The Great Martyr Theodore Stratelates came from the city of Euchaita in Asia Minor. He was endowed with many talents, and was handsome in appearance. For his charity God enlightened him with the knowledge of Christian truth. The bravery of the saintly soldier was revealed after he, with the help of God, killed a giant serpent living on a precipice in the outskirts of Euchaita. The serpent had devoured many people and animals, terrorizing the countryside. Saint Theodore armed himself with a sword and vanquished it, glorifying the name of Christ among the people.
For his bravery Saint Theodore was appointed military commander [stratelatos] in the city of Heraclea, where he combined his military service with preaching the Gospel among the pagans subject to him. His gift of persuasion, reinforced by his personal example of Christian life, turned many from their false gods. Soon, nearly all of Heraclea had accepted Christianity.
During this time the emperor Licinius (311-324) began a fierce persecution against Christians. In an effort to stamp out the new faith, he persecuted the enlightened adherents of Christianity, who were perceived as a threat to paganism. Among these was Saint Theodore. Licinius tried to force Saint Theodore to offer sacrifice to the pagan gods. The saint invited Licinius to come to him with his idols so both of them could offer sacrifice before the people.
Blinded by his hatred for Christianity, Licinius trusted the words of the saint, but he was disappointed. Saint Theodore smashed the gold and silver statues into pieces, which he then distributed to the poor. Thus he demonstrated the vain faith in soulless idols, and also displayed Christian charity.
Saint Theodore was arrested and subjected to fierce and refined torture. He was dragged on the ground, beaten with iron rods, had his body pierced with sharp spikes, was burned with fire, and his eyes were plucked out. Finally, he was crucified. Varus, the servant of Saint Theodore, barely had the strength to write down the incredible torments of his master.
God, however, in His great mercy, willed that the death of Saint Theodore should be as fruitful for those near him as his life was. An angel healed the saint’s wounded body and took him down from the cross. In the morning, the imperial soldiers found him alive and unharmed. Seeing with their own eyes the infinite might of the Christian God, they were baptized not far from the place of the unsuccessful execution.
Thus Saint Theodore became “like a day of splendor” for those pagans dwelling in the darkness of idolatary, and he enlightened their souls “with the bright rays of his suffering.” Unwilling to escape martyrdom for Christ, Saint Theodore voluntarily surrendered himself to Licinius, and discouraged the Christians from rising up against the torturer, saying, “Beloved, halt! My Lord Jesus Christ, hanging upon the Cross, restrained the angels and did not permit them to take revenge on the race of man.”
Going to execution, the holy martyr opened up the prison doors with just a word and freed the prisoners from their bonds. People who touched his robe were healed instantly from sicknesses, and freed from demonic possession. By order of the emperor, Saint Theodore was beheaded by the sword. Before his death he told Varus, “ Do not fail to record the day of my death, and bury my body in Euchaita.” He also asked to be remembered each year on this date. Then he bent his neck beneath the sword, and received the crown of martyrdom which he had sought. This occurred on February 8, 319, on a Saturday, at the third hour of the day.
Saint Theodore is regarded as the patron saint of soldiers. He is also commemorated on June 8.
The holy Martyr Theodore was from Euchaita of Galatia and dwelt in Heraclea of Pontus. He was a renowned commander in the military, and the report came to the Emperor Licinius that he was a Christian and abominated the idols. Licinius therefore sent certain men to him from Nicomedia, to honor him and ask him to appear before him. Through them, however, Saint Theodore sent back a message that it was necessary for various reasons, that Licinius come to Heraclea. Licinius, seeing in this a hope of turning Saint Theodore away from Christ did as was asked of him.
When the Emperor came to Heraclea, Saint Theodore met him with honor, and the Emperor in turn gave Theodore his hand, believing that through him he would be able to draw the Christians to the worship of his idols. Seated upon his throne in the midst of the people, he publicly bade Theodore offer sacrifice to the gods. But Theodore asked that the emperor entrust him with the most venerable of his gods, those of gold and silver, that he might take them home and himself attend upon them that evening, promising that the following day he would honor them in public. The Emperor, filled with joy at these tidings, gave command that Theodore’s request be fulfilled.
When the Saint had taken the idols home, he broke them in pieces and distributed the gold and silver to the poor by night. The next day a centurion named Maxentius told Licinius that he had seen a pauper pass by carrying the head of Artemis. Saint Theodore, far from repenting of this, confessed Christ boldly. Licinius, in an uncontainable fury, had the Saint put to many torments, then crucified. While upon the cross, the holy Martyr was further tormented — his privy parts were cut off, he was shot with arrows, his eyes were put out, and he was left on the cross to die. The next day Licinius sent men to take his corpse and cast it into the sea; but they found the Saint alive and perfectly whole. Through this, many believed in Christ. Seeing his own men turning to Christ, and the city in an uproar, Licinius had Theodore beheaded, about the year 320. The Saint’s holy relics were returned to his ancestral home on June 8, which is also a feast of the Great Martyr Theodore.
There are martyrdoms that are beyond any price. The preciousness of martyrdom depends upon the greatness of the good things which a Christian abandons, and in lieu of which he accepts suffering. In addition, it depends upon the greatness of the suffering that he endures for Christ’s sake. St. Theodore, a Roman commander in the army of Emperor Licinius and the governor of the town of Heraclea, scorned his youth, his handsome appearance, his military rank and the good graces of the emperor. In place of all this, he accepted horrible tortures for the sake of Christ.
At first, Theodore was flogged and received six hundred lashes on his back and five hundred on his stomach. After this, he was raised on a cross and was completely pierced with lances. Finally, Theodore was beheaded. Why all of this? Because St. Theodore loved Christ the Lord above all else in the world. He abhorred the foolish idolatry of the superstitious Emperor Licinius. He smashed the idols of silver and gold and distributed pieces of them to the poor. He converted many to the Christian Faith and called upon Emperor Licinius himself to reject idolatry and believe in the One Living God.
During the entire time of his tortures, St. Theodore said repeatedly: “Glory to Thee, my God, glory to Thee!” St. Theodore suffered on February 8, 319 A.D., at three o’clock in the afternoon, and entered into the Kingdom of Christ. St. Theodore is considered the protector of soldiers who call upon him for assistance. His miracle-working relics were translated from Euchaita to Constantinople and interred in the Blachernae church.
Apolytikion of Great Martyr Theodore Stratelates
In truth enlisted with the King of the Heavens, thou didst become for Him a noble commander, O trophy-bearer and Great Martyr Theodore. With the weaponry of faith didst thou arm thyself wisely and didst utterly destroy all the hordes of the demons, as a triumphant athlete of the Lord; wherefore we ever do faithfully call thee blest.
Kontakion of Great Martyr Theodore Stratelates
In courage of soul, and furnished with the arms of faith, thou tookest in hand the word of God as though a spear and didst put thy foe to flight, thou great boast of martyrs, O Theodore; now together with them, O Saint, cease not to entreat Christ our God for all of us.
Source: oca.org / goarch.org / westserbdio.org