In this story, Theodora is a married woman but she is pursued by a suitor who employs a witch to advance his case. The witch persuades Theodora to commit adultery, but Theodora is stricken with guilt afterwards. She disguises herself as a man and joins a monastery. Like Saint Marina and Saint Pelageia, she is accused of fathering a child and the other monks expel her from the monastery, but she takes the child with her and raises the child herself. It's a beautiful story in which Theodora's husband also plays a role.
At one point, Theodora uses the Bible for a sort of divination, opening the Gospels to see what message she finds by opening the book at random. She finds the words of Pontius Pilate: Quod scripsi, scripsi; What I have written, I have written.
[Notes by LKG]
This story is part of the Women Saints unit. Story source: The Golden Legend edited by F. S. Ellis (1900).
The Life of S. Theodora
The devil having envy to the holiness of Theodora, enticed a rich man of the town into the concupiscence of her; which sent her divers messengers and gifts, requiring that she would assent to his desire. But she refused their message and despised the gifts. He was so busy on her, and so much grievous, that she could have no rest, and was almost overcome.
At the last he sent a witch and promised her many things if she could bring about that she should consent to his desire. And she went and exhorted her to do this sin with that man, and to have pity on him.
To whom she said that, tofore God all things were known, wherefor she would in no wise do so great a sin.
And this false enchantress said: whatsoever is done in the daytime God seeth and knoweth, but what is done after the sun is down in the west and is dark, God knoweth nothing thereof.
To whom Theodora said: Sayst thou the truth?
Yea, verily I tell you the truth.
And so the woman being deceived, bade the man he should come at night, and she should accomplish his will and desire. And when this ill woman had told this to the man, he was glad and joyful, and kept his hour, and had his will of her and departed.
Theodora, returning to herself, began to weep most bitterly, and smote her visage and breast, saying: Alas! alas! I have lost my soul, and have destroyed the beauty of my name.
Her husband came from without, and found his wife so sorrowing and desolate, desired to know the cause for to comfort her, but she would receive no consolation.
In the morn early she went to a monastery of nuns, and demanded of the abbess if God could know any sin done and committed by night, after the day was passed. To whom she said: Nothing may be hid from God, for God seeth and knoweth all that is done in what hour it be committed by night or day.
And then she wept bitterly saying: Give me the book of the Gospels that some lot may fall to me. And she opening the book found written: Quod scripsi scripsi. Then she returned home to her house.
And on a day when her husband was out, she cut off her hair, and clad her with the clothes of her husband, and went to a monastery of monks which was eighteen miles thence, and hied her, and there required that she might be received with the monks. She was demanded of her name, and she said she was named Theodorus. And there she was received, and meekly did all the offices, and her services were acceptable to everybody.
After certain years the abbot called brother Theodorus for to yoke the oxen, and commanded her that she should go to the city and fetch oil.
Her husband wept much for sorrow and dread lest she were gone away with another man. And the angel of God appeared to him and said: Arise early and stand in the way of the martyrs Peter and Paul, and she that shall meet thee is thy wife.
Which done, Theodora with her camels came, and, seeing her husband, knew him well, and said within herself: Alas! good husband, how much labour do I that I may have forgiveness of the sin that I have done to thee?
And when she approached him she saluted him saying: Our Lord give thee joy, my lord.
He nothing knew her, and when he had long abided he held him deceived. And a voice said to him: He that yesterday saluted thee was thy wife.
Theodora was of so great holiness, that she did many miracles. She saved a man all to-torn with a wild beast by her prayers, and she cursed that beast, and suddenly it died and fell down.
The devil could not suffer her holiness, and appeared to her saying: Thou strumpet above all other, and adulterer, thou hast forsaken thy husband for to come hither and despise me. By my might and power I shall raise a battle against thee, and but I make thee reny the crucified God, say it am not I.
She made the sign of the cross, and anon the devil vanished away.
On a time as she returned from the city, and in a certain place was harboured, a wench came to her in the night, saying: Sleep with me this night, whom she refused. And then this wench went to another that lay in the same hostelry. When her belly began to swell, she was demanded of whom she had conceived. And she said: That monk hath lain by me.
When the child was born they sent it to the abbot of the monastery, which blamed sore Theodorus, and he meekly demanded that it might be forgiven him. But he was cast out of the monastery, and took the child upon his shoulder, and so she abode out of the monastery seven years, and nourished the child with the milk of the beasts.
The devil having envy of her much patience, in the likeness of her husband he transfigured him, and came and said to her: Come now thou, my wife, for if thou hast lain with another man I forgive it thee.
And she had supposed it had been her husband, and said: I shall no more dwell with thee, for the son of John the knight hath lain by me, and I will do penance for that I have sinned against thee. And she made her prayer, and anon the devil vanished away, and she knew that it was the devil.
Another time the devil would make her afraid, for devils came to her in the likeness of terrible wild beasts, and a certain man said to them: Eat ye this strumpet; she then prayed, and anon they vanished away.
Another time a multitude of knights came, with whom was a prince tofore, and the others worshipped him. Which knights said to Theodora, Arise and worship our prince.
Which answered: I worship and adore my Lord God.
And when it was told to the prince, he commanded that she should be brought tofore him, and to be tormented with so many torments that she should be esteemed for dead. And then she made her prayers, and all the multitude vanished away.
Another time she saw there much gold, and she blessed her and commended her to God, and it vanished away.
Another time she saw a basket borne full of all manner of good meat, and he that bare it said to her: The prince that beat thee saith that thou shouldest take this and eat, for he did it unwittingly. She blessed her, and anon he vanished away.
When the seven years were complete that she had been out of the monastery, the abbot considering her patience took her in again with her child. And unnethe two years after, when she had laudably accomplished her observance, she took the child and closed it with her in her cell.
And when the abbot knew thereof he sent certain of his monks to take heed what she did and said. And she embracing the child and kissing said: My sweet son, the time of my death cometh, I leave and commend thee to God; take him for thy father and helper. And my sweet son, see that thou fast and pray, and serve my brethren devoutly.
And she thus saying gave up her spirit, and slept in our Lord, about the year of grace four hundred, sixty and ten, which the child be holding began to weep bitterly.
In that same night was a vision showed to the abbot in this wise. Him seemed that a great marriage was made, and thereto came angels, prophets, martyrs, and all saints, and in the middle of them was a woman beset about with great glory, and they that assisted her, worshipped her. And a voice was heard saying: This is Theodora the monk that was falsely accused of a child. And seven times be changed on her. She is chastised, because she defouled the bed of her husband.
And then the abbot awoke, and astonished, went with his brethren to her cell, and found her there dead. And they entered in and uncovered her, and found that she was a woman.
The abbot sent for the father of the wench that slandered her, and said to him: The man that hath lain by thy daughter is now dead, and took away the cloth and so knew that she was a woman. And all that heard thereof were in great dread.
The angel of God spake to the abbot, saying: Arise hastily and take thy horse, and ride into the city, and him that thou meet, take and bring him with thee. And forth he rode, and met with a man running, whom the abbot demanded whither he ranne, and he said: My wife is now dead, and I go to see her.
And the abbot took and set the husband of Theodora on his horse, and came together weeping much sore, and with great reverence and solemnity buried her. The husband of Theodora entered into the cell of his wife, and abode therein till that he died in our Lord.
The child, following his nurse, Theodora, flourished in all honesty, and when the abbot of the monastery was dead, he was elected with one voice of the convent for to be abbot.
Next: Saint Daria
(St. Theodora of Alexandria Iconfor sale at St. Joseph Orthodox Bookstore)