St Theodore, Studite – Second chances

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen. Dear beloved, we celebrate the feast day of Saint Theodore the Studite today.

Saint Theodore was born to pious Christian parents who were important tax officials. The saint received the best secular and spiritual education in the city. The saint was a proponent of Orthodoxy and defended the veneration of icons. He was a profound ascetic who gave us the Studite Rule of monastic discipline. Saint Theodore, pray for us.

In the 8th century, there was a heresy of iconoclasm, which sought to destroy the Orthodox veneration of icons. During this time, Saint Theodore’s parents left the government service to remain true to their faith. They gave away their belongings, separated from one another, and individually pursued the monastic life.

Saint Theodore then became known in the city as the defender of the veneration of icons, until the 7th Ecumenical Council convened and upheld the Orthodoxy of icons. At the Council, one of the elders was Saint Platon, an uncle of Saint Theodore. Saint Theodore then left Constantinople and followed his uncle Saint Platon into the monastic life at Sakudian.

Saint Theodore was steadfast and disciplined as a monk, and joyously attended to the monastic life with faith. Eventually, the saint became the abbot of the monastery when Saint Platon reposed, and was instrumental in gathering a community of 1,000 monks at the monastery. The saint wrote the rule of monastic life known later as the “Studite Rule”, and many writings against the heresy of the iconoclasts. The Blessed Theoktistos called Saint Theodore a fiery teacher of the Church. The saint was tortured and punished for his defense of icon veneration, and was known also for wonderworking in his life and even after his death. He reposed in the year 826 and was told to Saint Hilarion the New in a vision, that Saint Theodore was received in the cradle of Heaven for his defense of the veneration of icons.

No man is pure, and no man is free from falling down. But God is not a punisher who takes joy in our suffering. God forgives, and He is the giver of second chances in our lives.

Just as Saint Theodore made frequent reconciliation with God through his confessor Saint Platon, as we reflect upon Psalm 32 (LXX 31), we know that God is constant. And when we begin to face God with honesty and reconciliation through our prayerful repentance, God’s light would illumine us with understanding, or enlightenment.

In Zechariah 1:1-6, we read of God’s forgiveness and constant love to every fallen man and ever willingness to give second chances, and then He would return to us if we can consciously choose to return to Him. God is never giving up on us even if we choose to: (1) Not believe in Him, or (2) choose to leave Him. Beloved, let us always remember that God shines exactly the same way with light of truth and warm love, the same day He created the world, till today, till eternity. He never changed, never will.

St Luke 13 showed that Christ said that the fall of the tower of Siloam which killed some people, did not imply those killed were sinners and others who weren’t killed were sinless. Therefore, natural disasters is not about who is a sinner or who is not. Rather, those who repent to God will not perish. People, like the fig tree, also do deserve second chances, and are to be counseled and helped until they are on the journey back to God. The vineyard keeper is Christ, Whose sacrificial death and resurrection are the fertilizer, water and care for the fig tree. Do we treasure these gifts?

In the history of Christianity, even right up to today, we hear of martyrs and defenders of the faith. These saints showed us the flame of faith, the light of love, that emanate from their souls to all of us. They were courageous and fearless in pronouncing their faith and the Truth of God to all, even in the face of death and punishment.

I read of a story and adapted it here.

Fr John decided to pay a visit to Peter, who stopped attending Divine Liturgy for two months. Fr John wondered if Peter was alright.

It was a chilly winter evening. Fr John stepped up to the front door and knocked. Peter opened the door. He looked well. Peter showed Fr John to the sofa near the fireplace, and made a pot of tea for both.

Fr John said nothing. Against the chilly air in the house, Fr John used the tongs to pick up a hot glowing ember and set it on the hearth. Then he reclined back to the sofa and keep silent again. Peter watched and anticipated that Fr John would say something, but the priest kept silent still.

After some time, the solitary ember resting on the hearth lost its warm glow and slowly became cool and gray. Fr John kept silent and said nothing still.

Now it was about 9.30pm and Fr John decided it was time to go. It would be an hour’s drive back home so with the heavy snowfall outside, it would be wise for him to set off now. Fr John quietly used the tongs to pick up the cool gray coal on the hearth and placed it back to the hot fire. Fr John took a last sip of his tea, and the coal glowed again in the surrounds of the other glowing hot charcoal around it.

Fr John shook the hands of Peter, blessed him with the Sign of the Cross, and walked to the front door. Peter’s eyes moistened, and said, “Thank you Fr John, for your fiery homily. I will be at the Divine Liturgy this week.”

Beloved ones, let us remember that God is the giver of second chances, and all we need for reconciliation is to walk back to Him. Keep the fire of faith alive, by our prayers and worship in the healing of the Church, by our intercessory prayers for others in need, by our deeds in love for God and others, as we are reminded in 1 Thessalonians 5:1-8. And remember the mercy of our Christ, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”.

Let us close by praying the thanksgiving prayer:

It is truly meet to call thee blest, the Theotokos, ever blessed and most pure, and the Mother of our God. More honorable than the Cherubim, and more glorious than the Seraphim, without corruption thou gavest birth to God the Word: True Theotokos, we magnify thee.

O virgin Theotokos, rejoice; O Mary full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, for thou hast borne the Savior of our souls, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Fr Raphael+

Zechariah 1:1-6
Psalm 32 (LXX 31)
St Luke 13:1-9
1 Thessalonians 5:1-8