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St Theodore and the Miracle of the Kollyva

On the 1st Saturday of Great Lent, we commemorate St Theodore the Tyre and the miracle of the kollyva (κόλλυβα). St Theodore has his own feast, February 17 which is the date of his repose. However, there is a great miracle associated with him that is celebrated every year on that 1st Saturday in Great Lent.
 
St Theodore the Tyre was a soldier in the region of Pontus, in Asia Minor. Tyre is the Latin word for recruit. He was a pious Christian who lived during the late 3rd to early 4th Century. One day his faith was tested; his superiors ordered him to offer sacrifice to idols. 
 
Theodore bravely confessed his faith, refusing to comply. His superiors did not chastise him immediately, rather gave him time to reconsider. In that time period, Theodore prayed fervently for strength and guidance. Instead of complying, Theodore set a pagan temple on fire. For this he was thrown into prison. 
 
While in prison, the Lord Jesus Christ appeared to him, encouraging and strengthening him. On the day of his execution, Theodore entered into a fire without hesitation and surrendered his spirit. Yet, the fire did not consume his body. Instead his body was buried near the city of Euchaita and eventually his relics were transferred to Constantinople. St Theodore's martyrdom was reminiscent to that of Polycarp of Smyrna. 
 
Polycarp was Bishop of Smyrna, in Asia Minor and lived during the 2nd Century.
 
So they simply bound him with his hands behind him like a distinguished ram chosen from a great flock for sacrifice. Ready to be an acceptable burnt-offering to God, he looked up to heaven, and said, “O Lord God Almighty, the Father of your beloved and blessed Son Jesus Christ, by whom we have received the knowledge of you, the God of angels, powers and every creature, and of all the righteous who live before you, I give you thanks that you count me worthy to be numbered among your martyrs, sharing the cup of Christ and the resurrection to eternal life, both of soul and body, through the immortality of the Holy Spirit. May I be received this day as an acceptable sacrifice, as you, the true God, have predestined, revealed to me, and now fulfilled. I praise you for all these things, I bless you and glorify you, along with the everlasting Jesus Christ, your beloved Son. To you, with him, through the Holy Spirit, be glory both now and forever. Amen.” Then the fire was lit, and the flame blazed furiously. We who were privileged to witness it saw a great miracle, and this is why we have been preserved, to tell the story. The fire shaped itself into the form of an arch, like the sail of a ship when filled with the wind, and formed a circle around the body of the martyr. Inside it, he looked not like flesh that is burnt, but like bread that is baked, or gold and silver glowing in a furnace. And we smelt a sweet scent, like frankincense or some such precious spices. (Martyrdom of Polycarp:14-15)
About fifty years after the death of St Theodore, in 362 AD, the Emperor Julian the Apostate wanted to commit an outrage upon Christians. He ordered the city-commander of Constantinople to sprinkle all the food in the marketplaces with the blood offered to idols. This was intentionally done during the first week of Great Lent, also known as Clean Week. 
 
St Theodore appeared in a dream to Archbishop Eudoxius, ordering him to inform all the Christians that no one should buy anything at the marketplace, but rather to eat cooked wheat with honey (κόλλυβα). The Patriarch asked the Saint what he meant by κόλλυβα and he replied: Kollyva is what we call boiled wheat in Euchaita. 
 
Your name denotes it, and truly You are a gift from God, and you were given as comfort to all who are in trouble, O thrice-blessed Theodore. For everyone who comes in truth to your holy church, and who with gladness receives the divine rewards of your miracles, gives honor to Christ (Laud of Festal Matins).
 
A few years after this great miracle, around the years 381-397, Patriarch Nektarius of Constantinople assigned this great miracle to be celebrated on the first Saturday of Lent.  On the 1st Friday of Great Lent we also hear about the miracle of St Theodore in the Presanctified Liturgy; this serves as the vespers for the Feast. 
 
The tradition of preparing κόλλυβα for memorial services is related to this miracle, as well as the words Christ said: Most assuredly I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it brings forth much fruit (Jn 12:24). Jesus is referring to His own death, entombment and Resurrection. 
 
On the first Saturday of Lent we do commemorate the departed and it is part of a consecutive three-week sequence, known as Saturday of Souls. However, every Saturday is dedicated to the departed. In fact, that is the proper day to have a Trisagion or Memorial Service. It is only by οικονομία (economy), that the Church allows memorial services on Sunday after liturgy. 
 
Sunday is the Lord's Day, the Day of the Resurrection (Αναστάσεως Ημέρα). There are actually only two Saturdays called Saturday of the Souls. The first is the Saturday before Meatfare Sunday and the second is the Saturday before Pentecost. Both these services share similar texts and order. The additional two Saturdays that follow the first Saturday of Souls are set aside to give the people more opportunity to commemorate the repose of their loved ones. 
 
Magnificent are the accomplishments of faith! The holy Martyr Theodore greatly rejoiced as he stood in the fountain of fire as if beside the still waters. He was consumed by fire and offered like sweet bread to the Trinity. At his entreaties, O Christ God, save our souls. (Festal Apolytikion)
 
A Blessed Lent to all and may St Theodore intercede for us all!
 
-John Athanasatos 
 

A graduate of Long Island University, College of Pharmacy, and Saint Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary, John works to share the richness and beauty of the Orthodox Faith with the wider community.

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