February 8, 2024

Homily on the Holy Great Martyr Theodore the Stratelates (St. Luke of Simferopol)

On the Holy Great Martyr Theodore the Stratelates

By S. Luke, Archbishop of Simferopol and All Crimea

(Delivered in 1958)

Recently I spoke in the cemetery church about the very important significance for us of the lives of the saints.

Yesterday in Alushta there was a temple feast in memory of the transfer of the relics of the Holy Great Martyr Theodore Stratelates. I would like to introduce you to the life of this great saint.

He was a Stratelates, that is, a military leader in the city of Heraclea near the Black Sea and lived at the end of the 3rd and beginning of the 4th century after the Nativity of Christ.

The news reached Emperor Licinius that Theodore was a Christian and was turning the inhabitants of Heraclea away from the pagan gods, and he demanded Theodore to come to Nicomedia.

Wanting to suffer for Christ at his place of residence, among the many people converted to Christ by him, Theodore resorted to cunning: he wrote to Licinius that Heraclea was restless, the people were ceasing to honor the pagan gods, and therefore asked Licinius to come to Heraclea himself and bring more gold and silver idols. The king liked this proposal, accepted it and arrived in Heraclea with an army of eight thousand and many dignitaries. Having joyfully greeted Theodore, he scheduled a sacrifice to the pagan gods for the next day, which Theodore was to perform publicly. Theodore asked that gold and silver idols be left for him overnight so that he could pray before them. But instead of praying, Theodore broke them into pieces with a hammer and distributed them to the poor.

Having learned about this, Licinius became furious and condemned Theodore to capital execution. Three and four warriors beat him until exhaustion on the back and belly with raw ox sinews, then with iron rods, they they burned him with candles, cut him with razors and threw him into prison.

Five days later he was crucified on the cross, where the young men shot at him with bows, and two arrows hit both his eyes. A sharp iron rod was then driven into his belly.

The next day, Licinius sent to bring the body of the deceased, as he thought, Theodore, but he was found completely healthy, taken down from the cross and sitting at its foot.

Licinius ordered Theodore's head to be cut off, but a popular revolt arose; 370 soldiers of Licinius believed in Christ, and the emperor was in danger from the people. But it was prevented by Theodore himself, who calmly bowed his head under the executioner’s sword with a prayer of gratitude to God.

Here is a brief summary of the glorious and radiant life of the Great Martyr Theodore Stratelates.

Don’t we have the right to say that with his life, severe torment and death, Saint Theodore showed us a precious example of fulfilling the words of Christ: “If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also” (John 12:26).

Where did he find strength to endure this terrible torment? Of course, in fiery faith and in all-encompassing love for the Lord Jesus Christ, in His Divine preaching and in His miracles unprecedented in the world.

One day the chief priests and scribes sent their servants to find and bring the Lord Jesus Christ to them. The servants went and listened, and enchanted by the Lord Jesus preaching in the square they returned with nothing to those who had sent them, and when asked why they did not bring Jesus, they answered: “Never has a man spoken like this Man” (John 7:46).

Blessed are you, good servants of the evil enemies of Christ, who have received the Divine preaching of our Savior as deeply as all Christians of little faith should perceive it. For, of course, the world has never heard before and will never again hear such Divine commandments and parables as the incarnate Son of God brought into the world.

The amazing and countless miracles of Christ lead us to deep faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as the Son of God, to fiery love for Him. When, at a single word of Christ, Lazarus, who had been lying in it for four days, came out of the tomb, the crowd of Jews who came to console his sisters Mary and Martha believed in the Lord Jesus as their Messiah. And all over the world this Divine miracle still excites the hearts of millions of Christians.

When with one command: “Peace, be still!” (Mark 4:39), the fierce storm on the Sea of Galilee subsided, and His disciples said to each other in amazement: “Who is this, that both the winds and the sea obey Him?” (Matthew 8:27) - then won’t we also fall on our faces together with them before the great Wonderworker!

The good and pure-hearted Jews, seeing the amazing miracles of Christ, said to each other: “When the Christ comes, will He do more signs than these which this Man has done?” (John 7:31).

The blessed Great Martyr Theodore knew this, read this, and the words and deeds of Christ, like heavenly arrows, forever pierced his mind and heart, and his pure heart was forever kindled with fiery love for Christ. And he followed the Lord Jesus and came to the cross on which he was crucified, just as He was.

And we, Christians of little faith, become discouraged and lose heart at the first stumble on the rocks and ruts of our path following Christ.

Will we remember, like blessed Theodore, other words of Christ: “Whoever loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me...” (Matthew 10:37)?

But blessed Theodore despised everything for the sake of Christ. He even despised the royal honors that Licinius promised him while he considered him a pagan.

And for those who only call themselves Christians, how easily they are seduced and led away from the path of Christ by the insignificant blessings and honors of earthly life!

Our Lord Jesus Christ did not leave His faithful servants, who loved Him with all their hearts, especially the holy martyrs, without His miraculous help during their unimaginably terrible torment. The fire of red-hot furnaces, and boiling oil, and sulfur often did not burn them; wild animals lay down at their feet and licked them.

The completely tormented Great Martyr Theodore was taken from the cross and completely healed by an angel sent by God.

The spectacle of terrible suffering and the streams of blood of the holy martyrs often converted hundreds of pagans to Christ. And the torment of blessed Theodore served to save 370 soldiers who believed in Christ.

Blessed Theodore was one of those about whom our Lord Jesus Christ said: “Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:19).

I see with deep joy how the number of worshipers in this cathedral and in most churches in our diocese increases day by day.

I deeply rejoice that the Divine preaching of our Lord Jesus Christ, His unheard-of miracles and the terrible cross of Golgotha excite and shake the hearts of your flock, the flock given to me by God. And drops of the blood of the Great Martyr Theodore Stratelates and tens of thousands of other martyrs of Christ are dripping onto your hearts.

Guard this precious blood. Keep faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and ardent love for Him - and no powers of the world or hell will shake your faith and will not prevent you from acquiring the blessings of eternal life with our Lord Jesus Christ, His Eternal Father and the Most Holy Spirit. Amen.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

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