conceal
the sinner from His all-seeing eyes. You have angered God and have not kept faith
with your husband, my daughter. You have defiled your body and done harm to your
soul. Why did you not tell me this when you were being tempted? Then I could have
helped you and taught you how to guard yourself from the snares of the enemy. But
since the deed is already done, fall down in repentance before God’s mercy, pray that
He will forgive you, and correct yourself. Do not despair, my daughter, for although
you have committed a great sin, God’s mercy is yet greater. There is no sin which
defeats His love for mankind. Now arise and you will be saved.”
The abbess reproved and instructed Theodora, and she guided her onto the path of
repentance. She comforted her by speaking of God’s compassion, of His unutterable
goodness, of His quickness to accept those who repent, and His readiness to forgive
those who have transgressed. She reminded Theodora of the sinful woman in the
Gospel who washed Christ’s feet with her tears and wiped them with the hairs of her
head, thereby receiving forgiveness of her sins from God.
Theodora gave heed to her good instructress, and having stored these thoughts in her
heart, she said, “I trust in my God that I shall never commit such sins again, and I
shall do whatever I am able to make amends for the sin itself.”
Her heart somewhat comforted, Theodora returned to her home. But she was
ashamed to look her husband in the face, for her conscience upbraided her, and she
considered by what means she might incline God to mercy. Although she wished to
enter a convent, she knew that her husband would forbid this, so to hide herself from
her husband and from all her acquaintances, she devised the following plan.
When her husband had left home on some task, she, in the dark of night, cut her hair
and dressed herself in men’s clothing. Committing herself to God, she hid herself, and
quietly forsaking her home, she fled like a bird taking flight from a trapper’s net.
Arriving at a desert monastery named Oktokedeka, located eighteen miles from the
city, she knocked at the door, and when the doorkeeper came, she said, “Be so kind,
Father, as to ask the abbot to receive me, a sinner, into the monastery, for I wish to
repent of my evil deeds. I have come to wash the feet of holy men such as you, and
to serve you day and night in whatever manner you direct.”
The doorkeeper went and told the abbot, who said, “Try him that we may learn if it
was God Who moved him to come to us. Give him no answer till the morning. Do not
permit him to enter the monastery, and let us see whether he will depart or remain at
the gates awaiting our compassion. In this way we will learn whether he has truly
come to labor for God with fervor.”
And so the doorkeeper took no notice of Theodora, treating her as though she were
an unprofitable servant, but she remained sitting at the gate of the monastery,
weeping. When night came and beasts began to prowl outside of the monastery (for
that wilderness was full of wild animals), by the grace of God she remained
unharmed, shielded by prayers and armed with the Cross.
In the morning the doorkeeper looked through the peephole, and seeing her sitting in
the doorway, he said, “What are you waiting for? We will not accept you! We do not
need you!”
Theodora replied, “Even if I must die here before these doors, I shall not depart until
you have mercy on me and receive me into the monastery.”
The doorkeeper, seeing her patience and humility, opened the doors and took her to
the abbot. The abbot asked her who she was, where she came from, and why she had
come. “I am from Alexandria, Father. My name is Theodore, and I am full of sin and
iniquity,”she replied. “Having come to my senses and acknowledging my
transgressions, I desire to repent, and I have come to this holy place, hoping that
you will accept me into your ranks and thus save a sinner who is perishing. Receive
me, Father, as the Lord received the thief and the publican and the prodigal son.”
Then the abbot began to speak of the labors and great struggles of the monastic life.
“My child,”said he, “you are unable to bear such things. I see that you are young and
were reared among the sweet things of the world. Our monastery provides no
consolations. You will find our life here harsh, requiring much abstinence and fasting.
The brethren endure great labor in fulfilling their obediences, and their rule of prayer
is unceasing: the Midnight Office and Matins, the Hours and Vespers, the many
prayers to be said and prostrations to be made in the cell, and the frequent All-night
Vigils. But you are accustomed to an easy life. You are unable to bear the burden of
monastic labors. Although I see that you come to us with sincerity, I fear that you
may turn aside from your intention, for many begin a good work with fervor, but
wearying, they abandon their good beginning and become indolent. Therefore, I
advise you to return to the world, and may God help you to work out your salvation
there according to His will.”
Theodora fell at the abbot’s feet, however, and said, weeping, “Father, do not cast
me out! Do not forbid me to stay in your angelic community! Do not drive me back to
the world, from which I have already fled as though from Egypt, for I will never return
there! Do not hesitate, Father, on account of my youth! By your holy prayers I will
become accustomed to abstinence. God will help me to bear every labor, and
whatever you command, I shall do speedily and with fervor. Only accept me who wish
to weep for my sins.”
The abbot relented and received her, and he ordered that she be tested in every
monastic obedience. And so this woman began to live among men in the guise of a
man and under a man’s name, and no one knew of this secret except God Himself.
Who can tell of her great labors? The brethren saw her obedience, her patience in
abstinence, her humility in fulfilling every task, but her secret struggles - all-night
prayers, the sighing of her heart, prostrations, and the lifting up of her hands - all
these were hidden and seen only by God. Day and night she fell down before His
compassion, as once did the harlot who washed the Lord’s feet with her tears. And
her repentance outweighed the sin which she had committed, for she crucified herself
on the cross of mortification. In her humility she cast herself beneath the feet of all,
and such was her renunciation that she entirely cut off her own will, becoming like an
angel in the flesh. Her body, which was formerly defiled, became a temple of God,
cleansed by the sweat of her labors, her warm tears of repentance, and the
sanctification of the Holy Spirit Who dwelt in her.
After eight years had passed, there was a shortage of oil in the monastery, and the
saint was sent to Alexandria with camels to purchase more. Her husband, who did not
know where his wife had gone or what had happened to her, had long searched for
her. As he found no trace of her, he grieved day and night. He prayed that God would
reveal where his spouse was to be found, and one night an angel appeared to him in
a vision and said, “Do not grieve for your wife. She is laboring for God among His
servants. If you wish to see her, wait in the morning in front of the Church of Saint
Peter, and there you will see her. The person who will pass before the church and
greet you is your wife.”
Theodora’s husband rejoiced at the vision of the angel. Early the next day he went to
the Church of Saint Peter and stood there, looking to the left and to the right with
keen expectation. As he stood there, the blessed Theodora passed by with the
camels, dressed in monks’clothing. Her husband did not recognize her because of her
apparel and the change in her appearance, for once she had been fair, but now her
beauty was dimmed from fasting and monastic labors. Theodora, however, recognized
him from afar and began to weep unnoticed, and she said, “Woe is me, a sinner!
Because of my sin against my husband, I am deprived of God’s mercy!”
As she passed by him, she bowed and said, “Good day, Sir!”Likewise, he bowed to
her, saying, “Hail, Father!”And so they parted.
Theodora’s husband remained standing there throughout almost the entire day, and
he returned home saddened that what he had hoped for had not come about.
Thinking the vision was but deception, he prayed with tears, saying, “Behold my
sorrow, O Lord, and hearken unto my prayer. Reveal to me whether my wife is among
the living or not and whether she is to be found on the path of good or evil.”
The next night he once again saw the angel in a vision. The angel said to him, “Why
do you weep, O man? Did you not see your wife yesterday, as I said you would?”
He answered, “I did not see her, my lord.”
The angel said, “Did I not say that the person who would pass by, bow, and salute
you would be your wife?”
The man then understood that he had seen his wife but had not recognized her, and
so he thanked God that she was alive and laboring for God, and he hoped to be saved
through her prayers. Likewise, the blessed Theodora thanked God that she had seen
her husband and that he had not recognized her. After she returned to the monastery,
she continued to work out her salvation, fasting at first for a day, then for two days,
then for three and four, sometimes remaining an entire week without food, praying
fervently that her sin be forgiven.
The monastery was located close to a lake infested with crocodiles, which frequently
left the lake and attacked men and domestic animals as they were walking by.
Because of their presence, Gregory, the Eparch appointed by the Emperor Zeno to
govern Alexandria, posted guards to block the road which passed by the lake so that
no one might travel it. The abbot, wishing to discern the grace of God in Theodora,
summoned her and said, “Brother Theodore, we are in need of water from the lake.
Take a bucket, go draw water from the lake, and bring it to me.”
Theodora, being most obedient, took the bucket and set off. The guards said to her,
“Do not go to the lake for water, Father, for the crocodiles will devour you.”
Theodora replied, “My father, the abbot, has sent me, and I must do as I am told.”
And, indeed, when she came to the lake, a crocodile came out, and taking her up
omits back, carried her to the middle of the lake. When she had drawn the water, the
crocodile then brought her back to the shore. Standing before the reptile, she ordered
it never again to harm anyone, and with that it expired. The watchmen, seeing this
wonder, sent word of it to the abbot and to the Prince of the city, and all glorified
God. The brethren marveled that the crocodile did not harm the blessed one, and they
praised the power of obedience.
Some of the brethren, however, tempted by the devil (for no one is immune from the
enemy’s wiles), did not believe the story about the crocodile, and they began to
despise Theodora, saying, “We have lived so many years in the monastery, and we do
not work signs, but he who arrived only yesterday is already a worker of miracles!
Does he wish to be greater than us? Was it not by some sorcery that he caused the
reptile to perish?”
There was another monastery that stood in the depths of the wilderness a few miles
away from Theodora’s monastery. Her detractors wrote a letter to that monastery,
and coming late in the evening to her cell, they said, “Brother Theodore, the abbot
has ordered you to take this letter to the other monastery immediately.”Theodora
arose, took the letter, and went in the night to the other monastery. Her enemies
hoped she would be devoured by beasts along the way, for there were many lions in
that desert, and no one traveled that road by night. Because of this danger, the
envious monks said to one another, “Let us see whether this little saint, whom the
beasts obey, will return unharmed!”
As Theodora was walking along the path, a huge lion met her, and having bowed
down before her, it turned around and preceded her along the path, guiding her to the
very gates of the monastery. She knocked at the gates and the doorkeeper opened,
and the saint entered, taking the letter to the abbot. The doorkeeper did not lock the
monastery gates, however, and thus the lion was able to enter the monastery. As the
doorkeeper was walking by, the lion seized him and began to maul him. The
doorkeeper cried out, “Help me!”and all were awakened by his cries. The saint saw
what was happening, and leaving the abbot’s cell, rushed to the brother who was
about to be devoured by the lion. The beast had already taken the doorkeeper in its
mouth, but the saint snatched him from its teeth. “How could you attack the image of
God?,”she said to the beast. “You tried to kill him! For this you yourself will perish!”
And at once the lion fell down before her feet and died.
The brother who had been wounded by the beast was anointed with oil as the name
of Christ was invoked, and the sign of the Cross was made by the saint over his
wounds. Thus he was wholly restored to health. All who saw the miracle bowed down
before the saint and glorified God, Who made wild beasts subject to His servant
Theodore. Early the next morning, after receiving a blessing to leave that monastery,
Theodora returned to her own monastery, telling no one where she had been or what
she had done.
The next day, monks from the other monastery arrived, bringing a gift, and they told
the abbot and all the brethren what had happened. They bowed before the abbot,
thanking him that his disciple Theodore had delivered their doorkeeper from the teeth
of the lion, healed him of his wounds, and had destroyed the beast. When they had
heard this, the abbot and all the monks marveled greatly. When the brethren from
the other monastery departed, the abbot called all the monks together and asked,
“Who sent Brother Theodore to the other monastery?”
All replied, “We do not know.”
The abbot then asked Theodora herself, saying, “Brother, who sent you last night to
that monastery?”
Not wishing to disclose who sent her, she said to the abbot, “Forgive me, Father; I
fell asleep in my cell, and I do not know who it was that came with the order in your
name to take the letter quickly to the abbot of the other monastery. I went, fulfilling
my obedience.”
Then the adversaries, recognizing God’s grace in the blessed Theodora, repented of
their wickedness, and they fell down before her and asked her forgiveness. Being free
of malice, she was not in the least angered with them nor did she reveal their
identity to anyone, but on the contrary she disparaged herself as a sinner and as one
unworthy of the love of the brethren.
Once, when she was alone, fulfilling her obedience, a demon appeared to her, saying
angrily, “Have you, a defiled adulteress who abandoned your husband, come here
thinking you could take up arms against me? I am strong enough to compel you not
only to renounce monasticism but the Crucified One as well and to make you flee this
place! Do not imagine that I am not present here. I shall not leave you in peace until
I catch you in my net and cast you into the pit.”
Theodora signed herself with the sign of the Cross and said, “May God shatter your
power, O devil!”and the demon disappeared.
Some time later there was a shortage of provisions in the monastery, and the blessed
Theodora was again sent with camels to the city to purchase wheat for the use of the
community. As he sent her on her way, the abbot said, “Child, if you are delayed on
the way, take the camels and spend the night at the Monastery of Enatus,”for the
road ran past the monastery of that name. As Theodora was on the road, night fell,
and in accordance with her father’s command, she stopped at the Monastery of
Enatus. Bowing before the abbot, she asked a blessing to rest in the monastery with
the camels until daybreak. The abbot gave her a place in the guesthouse where there
was also an enclosure for the camels. At that time the adult daughter of that abbot
had come to visit and to pay her respects to her father. Seeing the blessed Theodora,
whom she believed to be a young monk, she was wounded with lust by the demons
and came by night to the saint as she was resting by the camels. Not knowing that
Theodora was a woman, she began shamelessly and boldly to attempt to compel her
to sin. However, Theodora said, “Depart from me, sister, for I am unaccustomed to
such things. Moreover, I have in me an evil spirit, and I fear he may kill you.”
The maiden departed in shame and found another guest with whom she worked
iniquity, and so she conceived in her womb. When morning came, Theodora went to
the city, fulfilled her obedience, and returned to the monastery, where she continued
to labor for her salvation. After six months, it became known that that maiden was
with child. Her family beat her and questioned her concerning who it was that had
defiled her. Moved by the devil, she placed the blame upon the blessed Theodora and
said, “As Theodore, a monk of the Monastery of Oktokedeka, was going from his
monastery to the city with his camels, he stopped to rest in the guest house. He
came by night to me and forced me, and I conceived of him.”
When her father, the abbot of the Monastery of Enatus, heard this, he sent his monks
to the Monastery of Oktokedeka to complain to the abbot that his monk had defiled
his daughter and had left her with child. They said, “Your monk Theodore has forced
the daughter of our abbot and caused her to be with child. Is this the sort of monk
that dwells in your monastery?”
The abbot summoned Theodora and asked her, “What did you do when you spent the
night at the Monastery of Enatus?”
She answered, “I did nothing, Father.”
“Do you not hear what these people say about you?”asked the abbot. “They say that
you dishonored the daughter of their abbot and that now she is with child.”
“Forgive me, Father,”Theodora replied, “God is my witness that I did not do this.”
The abbot did not believe what the monks who had come from the other monastery
said, for he knew Brother Theodore’s life to be as pure and holy as that of an angel of
God. But when the young woman bore a boy, the monks of Enatus came with the
infant to the Monastery of Oktokedeka and left the child in the monastery. Reviling
its monks, they said, “Rear what you have begotten!”
Seeing the infant, the abbot then believed the accusations. Enraged at Theodora, he
gathered the brethren and summoned her who was pure of heart and body,
questioning her thus, “Tell me, wretched fellow, what have you done? You have
brought dishonor upon our monastery and have made a laughingstock of our
brotherhood because you have not feared God. We regarded you as an angel, but you
are like a demon. Confess your iniquitous deed!”
The blessed Theodora, perplexed by this rebuke, kept silence and said only, “Forgive
me, holy fathers, I am a sinner.”
They took counsel together and decided to expel her from the monastery in dishonor,
together with the child. O, the wondrous patience of the saint! With but a word she
might have proved he: innocence, but she did not wish to reveal her secret, namely,
that she was a woman. Thus, she accepted suffering for another’s sin in place of the
sin she herself once committed. Taking the child she sat before the monastery gates,
weeping like Adam when hi was expelled from Paradise. She built a little but in front
of the, monastery for the child, and begging milk of shepherds, she fee the child for
seven years while she herself bore hunger, thirst, and nakedness, endured cold and
burning heat, drank water from the, sea, and fed on wild herbs.
The devil, unable to bear this patience, sought to deceive he in the following manner.
He transformed his appearance into that of her husband, and entering the but where
she sat with the child said, “Can it be that you are here, my lady? For so many years
have been weeping and searching for you, but you have taken no thought for me! For
your sake I left mother and father, and still you abandoned me! Who enticed you to
come to this place? Where has your beauty vanished? Why have you wasted yourself
thus Come, my beloved, let us go to our home. If you wish to guar, your chastity, you
may do so at home; I shall not prevent this Remember our love, my lady, and come
home with me!”
The blessed Theodora did not know it was the demon who spoke to her, but
supposing that it was truly her husband, she said to him, “I cannot return with you to
the world from which I have fled because of my sins. I am afraid I will fall into worse
evils.”When she reached out her hand to make the sign of the Cross and to pray, he
whom she supposed to be her husband immediately disappeared. Then the blessed
one understood that it was the devil who had appeared, and she said, “You very
nearly deceived me, O devil.”
She repented that she had entered into conversation with the evil one and from that
time forward guarded herself more carefully from the snares of the demons. However,
the devil did not cease to war with her but summoned a multitude of demons, who
transformed themselves into various beasts to attack her, crying with human voices,
“Let us rip apart this adulteress!”
Crossing herself, she said, Surrounding me they compassed me, and by the name of
the Lord, I warded them off”and at once they vanished without a trace. Then the
demon sought to deceive her with the love of money and showed her a great amount
of gold which people were gathering up, but this apparition vanished as well when
she made the sign of the Cross. Likewise, he transformed himself into a prince,
preceded by a multitude of horsemen, who rode past her hut, crying, “The Prince
approaches! The Prince approaches!”And the horsemen said to Theodora, “Fall down
in worship before the Prince!”
But she answered, “I fall down in worship before God alone!”Dragging her out of her
hut, the horsemen brought Theodora by force before the ruler of darkness, for God
permitted them to seize the saint so that she might be tried like gold in a furnace.
They sought to force her to bow down before the Prince, but she refused, saying, “The
Lord my God do I worship, and Him alone do I serve.”
After beating her without mercy, the horsemen departed, leaving her barely alive.
Later shepherds found Theodora, and thinking that she was dead, they took her and
carried her to her but and laid her there. They informed the monastery of her death,
saying, “Your monk Theodore is dead. Take his body and bury it.”The abbot came with
the brethren to her hut, but seeing that she was still alive, he said, “Leave him; he
shall live,”and they returned to the monastery.
At midnight, Theodora came to herself and began to weep, and she beat her breast,
saying, “Woe is me, a sinner; woe is me! How God has punished me for my sins!”And
raising her hands to heaven, she cried out with a loud voice, “O compassionate God,
deliver me from the hands of the devil, and remember not my sins.”The shepherds,
who were spending the night nearby, heard the saint praying, and they were amazed
that she was yet alive, for they thought that she had perished; and so they praised
Thereafter, the abbot ordered the child be taken from Theodora and brought into the
monastery. Because of this she greatly rejoiced since she was now freed from the
labors and worry of feeding the boy. She then began to wander through the desert.
Her flesh had become blackened from the winter cold and the burning heat, and her
eyes were darkened from bitter weeping. She lived among wild beasts, which meekly
obeyed her like sheep.
But once again the devil began to assail her. Seeing that she was hungry, he
appeared in the form of a soldier carrying a tray of food and said, “The Prince who
had you beaten has now repented. He sends you this food, begging you to forgive
him and to accept this from him.”
The saint, realizing the demon’s deceit, signed herself with the Cross and said, “May
God destroy and demolish your snares! You cannot deceive me, for God sustains me!”
And from that moment the devil ceased to tempt her.
After Theodora had lived this harsh life for seven years, the hearts of the monks were
softened, and they went to the abbot and said, “Father, have mercy on Brother
Theodore! He has alread3 repented of his sin. Forgive him and receive him into the
monastery again.”
“In truth, brethren,”answered the abbot, “this very night God revealed to me that
Brother Theodore’s sin is forgiven. Go and bring him here. “
The brethren found Theodora wandering through the desert and brought her to the
monastery. The abbot said to her, “Brother Theodore, God has forgiven the sin you
committed. Live with us again in the monastery and carry on your struggles here. Do
not go out of the monastery so that the devil will not tempt you again. Instruct your
son so that he can imitate your struggles.”He gave her a cell and freed her from all
the monastic chores so that she might pray in peace to God and rest after such great
labors. And so she lived for two years in that cell with her supposed son, whose name
was Theodore. She taught him to read and write, to fear God, to be humble and
obedient, and to pursue the other monastic virtues.
Once, there was a great drought, and the wells of the monastery and the lakes dried
up. The abbot said to certain of the brethren, “There is no one who is better able to
beseech God and incline Him to give us water than Abba Theodore, for the grace of
God is with him.”
The abbot summoned Theodora and said, “Father Theodore, take this bucket and
draw water from the well.”Now the well was dry, and there was not a drop of water in
“Bless, Father!”said the saint, and she went to the well. Theodora lowered the bucket
into the well and drew it up full of fresh water. She brought it to the abbot, who was
sitting with the brethren. Seeing this, they were all amazed, and they went to the
well, which had long been dry. When they looked into the well, they found it to be
full of water, and they glorified God. There was sufficient water for all the needs of
the monastery until rain fell and filled the dry cisterns with water. The blessed
Theodora, being humble of spirit, said to the brethren, “This did not occur on my
account, but for the sake of our father who, with undoubting faith in God, sent me to
draw water. I only did as I was told, trusting in the prayers of our father.”And so she
remained in her cell praying to God and rearing the boy they all supposed to be her
One evening, in the sight of all, Theodora took the child and shut herself in her cell
with him, and she began to instruct him. The abbot, moved by the Spirit, sent some
of the brethren to listen silently outside the cell to what Theodora was saying to the
Holding the child to her breast, she embraced and kissed him, saying, “My beloved
son, my time has come; my end approaches, and I am about to depart from you. Do
not weep over me, and do not say, ‘I am an orphan, for you have a Father in God,
Who protects you by His grace and to Whom I (if I be granted boldness before Him)
shall pray for you. Hearken to my last words, and inscribe them in your heart. Love
God more than anything which is created, more even than yourself, and cling to Him
with your whole heart. Do not cease praising Him. Pray to Him with your lips and
heart, your tongue and mind. Do not neglect common prayer, but go to the church
with the brethren for the First Hour and the Third, the Sixth and the Ninth, for
Vespers and the Midnight Office, and Matins. Let your every prayer be offered up with
tears and with sighs from a broken heart. Weep before God each day so that you may
be granted eternal consolation. Be obedient to the abbot and the brethren; renounce
your will; preserve the guilelessness of your character from today until the very end
of your life. Guard your lips with silence; take care that you judge no one nor laugh at
the sins of others. But if you see someone committing a sin, pray for him to God,
Who alone is sinless, that He may correct him and deliver you from transgression and
the enemy’s temptations. Say nothing that is vain, foul, or profane, for which you will
have to give account on the Day of Judgment. Be meek and humble of heart; regard
all the brethren as your fathers and benefactors, and yourself as beneath all. If you
hear that one of the fathers is ailing, do not be idle but visit him and serve him
sincerely. Fulfill every task which you are given without complaint; cherish poverty
and non-acquisitiveness as a rich treasure. Recall my life, when I wandered with you
outside the monastery walls. What possessions did I have in my hut? Was there food
or clothing? Were there any vessels or treasures? There was nothing there, save God.
What does man need, save God and His divine love? He is our treasure, our wealth.
He is food and drink; He is clothing and shelter. He is our health and strength, our
happiness and joy. He is our trust and hope; labor, my son, to gain Him. For if you
acquire God, it is sufficient, and you will rejoice in Him more than if you were to gain
the whole world. Take care to guard your purity, and as you are now chaste in body
and spirit, remain so until your repose. Be careful, my child, not to grieve the Spirit of
God, Who dwells in you, with the love of pleasure and the lusts of the flesh. Mortify
your members, and do not allow your body rest and relaxation. Treat it like a
stubborn mule. Humble it with hunger, thirst, work, and illness, until you are enabled
to present your soul to Christ like a pure bride. Guard yourself carefully against the
tricks of the demons. Be sober and vigilant, because the devil never ceases to hunt
all who serve God, in order to devour them. May God’s help preserve you from his
cunning. Moreover, remember me, my son, in your prayers, that I might obtain mercy
from the righteous Judge, Who does not regard sins alone, but repentance also.”
“Can it be, my father,”said the child, “you will leave me an orphan? What will I do
without you? I cannot bear to be deprived of you!”
Seeking to comfort him, Theodora said, “Did I not tell you not to say, ‘I am an
orphan?’God will preserve you and care for you. May He be to you father and mother,
teacher and instructor, a protector and guide to salvation!”
Then she stood and began to pray tearfully, saying, “O God, Thou knowest my sins
and my repentance; Thou knowest the sufferings of my heart, which hath not ceased
to grieve because I have angered Thee, O Lord. Thou knowest the labors with which I
have humbled my sinful body, which I have undertaken because I dared to sin and
grieve Thy goodness. Thou knowest my soul’s sorrow, for since the time when I
perceived my sin, I have for all these years mourned and cried out bitterly that I
offended Thy compassion. Wherefore; hearken to my groaning; hear my prayer; look
upon my heart, which melteth away like wax. Try mine inward parts and behold my
tears, and have mercy upon my wretched soul! Remit my transgressions; forgive my
sins; and remember not mine evil deeds. Remember me in Thy mercy for the sake of
Thy goodness, O Lord. Accept my repentance, accept my prayer and my weeping, and
receive my soul as well!”Thus did Theodora pray for a long time. Not all that she said
while praying could be heard, but her weeping could be heard plainly as she beat her
breast. The child wept with her, lamenting that he would be left an orphan. But
Theodora consoled him, and then she continued to pray. Finally she said with joy, “I
thank Thee, O my most Merciful Creator, that Thou hast heard me and hast shown
Thy mercy to me and delivered my soul from death and mine eyes from tears!”
After saying these words, she continued giving thanks with a joyful soul, and then
she became silent. It seemed that she had surrendered her soul into the hands of her
Lord, for nothing more was heard from her. Only the weeping of the child could be
heard. As they began to ring for Matins, the monks who had been listening at
Theodora’s cell went to the abbot and told him what they had heard, whereupon he
began to weep, saying, “This night as I slept, my children, I saw a vision. Two
radiant men took me up to the heights of heaven, whence I heard a voice saying,
‘Come and see the good things I have prepared for my bride Theodora. I beheld
Paradise, gleaming with light, the beauty and splendor of which it is impossible to
describe. They led me to a chamber in which was a couch covered with gold, over
which an angel kept watch. I asked my guides, ‘For whom is this chamber and couch
prepared?’They replied, ‘Wait only a short while, and you will see the glory of God.’
And after a short time, I saw the ranks of angels, martyrs, and monastic saints
entering the chamber, chanting beautiful hymns, the sweetness of which it is
impossible to convey. In their midst I saw a fair lady in great glory, whom they led
into the chamber and seated upon the couch, all the while singing beautiful hymns.
In fear I fell down before that honorable lady, and an angel said to me, ‘Do you know
who this is?”No, my lord, I answered. He said to me, ‘This is Theodore your monk,
who by nature was a woman, although she appeared to be a man. Having lived a
short while in wedlock, she forsook the world for God’s sake and struggled in your
monastery. She was slandered by the maiden who bore the child, but she did not
reveal that she was not a man. She accepted the child as though she were its true
father and nurtured it. When she was expelled from your monastery, she suffered
greatly, eating grass and drinking seawater, bearing winter cold, scorching heat and
nakedness, and enduring numerous demonic assaults. For all these things the
merciful God has honored her, loving her as His bride and making her an heiress of
His kingdom, together with all the saints.’When I heard this, I began to weep,
lamenting that I had not known this mystery and that having believed a lie, I had
wronged the saint and had driven her from the monastery in dishonor. As I wept, I
awoke from sleep. And now, my children, my heart is filled with both joy and sorrow.
I rejoice that I was deemed worthy to behold a most glorious vision which no eye has
seen and to hear the sound of the most sweet hymns of the saints which no ear has
heard. But I weep because I did not know God’s handmaiden, His beloved bride, and
that I offended her who for so long a time dwelt among us sinners.”
The abbot then summoned the brethren, and they went to the cell of the saint.
Knocking on the door, he said, “Bless, Father Theodore!”But there was no answer, for
she had already reposed in the Lord. The child had fallen asleep as he wept, and it
was scarcely possible to awaken him. When they entered the cell, they found the
saint lying on the floor, her arms crossed over her breast. Her eyes were closed, and
her face was radiant with beauty, like the face of an angel. When they laid out her
body to prepare it for burial, the abbot exposed her breast, withered from much
fasting. All those present learned that she was a woman, and they were amazed and
wept greatly. The abbot instructed them to tell no one this secret until those who
had accused the saint concerning the girl and her child were summoned. The abbot
then sent representatives of the brethren to the abbot of Enatus. “We ask your
compassion, Father,”they said. “Come to our monastery with your brethren, for today
a great feast is kept in our monastery, and we wish to celebrate it with you.”
Thus, the abbot of Enatus came to their monastery, together with his monks. He was
taken to the holy body of the blessed Theodora and was told, “Father, your daughter’
s husband has reposed.”Then they showed him the body of the saint. “Is this not
Theodore?”they asked.
“Indeed it is he,”said the abbot of Enatus, and he asked the monks who came with
him, “Do you recognize him?”
“We know him well,”they said. “It is the false monk Theodore, who defiled your
daughter. May God reward him according to his works!”
Then the abbot of Oktokedeka uncovered her breast, showing them that her paps
were those of a woman, and he asked, “Is this the body of a man? Fathers, we were
deceived. We thought she was a man, but she was indeed a woman who had changed
her name and guise. She lived like an angel among us sinners, and we did not know
her secret. She suffered much abuse from us, but now it is clear what she was and
what she is: righteous and holy and beloved of Christ our God. I beheld her in the
mansions of heaven, in great glory and light, rejoicing together with the choirs of the
angels and of all the saints.”
All those present were amazed and marveled at this great mystery. Those who had
accused her of the sin of which she was innocent were exceedingly ashamed, and all
wept much, saying, “Woe to us, who for so long offended God’s handmaiden.”And
they fell down before her holy relics, begging with tears, “Forgive us, O handmaiden
of God; in ignorance we sinned against thee!”
Some time after this an angel of God appeared to the abbot of Oktokedeka and said,
“Take a horse and go to the city, and the first man you meet, bring here.”
The abbot departed quickly as he had been commanded, and meeting a man along
the way, he asked him, “Where are you going?”
The man replied, “I have heard that my wife reposed in a certain monastery, and I am
going to find her.”
The abbot seated the man on the horse and took him with him. They arrived at the
monastery, and the abbot took him to where the holy body of the saint lay. When
Theodora’s husband saw her remains, he began to weep bitterly and to lament
When the monks of the neighboring monasteries heard the story, a multitude of them
gathered with candles and censers, and king her holy body, they buried her with
honor in the monastery here she had struggled. They kept festival for many days,
glorifying Christ God and magnifying His beloved bride, the blessed Theodora. After
her burial, her husband asked to have the cell where his wife, or rather, the bride of
Christ, had dwelt. receiving the tonsure, he struggled in fasting, prayers, and
weeping, reflecting upon the venerable Theodora’s labors. After a tort time, he
reposed in sanctity, departing to the Lord. The child Theodore, who was like a son to
the saint, inherited the character id emulated the labors, struggles, and every aspect
of the virtuous life of his supposed father, or, as may be more correctly said, of his
mother, the blessed Theodora. He attained such perfection that after the death of the
abbot, he was chosen by all the monks as abbot. As a good father, he guided his
sons along the path of salvation. He himself followed in the footsteps of the
venerable Theodora and took up his abode with her in the mansions of heaven.
Through the prayers of Thy saints, O Lord, deprive us not of Thy heavenly Kingdom!
[1] Dormition Skete P.O. Box 3177 Buena Vista, CO 81211-3177 USA
Lives of the Saints