Theodore of Sykeon

Augustine Sokolovski

On May 5, the orthodox Church celebrates the memory of saint Theodore of Sykeon (530-613). The saint was a great ascetic, abbot of the monastery, miracle worker and seer, reminding the Universe that in Christ Jesus "God visited his people" (Luke 7:16).

Theodore was an older contemporary of the Muslim prophet Muhammad (570–632). Then, in those days, a genuine Christian witness in the outlying provinces of the Empire was extremely important.

If the saints could be compared and likened to each other, then, perhaps, Theodore of Sykeon was for the center of Asia Minor the same as, two centuries before him, Saint Nicholas was for the local Church of Lycia. One of the greatest saints of his time, Theodore is a forgotten saint today. The life of Theodore is extremely interesting and rich in details. It was written down by one of his disciples, nicknamed George. This name was not chosen by chance. After all, the whole life of Theodore himself related to the veneration of saint George. He contributed unspeakably to the spread of this veneration by virtue of his genuine righteousness. 

Theodore was born around 530 in the village of Sykeon in Galatia, a historical region in the central region of Asia Minor, in which the capital of modern Turkey, Ankara, is located. In those days, Ankara was called Ancyra, which means "Anchor" in Greek. 

Theodore's early life fell during the reign of Emperor Justinian the Great (527-565), who for the last time united the Empire, East and West, Constantinople and Rome, Spain and Africa into a single state.  According to his life, Theodore's father was a certain Cosmas, an imperial official who set off from the Capital to take control of one of the provinces. On the way, he stopped at a hotel in Sykeon ... Thus, a woman "with reduced social responsibility" became Theodore's mother. Perhaps that is why, at a young age, Theodore showed a particular propensity for ascetic exercises. At the same time, he completely neglected the rules of moderation. So, already at the age of 14, the age of majority according to the laws of that time, Theodore dug a cave for himself under the church of the Great Martyr George to pray in solitude. From his very birth, he received special intercession and help from saint George, thanks to whose miraculous intercession he survived. At the age of 12 he fell ill with bubonic plague, the epidemic of which then raged for the first time in history and was baptized. 

The extreme severity of self-restraint in asceticism led to the fact that George had to be saved from wounds and ulcers. Then he, barely alive, was rescued from the cave and brought to the house of the bishop of the city of Anastasioupolis, who took care of his treatment. The bishop was so struck by the young man's spiritual age that, contrary to the canons, he ordained him to the priesthood. To do this, he consistently elevated him to all the previous degrees of clergy in just five days. In Theodore's life, this was the first, but by no means the last, case of a formal violation of church canons. 

After his recovery, Theodore went on a pilgrimage to Palestine, to get acquainted with the life of the hermits there. Palestinian monasticism was then in its heyday. Egyptian and Syrian monks by that time had become "Monophysite" and rejected communion with the Greek and Latin Churches. Let us recall that in the past it was customary to call “Monophysitism” dogmatic disagreement with the decisions of the IV Ecumenical Council in Chalcedon near Constantinople.  Now we rather call it pre-Chalcedonian churches.  In Palestine, in the future St George’s Monastery in Wadi Qelt near Jericho, Theodore was tonsured a monk. Soon he returned to his homeland, where he founded a monastery near the very church of St. George, where he spent his youth. There Theodore gathered his disciples around him. 

Despite the remoteness of that area from the largest political centers of the era, people from everywhere came to the ascetic for guidance. Among them was the future emperor Mauritius (582-602), who was then at the head of the imperial army. After the victory over the Persians, the commander visited Theodore, who predicted his ascension to the imperial throne, which happened soon in 582. 

After the death of Bishop Timothy, Theodore, contrary to his own will, by proclamation - unanimous solemn acclamation of clergy and people - was elected bishop. But he did not want to accept this election. And only the threat of a canonical ban, in case of refusal, on the part of Metropolitan Paul of Ancyra, forced him to accept the election. He agreed to be ordained a bishop.  So Theodore became the bishop of the city of Anastasioupolis, whose name in Greek literally means "City of the Resurrection". The city diocese was under the jurisdiction of the Metropolitan of Ankara. 

The main occupation of the bishop in those days was the deeds of mercy, a fair trial and helping people. The bishop had the right to pardon; one could resort to his court instead of the secular one. One touch to the vestments of the bishop, at least for a while, saved the guilty person from persecution, death, and misfortune. The bishop had the right of petition, that is, he could ask for pardon for people already convicted of various crimes by a secular court. 

At first, Theodore devoted himself zealously to episcopal labors, but very soon burnout befell him. And soon, contrary to church rules, he left the pulpit and fled to Palestine. There he turned to one of the hermits with a question about his future. Formally, church canons have always prohibited the bishop from leaving his own chair. In particular, this is precisely why Gregory Nazianzus, in the orthodox tradition called “the Theologian”, who, upon his ordination by Basil the Great, was the former Bishop of Sasima. For some period, he successfully served preaching the Nicene Orthodoxy in Constantinople, but was retired against his own will to continue being bishop in Constantinople by the Second Ecumenical Council of 381.  Paradoxically, the Palestinian hermit whom George asked told Theodore that the desire to escape from the episcopal office, which Theodore himself was unable to resist, was from God. It is important to remember that in those days, ascetics, especially hermits, had a special charismatic freedom. Charismatic, that is, coming from personal gifts that the Holy Spirit gave to each according to deeds and labors. "What is your name? Nobody calls me, I live alone,” wrote one of the greatest Russian theologians of the 20th century, Andrei Platonov (1899-1951) in one of his stories. Hermitage in the Ancient Church was a way of waiting for God Himself to call a person by name. 

Theodore returned to Ankara and asked the Metropolitan to appoint a successor to him. Having received a decisive refusal, he went to Constantinople, where, with the same request for permission to leave the see, he turned to the Patriarch and the Emperor. 

Finally, both ordered the Metropolitan of Ancyra to release the saint from the administration of the diocese, but, at the same time, not to deprive him of his episcopal rank. Rejoicing at the fulfillment of his dream of seclusion, Theodore thanked God. As a token of thanksgiving, he shut himself up in his monastery, having vowed never to leave this place again. 

And yet, one day he had to go to Constantinople to heal one of the Emperor's sons from leprosy. At the end of his life, he became a true seer and miracle worker, like the ancient biblical prophets. The veneration of Theodore in the Church of that time was enormous. This is evidenced by his almost lifetime biography. Theodore of Sykeon spent his whole life under the protection of Saint George, whom the orthodox tradition calls “the Great Martyr”. In fact, all his years were lived near the church dedicated to the saint: there he was baptized, grew up, became an ascetic, founded a monastery, and was elected bishop. There, "to George", he returned again after his renunciation of the bishopric. A sign of the communion of the two great “Easter Saints”, Theodore and George - and their memory in the orthodox Church always falls on the Eastertime - was the day of the death Theodore. According to the testimony of his biographer, the venerable bishop and hermit departed to the Lord on the eve of the memory of the Great Martyr George on May 5 613.