(Died 304 AD)
St. Theodore was born a heathen and as a young man went into the army. By associating with Christian soldiers, he became familiar with that faith and eventually embraced it.
Following the example of many others at that time, he did not profess openly his beliefs. When his heathen comrades used to sacrifice to their gods, he instead went to the Christian assemblies and assisted in their devotion.
A command came from the Imperial Court, that all Christians should either leave Christ, or prepare themselves for a terrible martyrdom. At that point Theodore neither could, nor would, any longer hide his Christianity, stating publicly: “I am a Christian, and ready to shed the last drop of my blood in defense of the Christian faith.”
Some heathens, hearing this confession, seized him and brought him before the judge, who had pity on him as he was young and of fine appearance. He gave him a few days to consider whether he would renounce Christianity and thus make himself a partaker of the imperial grace or end his life in torment.
Theodore required no time for considering, saying: “It is not necessary that I consider long. I have long since determined rather to bear all possible pain, than to forsake the true faith.”
But he received the time offered him, to prepare himself better for the approaching trial. At the expiration of the appointed time, he wanted to demonstrate by works what his determination was. During the night went to a famous pagan temple and set fire to it, burning it to the ground.
The next day, the people, filled with rage, looked everywhere for the perpetrator of the deed. Theodore voluntarily surrendered himself, saying: “What need is there for this seeking? I am he who set fire to that temple of abominations, in which sacrifice was offered to Satan, and not to the true God.”
The heathens, wild with rage, dragged him before the judge, who asked whether it was true that he had burned the temple, and whether he repented of this sacrilege and would forsake the Christian faith.
“As far as the first part of your question is concerned,” said Theodore firmly, “I confess freely that I did, but I cannot add that I repent of it; on the contrary, I am ready to do the same at any moment. In regard to the Christian faith, I am so far from forsaking it, that I would rather die a thousand deaths.”
The wrathful judge commanded that Theodore be beaten, and then cast into a dungeon, with the threat that he should there die of hunger, if he did not change his mind. The young soldier, however, was not terrified and called on God for aid. In the middle of the night, Christ appeared to him in his sleep, and said: “Be of good courage; for I am with thee: fear not!”
Theodore awoke, and began cheerfully to sing psalms, and to give thanks to the Lord for so gracious a promise.
After several days, Theodore was again brought before the judge, who, seeing him as firm as before, ordered him to be tied to a column, and torn with iron combs and burnt with torches. The executioners did not cease until the saint’s ribs were almost bare. Through his torture Theodore repeated the words of the Psalmist: “I will praise and exalt the Lord at all times. His praise shall be ever on my lips.”
As the tyrant saw that the torment was not achieving the desired effect, he ordered Theodore to be burnt at the stake, as an enemy of the gods. On the way to the place of execution, Theodore saw one of his friends, who was crying most sincerely. “Cleonicus,” cried Theodore; “follow me soon, I shall wait for thee!”
As soon as the Christian hero had arrived at the stake, he crossed himself, approached it cheerfully, and with a beaming countenance began to sing the praises of God, which he continued to do until he expired in the flames and smoke.
Adapted by A.J. Valentini