Comments to: David Woods
Last Updated: December 1999

Coptic Passion of St. Theodore the General and St. Theodore the Eastern

The following encomium is attributed to Theodore, archbishop of Antioch c.AD750-773, but this cannot be taken too seriously since false attributions abound in Coptic literature of this type. It is written in Bohairic dialect. The manuscript - Vat. Copt. 65 (14th century)- consists of 120 vellum leaves and contains three works, a homily of Mark, 49th patriarch of Antioch, on the burial of our Lord, the encomium on the Theodores, and the life of Onuphrius the anchorite by Paphnutius the anchorite. At the end of the latter is a colophon of the deacon Gabriel, son of Menas, giving the date AD979.


The Passion of St. Theodore the General and St. Theodore the Eastern

(Translation by Winstedt (1910), 73-133)

[p. 73] An encomium which the holy confessor of Christ who longed for the glory of martyrdom, the holy abba Theodore, the archbishop of Antioch delivered. He delivered it in honour of the martyrs of Christ and the brave victors, St. Theodore the Eastern and St. Theodore the General, the son of John the Egyptian, who slew the great dragon and saved the little son of the widow of the city Euchetos, and the name of Christ was exalted. And when he delivered this encomium according to their dignity in the sanctuary of St. Theodore the Oriental there was a vast concourse of people assembled in the church celebrating the festival of Theodore the General on the day of his honourable commemoration, that is the 20th of Epiphi. This was the day too of the consecration of the sanctuary of St. Theodore the Eastern: since they had not yet built the oratory of St. Theodore the General, but celebrated his holy festival in the sanctuary of the hero, the Eastern. In the peace of God, amen.

Glorious indeed is the noble mother who cherishes two sons of the kingdom at one time, my [p. 74] beloved: and the more so if those two children are of royal race. For this reason their nurse is rightly honoured, because she brought them up and cherished them well. And most of all if they show their boldness and valour to the king, and, when they grow up, walk before the king rightly and slay all his enemies; then theron the nurse glories in the children she has cherished well till they are valiant warriors for the kingdom. And when they have grown a little, the king will honour them because they show him their boldness and are warriors in the battle. Then the king too gives them rank and honour, that the court may exalt them the higher. And when after a time they go to war and do some little valiance in prportion to their strength, the king rejoices in them, because they are sons of the kingdom: and he writes their name in the register of the kingdom. And so he appoints them generals of the whole army; and men honour them and glory in them, saying, "If these do such great valiance in their childhood, how much the more when they grow up, will they be mighty men and generals." Then the king and his great men honour those little children because of their bravery, and cherish them well in the pleasure of the palace and the feast, that their strength grow.

On this wise then, my beloved, these two heroes from their childhood were heroes, and generals in their demeanour - I mean Theodore the general, whose feast we are celebrating today in the sanctuary of [p. 75] his comrade the Eastern. My beloved, they were two valiant lions from their childhood in all things: they were mighty in their babyhood: they were warlike generals and warriors. So they then are like the two sons of Mouses the prophet, Jesou the son of Naue, and Chaleb the son of Jephone, who won the battles before Mouses. And these two heroes, whose feast we celebrate together today, St. Theodore the Eastern and St. Theodore the General, have names worthy of glory abiding forever. They are the mighty ones who fight for Antioch and scatter the wars that rise against her like Jerusalem, whose mighty men, Abenner the son of Ner and Symei the son of Cirara fought for her and watched over her gates day and night that no stranger might rise up against her.

Even so these two heroes fought for the city Antioch that the Persians might not master her.

Behold then, my beloved, the valour of these saints, who are equal with one another: the Eastern slew the dragon which was beneath the ladder, which troubled the angels coming down from heaven and adjured them in the name of the Exalted. For this reason when St. Theodore the Eastern trampled upon him, the angels rejoiced in coming down upon the earth, because there was none to hinder them again. For this reason the archangel Michael prayed for him while he did this valiance that his throne might be placed before his own in the skies. This very saint it was, who trampled on the great dragon that fought with the angels. Again this saint too whose festival we are celebrating today, St. Theodore the General, slew the raging dragon, consoled the orphans, removed the grief of the widows, set [p. 76] free those in bonds, abolished unrighteous sacrifices, although none of his troop of soldiers fought with him, but he alone in the strength of Christ slaughtered this so great dragon. For this reason, when he saved the little child of the widow and slew the dragon, his sacrifice pleased the Lord, and him gave him this great valour. And he gave him power to crush every dragon upon the earth and those beneath the earth and those in hell: that, if they even hear of him, they tremble. For he it is who slew their father first; and therefore do his sons tremble before him. Again this true hero and mighty champion was not content with these favours. God gave his soul in honour to the holy Archangel Michael to take to the place of his fellow martyr and saint, Theodore the Eastern, that their comradeship might abide for ever in the heavens.

I tell ye, ye godfearing people, that even to the dragons which are in the roads causing fear to sinners and stinging them, these too even so, when they hear the name of St. Theodore the Eastern and St. Theodore the General, know their valour and that they are the foes of the dragons. Straghtway they hide themselves before them: when they hear their name, they vanish. I tell you, my beloved, if a soul is in the hands of a dragon that is stinging it for its sins, if one of these generals is passing by the place, when the dragon recognises the footfall of his horse, he leaves that soul and tortures it not for fear of the holy martyrs. Especially if it be a soul who makes memorial of these saints upon the [p. 77] earth in any way, be it a book of memorial, be it an offering, be it any good thing, then none of the tribe of dragons can approach that soul to do it any harm whatever.

Truly, my beloved, my joy is double today: I rejoice over two martyrs, Theodore the Eastern and Theodore the General; though they were both generals and their names were equal with one another in honour. For the beginning of the name of both is in one letter. For Theta is the beginning of their names. The interpretation of Theta is Theos: Theos again is god, who gave strength to them that they might become martyrs and their name endure. And when the name of God is reckoned with them, they are three in one letter, and the Trinity is complete and inseparable, that is to say the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. If I connect their names with the Trinity, this is true: but not in honour nor in power nor in might, nor in godhead, nor in majesty; but as it were the sons of God, and heirs of his Christ. When I look at the majesty of their conduct [p. 78] and their faces filled with joy and grace, I count them the sons of God, even as a bunch hanging from the vine, whose branch covers the vineyard, which rejoices in its shade and drinks of its water. Even so these two heroes, Theodore the Eastern and Theodore the General, live from the glory of the Trinity, since they are servants and jointheirs of Christ. And I too, the humble Theodore, feel a longing towards these two mighty and valiant lions and warriors, my lord Theodore the Eastern and my lord Theodore the General, the fame of whose might has filled the whole world.

My lord Theodore the Eastern then resembled Abenner, against whom none ever prevailed in any war he entered, either to take him on the point of his lance or to endure the weight of his chariot. Against Abener none ever prevailed save the man of wiles Joab. And none ever prevailed against this mighty man, the Eastern, in war: but they who were in the battle would ask one another saying: "Cometh not Theodore the Oriental to the battle this time ?" And when they knew the side of the battle where he was, they would flee to the other side. If again the Oriental saw the battle afoot, he would ride into their midst, and cry aloud sayin: "I am Theodore the Oriental." Straightway when they heard his voice, they were afraid and trembled and fell down from their horses, and were crushed. And none could sustain this great hero's chariot nor his lance by reason of [p. 79] their weight except himself; and in all these valiant deeds none took him except the abominable unrighteous sinner Diocletian. Again I see my lord Theodore the General himself inclining to listen to the halting words of my humble self, the insignificant Theodore, and and rejoicing to hear his praise from my mouth as I speak in his honour. And this other too, my lord Theodore the General, resembles Simei the son of Cyrara, who had no fear before king David, but reviled him in the midst of his people on the day when he met him in the way. He reviled him because of the death of Ourias the Hittite and said to him in the midst of the whole people that he was an unrighteous king .......... like thy father the Egyptian, who strove against the god of thy mother and was banished by her to the land of Egypt. Now grieve me not from this time forth, lest I be wroth with thee and send thee to the barbarian land of Egypt, like thy father the Egyptian." St. Theodore answered and said to Diocletian: "It is not just for you, Diocletian, to abuse the land of Egypt in which you grew up in your orphanhood. No shame is it to me, sinner, that you call my father an Egyptian, because that was the land of his fathers.

But great shame is it that a goatherd should sit upon the throne as king and drink men's blood like a ravening beast. In truth, sinner, it were well for thee to be tending sheep in the fields as in days gone by rather than to be king. [p. 80] Know Diocletian, thy sceptre is a .... of the darkness of the air, thy crown is a crown of ...., thy beaker a sword of double edge, thy wine blood of deceit, thy table destructive war, the pledge of death thy feast, thy throne a grave and sepuchre, accursed one.

Ye see now, godfearing people, the valour of this mighty man, this general, this victorious champion, this athlete, this martyr, this general, this hero, this good warrior in the lists of his lord, my lord St. Theodore the general, how he spake these words to the face of the king without fear. Now he is worthy to be exalted according to the desert of his valour, which he revealed in the city of Antioch, whose children are dwellers in heaven and in Sion.

And I will tell you too, my beloved, what this city Antioch resembles in its honour. It is like a spring of sweet water springing forth from beneath trees laden with fruit of sweet scent, the fame of whose scent fills the whole world. Even so then is it, my beloved. A wicked tyrant came walking and found its water sweet, and its trees covered with fruit. He abode by it in pride and drank of its water and ate of its fruit. But in his pride he cut down the trees that men could not find them and live from their fruit; and he destroyed the water of the spring. [p. 81] Accordingly that tyrant sinned against God and warred against man. But when God saw that he cut down the trees, and began to cover the spring, he deceived him swiftly in his wicked pride. And the spring appeared again and bubbled up, the roots of the trees which he had cut down, flourished exceedingly, and grew greater and worked cures healing the sick in many ways at one time. That spring is this city of Antioch abiding in the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ. Those trees, which it caused to spring up, are the warlike generals, St. Theodore the Eastern and Claudius and Apater and Apa Victor and Kyrios Justus and Eusebius and Basilides and Susinius and Stephen and Apa Polius and Theodore the General and many more. The tyrant who came upon them is Diocletian, who slew them in the name of Christ. The spring which he hid and got dominion over, is the glorious faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, which he despised. And these are the trees which grew up a second time after the tyrant whom God smote and he died an evil death. The spring which bubbled up again is the holy faith which is boldly revealed: the trees which were cut down and whose roots grew up again are the bodies of those saints which appeared upon the earth and performed signs and wonders, and cured the sick. Verily the riddle of the Prophet is accomplished, which he spake about Jerusalem; it fits with Antioch, when he says: "Their blood was shed round about Jerusalem, and there was none to bury their bodies." Who are they who were slain round about Jerusalem, [p. 82] prophet David, whose bodies were not buried ?

The prophets' bodies were buried; the Apostles were covered. Now, my father the prophet, tell me of those who were slain in the neighbourhood of thy city save the little children whom Herod slew among his children, for their bodies were many; the soldiers took half of their bodies from their mothers who would not give them up. The soldiers clave them in the middle and cast them on the dungheaps: while the other half remained in the hands of their mothers who wept over them. And on my city Antioch, fell this violence from the unrighteous king Diocletian, who strove with God and laid hands on every one who believed on Christ, and slew them, so that the streets of the town ran with blood, like a stream of water, shed in the name of Christ: and the soldiers persecuted every one who buried their bodies, except those who gave them money and gifts and took them in secret.

Now my city Antioch is glorious even as Jerusalem for the number of martyrs slain in it. The little children of Jerusalem were slain against their own wish and that of their parents: but the martyrs of my city of their own free will gave their heads to the sword, leaving their parents and their servants and their goods; and gave their bodies as a sacrifice to God. The wonder of my city Antioch surpasses that of Jerusalem, for her great and mighty warriors and her rich men who left what was theirs and followed after their conqueror, our Lord Jesus Christ, and were slain in his holy name. For this reason my city glories [p. 83] even as Jerusalem. The martyrs of my city Antioch vowed great gifts to the kingdom of heaven before they were slaughtered; the martyrs of my city had abundance of wealth and honours, and the things which people desire to see and see them not. The little children of Jerusalem were not granted the request of the kingdom of heaven according to the word of Revelations: "Rest ye till your brethren, who are killed as ye, be fulfilled". Wherefore they stand waiting before them.

Again I hear of the first martyr of the city of Jerusalem, Stephen the archdeacon, who confessed Christ in the Synhedrim of the Jews, and was slain by them. The chief commander and martyr too of my city was Stephen son of Nicomion, the brother of Basilides. He too was the firstfruit of the confessors of Antioch; he too was the first who set his hope on Christ, for lo, when the king wrote the abominable decree, he stood and was troubled in his soul and said: "What is this new violence, king, which you have revealed in this town ? What is this written anathema of Apollo ? for my Lord Jesus Christ destroys every one who believes on him. Then Stephen got great strength, he leaped upon the soldier in whose hand the decree was, tore it from his hands and rent it in pieces, the king and all his great men looking on. And the king said to him, "Stephen, what is this thou hast done ? Thou hast done this to thy destruction and thy slaughter." Straightway the king unsheathed his sword with his own hand, and clave him in twain in the middle. And the head of [p. 84] St. Stephen abode a great while while before the king speaking to his destruction. It cried aloud abundantly making mention of all the saints of my city Antioch. And so the fame of the head of St. Stephen spread abroad in Antioch, so that great crowds assembled to see the head speaking to the destruction of the king. And the king, when he saw the head of the saint speaking to his destruction in the presence of the crowd, was greatly ashamed and bade them bury it, while still speaking. And it came to pass when it was buried in the ground, it spake again abundantly; for three days after its burial every one heard it speaking and cursing the king like John the Baptist abusing Herod. Then when Diocletian saw that the head of St. Stephen did not keep silent, he had it cast into a vessel of lead with its mouth sealed, and thrown into the sea at night. So did St. Stephen fulfill his martyrdom on the 13th of the month Phamenoth; and his holy body was given to his mother.

After this let us return to the memorial of St. Theodore the General whose feast we are celebrating today in the chapel of his comrade Theodore the Eastern, since their honored festivals meet on one day, the 20th of Epiphi. This is the day of the dedication of the shrine of Theodore the Eastern. His mother then called him the Eastern after after the name of her father who was dead. And his mother called her firstborn the Eastern and he died. Again she bore our lord Theodore the Eastern; and his father Zotericus called him after the name of his father Theodore: and likewise again his mother for the love she bore her firstborn called him too the Eastern after the name of his elder brother who was dead and her father, the Eastern.

So the kindred of his father called him by this name, the Eastern. these two names were connected with one another and were sweet in the mouth of everyone like honey. The name of the father prevailed and had precedence, and he was called Theodore. Likewise the name of his mother followed and he was called the Eastern.

Now I call upon you, martyrs of my lord Jesus Christ, that ye aid me in my feebleness, because I have taken courage and come into your midst at the will of the godfearing king Constantine and his officers and councillors. Ye asked me bout the body of St. Theodore the General, why his body was not placed with the body of his comrade the Eastern, but abode in the land of Egypt, - and our city of Antioch lacks it - since he walked at all times with Theodore the Oriental.

And it is right that I should tell you why they took his body to Egypt; though it was no foreign land, but the land of his fathers.

Now it happened, my beloved, that when the father of Claudius was king at Antioch, and St. Kyrios Claudius was a little child with his sisters kyria Theognosta and Thouasia, great wars arose: and he grew sick through fear at the wars and died. And the court saw that St. kyrius Claudius was a child and so small that he could not manage the affairs of the realm, as the barbarians were more than the Romans. They took the brother of Ptolemy, the father of St. Claudius, whose name was Numerianus and seated him upon the throne of the Romans. So the barbarians were not content in heart because the son of the king had been taken captive and their [p. 86] cities spoiled. But when they heard that king Ptolemy, the father of St. Claudius, was dead, they rejoiced thinking there would be no king seated on the throne. They bribed seven nations to join them in the war, saying: "In as much as they slew the son of the king and laid waste our cities, we too will not spare them, till we have slain Claudius the son of the king in retribution, and ravage their lands. But behold merchants came from the Persians and told Numerianus their crafty trick: and they told him: "They have bribed seven nations to join with them". And when Numerianus heard this, he trembled greatly, and turned to flee in secret and leave his realm because of the danger from the various barbarians. But they warned the king that he should enrol recruits of Egypt for the war. And straightway he called a general, Anastasius, and gave him a guard of soldiers to go to the south of all Egypt, saying to him: "Come, raise thy hand above my head, and swear that of all the recruits thou findest in the land of Egypt, thou wilt let none off, till we send them to the war." And Anastasius went to the south of Egypt, and ceased not to sail on the river until he landed at a port called Paphor of Pshot, which was the land of the father of St. Theodore the General, whose festival we are celebrating today. When the general visited that place, the governor of it, whose name was Cyrus, came out to meet him, and held a great banquet for him and his soldiers. And the blessed John, the father of St. Theodore the General, was the brother of the governor's wife: and he too came to meet the general. Now this John was comely in person, freshfaced, and a distinguished officer, and mighty to look upon. [p. 87] When the general saw him, he rejoiced greatly thinking to make him a recruit; and he set him before himself. And John was in distress and mourning; but the general gave him a bag of gold and a royal robe and a fine horse and soldiers under him. And when the blessed John saw the honour which the general gave him, he was very downcast and wept, saying: "My lord, it is not meet that thy servant take anything from thee: but it is right for us to give thee honours". And when the general saw that he wept, he was afraid that he would flee and took him to a port and confined him.

The governor, who was the husband of John's sister, heard that he was confined and weeping in sorrow, and besought the general for him: but the general would not let him off because of his love for him. And it came to pass that while the blessed John was confined, his sister Amphylia, the wife of the governor, was told that John her brother was taken and that they were carrying him to the war: and she arose and went to John her brother in the place where he was confined. She tore the hair of her head and they wept together, John because he would be taken to a foreign land, and his sister because she would be deprived of her brother. However there was much weeping and groaning, and a great crowd gathered round them. Then the general heard the voice of the crowd, and enquired what was happening. They told him that it was the sister of John weeping for him. Straightway he bade them bring John forth from the midst of [p. 88] them, for he feared that they would take him away. And when they brought him to the general, his sister came forth from the midst of the crowd before the general, her head uncovered; she took half of the hair of her head and cast it on her brother weeping. And Anastasius the general hid his face for her sake and said to her: "My sister, spare your nobility. By the health of the king, he shall get no harm." But Amphylia, the sister of the blessed John, said: "My lord, my honour and glory and my nobility are my brother. My lord, if you separate me from my brother, my honour and my nobility will fall below every one. I beg you, my lord general, by the health of the king, if you desire money, my goods, my gold, my silver, my beasts, my gardens, my man servants, my maid servants and any thing that is mine, they are my brother's. Take them, and leave me my brother. If you desire men, here are my two sons, whom I have nourished at my breast, take them and leave me my brother. Do not cause my heart this great grief."

For all that the general did not leave him; but bound his hands till the morrow. And it happened in the night as the blessed John was confined in chains and weeping for sorrow, behold a light appeared to him, and he heard a voice saying: "John, John, cease from weeping." John answered saying: "My lord, I weep because they entreat me evilly and take me to a foreign land, and wish to robe me of the land of my fathers." The voice said to him: "Weep not for the land of your fathers: your seed shall inhabit it forever. The place in which you are confined shall be an abiding place for his body for ever. He will guide the ships that sail; he will chase the demons and dragons that are [p. 89] upon the earth. the place in which you are confined he will make a wine-press and a lake shall be dug in its midst for the treading out of the vintage and the blood of Christ. Now, John, weep not for the land of your fathers; nor have fear for the war. The sword will not shed blood, nor will a wound touch thy body." The blessed John's heart came to him; he ceased from weeping; but he marvelled how "my seed shall inhabit my land. I have not taken wife, nor begotten child. but let the will of the Lord come to pass for me".

After this those of the city and district made warlike preparations; and brought the barbarians who dwelt in their district to slay the general, and take John from his hands. But John was told of this plan, while he was confined, and was grieved at heart greatly. He sent to Cyrus the governor, the husband of his sister, and to Amphylia his sister, saying: "What is this thing ye wish to do ? Do ye wish to slay the general ? Nay, my brethren, do not this violent deed in the presence of God, lest the king be wroth and send and destroy our city. But give place to God: we trust he will not desert us ever." He told them what he had heard in the prison.

But on the morrow they brought the blessed John out of the prison to go with him. A number of those of his district, male and female, small and great, widow and orphan, all went with him weeping and saying: "We salute thee, our beloved brother John. All the good things thou hast done to us God pay back to thee. The fleece of thy sheep is our clothing; the growth of thy fields our food; thy wine and thy oil comfort us". Then his sister Amphylia threw herself upon his [p. 90] neck, weeping and saying: "I salute thee, my beloved John, the light of my eyes: I salute thee, my brother who art pleasant to me, because they part me from thy sight. I salute thee and the foreign land to which they take thee. I am a woman, a weak vessel. I have not strength to go thither. I salute thee, my beloved brother: I know not what land will be thine. I gave my two children and all my wealth for thee; and they did not free thee for me. Now take the hair of my head, that when thou beholdest it, thou mayst remember me in the land to which thou goest. And may He that gave peace to Joseph in the presence of Pharao king of Egypt aforetime, give grace to thee my brother. May Jesus guide thee and his angels protect thee in every place to which thou goest." So spake Amphylia the sister of John weeping: and the general himself wept at that hour. Then she turned to Anastasius the general and said to him: "I adjure thee, thou who takest my brother from me by violence, that thou show mercy to my brother in the hour of his sorrow. O Anastasius the general, thou art like death the spoiler of souls. Alack ! I gave thee money for my brother, and thou wouldst not let him free. Remember thou hast separated brother from orphan sister. I adjure thee by the health of the king, general, vex no more my brother in the road. I adjure thee, general, send not my brother to the war: for I have watched over him always". So spake his sister and embraced him and kissed him, weeping.

But the general took him to the capital and the good God gave him great grace in the presence of the king and his great men, and they sent him not to the war. But the general took [p. 91] him into his house and loved him greatly, seeing the great grace in his face. He asked the king to command him to give his daughter in marriage to him: and the king bade him give her. And one day the wife of John gave birth to this great light St. Theodore the general, on the 11th of the month Choiak. And his mother Straticia said to his father: "I will call my son Theodore, that he may receive the honour and the might of Theodore the Eastern, the son of Sotericus, and that all the great men of the court do him like honour. And the blessed John said: "This is the command of God. We will call him by this name Theodore".

To be continued ....


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