St. Theodosius the Cenobiarch (423-529)
HEARING THE CALL
St Theodosius was born in Mogarissos, a village in Cappadocia, in 423 (modern day central Turkey). St. Basil the Great had lived and governed this land. His parents were both very pious. Meditating upon the Sacred Scriptures, he was inspired by the example of Abraham, our Father in Faith. The Holy Ghost urged him to leave his family, his country and everything he knew. In total trust he abandoned himself to the providence by God. He traveled to the Holy Land to visit all the places which had been sanctified by Our Lord and Our Lady.
Before reaching Jerusalem, he passed through Antioch. There he went to see St. Symeon the Stylyte, renowned for his sanctity and penance. He sought the saints prayers and blessing. Upon arriving at St. Symeon’s column he was surprised to be greeted by name. His amazement grew even more when the saint invited him to ascend to the top of his pillar (a privilege never granted). Theodosius prostrated himself before Symeon, who embraced him and prophesied great spiritual glory for Theodosius.
ACCEPTING GOD'S WILL
Longinus then commissioned Theodosius to govern a monastery near Bethlehem. Yet out of his humility, he was unable to bring himself to command others. Inspired once more by the Scriptures, he fled to a cavern, in an effort to imitate those blessed sacrifices of the Holy Family. In his cave he lived in solitude and practiced penance and prayer. [There is an ancient tradition that this was the same cave in which the three Magi spent the night after they had worshiped the Divine Infant and where the angel came to direct them to return home by another route.] Here he practiced great feasts of asceticism. He only ate dates, carob, wild vegetables and legumes. He only drank water. The land was so arid that he often soaked palms and ate them. He did not taste bread for over thirty years and never satisfied his hunger. He would spend all night in prayer. He even suspended himself to the top of his cave by a rope so that he would remain propped up if sleep overcame him.
Theodosius’ great charity, however, forbade him to refuse the charge of some disciples. They were few at first, but over time became vast in number. Theodosius realized he could not run from God’s Will – and clearly God was calling him to direct other religious. Theodosius thus set about the task of building a large monastery and three churches for the growing number of monks seeing his guidance. He even acquiesced when the Patriarch of Jerusalem appointed him Superior General of all the religious communities in Palestine.
Following his father’s death, his mother, Eulogia, traveled to Palestine. She sought out her son. She requested his permission to become a nun and to live under holy obedience to him. Thus, the son became the spiritual father of his own mother.
THE GREAT CENOBIARCH (ABBOT)
St. Theodosius accommodated himself so carefully to the characters of his subjects that his reproofs were loved rather than dreaded. The following beautiful and striking incident from his life perhaps exemplifies this best. On one occasion, Abbot Theodosius was obliged to separate from the community one monk who was guilty of a grave fault. Instead of humbly accepting his sentence, the monk was arrogant enough to pretend to excommunicate Theodosius in revenge! Theodosius did not respond with indignation, nor did he consider his own position of authority; instead he meekly submitted to this false and unjust excommunication! This so touched the heart of his disciple, that the once-proud monk submitted at once and acknowledged his fault before the entire community.
Theodosius also never refused assistance to any who were in poverty or affliction. On some days, his monks would prepare more than a hundred tables for those suffering need. In times of famine, even when his own monks hardly had any food, Theodosius forbade the alms for the poor to be diminished. By his prayer, he often miraculously multiplied the provisions. Theodosius also built five hospitals, in which he lovingly served the sick. Despite all this ‘active’ work, our holy abbot assiduously practiced spiritual reading and mental prayer to such an extent, that he was able to maintain himself in a state of perfect recollection regardless of the day’s trails or tribulations.
DEFENSE OF THE TRUTH
St. Theodosius’ greatest temptation and suffering came in the form of heresy and persecution. [Like many of the Church Fathers before him, he too suffered under the dual lash of a heretical emperor and his promotion of heresy by force. This list includes the likes of St. Athanasius, St. Hilary, St. Basil, and so many more!] In these days, the Eutychian Heresy plagued Jerusalem and the surrounding area. Theodosius forcefully opposed this denial of Christ and taught his monks the diabolical errors lurking behind this great error. He was so famed for his holiness, and his monks did so much good, that the vast majority of the people in the area readily followed their lead and opposed the heresy.
The Byzantine Emperor Anastasius, who ruled from 491-518, was greatly angered by this for he had adopted the heresy as his own manner of thinking. [Anastaisus’ mother had been an adamant Arian, thus the adage again holds true that the apple does not fall far from the tree.] The emperor had already removed Elias, Patriarch of Jerusalem, and banished Flavian II, Patriarch of Antioch, for upholding the true Faith. He sought to buy Theodosius support and sent him a large sum of money. The abbot innocently accepted it and forthright distributed it among the poor. He then sent the emperor a letter full of the apostolic spirit in which he fully confessed the Faith. Anastasius was impressed by his courage and intelligence and opted for peace between them. Theodosius continued to preach throughout, declaring anathemas upon anyone who dared hold the heretical positions already condemned by the Church. In retaliation, Anastasius removed Theodosius from his office and banished him as well (it seems the holy man’s sanctity and popularity were so great that the Emperor dared not execute him).
In banishment, St. Theodosius suffered a long and painful malady. Though he had worked miracles for many, he refused to pray to be cured. Instead, he considered his illness a salutary penance for his former spiritual successes. The people however grew in their opposition to the Emperor. Demonstrations were held and sparks of rebellion had to be quelled. The emperor had many policies which angered his people, but it seems the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back was when he began religious persecutions of the orthodox faith. A usurper, named Vitalian, joined with barbaric Huns to revolt against the Emperor. Anastasius defeated the rebellion but was never at peace again. He died shortly thereafter without any son as an heir. His empire passed to an orthodox nephew, Justin. It seems that Emperor Justin (518-527), a faithful son of the Church, interpreted his uncle’s troubles and lack of an heir as a divine chastisement. He repented of his uncle’s policy, ended the persecutions, and returned St. Theodosius from banishment.
St. Theodosius continued to be a champion of the faith and a staunch opponent of Monophysitism. He died near Jerusalem at the age of a hundred and six. The Monastery of St. Theodosius, twelve miles from Bethlehem, bears his name and contains his tomb. Tradition claims this is the location of the famous cave which housed the Magi and Theodosius. Many pilgrims to the holy land still visit this ancient monastery.
NOTE: Cenobitic Monasticism is a monastic tradition that stresses community life. The most ancient monks, like St. Antony of the Desert, were hermits and lived eremtic monasticism. Both types of monasticism flourished in the East from about the end of the third century onward. St. Theodosius, like St. Pachomius, is called a "CENOBIARCH" because he directed and led so many cenobite monks.
NOTE: The Eutychian Heresy followed the teachings of Eutyches, a priest of Constantinople (380-456). He opposed the Patriarch Nestor's heresy (Nesotrianism) which claimed that Mary was the only the mother of Jesus but not the Mother of God. Nestorianism could not accept the mystery that two distinct and complete natures existed in the one Person of Jesus Christ. Eutyches also struggled with this same teaching. His solution however was to say that the human nature practically "disappeared" within the divine nature (like a drop of vinegar in an ocean). He taught that Christ was of two natures but not in two natures. Thus he said Jesus was homoousian with the Father (of the same nature) but not homoousian with man. A simple understanding of Eutyches' teaching is that in Jesus a third "new and unique" nature existed. His heresy is a variation on the Monophysite heresy (the error that Christ only has one nature). At the Fourth Great Ecumenical Council, the Council of Chalcedon (451 AD), the ideas of Eutyches were formally condemned as heretical and all those who hold them were anathemized. The Symbol (Creed) of Chalcedon built upon the Nicean Creed to very carefully and specifically define the Catholic Faith regarding the Holy Trinity and the Person of Jesus Christ. This heresy was formally condemned by the Church when St. Theodoisus was still a young man.