24 January 2010

'The Same in a Crowd as in Solitude'—St Theodosius the Cœnobiarch

Today, 11 January on the Church’s calendar, we celebrate the memory of the Holy Theodosius the Cœnobiarch (423-529). St Theodosius is one of the pillars of Orthodox monasticism, and as such is traditionally depicted on the walls of monastery refectories. Derwas Chitty calls him an ‘initiate into the ways of the desert’, [1] and notes that at one point, ‘the spiritual life of the wilderness seemed to be focused around the two great abbots, Savas and Theodosius’. [2] St Nicholas (Velimirović) dubs him a ‘wondrous organizer of the monastic life’. [3] In the words of Cyril of Scythopolis, he is ‘worthily called blessed and citizen of heaven, the great glory of Palestine and boast of the desert, the stay of the monastic order, the general and champion of the correct doctrines, the leader and patron of the cenobitic rule’. [4] Here is the account of St Theodosius’s life from the Prologue:

The first founder and organiser of cenobitic monasticism, he was born of devout parents in Cappadocia, in the village of Mogarisses. As a young man, he visited Simeon Stylites, who blessed him and predicted for him great spiritual glory. Theodosius set out in search of a place in which to found a monastery. He took with him a censer containing cold charcoal and incense. At the place where the charcoal suddenly ignited of itself, he stopped, settled down and began to lead a life of asceticism. There very quickly gathered round him many monks of different nationalities and with different languages. He therefore built a church for each language-group, so that services were conducted and God praised at the same moment in Greek, Armenian, Georgian and so forth. But on a day when they were to receive Communion, all the brethren gathered in the great church, where the service was conducted in Greek. The refectory was common to all; they held all possessions in common, laboured in common, endured in common and often hungered in common. Theodosius was a sublime example to all the monks; an example in work, in prayer, in fasting, in vigils and in all the Christian virtues. And God endowed him with the gifts of wonder-working, to heal the sick, to be present and help from a distance, to tame wild beasts, to predict the future and to increase bread and wheat. Prayer was on his lips day and night. He entered peacefully into rest in the Lord in the year 529, at the age of 105. [5]

Although the more detailed Life by Theodore of Petra has not to my knowledge been translated, apart from Cyril (on whom I drew heavily last year), we can also supplement our portrait with the Life published by the Holy Apostles Convent. [6] This account makes the interesting remark that St Theodosius ‘exhorted’ his monks ‘with beneficial words and examples to live in a God-pleasing way, that is, having the remembrance of death as the true philosophy, for it can induce one to live in virtue’. [7] Later on, it adds:

Among his other attributes, the saint loved to read, and a book never left his hands, neither when he was ill nor in his old age, but he read day and night in order to receive benefit from the sacred words. In truth, he was worthy of admiration for, even though he never studied rhetoric, he was endowed to speak well by the grace of the Holy Spirit, and not by human wisdom, so that he surpassed even trained orators. He possessed an excellent memory and recited excerpts from Saint Basil, whom he emulated closely, and strove to adorn his soul with his ways, and his tongue with his words. [8]

Here is a passage from St Theodosius’s Life chosen by the 14th-c. Athonite, Nicephorus the Solitary, as an illustration of sobriety and guarding of the heart. As yesterday was the feast of St Theophan the Recluse, it seems fitting to be quoting Kadloubovsky’s and Palmer’s translation of St Theophan’s Russian translation of this text: [9]

St Theodosius was so deeply wounded by the sweet arrow of love and held so fast in love’s fetters that he practiced in actual deed the highest of God’s commandments: ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind’ (Luke x. 27). And this can be achieved by no other means than concentrating all the natural powers of the soul in single desire for the Creator alone. Such also was the work of his mind, that when offering consolation he inspired awe, and when reprimanding someone, he was always kind and sweet. Who else, like him, could converse with many and appear quite at their service, yet at the same time could collect his senses and marshal them back within him? Who, like him, could enjoy, in the midst of tumult, the same inner peace as others who live in the desert? And who else has remained the same in a crowd as in solitude? Thus the great Theodosius, through collecting the senses and turning them within, became pierced by love for the Creator. [10]

Many years to Fr Theodosius of Xeropotamou on his nameday. For more on St Theodosius, including a (somewhat dubious) vampire connection, see my post of last year. In conclusion, here is the third Sticheron at ‘Lord, I have cried’ from Vespers for the Saint:

Venerable Father, God-bearer Theodosios, rightly you were counted worthy of the blessed life, having found it by purity and ascetic practice; for while living you passed over to the life on high, bidding all things farewell, and with the Bodiless Powers ceaselessly glorifying Christ, who took flesh ineffably from a Virgin and sunk our sins by Baptism in Jordan’s streams. Entreat him, implore him, Venerable Father, that the inhabited world may be given harmony, peace and great mercy. [11]

[1] Derwas Chitty, The Desert a City (Crestwood, NY: SVS, 1995), pp. 108-9.

[2] Ibid., p. 126.

[3] ‘Hymn of Praise’ from the Prologue (here).

[4] Cyril of Scythopolis, The Lives of the Monks of Palestine, trans. R.M. Price (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian, 1991), p. 262.

[5] St Nicholas (Velimirović), The Prologue from Ochrid, Vol. 1, trans. Mother Maria (Birmingham: Lazarica, 1986), p. 47.

[6] Although the HAC Life contains material that is not in Cyril but is in Theodore, it makes no mention of either of these in a note on various versions of St Theodosius’s Life, mentioning only St Symeon Metaphrastes, the New Paradise, the Synaxaristes, and Constantine Koukey’s St Theodosius the Coenobiarch (The Lives of the Saints of the Holy Land & the Sinai Desert, trans. Holy Apostles Convent [Buena Vista, CO: HAC, 1997], p. 36, n. 1).

[7] Ibid., p. 14. Constantine Cavarnos eruditely traces this idea of the ‘remembrance of death’ as ‘the true philosophy’ from Plato’s Phaedo through St John Climacus and various Fathers and Greek theologians (Constantine Cavarnos, The Hellenic-Christian Philosophical Tradition [Belmont, MA: Institute for Byzantine & Modern Greek Studies, 1989], pp. 95-8.

[8] Ibid., p. 23.

[9] In the HAC version, this story is found on p. 22. The wording there is nearly exactly that of Kadloubovsky’s and Palmer’s translation. In The Philokalia, Vol. 4, trans. G.E.H. Palmer, et al. (London: Faber, 1998), the story is on pp. 196-7.

[10] E. Kadloubovsky & G.E.H. Palmer, trans., Writings from the Philokalia on Prayer of the Heart (London: Faber, 1992), p. 25.

[11] From the translation of Archimandrite Ephrem (Lash), here.

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