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March 28, 2016

Saint Theodore of Shwtp

Coptic icon from the 18th century by Ibrahim al-Nasikh depicting St. Theodore of Shwtp saving the widow of Euchaita and her two sons from the dragon

Saint Theodore of Shwtp (or Saint Theodore the General [Stratelates] or Saint Theodore the Tyro [the Recruit] or Saint Theodore of Amasea) is a special warrior saint and martyr in the Coptic Church, and must be differentiating from another great warrior saint and martyr, Saint Theodore the Eastern (Oriental or Anatolian); and has been venerated from early times in the Coptic Calendar on 20 Apip, the day of his martyrdom by fire in Amasea, in Pontus, Asia Minor (modern Turkey), sometime between 305 – 310 AD, during the reigns of Maximianus (d. 310) and MaximinusII (d. 313). In Coptic language he is called Theodoros, same as his original name in Greek ‘Θεόδωρος’, meaning gift of God; but with Arabisation, his name was corrupted to Tadros (تادرس) or Tawaḍros (تواضروس).

The Saint has a special connection with Egypt in many ways: his father, Yu’annis (John), was an Egyptian from a village in Middle Egypt called Paphor which was a satellite of the town of Shwtp, a little bit south of Asyut, on the eastern bank of the Nile.[1] Yu’annis was recruited to the Roman army and sent to Asia Minor to fight the Persians who were threatening the Roman Empire. There, he got married to a Roman lady, Straticia, who remained pagan and got rid of her husband to raise their son, Theodore, pagan like her. Yo’annis returned to Shwtp in Egypt. There, his son, Theodore, who had converted to Christianity, came to visit him, and remained with him until he died; following which, the saint returned to Asia Minor. Further, the body of Saint Theodore was brought to Egypt to be entombed in Shwtp after his martyrdom in Amasea (it was taken by a woman to Euchaita, a close city to Amasea, and where the story of the slewing of the dragon occurred). This event is celebrated in the Coptic Calendar on 5 Hathor. Sometime, most probably after Egypt fell under the yoke of Muslims, the relics of Saint Theodore were translated to Cairo, where they are distributed amongst the Convent of Saint Theodore, Harat al-Rum, the Church of the Holy Virgin, Harat al-Rum, and the Church of the Holy Virgin, Harat Zuwayla.[2]

Coptic art includes many icons of both Theodores, of Shwtp and the Oriental. The icon attached to this article of Agios Theodoros Pistratilatees (Saint Theodore Stratelates), was painted by the Coptic artist from the second half of the eighteenth century, Ibrahim al-Nasekh (Ibrahim the Scribe). It depicts the famous story of the saint saving the two sons of the widow in Euchaita (Euchetos), a town in Pontus, Asia Minor, from a raging dragon.[3]

The story of Saint Theodore of Shwtp has come to us from Arabic texts, mainly in the Copto-Arabic Synaxarium, and Coptic Bohairic dialect. One of the Coptic manuscripts is kept at the Vatican Library, Vat. Copt. 65, which is dated to the 14th century. The manuscript contains three works: a homily of Mark, 49th patriarch of Antioch, on the burial of our Lord; an encomium on SS. Theodore the General and Theodore the Eastern; and life of St. Onuphrius the Anchorite by St. Paphnutius the Anchorite. That of the two Theodores, is an encomium delivered by Theodore, archbishop of Antioch c. 750 – 773 AD) in the sanctuary of St. Theodore the Eastern in Antioch Pisidia at the festival of St. Theodore the General on 20th of Apip. We learn from the introduction to the encomium that the town had not yet built an oratory of St. Theodore the General, and hence the encomium was delivered at the sanctuary of St. Theodore the Eastern. The 20th of Apip was a day the Christians of Antioch celebrated too the consecration of the sanctuary of St. Theodore the Eastern.

Another Coptic manuscript kept at the Vatican, and related to St. Theodore the General, is BHL 8077 (BHL refers to Bibliotheca Hagiographica Latina). It comes under the title, The Passion of St. Theodore the Recruit. Vat. Copt. 65 does not talk about the martyrdom of the saint except in passing; however, BHL 8077 tells us the story of his martyrdom in detail. Here, we have no romance or exaggeration of the story as is usual in many martyrs’ stories one finds in Coptic sources. It appears that the original writer of this manuscript (we don’t know his identity) was a witness to St. Theodore the Generals (he calls him Theodore the Recruit, for he was a recent recruit to the Roman army) passion, and had access to the official documents that detailed the martyr’s trial.

Both manuscripts were translated into English and published in 1910 by the British Coptologist and Latinist, Eric Otto Winstedt (1880 – 1955) in his Coptic Texts on Saint Theodore the General.[4] I include below, the English text (pp. 73-133), which I have obtained from the internet. I have no access to the book itself. I have edited the spelling mistakes in this text (possibly the result of careless scanning), and arranged it in sections with headings that are mine. One hopes to do more on this text in the future by way of annotation.

Three stories are especially interesting from the Coptic (Egyptian) point of view in encomium (Vat. Copt. 65):

First: the story of the enrolling of recruits from Egypt for the war with the Persians during the short reign of Emperor Numerianus (July 283 – 20 November 284). It was then that the father of the saint, Yu’annis, was recruited from Paphor of Shwtp (Pshot in the text being a copyist error, most probably). We learn how Yu’annis, his family and the whole community resisted the recruitment. For Yu’annis, it was because he was to be taken to a foreign land, and be robbed of the land of his fathers, as you shall see from the text. This attitude of the Egyptians to recruitment in order to be taken to a foreign land seems to be a recurring theme with the Fellahin, until modern times, who dreaded most their dispatch to foreign land and rooting them out of theirs. The long section that deals with this episode contains several anthropological details of the Copts of that period, such as the shaving of hair in mourning, as displayed by Amphylia, the sister of Yu’annis. This may be rooted in Ancient Egypt.

Second: in the encomium, we come across the extra-ordinary confrontation between Emperor Diocletian (284 – 305) and St. Theodore the General: here, Diocletian denigrates the saint because of his father’s Egyptian origin, and threatens him by sending him to “the barbarian land of Egypt.” Saint Theodore answers with pride in his roots: “It is not just for you, Diocletian, to abuse the land of Egypt in which you grew up in your orphanhood. No shame is it to me, sinner, that you call my father an Egyptian, because that was the land of his fathers. But great shame is it that a goatherd should sit upon the throne as king and drink men’s blood like a ravening beast. In truth, sinner, it were well for thee to be tending sheep in the fields as in days gone by rather than to be king.”

Third: here, is repeated, again, the Coptic belief that Diocletian was from Egyptian origin, or that he lived in Egypt in his orphaned childhood, tending goats. This was often rejected by researchers out of hand without much attention. I think this should be reconsidered.

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The two Theodores – the glory of the city of Antioch Pisidia

Glorious indeed is the noble mother who cherishes two sons of the kingdom at one time, my beloved: and the more so if those two children are of royal race. For this reason their nurse is rightly honoured, because she brought them up and cherished them well. And most of all if they show their boldness and valour to the king, and, when they grow up, walk before the king rightly and slay all his enemies; then theron the nurse glories in the children she has cherished well till they are valiant warriors for the kingdom. And when they have grown a little, the king will honour them because they show him their boldness and are warriors in the battle. Then the king too gives them rank and honour, that the court may exalt them the higher. And when after a time they go to war and do some little valiance in proportion to their strength, the king rejoices in them, because they are sons of the kingdom: and he writes their name in the register of the kingdom. And so he appoints them generals of the whole army; and men honour them and glory in them, saying, “If these do such great valiance in their childhood, how much the more when they grow up, will they be mighty men and generals.” Then the king and his great men honour those little children because of their bravery, and cherish them well in the pleasure of the palace and the feast, that their strength grow.

On this wise then, my beloved, these two heroes from their childhood were heroes, and generals in their demeanour – I mean Theodore the general, whose feast we are celebrating today in the sanctuary of his comrade the Eastern. My beloved, they were two valiant lions from their childhood in all things: they were mighty in their babyhood: they were warlike generals and warriors. So they then are like the two sons of Mouses the prophet, Jesou the son of Naue, and Chaleb the son of Jephone, who won the battles before Mouses. And these two heroes, whose feast we celebrate together today, St. Theodore the Eastern and St. Theodore the General, have names worthy of glory abiding forever. They are the mighty ones who fight for Antioch and scatter the wars that rise against her like Jerusalem, whose mighty men, Abenner the son of Ner and Symei the son of Cirara fought for her and watched over her gates day and night that no stranger might rise up against her. Even so these two heroes fought for the city Antioch that the Persians might not master her.

The two Theodores and the dragons

Behold then, my beloved, the valour of these saints, who are equal with one another: the Eastern slew the dragon which was beneath the ladder, which troubled the angels coming down from heaven and adjured them in the name of the Exalted. For this reason when St. Theodore the Eastern trampled upon him, the angels rejoiced in coming down upon the earth, because there was none to hinder them again. For this reason the archangel Michael prayed for him while he did this valiance that his throne might be placed before his own in the skies. This very saint it was, who trampled on the great dragon that fought with the angels. Again this saint too whose festival we are celebrating today, St. Theodore the General, slew the raging dragon, consoled the orphans, removed the grief of the widows, set free those in bonds, abolished unrighteous sacrifices, although none of his troop of soldiers fought with him, but he alone in the strength of Christ slaughtered this so great dragon. For this reason, when he saved the little child of the widow and slew the dragon, his sacrifice pleased the Lord, and him gave him this great valour. And he gave him power to crush every dragon upon the earth and those beneath the earth and those in hell: that, if they even hear of him, they tremble. For he it is who slew their father first; and therefore do his sons tremble before him. Again this true hero and mighty champion was not content with these favours. God gave his soul in honour to the holy Archangel Michael to take to the place of his fellow martyr and saint, Theodore the Eastern, that their comradeship might abide for ever in the heavens.

I tell ye, ye god-fearing people, that even to the dragons which are in the roads causing fear to sinners and stinging them, these too even so, when they hear the name of St. Theodore the Eastern and St. Theodore the General, know their valour and that they are the foes of the dragons. Straightway they hide themselves before them: when they hear their name, they vanish. I tell you, my beloved, if a soul is in the hands of a dragon that is stinging it for its sins, if one of these generals is passing by the place, when the dragon recognises the footfall of his horse, he leaves that soul and tortures it not for fear of the holy martyrs. Especially if it be a soul who makes memorial of these saints upon the earth in any way, be it a book of memorial, be it an offering, be it any good thing, then none of the tribe of dragons can approach that soul to do it any harm whatever.

Truly, my beloved, my joy is double today: I rejoice over two martyrs, Theodore the Eastern and Theodore the General; though they were both generals and their names were equal with one another in honour. For the beginning of the name of both is in one letter. For Theta is the beginning of their names. The interpretation of Theta is Theos: Theos again is god, who gave strength to them that they might become martyrs and their name endure. And when the name of God is reckoned with them, they are three in one letter, and the Trinity is complete and inseparable, that is to say the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. If I connect their names with the Trinity, this is true: but not in honour nor in power nor in might, nor in godhead, nor in majesty; but as it were the sons of God, and heirs of his Christ. When I look at the majesty of their conduct   and their faces filled with joy and grace, I count them the sons of God, even as a bunch hanging from the vine, whose branch covers the vineyard, which rejoices in its shade and drinks of its water. Even so these two heroes, Theodore the Eastern and Theodore the General, live from the glory of the Trinity, since they are servants and join theirs of Christ. And I too, the humble Theodore, feel a longing towards these two mighty and valiant lions and warriors, my lord Theodore the Eastern and my lord Theodore the General, the fame of whose might has filled the whole world.

Saint Theodore the Eastern is like Abner

My lord Theodore the Eastern then resembled Abenner, against whom none ever prevailed in any war he entered, either to take him on the point of his lance or to endure the weight of his chariot. Against Abener none ever prevailed save the man of wiles Joab. And none ever prevailed against this mighty man, the Eastern, in war: but they who were in the battle would ask one another saying: “Cometh not Theodore the Oriental to the battle this time?” And when they knew the side of the battle where he was, they would flee to the other side. If again the Oriental saw the battle afoot, he would ride into their midst, and cry aloud saying: “I am Theodore the Oriental.” Straightway when they heard his voice, they were afraid and trembled and fell down from their horses, and were crushed. And none could sustain this great hero’s chariot nor his lance by reason of their weight except himself; and in all these valiant deeds none took him except the abominable unrighteous sinner Diocletian.

Saint Theodore the General is like Nathan the Prophet. His encounter with Diocletian:

Again I see my lord Theodore the General himself inclining to listen to the halting words of my humble self, the insignificant Theodore, and rejoicing to hear his praise from my mouth as I speak in his honour. And this other too, my lord Theodore the General, resembles Simei the son of Cyrara, who had no fear before king David, but reviled him in the midst of his people on the day when he met him in the way. He reviled him because of the death of Ourias the Hittite and said to him in the midst of the whole people that he was an unrighteous king ………. like thy father the Egyptian, who strove against the god of thy mother and was banished by her to the land of Egypt. Now grieve me not from this time forth, lest I be wroth with thee and send thee to the barbarian land of Egypt, like thy father the Egyptian.” St. Theodore answered and said to Diocletian: “It is not just for you, Diocletian, to abuse the land of Egypt in which you grew up in your orphanhood. No shame is it to me, sinner, that you call my father an Egyptian, because that was the land of his fathers. But great shame is it that a goatherd should sit upon the throne as king and drink men’s blood like a ravening beast. In truth, sinner, it were well for thee to be tending sheep in the fields as in days gone by rather than to be king. Know Diocletian, thy sceptre is a …. of the darkness of the air, thy crown is a crown of …., thy beaker a sword of double edge, thy wine blood of deceit, thy table destructive war, the pledge of death thy feast, thy throne a grave and sepulchre, accursed one.”

Ye see now, god-fearing people, the valour of this mighty man, this general, this victorious champion, this athlete, this martyr, this general, this hero, this good warrior in the lists of his lord, my lord St. Theodore the General, how he spake these words to the face of the king without fear. Now he is worthy to be exalted according to the desert of his valour, which he revealed in the city of Antioch, whose children are dwellers in heaven and in Sion.

Antioch Pisidia and its many worrier martyrs

And I will tell you too, my beloved, what this city Antioch resembles in its honour. It is like a spring of sweet water springing forth from beneath trees laden with fruit of sweet scent, the fame of whose scent fills the whole world. Even so then is it, my beloved. A wicked tyrant came walking and found its water sweet, and its trees covered with fruit. He abode by it in pride and drank of its water and ate of its fruit. But in his pride he cut down the trees that men could not find them and live from their fruit; and he destroyed the water of the spring. Accordingly that tyrant sinned against God and warred against man. But when God saw that he cut down the trees, and began to cover the spring, he deceived him swiftly in his wicked pride. And the spring appeared again and bubbled up, the roots of the trees which he had cut down, flourished exceedingly, and grew greater and worked cures healing the sick in many ways at one time. That spring is this city of Antioch abiding in the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ. Those trees, which it caused to spring up, are the warlike generals, St. Theodore the Eastern and Claudius and Apater and Apa Victor and Kyrios Justus and Eusebius and Basilides and Susinius and Stephen and Apa Polius and Theodore the General and many more. The tyrant who came upon them is Diocletian, who slew them in the name of Christ. The spring which he hid and got dominion over, is the glorious faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, which he despised. And these are the trees which grew up a second time after the tyrant whom God smote and he died an evil death. The spring which bubbled up again is the holy faith which is boldly revealed: the trees which were cut down and whose roots grew up again are the bodies of those saints which appeared upon the earth and performed signs and wonders, and cured the sick. Verily the riddle of the Prophet is accomplished, which he spake about Jerusalem; it fits with Antioch, when he says: “Their blood was shed round about Jerusalem, and there was none to bury their bodies.” Who are they who were slain round about Jerusalem, Prophet David, whose bodies were not buried? The prophets’ bodies were buried; the Apostles were covered. Now, my father the prophet, tell me of those who were slain in the neighbourhood of thy city save the little children whom Herod slew among his children, for their bodies were many; the soldiers took half of their bodies from their mothers who would not give them up. The soldiers clave them in the middle and cast them on the dung heaps: while the other half remained in the hands of their mothers who wept over them. And on my city Antioch, fell this violence from the unrighteous king Diocletian, who strove with God and laid hands on every one who believed on Christ, and slew them, so that the streets of the town ran with blood, like a stream of water, shed in the name of Christ: and the soldiers persecuted everyone who buried their bodies, except those who gave them money and gifts and took them in secret.

Now my city Antioch is glorious even as Jerusalem for the number of martyrs slain in it. The little children of Jerusalem were slain against their own wish and that of their parents: but the martyrs of my city of their own free will gave their heads to the sword, leaving their parents and their servants and their goods; and gave their bodies as a sacrifice to God. The wonder of my city Antioch surpasses that of Jerusalem, for her great and mighty warriors and her rich men who left what was theirs and followed after their conqueror, our Lord Jesus Christ, and were slain in his holy name. For this reason my city glories even as Jerusalem. The martyrs of my city Antioch vowed great gifts to the kingdom of heaven before they were slaughtered; the martyrs of my city had abundance of wealth and honours, and the things which people desire to see and see them not. The little children of Jerusalem were not granted the request of the kingdom of heaven according to the word of Revelations: “Rest ye till your brethren, who are killed as ye, be fulfilled”. Wherefore they stand waiting before them.

Again I hear of the first martyr of the city of Jerusalem, Stephen the archdeacon, who confessed Christ in the Synhedrim of the Jews, and was slain by them. The chief commander and martyr too of my city was Stephen son of Nicomion, the brother of Basilides. He too was the first fruit of the confessors of Antioch; he too was the first who set his hope on Christ, for lo, when the king wrote the abominable decree, he stood and was troubled in his soul and said: “What is this new violence, king, which you have revealed in this town? What is this written anathema of Apollo? for my Lord Jesus Christ destroys everyone who believes on him.” Then Stephen got great strength, he leaped upon the soldier in whose hand the decree was, tore it from his hands and rent it in pieces, the king and all his great men looking on. And the king said to him, “Stephen, what is this thou hast done? Thou hast done this to thy destruction and thy slaughter.” Straightway the king unsheathed his sword with his own hand, and clave him in twain in the middle. And the head of St. Stephen abode a great while before the king speaking to his destruction. It cried aloud abundantly making mention of all the saints of my city Antioch. And so the fame of the head of St. Stephen spread abroad in Antioch, so that great crowds assembled to see the head speaking to the destruction of the king. And the king, when he saw the head of the saint speaking to his destruction in the presence of the crowd, was greatly ashamed and bade them bury it, while still speaking. And it came to pass when it was buried in the ground, it spake again abundantly; for three days after its burial every one heard it speaking and cursing the king like John the Baptist abusing Herod. Then when Diocletian saw that the head of St. Stephen did not keep silent, he had it cast into a vessel of lead with its mouth sealed, and thrown into the sea at night. So did St. Stephen fulfil his martyrdom on the 13th of the month Phamenoth;[6] and his holy body was given to his mother.

How Saint Theodore the Eastern was named Theodore

After this let us return to the memorial of St. Theodore the General whose feast we are celebrating today in the chapel of his comrade Theodore the Eastern, since their honoured festivals meet on one day, the 20th of Epiphi. This is the day of the dedication of the shrine of Theodore the Eastern. His mother then called him the Eastern after the name of her father who was dead. And his mother called her firstborn the Eastern and he died. Again she bore our lord Theodore the Eastern; and his father Zotericus called him after the name of his father Theodore: and likewise again his mother for the love she bore her firstborn called him too the Eastern after the name of his elder brother who was dead and her father, the Eastern. So the kindred of his father called him by this name, the Eastern. These two names were connected with one another and were sweet in the mouth of everyone like honey. The name of the father prevailed and had precedence, and he was called Theodore. Likewise the name of his mother followed and he was called the Eastern.

How the body of Saint Theodore was entombed in Egypt

Now I call upon you, martyrs of my lord Jesus Christ, that ye aid me in my feebleness, because I have taken courage and come into your midst at the will of the god-fearing king Constantine and his officers and councillors. Ye asked me about the body of St. Theodore the General, why his body was not placed with the body of his comrade the Eastern, but abode in the land of Egypt, – and our city of Antioch lacks it – since he walked at all times with Theodore the Oriental. And it is right that I should tell you why they took his body to Egypt; though it was no foreign land, but the land of his fathers.

The difficult times of Emperor Numerianus. Now it happened, my beloved, that when the father of Claudius was king at Antioch, and St. Kyrios Claudius was a little child with his sisters Kyria Theognosta and Thouasia, great wars arose: and he grew sick through fear at the wars and died. And the court saw that St. Kyrius Claudius was a child and so small that he could not manage the affairs of the realm, as the barbarians were more than the Romans. They took the brother of Ptolemy, the father of St. Claudius, whose name was Numerianus and seated him upon the throne of the Romans. So the barbarians were not content in heart because the son of the king had been taken captive and their cities spoiled. But when they heard that king Ptolemy, the father of St. Claudius, was dead, they rejoiced thinking there would be no king seated on the throne. They bribed seven nations to join them in the war, saying: “In as much as they slew the son of the king and laid waste our cities, we too will not spare them, till we have slain Claudius the son of the king in retribution, and ravage their lands.” But behold merchants came from the Persians and told Numerianus their crafty trick: and they told him: “They have bribed seven nations to join with them.” And when Numerianus heard this, he trembled greatly, and turned to flee in secret and leave his realm because of the danger from the various barbarians. But they warned the king that he should enrol recruits of Egypt for the war. And straightway he called a general, Anastasius, and gave him a guard of soldiers to go to the south of all Egypt, saying to him: “Come, raise thy hand above my head, and swear that of all the recruits thou findest in the land of Egypt, thou wilt let none off, till we send them to the war.”

The difficult recruitment of Yu’annis, later father of Saint Theodore the General. And Anastasius went to the south of Egypt, and ceased not to sail on the river until he landed at a port called Paphor of Pshot, which was the land of the father of St. Theodore the General, whose festival we are celebrating today. When the general visited that place, the governor of it, whose name was Cyrus, came out to meet him, and held a great banquet for him and his soldiers. And the blessed John, the father of St. Theodore the General, was the brother of the governor’s wife: and he too came to meet the general. Now this John was comely in person, fresh-faced, and a distinguished officer, and mighty to look upon.

When the general saw him, he rejoiced greatly thinking to make him a recruit; and he set him before himself. And John was in distress and mourning; but the general gave him a bag of gold and a royal robe and a fine horse and soldiers under him. And when the blessed John saw the honour which the general gave him, he was very downcast and wept, saying: “My lord, it is not meet that thy servant take anything from thee: but it is right for us to give thee honours.” And when the general saw that he wept, he was afraid that he would flee and took him to a port and confined him.

The governor, who was the husband of John’s sister, heard that he was confined and weeping in sorrow, and besought the general for him: but the general would not let him off because of his love for him. And it came to pass that while the blessed John was confined, his sister Amphylia, the wife of the governor, was told that John her brother was taken and that they were carrying him to the war: and she arose and went to John her brother in the place where he was confined. She tore the hair of her head and they wept together, John because he would be taken to a foreign land, and his sister because she would be deprived of her brother. However there was much weeping and groaning, and a great crowd gathered round them. Then the general heard the voice of the crowd, and enquired what was happening. They told him that it was the sister of John weeping for him. Straightway he bade them bring John forth from the midst of them, for he feared that they would take him away. And when they brought him to the general, his sister came forth from the midst of the crowd before the general, her head uncovered; she took half of the hair of her head and cast it on her brother weeping. And Anastasius the general hid his face for her sake and said to her: “My sister, spare your nobility. By the health of the king, he shall get no harm.” But Amphylia, the sister of the blessed John, said: “My lord, my honour and glory and my nobility are my brother. My lord, if you separate me from my brother, my honour and my nobility will fall below every one. I beg you, my lord general, by the health of the king, if you desire money, my goods, my gold, my silver, my beasts, my gardens, my man servants, my maid servants and anything that is mine, they are my brother’s. Take them, and leave me my brother. If you desire men, here are my two sons, whom I have nourished at my breast, take them and leave me my brother. Do not cause my heart this great grief.”

For all that the general did not leave him; but bound his hands till the morrow. And it happened in the night as the blessed John was confined in chains and weeping for sorrow, behold a light appeared to him, and he heard a voice saying: “John, John, cease from weeping.” John answered saying: “My lord, I weep because they entreat me evilly and take me to a foreign land, and wish to rob me of the land of my fathers.” The voice said to him: “Weep not for the land of your fathers: your seed shall inhabit it forever. The place in which you are confined shall be an abiding place for his body for ever. He will guide the ships that sail; he will chase the demons and dragons that are upon the earth. The place in which you are confined he will make a wine-press and a lake shall be dug in its midst for the treading out of the vintage and the blood of Christ. Now, John, weep not for the land of your fathers; nor have fear for the war. The sword will not shed blood, nor will a wound touch thy body.” The blessed John’s heart came to him; he ceased from weeping; but he marvelled how “my seed shall inhabit my land. I have not taken wife, nor begotten child, but let the will of the Lord come to pass for me.”

After this those of the city and district made warlike preparations; and brought the barbarians who dwelt in their district to slay the general, and take John from his hands. But John was told of this plan, while he was confined, and was grieved at heart greatly. He sent to Cyrus the governor, the husband of his sister, and to Amphylia his sister, saying: “What is this thing ye wish to do? Do ye wish to slay the general? Nay, my brethren, do not this violent deed in the presence of God, lest the king be wroth and send and destroy our city. But give place to God: we trust he will not desert us ever.” He told them what he had heard in the prison.

But on the morrow they brought the blessed John out of the prison to go with him. A number of those of his district, male and female, small and great, widow and orphan, all went with him weeping and saying: “We salute thee, our beloved brother John. All the good things thou hast done to us God pay back to thee. The fleece of thy sheep is our clothing; the growth of thy fields our food; thy wine and thy oil comfort us.”

Then his sister Amphylia threw herself upon his neck, weeping and saying: “I salute thee, my beloved John, the light of my eyes: I salute thee, my brother who art pleasant to me, because they part me from thy sight. I salute thee and the foreign land to which they take thee. I am a woman, a weak vessel. I have not strength to go thither. I salute thee, my beloved brother: I know not what land will be thine. I gave my two children and all my wealth for thee; and they did not free thee for me. Now take the hair of my head, that when thou beholdest it, thou mayst remember me in the land to which thou goest. And may He that gave peace to Joseph in the presence of Pharaoh king of Egypt aforetime, give grace to thee my brother. May Jesus guide thee and his angels protect thee in every place to which thou goest.” So spake Amphylia the sister of John weeping: and the general himself wept at that hour. Then she turned to Anastasius the general and said to him: “I adjure thee, thou who takest my brother from me by violence, that thou show mercy to my brother in the hour of his sorrow. O Anastasius the general, thou art like death the spoiler of souls. Alack! I gave thee money for my brother, and thou wouldst not let him free. Remember thou hast separated brother from orphan sister. I adjure thee by the health of the king, general, vex no more my brother in the road. I adjure thee, general, send not my brother to the war: for I have watched over him always.” So spake his sister and embraced him and kissed him, weeping.

Yu’annis marries the daughter of General Anastasius, Straticia

But the general took him to the capital and the good God gave him great grace in the presence of the king and his great men, and they sent him not to the war. But the general took him into his house and loved him greatly, seeing the great grace in his face. He asked the king to command him to give his daughter in marriage to him: and the king bade him give her.

Saint Theodore is born. His name chosen after that of Theodore the Eastern

And one day the wife of john gave birth to this great light St. Theodore the General, on the 11th of the month Choiak; and his mother Straticia said to his father: “I will call my son Theodore, that he may receive the honour and the might of Theodore the Eastern, the son of Sotericus, and that all the great men of the court do him like honour.”[7] And the blessed john said: “this is the command of God. We will call him by this name Theodore.”

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During their time Maximianus and Maximinus sent throughout all the territory of their empire an edict against all the followers of the true religion of Christ, that they could escape tortures and live by tasting food which had been offered in sacrifice, and that those who spoke against this were to be surrendered to the judges and subjected to many different punishments. At this time Theodore was conscripted for military service, and together with him many other recruits, and was assigned to a legion entitled the legio Marmaritarum under the command of the praepositus Brincas. This legion was staying in the city of Amasea in the province of Hellespontus, where all were being compelled to offer sacrifice to the idols in accordance with the imperial edict.

When he spoke out against these things blessed Theodore was brought to the praepositus Brincas. Brincas said to him, “Why do you not obey the commands of the emperors’ and offer sacrifice to the immortal gods?” Blessed Theodore, since he was faithful to God and filled with the Holy Spirit, replied, standing in the midst of the legion, “It is because I am a Christian that I have not accepted the command to offer sacrifice to evil images; for I have as my king Christ in heaven.” The praepositus Brincas said to him, “Take your arms, Theodore, and accept military service; agree to sacrifice to the immortal gods, and obey the victorious emperors.” But Saint Theodore said in reply, “I serve my emperor and cannot serve another.” The praepositus Brincas said, “All these standing about are Christians, and they serve.” Theodore said, “Each knows how he serves. But I serve my lord and king of heaven, God, and his only son Jesus Christ.” The ducenarius Possidonius said, “So, your God has a son?” Saint Theodore replied, “He has a son who is the Truth through whom all things were made.” The praepositus said to him, “Can we know him?” Saint Theodore replied, “I wish that he would give such understanding to you as to recognise him.” Possidonius the ducinarius asked, “And if we recognise him, will we be able to leave the earthly emperor and go to him?” Saint Theodore replied, “There is nothing which prevents you from deserting the darkness, and the trust which you hold in the house of your temporal and mortal earthly king, and going over to the Lord, the living and eternal heavenly king, in order to become soldiers like me.” The praepositus Brincas said, “Let us give him a truce for a few days in order to take stock with himself and be converted to what is best.”

When he had received this time to think blessed Theodore remained in prayer. The officials, troubled also about the other Christians, went about the city to capture whoever else they found believing in Christ. When they had seized some they brought them to jail. Blessed Theodore, sitting with them, taught them the way of salvation and perseverance, saying, “Do not fear these tortures which are being inflicted upon you in order for you to deny the heavenly king and lord, Jesus Christ.” When he had said these and similar things to those who had been locked-up, he waited for an opportune time and entered by night the temple of the mother of the gods. He set fire to it, and burned it. But he was seen by someone, and accused. The book-keeper Cronides was terrified when he learned what had been done. He seized blessed Theodore and brought him to the governor Publius, saying, “This pest, a recent conscript, came into our city, set fire to the ancient temple of the mother of the gods, and harmed our gods. Thus I seized him, and have brought him to your highness in order for him to pay the penalty, in accordance with the command of our victorious emperors, for his bold deeds against our gods.” The judge, when he had listened to the praepositus Brincas who had been summoned, said to him, “Did you give him amnesty in order to set fire to the temple of our gods?” In response he said, “I exhorted him often, and gave him an amnesty in order for him to think matters over with himself, and to compromise with us and make sacrificial offerings to the gods. If he has done this, since you are the judge, charge him in accordance with your authority as one who has contempt for the gods and despises the commands of our victorious emperors.” Thus, seated on his platform, the governor ordered blessed Theodore to be brought to him.

When he had been brought the governor said to him, “Why have you set fire to and burned our goddess instead of sacrificing to her with incense and libations?” Blessed Theodore said, “I do not deny what I have done. I have burned her with fire. Such is your goddess, and her power, that fire can touch and burn her. I have burned wood in order to set fire to stone.” Then, filled with fury, the governor ordered that he be beaten, saying, “Do not answer me with speeches. The bitterest tortures await you in order to make you obey the commands of the emperors.” Blessed Theodore said, “I do not surrender to you, nor do I fear your punishments, even if they are extremely fearful. So do what you want. For the expectation of good things calls me to be confident on account of the hope which has been placed in me and the crown which My Lord Jesus Christ has prepared for me.” The judge said, “Sacrifice to the gods and save yourself from the tortures which have been prepared for you.” Saint Theodore said, “Those tortures which you are bringing are not fearful to me. My Lord and king, Jesus Christ, stands before my face, he who will rescue me from your punishments, whom you do not see because you do not see with the eyes of your heart.” Thus the judge was angered, and roaring like a lion he ordered him to be thrown into prison, that the door of the prison be sealed, and that he be left there to die of hunger.

But blessed Theodore was nourished by the Holy Spirit. Moreover that same night there appeared to him the Lord, saying, “Take courage, my servant Theodore, because I am with you. So do not accept either food or drink from those men; for there is everlasting food for you in heaven.” And when he had said these things he left him. And when the Lord had ascended away from him blessed Theodore began to rejoice and sing psalms to the Lord. Moreover there were many people listening to him. When the prison-guards heard these things and saw that the door was closed and the seal intact, they looked through the window and saw a great crowd dressed in white singing together with Saint Theodore. They went away in fear and reported these things to the judge. And when he heard these things the judge rose and ran with haste. He reached the door of the prison, saw the prison was indeed locked, and heard the voices of those singing with blessed Theodore. When he had heard these, the governor ordered that armed soldiers stand on guard in a circuit outside the prison, thinking that some Christians were inside with blessed Theodore. He opened it up, went inside and found no one except only the holy servant of God Theodore pushed down on the wooden [floor]. And great fear seized him and those who were with him. They went out bewildered and locking the prison again departed. Then the governor ordered that a loaf of bread and a cup of water be given daily to blessed Theodore. But Christ’s faithful martyr, in accordance with scripture that the just man lives on faith, did so and did not accept any food from them, but only said to himself, “Christ, My Lord and King, nourishes me.”

When it was morning the governor ordered blessed Theodore to be brought to him, and said to him, “Acquiesce, Theodore, save yourself from the tortures and offer sacrifice to the gods, so that I may quickly write to the emperors, lords of the world, that Theodore has become a priest, receives great honours from us and will be our companion.” Blessed Theodore, looking up at Heaven and crossing himself, said to the governor, “Even if you burn my flesh with fire, inflict various punishments and surrender me to the sword until I breathe out my last, I will not deny My Lord.” Thus the governor, when he had heard these things and taken counsel with the praepositus, ordered the torturers to hang him up on a wooden frame and scrape his sides with iron claws. These scraped him to such an extent that his ribs were laid bare. However blessed Theodore made no answer to the governor, but recited the psalms, saying, “I will bless the Lord for all time, his praise will be upon my lips always.” The governor, amazed at such great endurance by the blessed martyr, said to him, “Are you not ashamed, you most wretched of all men, to hope in a man who is called Christ, and who died so badly? Are you surrendering yourself in this way, without reason, to such punishments and tortures?” But the holy martyr said, “This madness of mine is that of all who call upon the name of My Lord Jesus Christ.” The crowds were shouting to take him down because he had already been killed, and then the governor interrogated him through a herald, saying, “Are you willing to offer sacrifice or do you want to be tortured still further by me?” In reply blessed Theodore said confidently to the governor, “O you most wicked man, filled with every evil, you son of the devil, truly worthy of Satan’s work, do you not fear the Lord who gave you this power, through whom kings rule and tyrants obtain land, but compel me to desert the living God and worship lifeless stones ?” Then the judge, with much shuffling of [papers], said to the holy martyr, “What do you want? To be with us or with your Christ?” To which the holy martyr replied with great joy, “I have been, am, and shall be with my Christ.”

Seeing that he could not overcome the endurance of the holy martyr through tortures [the governor] passed sentence against him, speaking thus, “I order that Theodore, who does not obey the command of the victorious emperors and the power of the gods, who believes in Jesus Christ who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, as I hear from the Jews, be surrendered to fire.” Immediately as he passed sentence the instruction was performed simultaneously with his command. The torturers, who had been continuously gathering wood from the traders and the baths, led him to the place which had been prepared. When fire had been kindled, laying aside his clothes and unloosing his belt, he wished also to undo his shoes, and each of the faithful was hurrying to be the first to touch his perspiration. They were all coming and touching him before his passion. They brought to him immediately those necessities which had been gathered for the fire. To those who wished to pierce him the blessed martyr said, “Support me; he who has given me endurance in my punishments will himself grant also that I endure untouched the force of the fire.” They did not pierce him then, but only tied him up and went away. But the holy martyr, speaking the words of the sign of the cross, with his hands tied behind his back, like a ram chosen from a great flock readied and accepted as a holocaust to God, looked up to heaven and said, “Lord God Almighty, Father of your blessed Son Jesus Christ through whom we received knowledge of you, God of virtues and of every creature and every nation of just men who live in your presence, I bless you because you have made me worthy of this day and hour that I may receive a part with the holy martyrs before Christ the Saviour at the resurrection, and eternal life of body and soul through the preserving gift of the Holy Spirit. I will be taken up among the martyrs into your sight today as a rich and acceptable sacrifice which you have beforehand tested, tried and discovered to be without fault. For you are the true God, and I praise you accordingly, asking and beseeching you through Our Lord Jesus Christ, your beloved Son. Grant also, Lord, that those who have been detained with me will reach this palm.”

And watching with his eyes he saw Cleonicus, who had been conscripted with him, standing and weeping in the crowd, and crying-out he said, “Cleonicus, I await you. Hurry and join me. For we did not desert each other in this earthly life and let us not be separated from each other in the heavenly life.” And when he had finished talking he prayed, saying, “Lord Jesus Christ, Mediator between God and men, you who have shown me worthy to win this contest, I thank and praise and glorify the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit throughout the ages. Amen.” And when he had finished praying the servants of the devil lit the great fire. But while a great flame flickered we to whom it was granted to see saw a miracle, and we were preserved in order to report to others the things which occurred. For the flame took the shape of an arched roof, like a ship’s sail filled by the wind, and surrounded the body of the holy martyr. And it was not so much like a corpse burning but like bread being baked. The Holy Spirit arrived, and the holy martyr, without harm in the midst of the flame, praised and glorified God, and returned his spirit to Christ. He was taken into the heavens on 9 November.[8] We were all filled with the most pleasant fragrance. Moreover a voice came down to him from the heavens, saying “Come, my beloved, Theodore, enter into the joy of your Lord because you have faithfully completed the course of your struggle.” We who were standing about saw and heard all these things, and we also saw the heavens opened above him.

A certain woman of noble birth by the name of Eusebia came and sought the body of the holy martyr Theodore. Embalming his holy body with wine and precious ointments she wrapped it in clean cloth, placed it in a casket, and took it to her estate which was one day’s journey distant from the city of Amasea, into an area called Euchaita. She decided to turn her estate into a church. She made her house there perfect and holy. And she celebrated everyday there the commemoration of the blessed martyr Theodore. In that place many were cleansed of evil spirits and various infirmities through him, even to the present day, to the praise and glory of God the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit who lives and reigns now and forever and until the end of time. Amen.

[1] See: E. Amelineau, la géographie de l egypte à l époque copte.

[2] Otto F.A. Meinardus, Two Thousand Years of Coptic Christianity, p. 322.

[3] Synaxarium (20 Apip).

[4] E. O. Winstedt, Coptic Texts on Saint Theodore the General (London-Oxford, 1910).

[5] Winstedt gives the title, The Passion of St. Theodore the General and St. Theodore the Eastern. I prefer to use only “Saint Theodore the General”.

[6] There is no mention of this saint and martyr in the Arabo-Coptic Synaxarium.

[7] This was clearly before Theodore the Eastern converted to Christianity. We know from other sources that Straticia remained pagan until at least Theodore was a man.

[8] This date is wrong as St. Theodore the General was martyred on 20 Apip, which is equivalent to 14 July on the Julian calendar and the 27 July on the Gregorian calendar of today.

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