Today (in the revised Julian calendar) we commemorate the Saint and Empress Theodora, the Patron Saint of my beloved wife, whose birthday it is today. May God grant her many years!

“Saint Theodora came of a distinguished family from Paphlagonia long resident in Constantinople, whose members had attained high office in the public service. She was blessed with great beauty and high intelligence and had also inherited the fervent piety and unshakable devotion to the Orthodox faith of her mother Theoctista. On being chosen from among the young daughters of the nobility to become the wife of Emperor Theophilus (830), she faithfully fulfilled her duties as wife and Empress, while doing all that gentleness and patience could accomplish to mitigate the cruelty of Theophilus when he revived persecution of the holy icons with unheard of ferocity. While the confessors of Orthodoxy, the holiest people of the time, were being harassed, tortured and exiled to the farthest bounds of the Empire, Theodora remained staunch in the true Faith and secretly venerated the holy icons, which were hidden in her bedchamber. One day a court-jester surprised her as she was kissing her icons and went off to tell the Emperor, who summoned her to his presence in great anger. However, she skillfully circumvented the jester’s allegation and persisted in offering discreet support to the confessors of the Faith. Notwithstanding her husband’s prohibition, she often went with their five daughters to vista her mother Theoctista, who had become a nun in the monastery she had founded, and who was an open and fearless critic of Theophilus’ impious policy, and of his ruthless persecution of the Orthodox.

After twelve years, Theophilus was stricken by God with severe dysentery. In her distress and compassion at seeing her husband delirious and racked with pain, Theodora brought out a hidden icon of the Mother of God and placed it on the sick man’s face. Coming to himself for a moment after a terrifying vision, Theophilus kissed the holy icon and confessed the true faith before giving back his soul to God.  (This account of the deathbed conversion of Theophilus has been hotly contested. According to others, the Emperor died in heresy and even extracted promises from Theodora and the logothete Theoctistus that they would continue his ecclesiastical policy. As a pious and loyal wife, Theodora may have promoted belief in his conversion in order not to deprive his soul of the prayers of the Church.)

Since the heir to the throne, Michael III, was only four years old, Theodora assumed the regency. She relied on the wise counsels of the logothete Theoctistus (20 Nov.) and took in hand the immediate restoration of the holy icons and the recall of the confessors of Orthodoxy from exile. In March 843, she summoned a council which deposed the heretical Patriarch John VII, the author of so many woes, and raised Saint Methodius the Confessor to the patriarchal throne (14 June).

After anathematizing the heretics and confirming the decrees of the Sventh Ecumenical Council (787), the holy Fathers assembled on the first Sunday of Lent (843) with all the confessors, priests and monks who had come from the far corners of the Empire, bearing on their bodies still bloody marks of their confession of the true Faith. In a long procession, which wound its way through the City watched by all the people, they inaugurated the official restoration of veneration of the holy icons. This feast has been celebrated annually ever since on the first Sunday in Lent, and it has become the symbol of the triumph of Orthodoxy over all the heresies. (In some Churches, beside the procession with the holy icons, there is a reading of the Synodikon of Orthodoxy, drawn up in 843 in order to anathematize the heretics and to eulogize the confessors of the faith. The text has been enlarged in the course of time and adapted by each local Church, so as to include condemnation of all heresies that appeared before and since iconoclasm.)

With the peace of the Church restored, Theodora showed a reamerkable talent for government, especially in the economic field. The evangelization of Moravia and Bulgaria by missionaries from the Byzantine Empire resulted from her initiative. (cf. the notices on St. Photius (6 Feb) and on SS. Cyril and Methodius (11 May).) But despite the care she took of the education of Michael III, he requited her with ingratitude. Her brother Bardas, an able man of immoral life, who had come to power thanks to Theodora, exerted a baleful influence on the young Emperor. He persuaded him to terminate the regency even though he was not yet of age, and to oblige Theodora and her daughters to retire to the Monastery of Gastria (858), even though the Patriarch Ignatius refused to tonsure them.

Submissive to the decrees of Providence, Theodora devoted herself from then on to fasting, prayer and all the observances of the angelic life. She gave back her soul to God on 11 February 867. At the fall of Constantinople, her relics, which remained incorrupt, were taken to Corfu together with those of Saint Spyridon. Enshrined int he cathedral, they were miraculously preserved from destruction in the bombardment during the Second Worls War, and they remain an unfailing source of blessings for the faithful.”

(From the Synaxarion, by Hieromonk Makarios os Simonos Petra, Holy Convent of The Anunciation of Our Lady, Ormylia (Chalkidike), 2001)

Troparion – Tone 1
As a right worthy namesake of gifts bestowed of God,
and a divinely-wrought image of holy wisdom and faith,
thou didst make the Church to shine with godly piety;
for thou didst demonstrate to all that the Saints in every age
have shown honor to the icons,
O Theodora, thou righteous and fair adornment of the Orthodox.
Kontakion – Tone 4
We sing thy praises as the gem and fairness of the Church,
and as a diadem and pattern of all Christian queens,
O all-lauded and divinely-crowned Theodora;
for in bringing back the icons to their rightful place,
thou didst cast usurping heresy out of the Church.
Hence, we cry to thee: Rejoice, O Sovereign most venerable.