The Venerable Saint Theodosius the Great, also Theodosius the Cenobiarch lived during the fifth-sixth centuries (423 AD – 529 AD), and was the founder and organizer of the cenobitic way of monastic life.[note 1] The monastery that he founded in 476 AD became known as the “Monastery of St. Theodosius“, and includes his tomb.[note 2] His feast day is on January 11.
Saint Theodosius was born in the province of Cappadocia in the village of Mogarissus. His parents Proheresius and Eulogia were very devout.
Endowed with a splendid voice, he zealously toiled at church reading and singing. St Theodosius prayed fervently that the Lord would guide him on the way to salvation. In his early years he visited the Holy Land and met with St Symeon the Stylite (September 1), who blessed him and predicted future pastoral service for him.
Yearning for the solitary life, Saint Theodosius settled in Palestine into a desolate cave, in which, according to Tradition, the three Magi had spent the night, having come to worship the Savior after His Nativity. He lived there for thirty years in great abstinence and unceasing prayer. People flocked to the ascetic, wishing to live under his guidance.
When the cave could no longer hold all the monks, St Theodosius prayed that the Lord Himself would indicate a place for the monks to live. Taking a censer with cold charcoal and incense, the monk started walking into the desert. At a certain spot the charcoal ignited by itself and the incense smoke began to rise. Here the monk established the first cenobitic monastery, or Lavra (meaning “broad” or “populous”).
It was around this time that Theodosius’ friend and countryman Sabbas the Sanctified was appointed Archimandrite of all the isolated monks in Palestine, by Patriarch Sallustius of Jerusalem (486-493). Therefore Theodosius was made the leader of all those monks who lived in community, and this was the origin of his being called “the Cenobiarch”, which translates as chief of those living a life in common.
Monastery of St. Theodosius
Soon the Lavra of St Theodosius became renowned, and up to 700 monks gathered at it. According to the final testament of St Theodosius, the Lavra rendered service to neighbor, gave aid to the poor and provided shelter for wanderers. There was a communal table for all, communal property, communal penance, communal labor, communal patience and, not too rare, communal hunger. Theodosius was an exalted model of life to all the monks; an example in labor, prayer, fasting, watchfulness and in all Christian virtues.
St Theodosius was extremely compassionate. Once, when there was a famine in Palestine and a multitude of people gathered at the monastery, he gave orders to allow everyone into the monastery enclosure. His disciples were annoyed, knowing that the monastery did not have the means to feed all those who had come. But when they went into the bakery, they saw that through the prayers of the abba, it was filled with bread. This miracle was repeated every time St Theodosius wanted to help the destitute.
At the monastery, St Theodosius built a home for taking in strangers, separate infirmaries for monks and laymen, and also a shelter for the dying.
Seeing that people from various lands gathered at the Lavra, the saint arranged for services and hymns to be offered to God in the various languages: Greek, Georgian and Armenian. However when all were gathered to receive the Holy Mysteries in the large church, the divine services were chanted in Greek.
Opponent of Monophysitism
During the reign of the Byzantine Emperor Anastasius (491-518) there arose the heresy of Eutychius and Severus, which recognized neither the sacraments nor the clergy. The emperor accepted the false teaching, and the Orthodox began to suffer persecution. St Theodosius stood firmly in defense of Orthodoxy and wrote a letter to the emperor on behalf of the monks, in which they denounced him and refuted the heresy with the teachings of the Ecumenical Councils. He affirmed moreover, that the desert-dwellers and monks would firmly support the Orthodox teaching. The emperor showed restraint for a short while, but then he renewed his persecution of the Orthodox. The holy Elder then showed great zeal for the truth. Leaving the monastery, he came to Jerusalem and in the church, he stood at the high place and cried out for all to hear: “Whoever does not honor the four Ecumenical Councils, let him be anathema!” For this bold deed the monk was sent to prison, but soon returned after the death of the emperor.
St Theodosius accomplished many healings and other miracles during his life. God granted him the gift of working miracles by which he was able to heal the sick, to appear from a distance, to tame wild beasts, to discern the future and to cause bread and wheat to multiply. Prayer was on his lips day and night.
Through his prayers he once destroyed the locusts devastating the fields in Palestine. Also by his intercession, soldiers were saved from death, and he also saved those perishing in shipwrecks and those lost in the desert.
Once, the saint gave orders to strike the semandron (a piece of wood hit with a mallet), so that the brethren would gather at prayer. He told them, “The wrath of God draws near the East.” After several days it became known that a strong earthquake had destroyed the city of Antioch at the very hour when the saint had summoned the brethren to prayer.
Before his death, St Theodosius summoned to him three beloved bishops and revealed to them that he would soon depart to the Lord. After three days, he died peacefully at the age of 105, in 529 AD. The saint’s body was buried with reverence in his first cell, the cave in which he lived at the beginning of his ascetic deeds.
Troparion – Tone 8
By a flood of tears you made the desert fertile,
and your longing for God brought forth fruits in abundance.
By the radiance of miracles you illumined the whole universe!
Our Father Theodosius, pray to Christ God to save our souls!
Kontakion – Tone 8
Planted in the courts of your Lord, you blossomed beautifully with virtue,
and increased your children in the desert, showering them with streams of
your tears, O chief shepherd of the divine flock of God.
Therefore, we cry to you: “Rejoice, Father Theodosius.”
Monastery of Saint Theodosius the Cenobiarch, Holy Land
Monastery of Saint Theodosius the Cenobiarch, Holy Land
The burial crypt of Monastery of Saint Theodosius the Great, Holy Land