Comments to: David Woods
Last Updated: December 1999

Armenian Passion of St. Theodore the General (BHO 1168)

F.C. Conybeare, The Armenian Apology and Acts of Apollonius and Other Monuments of Early Christianity (London, 1896), 220-37, translates the Armenian passion of St. Theodore found in Vitae et Passiones Sanctorum Selectae ex Eclogariis, 2 vols. (Venice, 1874), vol. I, 569-81.

The Passion of St. Theodore the General

(Translation by Conybeare (1896), 220-37)

1. Unsearchable and wonderful are the heavenly gifts which the Creator has freely bestowed in miraculous wise on the ranks of His holy martyrs. Unspeakable is the patience with which they entered and won the struggle, and too varied are their virtues for it to be possible to relate them, even for those who loved them and fought beside them. Nor is it easy to tell even in metaphor of the fair seeming and brightness of the richly burgeoning wreaths and of the unfading and varied chaplets which they wove. It is hard to relate how, by their strength in martyrdom, they locked together and surrounded themselves with the shields of the Spirit, and were tried like gold which is tried in the fire. Thus they crossed over the dark sea and turbulent of this wicked life, and displayed their victory over the antagonism of the devil. None of those who are in the flesh can worthily commemorate their excellence; for the Divine Spirit alone is able to describe it. 2. Yet although it is beyond the compass of man to relate it, we must not be altogether silent. Nay, let it be told as according to the apportioning of the divine grace of the Spirit one has the ability to publish it to pious souls. In order that by means [p. 221] of the recollection of the valiant and spiritual soldiers of Christ, the children of the church may be awakened, and may aspire to enter into the pavilion of rest to which they are called, armed with the armour of God; in order that in the time of persecution, and when trials arise, they may be able to participate with those who were found to share the cross of Christ. 3. Let us then begin the commemoration of this noble martyr of Christ, the holy Theodorus, albeit we are not able to do full justice to his bravery and excellence. Yet we may tell a little out of much. We can say who he was, whence he came, and how his martyrdom began and ended, and we will relate the story of the time of his persecution. For he was not the Theodorus the Tiro, whose commemoration is held on the first sabbath of the forty days' fast; but our saint was his nephew, and was held in high honour by the emperors from whom he received a command in the army. For he (i.e. the Tiro) was martyred under the King Maximianus, in the city of Amasia in Cappadocia; so that they were not far from one another, either in point of time or of family.

4.But in the times of the lawless and impious Emperor Licinius, a blazing storm of cruel persecution swept over the church of God, and everywhere the altars all over the Roman empire were heaped up with the molten images of devils, and [p. 222] in all places the edict of apostasy was circulated, and commands of the following kind posted up in every village and city with all sternness, to the effect that they shoud do homage to stones, and to trees fashioned by the hands of men, and that they should offer up holocausts and sacrifices to the so-called gods, and should content themselves with foul food. And those who obeyed this edict received honour and promotion from the Emperor, but those who refused to do so were compelled, and were subject to stripes and to torture, and punishment by sword and fire. For an inextricable mist of darkness and disturbance encompassed us all, for they took many of those who believed and gave thenm over to the judges, that they might confine them in dark places, and subject them to cruel and pitiless tortures, and after long tribulation die by the sword.

5. At that time there blazed forth a star of dazzling brilliancy, a lamp that scattered its radiance far and wide, and illuminated the mist and darkness of idolatry, appearing victorious over all, I mean the brave champion and soldier of the King Christ, the holy Theodorus. For when this edict of the impious and lawless Emperor Licinius went forth, that all who believed in Christ should be taken and thrown into prison, and bound and subjected to intolerable privations and tortures; then the blessed and famous witness of Christ, Theodorus, had been born of Christian and religious parents, in the village of Eukhaita. He was brought up and trained in all good discipline [p. 223], and grew in stature and wisdom, and was schooled in the teachings of religion. While he was still in the flower of youth and prime of life, fair to look upon and filled with all wisdom, he became on that account the friend and intimate of the kings and princes of that day. For in the wars of the barbarians, the saint was ever victorious and won all praise; for which he received the very highest honour in the army, and was promoted to the very highest grade of command. 6. Now some malignant satellites of the devil obtained the ear of the Emperor, and laid information that the saint was a Christian, and not only he, but his whole country and city; "for under his influence," they said, "they have been perverted by him along with your army, and have turned away from the worship of idols, and have disobeyed your commands; they no longer keep the mysterious festivals of the gods, nor do they taste of their holy sacrifices." 7. When the Emperor heard this, he was dumbfoundered; and, though he was full of wrath, he wavered in his counsels, and did not know how he would be able to take in his deadly net so conspicuous a man. He did not think it suitable to write and summon him to come before him, for he feared that he would see through his crafty designs, and be afraid, and disregard his commands. So he formed this plan, that he would make the conduct of the war a pretext for his coming to those regions, and so take him in the city itself. And having formed this design, the lawless prince determined to send some of his nobles [p. 224] together with a force to Heraclea, a city of Cappadocia, where the saint dwelt. And he wrote to him a letter in complimentary terms as follows: "If it should be pleasing and acceptable to you, come and see us, and do homage to our gods in the city of Nicomedia, and come with a great suite and with much pomp. But if there is any reason to prevent you, it is meet that we should come and see your district, and the city in which you dwell, for we are very desirous to see you and enjoy your good will." And when the captains came to him, and brought the letter of command, Theodorus took and read it, and was delighted and thanked God; for he had thought already in his heart of declaring himself for the true religion, and of becoming a witness of Christ; and now on a sudden the good wil and pleasure of God was about to be really accomplished. So on that occasion he received the king's men with great honour, and made them presents; but he excused himself from going to meet the king on the score of the requirements of the province, and begged them, and promised them riches, if they would go and persuade the Emperor to come to the city of Heraclea, bringing with him the full number of his gods. "You will behold," he wrote, "all the population of the town and country, and they will be glad and rejoice, and will hold a great festival with sacrifice and adoration." So the men went back to the Emperor, and gave him the answer which had been despatched to him. And this the ruler took and read, and was deceived and taken [p. 225] in by it, like an unreflecting child; for he determined to set out for those regions, thinking in his wickedness that all his designs were already accomplished. So forthwith he took a number of cavalry, and arrived at the city of Heraclea. And when the holy Theodore heard of the arrival of the Emperor, he went out to meet him with great pomp and rich suite. 8. But on that night, as he slept in his house, the saint beheld in a vision that the ceiling of his house was lifted up, and a shower of corruscating sparks of fire descended upon him; and a voice was heard saying to him: "Be strong, and of good cheer, Theodorus, for I am with thee." And when the saint woke up, he told his dream to those who were nearest to him, and said: "God is pleased that in this place my blood should be shed for the name of Christ." And then he arose and knelt down, and prayed; and when he had finished his prayer and wept, he thanked the Lord.

9. And then he arose, and washed the fair glory of his countenance, and put on precious raiment of byssus, and he ordered them to equip his horses in gold trappings. And then he rode out with his horses and met the Emperor. And when he beheld his ruler, he did homage to him, and after the manner of kings, he wished him well, saying, "Hail to thee, most powerful and autocratic Emperor, sent by God." But the Emperor, when he heard this, and saw the magnanimity of the saint, instantly embraced him with much tenderness, and welcomed him fondly, and kissed him, and said: "Hail to thee, O prince, fair as the sun to look upon, for it is meet that thou also shouldst reign along with me." And they entered together into the city along with the multitude of their men, who had gone out to meet the king; and he prepared a resting-house in the royal quarters, decorated after the manner of the palace, with canopies and imperial throne. And when the Emperor saw this he was overjoyed, and praised the city and the citizens, and he bade Theodorus sit down, and said to him: "Behold, according to the prayer that thou hast written to me, O Theodorus, I have come as the guest and recipient of thy hospitality to visit thee and thy city; and I have brought with me the most precious and the most illustrious of our gods, in order that thou mayest worship them, and offer sacrifice to them." The holy Theodorus made answer, and said: "O victorious and great Emperor, thou hast done well in fulfilling the request of thy servant, by making us glad with thine advent; and yet more hast thou honoured us by bringing with thee thy gods, in order that all may behold them, and may be confirmed in the ordinances of religion. But I pray thy highness to rest a little from the labour of the journey, and to give me thy most illustrious gods, all of them, in order that I may take them to my house, and anoint them with fragrant oil, and offer frankincense to them, and cense them, and in order that I may prostrate myself and offer sacrifice in my own private house, and then after that may bring them out into public before all, and sacrifice; in [p. 227] order that all men, marking and beholding this, may be encouraged to emulate me in my piety." And when the Emperor heard this, he was very satisfied and pleased with the words of the saint, and believed that which he had said. And he ordered them to bring and to give to him all his idols fashioned of gold and silver. And the saint took them, and carried them to his palace to put them to rest. But he arose that night, and he broke and ground to powder all those gods, and then he took the bits and distributed them to the poor and needy.

10.But after three days had passed, the prince commanded that they should summon before him the great Theodorus, and he said to him: "O most honourable and illustrious of the princes who were before myself, and thou who hast been still more promoted and honoured by my own majesty, now therefore give proof of thy enthusiasm and love which thou hast towards my gods and towards us. Bring a sacrifice and offer it to them before the whole people, in order that they may all behold thee, and may fulfil our edict with all readiness." But whilst the saint was on the point of making answer to the Emperor, a certain man stood forward who was a person of authority, and whose name was Maxentenes, and said: "O noble prince, thou hast not known and understood the treason of this impious general, nor how he hath falsely deceived thy majesty in respect of [p. 228] thy all-victorious gods; for yesterday night, going forth from my quarters, I beheld a certain poor man, who was going along full of joy, holding in his hand the golden head of our great queen Artemis."

When the Emperor heard this, he was much enraged, and stood agape and could not believe what he heard; but he said to the saint: "Is this that they said true ?" The saint made answer and said: "Yes, it is true and just, I deny it not; for I have done justly what I have done. For surely if thy gods have not been able to help themselves, how will they be able to help thee ?" Then the countenance of the Emperor changed colour with rage, and filled with wrath he said: "Woe to me, for I have been deceived like a little child, and have been turned to ridicule before the eyes of all. And now I know not what I shall do or how I shall act; for I who am emperor and ruler of all these forces and of the world, have come along with all my forces to be deceived at the feet of this miscreant; I have become the shame of the province and of the city, losing all my victorious gods." And when the holy Theodorus saw the Emperor filled with such folly, he laughed in his soul, and said: "O thou senseless demon, filled full with all lawlessness, didst thou not take note beforehand, that I was a Christian and a servant of Christ; how could I be deceived by thy deceitful and pernicious edicts ? But in order that thou mayest know that thou art truly tricked like a simple child, therefore have I shown [p. 229] unto thee the weakness of thy gods, in order to put to shame thy impiety. Thou art puffed up with thy empty and transitory greatness, and thou hast not any hope or expectation of the greatness which passes not and of the light which is eternal, and thou knowest not Him who gave thee thy temporary greatness; but thou art infatuated by the crafty illusion of the devil, and darkened so that thou mayest not see the light of the glory of the only-born Son of God, and in the presumption with which the evil one inspires thee, thou dost not know what thou sayest. But I hold vain all this glory of created things, which estrange a man from God, in order that I may inherit immortal life, which eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, and which God has prepared for those who love Him. But for thee and for thy material gods isa reserved the fire eternal, which is made ready and kept for Satan and his hosts."

The Emperor said: "O insolent miscreant, Theodorus, I could tolerate thy insults to me, for as regards obedience to myself, thou shalt be reformed; but why hast thou insulted the gods ?" The saint made answer and said: "Herein is the very demonstration of thy want of wit, for thou beholdest the nothingness of thy molten images of demons, and yet after this thou hast the rashness to give them the name of gods, who are like horses and mules, for there is no understanding in them, hewn out by the hands of mechanics." 11. And the Emperor was filled with wrath, and said: "Henceforth I will not tolerate thee, but I [p. 230] give thee over to miserable torture." And he ordered the executioners to strip the saint, and to stretch out his hands on fourfold pinions, and to scourge him with green switches, without spare, upon shoulders and chest and stomach; and they scourged the blessed one, so that the godless torturers were wearied and faint. And they carded the flesh of the saint with their cruel blows, and the blood poured forth from him. And then the Emperor ordered him to be smitten without spare on the neck with leaden hammers. And as they smote him, he ordered that all that was remaining of the body of the holy martyr should be scraped with iron needles, and then that fire should be brought and that they should burn all the wounds in his body. So they burned and roasted his whole body according to the command of the Emperor. But the holy martyr shewed yet more patience than before amid the throes of his cruel anguish, and thanked God that his desires were fulfilled; and as if he reckoned for nothing all this intolerable torture, he said to the Emperor: "O thou minister and servant of Satan, and enemy of all righteousness, dost that not see that thy torturers flag, and that thy foolhardy pride is humbled, and thy violence overcome, and thy father the devil Satan is put to shame; and however much my outer man is destroyed by thy torture, so much the more is my inner man renewed unto eternal life ?"

But the Emperor was very wroth, and ordered his soldiers to take the saint to prison, in order [p. 231] that he might deliberate about him, by what death he should slay him. And when they had cast him into prison after a few days he ordered him to be brought before him; and he tempted him with many words and questioned him, but yet could not persuade the blessed one. So then he ordered them to crucify him, and he made the entire number of his army shoot at him with arrows. But the martyr of Christ with great gladness went after the soldiers, and when he came to the cross they bound his hands and feet, and took and fastened him upon the tree. And a number of soldiers shot at him with arrows, and hit the face and eyes of the saint, But the champion of Christ endured it patiently, and gave thanks to God, and reckoned for nothing all the anguish and pain. And after that they came and mutilated his manhood, and all the multitude that stood round wept, all of them. 12. And I Abgar, the slave and secretary of the saint, who had received his command to write down all, point by point, when I beheld such cruelty, I threw away my paper from my hands, and I went and fell at his feet, weeping bitterly; and the saint, when he saw my tears, said to me in a gentle but weak voice: "O Abgar, grieve not, nor be remiss in thy task, but accomplish that which thou hast begun, and obey me yet a little longer that thou mayest see the end of my consummation, and write it down." And when he had said this, he raised his eyes to heaven, and said: "Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, my God, [p. 232] who in Thy unspeakable goodness dost control and arrange all things; who also by the hand of Thy only-born Son, and true and Holy Spirit, hast bestowed upon me strength to bear; for Thou, Lord, didst erewhile make promise to me, saying: "I have not abandoned thee, but for all time I will be with thee, and will save thee;" and now, O my God, wherefore hast Thou forsaken me, and hast withrawn from me Thy pity ? For the wild animals have torn my flesh because I loved Thy name; the pupils of mine eyes have been put out, and my flesh has been consumed with fire, and my fingers have been crushed, and my face has been altered so that it is no longer like that of a human being, and my soul reels and trembles with the fear of the tortures of the cross. And now, O my Lord and my God, for Thee have I borne all this, being given up to fire and sword, and to all anguish. Wherefore I beseech Thee receive my spirit forthwith, and refresh me according to Thy good pleasure, for Thou art all powerful."

And when he had said this he was silent, for all the members of the flesh of the martyr were weak, and the hollow of his stomach was lacerated and crushed because of the harrowing and of the tortures inflicted. But the lawless and impious Licinius, thinking that the saint was dead, ordered his guards to remain there, in order that for a whole day and a night his body might be exposed upon the cross. 13. But in the first watch of the night, an angel was sent from God, and took him down from the cross and made whole all his body, and said: "Rejoice and be strong, for the Lord was with thee and is with thee, and shall be for ever. Why therefore didst thou say that thou wast abandoned by Me ? Forasmuch as the course of thy martyrdom is accomplished, and thou comest to the Saviour Jesus, and shalt receive the indestructible crown in the kingdom of the just." And when he had said this, the angel rose up to heaven; but the holy Theodorus, beholding his body entirely healed of its wounds, lifted his hands to heaven, and magnified the Lord and said: "I magnify Thee, my God and my King, and I bless Thy name for ever and ever." And after praying for a long while, he uttered the Amen.

14. And at dawn early the Emperor called a certain twain of his nobles, and said: "Go ye along with a force of men, and take down from the cross the wretched body of yonder ill-starred impostor, and drag it before me, in order that I may command it to be placed in a coffin of lead and cast into the depths of the sea, lest the christians should snatch it away, and take it and honour it according to their custom." And when the captains had gone, and while they were yet afar off, they beheld the cross empty and void of the body of the holy martyr, and they began to gape with astonishment. Antiochus said to Patricius: "Verily it is true, that which the Christians say, that Christ after three days arose from the dead, for now we behold this word of theirs literally fulfilled." But Patricius ran to the cross and beheld the holy martyr Theodorus sitting [p. 234] near to the cross with his body entirely healed, and he began to tell the multitude of the great miracles of God which had happened unto him, so that both cried out with a loud voice, and said: "Great is the God of the Christians, and there is none other God but He." And they came and threw themselves at the feet of the saint along with the soldiers who were with them, in number eighty and two, and they said: "We too are Christians, and servants of Christ; we beseech thee, receive us who have gone astray through ignorance from the path of truth, and pray in our behalf to God the Creator, in order that He may make us worthy of the compassion of His grace." 15. When the Emperor heard this, he was exceeding wroth, and ordered the Consul whose name was Cestus, to take three hundred of his soldiery, and to go and behead them. But when they had gone, they too, by the favour of God, beheld the miracle of God, and believed like the others in Christ. And there was there a crowd and great multitude who all cried with loud voice and said: "Great is the God of the Christians; He that hath done such wonders, He alone is God. Come then, let us stone the lawless Licinius; for God is our Emperor, the God whom Theodorus preached." And when this disturbance arose, they began to raise a tumult one with another, and there was much shedding of blood in the conflict of the rabble. But a certain evildoer [p. 235] whose name was Leander drew his sword and rushed upon the holy Theodorus; but the Consul saw this and drew back his hand, and delivered the saint from him, and slew the lawless Leander. But another, whose name was Merpas, came forward amidst the crowd, and threw himself upon the Consul, and drawing his sword slew him. 16. But the blessed saint, when he saw the disturbance and riot of the crowd, went into the midst of them, and by his entreaties he appeased the crowd; and the multitude took the saint with them and returned to the city with great joy. And as they passed and came near to the doors of the prison, in which were confined all who were in bonds, these all cried out from prison and said: "Pity us, servant of God on high." But the crowd, when they heard it, said: "Command us that we at once pull down the doors of the prison, and set free them that are confined therein." But the saint restrained them from carrying out their counsel; and he himself approached the door and prayed to God, and made upon it the sign of the cross. And of its own accord it opened wide, and their bonds were loosened, and those who were confined came forth and threw themselves at his feet, and gave thanks to God and His saint. But he said to them: "Go ye in peace each to his own place"; and many other miracles did God accomplish by means of him, for the sick and the suffering and they who were possessed by devils were healed by his prayers.

17. And when the impious Licinius saw that [p. 236] all the people of the Greeks repudiated and cast from themselves the worship of the gods, and believed in Christ, he was very wroth, and sent a force of soldiers, that they might go without the knowledge of the multitude and cut off the head of the saint; and they went and at once executed his command, cutting off the head of the blessed one with a sword. And thus ended the victorious and mighty champion of Christ, the holy Theodorus, in the month of August, on the twenty-seventh day thereof, to the glory of God.

But after the martyrdom of the saint, Abgar, his slave, according to his command as he had been aforetime commanded to do, took the body of the saint and wrapped it in clean linen with fragrant spices, and they laid it in a coffin and took it and laid it to rest in his paternal inheritance in the village of Eukhaita. 18. And the multitude of the people of Heraclea followed the relics of the saint with lighted tapers and fragrant incense and spiritual songs, according to the custom of the Christians, and laid it in its resting place. And many miracles were accomplished by God by means of the tomb in which reposes until to-day the relis of the saint, for those who approach it with faith. For on the day of the commemoration of the martyr, there comes a multitude of people of all races, who keep his memory with great honour and with offerings, for God glorifies those who glorify Him. 19. For this saint outshone the sun in splendour and with inextinguishable brilliancy lit up a fire of virtue [p. 237] by his unblemished and correct faith, and repulsed the lawless ruler with all his servants. He kept his confession unshaken in the sure hope, and in his own life glorified the living God. He as martyr shared in the cross and in the death of our Lord, who of his own free will submitted to torture and death, and, following Him, offered up his life as a fragrant offering and pleasing to Him. For his true death was an expiation for angels and men, a lifting of the curse and an act of reconciliation to God. By the shedding of his blood he extinguished the folly of the idolaters and became a pillar of the faith, a seal of the Church, a door to those who would enter into heaven. He it is whom we honour by bearing him in memory and by conducting his festival with splendour; writing down the history of his martyrdom and handing it on the generations to come, that we may be ourselves witnesses to him who bore witness, until we all come to Christ who appoints the lists of martyrdom. He in our behalf for ever intercedes with the merciful God, that unto us also may be opened the door of pity, so that we may enjoy with him the goods which have no end. Those then who in faith and fear and with all goodwill keep the commemoration of the martyr of Christ, whatsoever they ask of the Lord, it shall be unto them; and they shall be partakers of the reward of their works along with all the saints in Christ Jesus our Lord, to whom be glory and power for ever and ever. Amen.

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