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Saint Theodore of Sykeon (April 22)


Theodore of Sykeon (d. 613), monk and bishop of Anastasiopolis in Galatia. His mother, called Mary, kept an inn at Sykeon with her mother and sister; they were also prostitutes. Theodore's father was a circus artist, whose speciality was acrobatic camel-riding; he seems later to have had nothing to do with his son, whose upbringing was left to his mother.

Theodore of Sykeon (d. 613), monk and bishop of Anastasiopolis in Galatia. His mother, called Mary, kept an inn at Sykeon with her mother and sister; they were also prostitutes. Theodore’s father was a circus artist, whose speciality was acrobatic camel-riding; he seems later to have had nothing to do with his son, whose upbringing was left to his mother. She had him baptized with the name of Theodore (=gift of God), and when he was only six wanted him to enter the service of the emperor at Constantinople, for which she had prepared him a gold belt and expensive clothes. Owing to a dream in which Saint George appeared to her, she abandoned this plan and had him taught his letters by a local teacher. At about this time the inn was transformed by the arrival of one Stephen, a wonderful cook. It became renowned for the quality of its food, which enabled the women to give up prostitution as an additional source of income. Stephen was elderly and devout; he encouraged Theodore to visit churches, receive the sacraments, and practise fasting and abstinence. After recovering from a nearly fatal attack of bubonic plague he developed the habit of visiting and watching in the nearby chapel of St. George, who admonished his mother in sleep after she had beaten her son soundly for going to the shrine in the early morning. Throughout his life Theodore propagated the cult of St. George. He became a hermit at Arkea, about eight miles away, living in a cave underneath a chapel. There his grandmother used to visit him and bring him fruit and vegetables. He was reputed to have accomplished exorcisms, until he fled to a more complete solitude in the mountains, where he lived in a walled-up cave known only to a deacon in the vicinity. He was eventually rescued in a state of collapse: ill, dirty, and pest-ridden.


He was ordained priest very young (reputedly at the age of only eighteen) and went on pilgrimage to Jerusalem, where he visited the holy places and the hermits of the neighbourhood and where the bishop gave him the monk’s habit. His mother meanwhile married a prominent businessman of Ancyra, his aunt and sister became nuns, and his grandmother, when he returned home, settled near him at Mossyna and helped in the treatment of girls believed to be troubled by unclean spirits. At his own request a wooden cage was made in which he passed the time from Christmas to Palm Sunday. He then moved into an iron cage, suspended on the face of the rock in mid-air above his cave; he ordered an iron breastplate to be made for him besides iron rings for his hands and feet and an iron collar and belt. The outfit was completed by an iron staff with a cross on it. His fasts were spectacular, bears and wolves were his friends, he enjoyed powers of healing and clairvoyance, which once included his deep suspicion of a finely wrought silver chalice which turned out to have been made out of a prostitute’s chamber-pot. He was also outstanding in his practice of prolonged prayer. Near his hermitage he established a monastery for his followers who also took care of the many visitors who came seeking his counsel and prayer. Eventually a larger church was built. What had started as a hermit’s cave had been transformed into a complex of larger buildings with church, monastery, and guest-house.

Supreme honour came on the death of Timothy, bishop of Anastasiopolis, when the clergy and landowners of the town asked archbishop Paul of Ancyra to appoint Theodore in his place. Predictably he first refused but then accepted. His episcopate, as depicted by his biographer, seems to have been notable for its long series of miracles. More interesting perhaps to the modern reader is his description of a notable African monk, Antiochus, who came to see him, on behalf of a town pillaged by barbarians. ‘He had eyebrows that met each other… was about a hundred years old, the hair of his head was as white as wool and hung down to his loins; so too did his beard, and his nails were very long. It was sixty years since he had touched wine or oil, thirty since he had tasted bread. His food was uncooked vegetables with salt and vinegar; his drink water.’ Theodore highly approved of him, consulted him about resigning his episcopate, helped him on his mission, gave him his own horse, and sent him on his way.

His desire to resign his bishopric arose from fear of the neglect of contemplation, the need for his presence in his monastery, and the constant trouble in villages which belonged to the Church. These had been entrusted to men of property in the towns who had oppressed the villagers unjustly. One called Theodosius was so persistent in his misrule that the peasants armed themselves with swords and catapults and threatened death if he would not leave. Theodosius confronted Theodore and alleged that they had risen at his instigation and that he had been absurdly prodigal; he finally kicked away the chair on which the bishop was sitting so that he fell on his back. Theodore then rose and said gently but solemnly that he would remain as bishop no longer. Often he had to break off his psalmody to settle details of administration. He was also disturbed by reports that his monks were leading ‘careless and barren lives’ in his absence. Accordingly he resigned his bishopric after ten years’ rule, and settled in the oratory of St. Michael at Acrena (Akreina), close to Pidrum (Tchardak) near Heliopolis. Here he lived again as a monk and was conspicuous for the healings he accomplished.

At this time he was invited by the emperor and the patriarch to visit Constantinople, where he was much honoured by the emperor and empress who sat at table with him. Then it was decided that all the monasteries should have the power of sanctuary and that the appointment of abbots should be the care of the patriarch rather than the local bishops. His stay in Constantinople was marked by yet another series of miracles, one of which was the cure of the emperor’s son of elephantiasis. After this he departed for his own monastery. Once again even more miracles are recorded, such as deliverance from pests of locusts, beetles, worms, or mice destroying the crops. He also had become a physician who would recommend without hesitation purges and hot-spring baths; he seemed to have the gift of reconciling married couples which led to barren wives having children. The date of his death was recorded by his biographer, but no details. His body was translated to Constantinople. Feast: 22 April.