January 11 Saints of the Day – Theodosius the Great and Theodosius the Cenobiarch

Theodosius the GreatOn this day in 1861, Alabama seceded from the Union, and in 1942, Japan declared war against the Netherlands. In case you were tempted to think all the bad things that happened on this day have since been made right, it is also the day the designated hitter rule was introduced in the American League (1973).

Today the eastern Church celebrates St. Theodosius the Great (347-395), the last emperor to rule over a united Roman Empire before its unfortunate subdivision by ancestors of today’s most unscrupulous real estate moguls. Born in either Cauca or Italia in Spain (sense a theme here?), Theodosius followed in his father’s military footsteps until his mysterious and wholly inexplicable retirement immediately following his father’s sudden disgrace and execution. Within a year, however, he was recalled to active duty, and after the dust of a decade of war and intrigue had settled, he found himself sole ruler of the Empire.

Beset with barbarians, civil war, and a quick temper, Theodosius got himself excommunicated for ordering a massacre, but was reinstated after the bishop of Milan (St. Ambrose for those keeping score at home) suggested he repent. Theodosius’ sainthood derives from his quelling of pagan practices and politely but ruthlessly imposing upon the Empire the decisions of the Council of Nicea (named after a Greek city named after the Nicene Creed). This quellification including breaking up the Vestals, rivals to various women’s monasteries in recruitment of the empire’s virgins. He also established a lucrative trade in obelisks on, shall we say, long-term loan from Egypt. Although he died in Milan, no one suspected Ambrose, which is just as well since he didn’t do it. Indeed the saintly bishop delivered a sermon at the funeral that was so good history has recorded its name: “The Obituary of Theodosius.”

Theodosius the CenobiarchIn the west today is commemorated Theodosius the Cenobiarch (423-529), who was born in Garissus, also known as Mogariassus, also known as Marissa. Ancient geography is not an occupation for the faint of heart.

This Theodosius never managed to become Emperor or order massacres or even import obelisks. He did however climb the pillar of St. Symeon the Stylite, who blessed him, and not just to get him off his pillar. Installed as resident ascetic at a church built by a pious widow named Glykeria (or Ikelia), he soon attracted a steady stream of edification seekers, which so annoyed him that he removed to a nearby cave. There he lived a life of austerity, eating only dates and various herbs. When he ran out of dates, our sources say he subsisted on a paste made of date pits, of which he must have built up quite a pile over the years.

Once again he attracted a number of followers, some of whom came to stay. When the pits ran out the monks were supplied with food by various miracles and passers-by. When sleeping space in the cave started to get thin, Theodosius had a dream or vision in which God helpfully suggested he built a monastery. With the aid of a miraculous incense burner a site was found and the monastery was built. At one point he was exiled by a heretical emperor for speaking out against heresy, but the next emperor recalled him and recalled him, if you get my drift. He is perhaps most famous for allowing the monks under his care to celebrate the divine services in their own languages, besting the Second Vatican Council by some 1400 years. He is also celebrated in the Orthodox Church, although it is perhaps best we don’t delve too deeply into that Church’s use of the vernacular.

Copyright © 2013 Alex Riggle. All Rights Reserved.


About Your Intrepid Blogger

I live in the Tacoma area. When not writing things some people think are funny, I teach technology to 7th and 8th graders at a local middle school.

2 comments on “January 11 Saints of the Day – Theodosius the Great and Theodosius the Cenobiarch

  1. I discovered the Onion Dome about a month ago and have been enjoying your posts. Educational and funny! Question about this post: what council are you referring to in the last paragraph?

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