September 19 – Theodore the Black; Susanna the Deaconness

Theodore the Black of Smolensk (d. 1298) was a swarthy lad, and a swarthy lad was he. (Nobody implicated his mother in anything and we’re not going to, either.) Born during Mongol Horde days, he survived the Battle of Smolensk by virtue of being hidden away somewhere. He was a great2 grandson of Rostislav of Smolensk, but when his dad died, his elder brothers took the best bits of their inheritance and left Theodore with podunk[1] Mozhaisk. His first wife died when their son Michael was young, and the boy was raised by his grandmother Xenia, non-warrior Princess of Yaroslavl.

Several military victories later (Alexander Nevsky (Nov 23) figures in some of them), the khans were subdued, and the Orthodox Church began evangelizing among the Mongols. Theodore had distinguished himself militarily, and became a favorite of Emperor (Khan) Mengu-Temir, in part because of “the comeliness of his face” (cf. Song of Solomon 1:5). About this time Theodore returned to Yaroslavl, only to be told by the people, “Buzz off. Xenia is in charge here, and Michael is our prince.” Deflated, Ted fell back to Sarai (Mengu’s capital), where he found favor with the Khaness. She had a word with her husband, and before you could say, “She took the name ‘Anna’ upon her baptism,” Theodore was married to their daughter. They had two sons, Constantine (who died young), and David (who didn’t).

When word came of Michael’s death, Theodore became prince of Yaroslavl, and went on to many great victories (although he failed to recover Smolensk from his nephews). When it became clear that he would die from some illness our sources do not divulge, he was taken to the local monastery to be monkified. Halfway through the service, he asked to be carried into the courtyard, where a throng had gathered (and this was before throngs really became popular in the Rus’). He spoke to the people, asking forgiveness of anybody that he might have wronged, and blessing any who might have wronged him. Once everybody was satisfactorily forgiven, he was taken back inside to finish the monkification process. Later that night, he made the sign of the cross and died, his face shining like the sun (swarthy as it was). David was immediately recognized as the Prince, and Theodore was soon recognized as a saint.

Susanna of Palestine, the Deaconess (d. 362), had a pagan papa, a Jewish mama, and a lot of money to spend when they died. Having heard the Christian gospel, however, she gave it all away to the poor, was baptized, made quick trip to the Men’s Wearhouse, and presented herself at a monastery as a man named John. “Always room for another eunuch,” they said happily, and before the fullness of time even had a chance to turn around and blink, she was abbot.

Skip forward 20 years. A nun came to stay at the abbey, took a liking to John, and, not quite understanding the “eunuch” concept, tried to seduce “him.” When this failed, she claimed she had been raped. This made the entire community scratch its collective head (“But that’s impossible!”), and they called the bishop to come investigate. Now, among his grace’s entourage were two deaconesses. John took them aside and, by divers proofs (I am not going to explain it so don’t ask), established the impossibility of the claim.

Of course this brought an end to her abboting, but the bishop was so impressed that he ordained her a deaconess (clearly, he really believed in the order of deaconesses, bless his soul) and put her in charge of a women’s monastery, where she was just as good at abbessing as she had been at abboting. Her abbessing days came to an end, however, when she came to the attention of the minions of the Julian the Apostate (spit). Refusing to sacrifice to idols, she was tortured and tossed into prison, where she died of starvation.


[1] “Podunk” means “small town” and is not part of the name of the town. In case you were wondering.