SAINT THEODORE, SOLDIER – Sanctity is heroism

Aurelio Porfiri

 

News can be alarming sometimes. Like right now, it seems that white should be now called black and vice versa. There is much talk of virility as a possible object of discussion and not as a fundamental attribute of man. Unfortunately some want to confuse virility with violence, so that virility in itself is disqualified. In fact, criticizing virility would be like criticizing femininity, which is certainly a beautiful and qualifying characteristic of every woman.

Among many manifestations of virility there was (and should still be) that of being a warrior. Even here, I answer the possible critics: warrior does not mean warmonger, bloodthirsty, but he who is always ready to defend his family, his country, his faith, with the necessary means. You can also battle writing books and articles nowadays. So we talk about a “warrior spirit.” After all is this proper of those who are inspired by the ideals of knighthood. The Church has recognized the sanctity of many who were also soldiers, one of them was St Theodore, which the Church celebrates on 7 February.

It must be said that there is a little confusion about St Theodore, as there are two Saints Theodore in the calendar, a soldier and a general, but in reality it could be the same person. He was a Roman soldier who lived around the end of the 3rd century and the beginning of the 4th. He was asked to sacrifice to the gods, but being a Christian, Theodore refused. On the contrary, he burned the temple of the mother goddess Cybele. For this he was martyred. The information we have about him we owe to a famous speech by Gregory of Nyssa.

Antonio Borrelli on santiebeati.it tells us: “His cult spread throughout the Christian East and later in the Byzantine Empire. In the West the first trace of a cult attributed to him must be considered the apsidal mosaic still existing in the basilica of Saints Cosmas and Damian at the Roman Forum erected in 526-30. Monasteries dedicated to him already existed at the end of the 6th century in Palermo, Messina, Ravenna, Naples; in Venice until the 12th century he was invoked as patron of the city until he was replaced by St Mark.

According to an ancient tradition, his body was transferred to Brindisi where it is kept in a silver urn in the Cathedral. Venice remembers him in the figures of a window and in the door of the organ of two churches and then also with the column placed in Piazzetta San Marco on whose top there is a statue in a warrior’s armor, with a dragon at his feet like a crocodile. In the 9th century Theodore was the only saint with this name, but then another Theodore appears, no longer a soldier but a general who died in Eraclea at the time of Licinius on 7 February, and he too was buried at Euchaite on 3 June. This doubling of the only martyr Theodore generated a double flowering of legends.

In the Byzantine documents the General Theodore is remembered on 8 February while the soldier on 17 February. In the western martyrologists the general is remembered on 7 February and the soldier on 9 November. Sometimes they both appear together in mosaics or frescoes concerning military saints. However, this is the same person commemorated on two different days” (my translation).

The cause of the martyrdom of St Theodore therefore was not a battle against an external enemy, but the battle against an even more dangerous enemy, himself. Perhaps sacrificing to idols would bring favors, honors, career advancement. But he did not do it. He preferred to be faithful to his faith in the spirit of a warrior, virile, courageous.

How many small acts of martyrdom are asked in life and how often do we refuse them? Many times we prefer to flee and succumb to the enemy within us: pride, ambition, weakness of the flesh. This is why the heroism of sanctity, which Theodore bears witness to, must always be a goal of our Christian life. And this battle is not passivity but it is action, sometimes reaction. The enemy is always on the prowl.

Don Marcello Stanzione talks about spiritual combat: “We are in a sad era of faith and all current sociological difficulties (mass atheism, pornography, drugs, alcoholism, homosexuality, gender ideology, collapse of the family and the Church as a for centuries it has been lived) push us to a Christianity where spiritual combat is the daily bread of the militant Christian. All of Catholicism, the authentic one … is full of heroism. Confirmation, traditionally, makes Catholic boys ‘soldiers of Christ’; and the little slap that the bishop rests on the right cheek of the confirmed, according to the ritual, comes from the alapa militaris, the slap that was inflicted on the recruits of the Roman army and which symbolized the first wound.

“The word sacramentum, which in the third century begins to indicate the Christian sacraments of baptism, confirmation and the Eucharist, originally indicated the oath given by the Roman legionaries and meant the initiation into a new form of life, the commitment without reserve, faithful service until death. St Paul speaks to us of spiritual armor and we note how Ephesians 6:11-17 describes the military equipment that has been given to us, so that we can use it in spiritual warfare. Paul had been imprisoned in Rome, probably chained by a Roman soldier, when he wrote the epistle to the Ephesians. The description of the spiritual armor is based on that of a Roman soldier equipped for hand-to-hand combat. The armor of God represents the truth about our lifestyle and wearing it does not mean miming symbolic actions. The Greek word used indicates that we wear it only once, not every day, even if we have to walk in it every day” (in riscossacristiana.it, my translation).

A classic treatise is The spiritual combat by Lorenzo Scupoli: “Since it always pleases and is still acceptable to your Majesty the sacrifices and offerings of mortals when offered from a pure heart to your glory, I present this treatise of spiritual Combat dedicating it to your divine Majesty. Nor do I draw back because this treatise is small: in fact it is well known that you alone are that high Lord who delights in humble things and despises the vanities and pretenses of the world. And how could I, without blame and without harm, dedicate it to another person than to your Majesty, King of heaven and earth? All that this teaches is what you teach us, that by not trusting in ourselves, we trust in you, fight and pray. Moreover, if every battle needs an expert leader who leads the battle and animates the soldiers, who are all the more generously combating the most if they are under an invincible captain, will he not need this spiritual Combat? So we elected Jesus Christ … for our Captain: you who have conquered the world, the prince of darkness, and with the wounds and the death of your most sacred flesh you have won the flesh of all those who fought and will fight generously” (my translation).

We remember that holiness can only be heroism that comes from the battles we manage to win, battles against discomfort, depression, vices, illness, fear, obsessions, selfishness. Only with the spirit of the soldier, as the example of St Theodore teaches us, will we succeed in following our Captain, Jesus Christ. In the book of Deuteronomy (20:3-4), also quoted by Lorenzo Scupoli, there is this exhortation: “Listen, Israel! Today you are close to battle your enemies; your heart will not fail; do not be afraid, do not get lost and frighten before them, because the Lord your God walks with you to fight for you against your enemies and to save you” (my translation). If we abandon ourselves to him, we hand over the fate of the battle.

Among the advice that Jesus would communicate to St Faustina Kowalska to win the devil was this: “Let others behave as they want, you behave as I want from you.” It seems difficult today to go against the current, but it is not impossible. There is a price to pay, but with the help of God and the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary we can leave behind the battles that we lost to aim with determination to win the final battle.

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