Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Secret sin, secret repentance, open slander, glory from God

This summarises the life of St Theodora of Alexandria.
Young Theodora was happily married, which upset the enemy of all good, the devil. He tempted a young man to fall in love with her. The young man was so desperate that he resorted to magic to seduce Theodora. The simple Theodora was tempted by the thought that if she sins during the night, God will not see the sin!
death-to-the-world2.jpgSo, Theodora fell into adultery with the young man. Her conscience witnessed it all, and her heart felt no peace.
St Theodora fell into a second simple-hearted error: She thought God would never forgive her! Running to a wise Abbess she knew, she asked for advice. However, she did not confess her sin clearly, nor receive spiritual medicine from this wise doctor. Instead, she convinced herself that no forgiveness was available, that no healing could ever occur.
Theodora decided she must give up the world entirely and become a monastic in order to repent. So that her husband would not find her in one of the women’s convents, she cut her hair and changed into men’s clothing. She presented herself at the gate of a men’s monastery as “Theodore”, asking to be accepted. Her distressed husband searched, fearing that his beloved wife had left with another man…after several years, God answered his prayers and showed him his wife - but he did not recognise her.
Theodore went through many trials in the ascetic life. The brothers, incited by the enemy of God, quickly started to envy the young “brother”. Because of this they exposed her to unecessary dangers, sending her on errands where wild animals would be sure to attack her. Theodora remained safe, as she never doubted God. She also never exposed which brothers had caused her trouble, keeping her mind set on God and her body set on serving the brethren. Miracles even started to occur, which made her spiritual life evident to all.

…[someone] offended you; do not hate him but rather hate the offense and the demon who contrived the offense. If you hate the offender, you hate a person and transgress the commandment, and what he did in word you do in deed. But if you keep the the commandment, give proof of your love, and if you can in any way, help him so that he can be delivered from wickedness.
Christ does not want you to have hate for anyone, or grief, or anger, or resentment in any way at all or for any temporal reason whatsoever,. And this is thoroughly proclaimed in the four Gospels.
St Maximos the Confessor, 7th century

Finally, on an errand to the city, the devil constructed a sure trap. Monk Theodore did not make it home, and was forced to spend the night outside with his camels and goods. A girl, tempted by the devil, tried to seduce the “monk”, but he was not the least interested. She finally found another man among the travellers, and became pregnant.
theodora2.jpgSoon, the girl’s outraged relatives came to the monastery, accusing the “monk” Theodore of raping her! Theodore was evicted from the monastery. When the baby was born, the relatives threw him into the monastery for upbringing, by the “adulterer himself”. Theodore accepted this new obedience just as he had previously accepted all other obediences, for the sake of God and his repentance. Seven years passed. Theodora’s skin was black from the rough conditions. She fed the baby with the work of her own hands. Everyone despised her as a great sinner.

There is no hardship more oppressive to the soul than slander, whether one is slandered in his faith or in his conduct. And no one can disdain it except the one who like Susanna looks to God who alone can rescue in need, as he rescued her, and to reassure men, as he did in her case, and to encourage the soul with hope.
To the extent that you pray from your soul, for the one who spread scandal about you, God will reveal the truth to those who were told the scandal.
St Maximos the Confessor, 7th century

Theodora could have proved her innocence easily - simply by showing herself as a woman. But she did not - she chose to endure hardship, to prove her secret repentance before God for an old sin. Theodora knew well that it is the devil that tempts us - not our circumstances or the people around us:

There was a monk who, because of the great number of temptations said, “I will go away from here.” As he was putting on his sandals, he saw another man who was also putting on his sandals and the other monk said to him, “Is it on my account that you are going away? Because I go before you wherever you are going.”
Venerable Mother Theodora of Alexandria, 5th century

Theodora was by now very experienced in the spiritual life, having endured many kinds of temptation. She instructed her “son”:

Seek my child, the nobility of the soul, for it is truth; that of the body is false. Do not seek honour from men, for this injures one; but rather, seek heavenly glory…Thou art to be sympathetic with all the brethren and help them as much as possible; also thou are to minister unto them that are incapacitated or weak. Do not desire to live by another’s labour. Guard thy mind never to condemn something, whether it is good or bad. When thou art spoken to, lower thy face to the earth and then answer. Never ridicule anyone, especially when they are in misfortune. When thou wilt hear that a certain brother is disorderly, supplicate God to correct his life. Visit and help the sick, and serve the brethren as their servant…
Venerable Mother Theodora of Alexandria, 5th century

Then, “father Theodore” died. The child wailed inconsolably, and attracted the brothers to investigate what was happening. The abbot, in the meantime had a vision of the glory awaiting Theodora in heaven - which also revealed who she really was. An angel commanded him to bring the husband to the funeral. All the brothers shed tears, amazed at the spiritual strength of the Saint, and full of remorse for their previous judgements and false accusations.
The husband remained at the monastery and became an exemplary monk. The child later became a wise Superior of the same community.
And Saint Theodora from Heaven assists all those who struggle with the temptation of slander and false accusations, encouraging them to endure with God, for the salvation of their souls.

Blessed are ye when men shall persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in Heaven.
Mt.5:12

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