24 January 2009

'Great Glory of Palestine & Patron of the Cœnobitic Rule'—St Theodosius the Cœnobiarch

On this day, 11 January on the old Orthodox calendar, we commemorate St Theodosius the Cœnobiarch (†529), also called ‘the Great’. Cyril of Scythopolis says 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’ (The Lives of the Monks of Palestine, trans. R.M. Price [Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian, 1991], p. 262). He was from Cappadocia, and as a boy served as a chanter, ‘deeply versed in Scripture and in the liturgical order of the Church’, as Derwas Chitty puts it (The Desert a City: An Introduction to the Study of Egyptian and Palestinian Monasticism Under the Christian Empire [Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary, 1995], p. 93). He went to Jerusalem—visiting St Symeon the Stylite on his way—in order to become a monk in the Judaean desert. After some time spent as a chanter in a church on the road to Bethlehem, St Theodosius went to the desert and learned the eremitic life from a couple of disciples of St Euthymius the Great. He then passed thirty years in a cave, living on uncooked wild herbs. Eventually, he was beset with would-be disciples and visitors. According to Chitty:

By gradual growth there arose the largest and most highly organized of Judaean cœnobia, with over four hundred brethren at the time fo the founder’s death in A.D. 529, and so hospitable that legend began to place there the Feeding of the Five Thousand. Here were hostels and hospitals for monks, for worldly visitors, and for the poor; a home for the aged; and a ‘monastery within a monastery’ for monks mentally afflicted after excessive or ill-judged asceticism. Apart from a special church for these last, there were three churches in the ordinary monastery, where Greeks, Armenians, and Bessi respectively would perform the office and the Liturgy of the Catechumens in their own language, coming together in the main church of the Greeks for the Liturgy of the Faithful. (Chitty, p. 109)

Thus, St Theodosius was a loving spiritual father and a shining example of Christian virtue and ascesis for countless monks. Cyril tells us that he was said to possess three virtues in particular: ‘strict asceticism, linked to true and orthodox faith, that lasted from youth till old age, lavish charity, without respect of persons, towards strangers and the poor, and, as the third, zeal at performing the divine liturgy, virtually without interruption’ (Cyril, p. 265). Chitty describes St Theodosius as a unique adherent of 'the Basilian ideal' among the Palestinian monks, adding that he was observed to have quoted to his monks from St Basil's Regulae Fusius Tractatae (Chitty, p. 109). Unanimously elected archimandrite of the cœnobia of Judaea, St Theodosius fell asleep in the Lord on the eleventh of January in 529. The Prologue and Bulgakov’s Handbook say that he reposed at the age of 105, but according to Cyril, he was just shy of ‘the hundredth year of his life’ (Cyril, p. 266).

Here is the Hymn of Praise for St Theodosius by St Nicholas (Velimirović) in the Prologue:

Those who with fear stand before God,
Those who fear the Living God only,
Only they can witness
That the righteous one receives that for which he prays to God.
By true prayer, God does for people -
The dawn glows to the one who turns to the dawn.
Saint Theodosius, by his prayers
Helped many and also helped us.
For he lives even now as he once did
And works miracles, as he once did and does now -
The Lord bestowed upon him power, because of his faith,
And love for God; love immeasurable.
Wonderful Theodosius, zealot of truth,
Wondrous organizer of the monastic life,
Let him be praised by us, who is glorified by God,
Now a glorious citizen of the Kingdom of Christ.

From the Akolouthia in his honour, here is a touching sticheron by ‘the Studite’ (St Theodore, I suppose?), translated by the eminent Archimandrite of the Œcumenical Throne, Father Ephrem (Lash) of Manchester:

We, the multitudes of monastics, honour you, our Father Theodosios, for through you we have learnt to walk the truly straight path. Blessed are you, for you became Christ’s slave and triumphed over the power of the foe, companion of Angels, colleague of the Venerable and the Righteous. With them intercede with the Lord to have mercy on our souls.

A final aside about St Theodosius: it is interesting to note that he was deemed to warrant a mention in the curious book, The Vampire: His Kith and Kin, by Montague Summers (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner, 1928), p. 54. Summers, an English Edwardian cleric who apparently believed in the real existence of literal vampires (he deserves his own post here someday), cites a story from Theodore of Petra’s Vita Theodosii Cœnobiarchæ (Cyril calls it a work of ‘clarity and accuracy’ [p. 266]; Price calls it ‘lengthy, diffuse, and rhetorical’ [Cyril, p. 268, n. 9]). The story concerns a Hieromonk Basil who voluntarily gave up the ghost in response to a jest from his elder, St Theodosius, who was teasing the monks to ‘ease their distress’ about death. For some time thereafter, St Theodosius continued to see Fr Basil chanting in the church, until at last he disappeared, saying, ‘Ye are being saved, O fathers and brethren; ye shall see me no longer!’ The story is recounted in The Lives of the Saints of the Holy Land and the Sinai Desert [Buena Vista, CO: Holy Apostles Convent, 1997], pp. 14-5, and presumably based on Theodore’s acount (it is not found in Cyril), but there it is an illustration of St Theodosius’s contact with the other world, and the obedience and simplicity of his disciple, Fr Basil. There is no suggestion that the latter has anything of the ‘nosferatu’ about him!

No comments: