Celebrating the Women of Byzantium – Part IV

Miss our blog series chronicling Byzantium’s most famous (and infamous!) women?  We’re bringing it back with all-new stories of ancient sacrifice, faith, vanity, scheming, and more! We invite you to catch up on Part I, Part II, Part III, and Part V.

This week, we’re bringing you the stories of two strong women who put their faith and veneration of icons above all else and were canonized for their sacrifice – Theodosia of Constantinople and the 9th century Empress Theodora.

Theodosia of Constantinople (Unknown-729)

Theodosia. Via antiochian.org.

The life of St. Theodosia of Constantinople seems to have been blessed and destined for greatness as it began.  She was “born in answer to the fervent prayers of her parents” who, unfortunately, died when Theodosia was young.  An orphan, she was raised in a women’s monastery and later became a nun.  During her time in the monastery,  Theodosia distributed her inheritance to the poor and used it to “commission gold and silver icons of the Savior, the Theotokos, and St. Anastasia. “

Around this time, Leo the Isaurian ascended the throne of the Byzantine Empire.  An iconoclast, Leo ruled that all holy icons were to be destroyed, including a bronze icon of the Savior which had been displayed above the Bronze Gates at Constantinople for 400 years.

Determined to protect the icon, Theodosia and other women rushed to the Gates and “toppled the ladder with the soldier who was carrying out the command. The women then stoned Patriarch Anastasius [who issued the command to the soldier].”

As punishment, Emperor Leo ordered that the women would be beheaded and Theodosia was thrown in prison.  During her week of imprisonment, she suffered one hundred lashes a day.  “On the eighth day, she was led through the city, being beaten along the way. Ultimately, one of the soldiers stabbed her in the throat with a ram’s horn, and she received the crown of martyrdom.”

“The body of the holy virgin martyr was reverently buried by Christians in the St. Euphemia Monastery in Constantinople, near a place called Dexiokratis. The tomb of St. Theodosia was glorified by numerous healings of the sick.”  Theodosia is commemorated on May 29th by the Orthodox Church.

Theodora (815-867)

Theodora the Iconodule. Via orthodoxwiki.org.

Little is known of the early life of the 9th century Byzantine Empress Theodora (not to be confused with the more famous Empress Theodora, married to Justinian) except for the fact that she hailed from an aristocratic Armenian family.

Hand-selected by Euphrosyne, stepmother to the unmarried Emperor Theophilos, Theodora was brought to Constantinople along with a handful of other potential brides.  Theodora was selected to become empress around May 830 and would go on to have seven children with Theophiulus.

Despite an apparent mutual fondness (which begot so many children), Theophilus and Theodora did not always see eye-to-eye: especially when it came to the veneration of icons.  Theophilus was a starch iconoclast who reversed Empress Irene’s restoration of icons while Theodora secretly supported the veneration of icons.

One story tells of Theodora keeping secret icons in her chambers.  A servant tattled on the Empress to her husband and, when confronted, Theodora maintained that she had been merely playing with dolls.  “Two of her icons are kept at the monastery of Vatopedi on Mount Athos to this day and are referred to as “Theodora’s Dolls”. They are displayed annually on the Sunday of Orthodoxy. “

Upon the death of Theophilus in 842, Theodora served as regent for son Michael (until he came of age).  In 842, Theodora reversed her late-husband’s earlier revision and restored the veneration of icons, which thus began the feast of the Triumph of Orthodoxy.  The feast is still celebrated each year on the first Sunday of Lent.

During her reign, Theodora competently governed the empire, “replenishing the treasury and fending off an attempted invasion by the Bulgarians.”  Despite being a capable leader, Theodora did come under the scrutiny of young Michael’s uncle, Bardas.  Depending on the source, Bardas was either envious of Theodora’s power and used his own influence on the boy or Theodora purposefully neglected her son’s education to allow her to manipulate the future Emperor when he came of age.

Whatever the actual situation, Theodora was displaced in 855 and retired to a monastery where she died around 867.  “She was sainted in recompense for her zeal on behalf of the restoration of icons as objects of veneration. Her feast day is February 11.”

Main photo: Righteous Theodora. Via oca.org
Theodora (9th Century Empress) – https://orthodoxwiki.org/Theodora_(9th_century_empress)
Righteous Theodora, wife of the Emperor Theophilus, the Iconoclast – https://oca.org/saints/lives/2016/02/11/100504-righteous-theodora-wife-of-the-emperor-theophilus-the-iconoclast
Saint Theodora, Empress of Byzantium – https://www.geni.com/people/Saint-Theodora-Empress-of-Byzantium/6000000001353851662
St. Theodosia, Virginmartyr, of Constantinople – http://antiochian.org/node/18652
Theodosia, Virgin-Martyr of Constantinople – https://www.goarch.org/chapel/saints?contentid=553
Virginmartyr Theodosia the Nun of Constantinople – https://oca.org/saints/lives/2008/05/29/101564-virginmartyr-theodosia-the-nun-of-constantinople
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