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Catechesis for 3rd Week in the Great Lent by Saint Theodore Studite


Brethren and fathers, in the presence of our holy father and teacher we have no need to discourse; but nevertheless because of our custom let us say just a little. Day by day our life, as you see, is passing and we are getting nearer to death, and we must remove hence and be joined to our brothers and fathers;



Catechesis 60 contains a number of interesting details. Who, for example, if the ‘holy father and teacher’ referred to in the opening sentence? If the Short Catecheses were given during St Theodore’s exile to the Propontis in 820, it cannot be St Platon, who had died in 812. The most likely person is St Nikephoros, the Patriarch. The latter, despite certain earlier difficulties, had a great respect for St Theodore. Cf. in particular Life A chap. 120 [PG 99:221-224]. The Patriarch called himself St Theodore’s ‘son’ [Letters II:79 — PG 99:1317C], and St Theodore refers to himself as the Patriarch’s ‘child’ [ibid. II:18. PG 99:1176A]. St Nikephoros had been deposed in 815 and was at this time also in exile in his own monastery on the Propontis. That he should visit his friend St Theodore and his monks is, to say the least, not improbable.

The reference to ‘the story of the Flood’ suggests that the readings at Vespers were the same in St Theodore’s day as they are today.

In number 63 the reference to ‘the ruler’ in Bulgaria is almost certainly to Omurgat (813-831), whose father, Kroumos (802-814) had carried off into captivity some 30,000 Christians some years before. If the Catecheses were all given at the same time, they must be dated between 820 (the death of Metropolitan Michael, the subject of Catechesis 21) and 826 (the death of St Theodore himself).


On our sudden departure from here and teaching about keeping safe watch over our senses and our mind from unseemly desires. Given on Wednesday of the 3rd Week.

Brethren and fathers, in the presence of our holy father and teacher we have no need to discourse; but nevertheless because of our custom let us say just a little. Day by day our life, as you see, is passing and we are getting nearer to death, and we must remove hence and be joined to our brothers and fathers; so that there is need of much vigilance and attention and preparation of heart. We hear the story of the Flood being read, and the Lord in the Gospels saying: As in the days of Noë they were eating, drinking, marrying, buying, selling and suddenly the flood came, so too it will be at the coming of the Son of Man [Cf Mt 24,37-39, Lk 17,26s. St Theodore is quoting from memory]. And perhaps we wonder in this case how insensibly they were disposed, and were not rather trembling and terrified. Let us be on the watch then lest we find ourselves without realising it in the same state of which we accuse them. Already it is not the ark which is being got ready, which was being filled up during one hundred years, but every day the tomb is seen filled, into which we are about to crawl. Already each day death is at work [Cf. 2 Cor 4,12.], when each one of our brothers departs. Things here are more fearful than those there; and so we should be on our guard. I don’t say: we shouldn’t eat, drink, or clothe ourselves. I don’t say that; but whether we eat, or drink, or whatever we do, let us do everything to the glory of God, [1 Cor 10,31-32.] giving no offence to Jews or Greeks or to the Church of God, as the Apostle teaches.

Yes, I exhort, yes, I implore, my brothers, make my joy complete, as the Apostle again says, be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or vainglory; but in humility think of others as better than yourselves [Phil 2,2-3.]. Let us secure our senses, sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch, through them death enters. Let us bridle our mind not to be carried off to things it should not, not to step into the pitfall of unseemly things, not to picture to ourselves evil images nor to conceive sinful desires, from which we gain no profit or pleasure; on the contrary we are pained and crushed accomplishing nothing useful. There is one repose then and one pleasure, to cleanse the soul and to look towards dispassion. And let us not grow despondent [The verb from akedia.] when called to repose and the joy of dispassion, but let us hasten and press forward intently with diligence to right every defect; and God is our helper; for the Lord is near those who wait for him. And by living thus may we reach the kingdom of heaven in Christ Jesus our Lord, to whom be glory and might with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and ever and to the ages of ages. Amen.


That we must not submit ourselves in temptations, and about fasting.

Given on Friday of the 3rd Week.

Brethren and fathers, yesterday a tempest and to-day calm; yesterday a <disturbance> [1] and today quiet; but blessed is God, who has also dispelled the trial and given you power to remain unmoved in the expectation of threats. This is the way of true Christians, this is the way of authentic monks, to hold themselves always in readiness in the face of dangers on behalf of virtue and to consider nothing more precious that the commandment of God. Those who came said what they said, and they left not so much amazed as ashamed; while to you may the Lord grant the perfect reward in return for your having chosen to be persecuted for his sake; and being rich in mercy he knows how to crown from the intention alone the one who chooses the good. But in fact the trial has not been dispelled, but again and again it continues, and particularly because everywhere there are edicts of the rulers that no one is to lag behind from having a share in heretical fellowship. And so let us hear the Apostle when he says, Conduct yourselves wisely toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Let your speech be always gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you should respond to each one [Col 4,5-6.]. By this he teaches us that we should not submit just anyhow to trials, nor should we pass God’s word over in silence, for he says, My soul takes no pleasure in anyone who draws back [Heb 10,8 = Hab 2,4]. But that’s enough of these matters.

Already the fast has advanced and lays on us, brethren, the task of pressing on eagerly again and again to what follows as each has chosen, not reluctantly or under constraint; for God loves a cheerful faster [1 Cor. 9,7. St Paul, of course, has ‘giver’.]. Except that the coenobitic rule does not let each one act according to their own will; but this is the common limit of self-mastery for those living in obedience: the cutting of their own will. Fasting then is good, because it tames the passions and subjects the flesh to the spirit; weeping is good, because it wipes clean and washes the heart of sins and sets it pure before the Lord; prayer is good, because it gives the mind wings and makes it a companion of God; love is good, because it disregards what concerns itself for the advantage of the neighbour; zeal is good, because it lightens toils and makes the spirit young, as it makes the elder young again. Therefore let us become cheerful, let us be eager. The moment for psalmody? Let us advance keenly. The moment for work? Let us work earnestly. The moment for stillness? Let us be still reasonably. The time for talk? Let us talk suitably. And to speak simply, doing everything decently and in order,[1 Cor. 14,40.] as we have been instructed; let us remain outside tumult and all idle chatter. Let the measure of genuflexions be completed and the customary recitation be fulfilled, according to each one’s power, while watch is kept over the body’s health. And would that the God of peace might bring us to the queen of days, to the resurrection of Christ, and make us worthy of the kingdom of heaven, where there is no food and drink, but justice and peace and joy, as it is written, in the Holy Spirit [Rom. 14,17.]. Would that we might share in them richly, in Christ Jesus our Lord, to whom be glory and might, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and always and to the ages of ages. Amen.

[1] The Greek has diatheke, which means a ‘disposition’, in the sense of a ‘will’ or ‘testament’. In the LXX and NT it is the regular word for ‘covenant’. It does not seem to make any sense in the context, though Moulton Milligan’s comment on the word is interesting: ‘diatheke is properly disposition, an ‘arrangement’ made by one party with plenary power, which the other party may accept or reject, but cannot alter.’ Migne has ‘tumultus’, but since it does not print the Greek, whether this represents a different text, or is simply a guess to fit the sense is unclear. The text as it stands may be corrupt, unless diatheke can be taken in the sense of something like an ‘ultimatum’.


On our imitating the Lord’s sufferings.

[Migne adds: On the Forty Martyrs [March 9th]. But it seems to have been given after the day itself.]

Brethren and fathers, how good it has become for us the separation from the monastery here! For why should our liberty be subject to the judgement of another’s conscience? [1 Cor. 10,29.] And why do we maltreat ourselves still for what is of no use? We managed as far as it was possible and the moment allowed; but now, because when the moment summoned they did not choose persecution on behalf of Christ, as certain others, it is necessary to listen to the Prophet when he says, Come out from among them and be separated, [Isa. 52,11.] says the Lord. If others act otherwise over these matters, they will render an account to the Lord on the day of judgement; for it seems to me that to be brought under their power is equivalent of being indifferent towards the heretics. You see that the same distinction withdraws us from the world and drives us to trouble, to distress, to hunger, to persecution, to prison, to death; but in all these we must be supremely victorious through the God who loved us, [Rom. 8,37. St Theodore seems to be quoting from memory ] when, whenever he sees a soul thirsting for him, gives it force to be able to endure sufferings on his behalf. And to this the Forty Martyrs, whose memorial we have just celebrated, bear witness with the others; for we cannot say that they possessed a different nature to the one we have. But since they loved God with a true heart, they were empowered in their weakness to throw down the invisible enemy by the flesh, and to accomplish a struggle of such a quality and greatness that all Christians praise it in song. And blessed is one who has been granted to share in the sufferings of Christ,[ Cf. 1 Pet. 4,13.] even to some extent at least: the persecuted, because he too was persecuted; the arrested, because he too was arrested; the reviled, because he too was reviled; the scourged, because he too was scourged; the imprisoned, because he too was imprisoned; see too why it is written, If we have died with him, we shall also live with him; if we endure, we shall also reign with him; if we deny, he too will deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful; he is not able to deny himself. [2 Tim. 2,11-13] Do you see the promises and the threats, of what sort and how great they are? For the rest then, brethren, let us strive, let us struggle by the grace of Christ not to shame those things that have been previously mentioned, the banishments, the imprisonments, the scourgings. We may not all have been imprisoned, nor all scourged; but nevertheless the fellowship of life itself becomes a fellowship of sufferings, for if one limb suffers, all the limbs suffer with it; if one limb is glorified, all the limbs rejoice with it. [1 Cor. 12,26] And would that we were even more one body and one spirit, as we have been called in one hope of our calling, [Eph. 4,4.] having Christ as the head, to become well-pleasing to God, to gain the kingdom of heaven, in Christ Jesus our Lord, to whom be glory and might with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and always and to the ages of ages. Amen.


Historical, concerning the Christians who were massacred in Bulgaria during the holy Lent, on account of meat-eating. On the 3rd Sunday.

Brethren and fathers, in the present instruction I want to urge you to consolation from a certain story. The story is this: In Bulgaria, as those who were accurately informed have reported, an evil decree went out from the ruler there that the Christians in captivity and our brothers were to eat meat during the period of the holy Forty Days; those who obeyed would live, those who disobeyed would be killed. The word of the godless was exceedingly strong and the people assembled and there was weeping and groans and much lamentation with women and children, on the one side of those clinging to the Christian law, on the other of those quailing before the death of the flesh. Finally — ah, the pitiable announcement — they were defeated and submitted to the godless order. Fourteen of them though broke away and stood apart saying it was not possible either to obey or to eat meat in violation of the Christian law. At this, appeals and exhortations by the people: Let them yield to constraint, not die foolishly, and through repentance they can be restored again. But nothing could persuade them or weaken them from keeping their gaze fixed on God and on the blessedness that was laid up in his promises. The Scythian then, when he saw the implacable determination of the men, thought to subdue the rest by means of one, and having slain him he at once distributed his children and his wife among the Scythians as slaves, so that the others weakened by this would be brought over. But they rather remained unbowed and shouted out, ‘We are Christians, and our lot is that of our dead brother’. At this confession they were crucified on planks and died in the Lord. You see, therefore, brethren, that even now too the Gospel of the kingdom of God is active. One who loves father or mother, it says, more than me is not worthy of me; and one who loves son or daughter or wife more than me is not worthy of me; and one who does not take up his cross and follow after me, is not worthy of me [Matt. 10,37-38]. And again, Do not fear those who kill the body, but cannot kill the soul; rather fear one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna [Matt. 10,28.]. They were obedient then to the commands of the Gospel, they obeyed the authority of the Lord and were wreathed with the crown of martyrdom, imitating the holy Maccabees and doubling their number, for the Maccabees were seven, but they were fourteen; the former so as not to taste swine’s meat in violation of the law, the latter so as not to partake of any meat in violation of the Christian rule; this latter seems stricter, because for the Maccabees partaking of pork was utterly forbidden, but for these men it was permissible to partake of any meat under necessity, as St Basil says. But since the order from the Scythians was aimed at the rejection of the faith, they refused; but they considered all things as secondary for the love of Christ. O blessed men! O blessed action! in a single instant to have received in exchange eternal rest! What will they say to this, those who deny that heretical communion is a breach of faith? For if there there was a breach of faith by the people over eating meat, how much more here over the heretically sacrificed communion. Where too are those who say that there is no ground for martyrdom in the image of Christ? For if there there was ground for martyrdom for those who did not eat meat, how much more here is the ground for martyrdom resplendent for those who have not denied. But the heretics, because they are dark themselves, also speak things that are dark as they try to embroil others in their own falls.

But let us, brethren, glorify our good God, who glorifies those who have glorified him, who reveals martyrs in this generation too, as we reflect on the fact that if men who were apparently lowly, uneducated, married and with children gave everything up for the love of Christ, how much more should we, who are unmarried and outside the world, when the moment calls, become as zealous as the saints. But this is for a day when Christ calls us; now though, let us stand firm for the uninterrupted martyrdom according to the conscience. Let us not bow the knee to Baal, brethren, and let us not give in when struck by the thoughts [‘The thoughts’, logismoi, are a technical term in the monastic literature and I retain the slightly awkward definite article in English. The expression is effectively synonymous with ‘the demons’. See the important treatment by Prof. A. Guillaumont in Évagre le Pontique. Traité Pratique ou le Moine, tom. 1, pp. 54-98 [SC 170]]; let us rather quench the fiery arrows of the evil one with tears, with supplications, with compunction, with the other batterings of the body, so that we too may be able to say with the Apostle, Every day I die, that is as certain as the boast in you, which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord [1 Cor. 15:31.]; and with the holy David, Because for you we die all the day, we were reckoned as sheep for the slaughter [Ps. 43:23.]. With them may we be found worthy to become heirs of the kingdom of heaven, in Christ Jesus our Lord, to whom be glory and might, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and for ever and to the ages of ages. Amen.


On the incarnate dispensation of our Lord Jesus Christ, and that we should celebrate spiritually. It was spoken on the day of the Annunciation.

Brethren and fathers, the Annunciation is here and it is the first of the Feasts of the Lord, and we should not simply celebrate as most do, but with understanding and with reverence for the mystery. What is the mystery? That the Son of God becomes son of man, using the holy Virgin as the means, dwelling in her and from her fashioning for himself a temple and becoming perfect man. Why so? That he might ransom those under the law, as it is written, and that we might receive sonship [Gal. 4,5.]; that we may no longer be slaves, but free; no longer subject to the passions, but free of passions; no longer friends of the world, but friends of God; no longer walking according to the flesh, but according to the spirit. Those who walk according to the flesh, think the things of the flesh; those who walk according to the spirit, the things of the spirit; for the thought of the flesh is death; but the thought of the spirit, life and peace. And so the thought of the flesh is hostile to God, for it is not subject to the law of God. Indeed it cannot be. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God [Rom. 8,5-8.]. In brief this is the power of the mystery, and this is why we should celebrate spiritually and behave spiritually, with holiness and justice, with love, with gentleness, with peace, with forbearance, with goodness, with the Holy Spirit [2 Cor. 6,6.], so that as far as we ourselves are concerned we do not render the dispensation of our Lord Jesus Christ empty and ineffectual. Not only that, but we should both pray and grieve for the world. Why so? Because the Son of God came to save the world, and the world rejects him. Tribes and languages reject him; the barbarian nations reject him, those who have had his holy name invoked upon them reject him, some through abandoning the faith, others through their evil lives. What should he have done and did not do? Being God he became man, he humbled himself, becoming obedient unto death, the death of the cross [Phil. 2,8.]; he gave us his body to eat and his blood to drink; he allowed us to call him Father, Brother, Head, Teacher, Bridegroom, Fellow-heir and all the other titles which there is no time to mention now. And still he is rejected, and still he bears it. For, he says, I have not come to judge the world, but to save the world [John 12,47.]. What then is there to say, brethren? That the genuine disciples are grieved by the rejections of their fellow-disciples, thus showing love both for the teacher and for the disciples. So too, genuine servants suffer in the same way from the desertions of their fellow-servants. This is why the great Apostle orders that we should offer supplications, prayers, entreaties, thanksgivings on behalf of all mankind, for kings and for all in high positions [1 Tim. 2,1-2.]; and elsewhere he says this on the subject, I speak the truth in Christ, I do not lie, my conscience bears witness with me in the Holy Spirit, that I have a great grief and unceasing anguish in my heart; for I have prayed that I might be anathema to Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh [Rom. 9,1-3.]. You see the power of love? You see the height of friendship? Moses shows it too when he says to God, If you will forgive them their sin, forgive; if not, wipe me out of the book which you have written [Exodus 32,32]. So we too, as genuine and not counterfeit disciples, should not only look to what concerns ourselves, but we should grieve and pray for our brothers and for the whole world; for by so doing what is pleasing to the Lord we shall become inheritors of eternal life, in Christ Jesus our Lord, to whom be the glory and the might with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and for ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.