Theodora of Sihla
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Latest revision as of 09:07, October 24, 2012
Our venerable Mother Theodora of Sihla (also Teodora or Bohdanna of the Carpathians; Romanian: Sfânta Cuvioasă Teodora de la Sihla) was a saint who lived in the mountains of Romania in the early 17th century. The Church celebrates her feast day on August 7.
Theodora, the greatest of Romania’s holy ascetics, was born in the village of Vanatori, Neamts in the first half of the seventeenth century, and was the daughter of Stephen Joldea and his wife.
She was married to a man of Ismail but had no children. Therefore, she and her husband decided to enter the monastic life. Her husband went to the Skete of Poiana Marului, where he was tonsured with the name Eleutherius and became known as Eleutherios the Hesychast. He was also ordained to the holy priesthood.
After her monastery was destroyed by the Turks and after the death of her spiritual mother, she was advised by Hieromonk Barsanuphius of Sihastria Skete to live in the wilderness for a year. Guided by Hieromonk Paul, who had been assigned by Fr. Barsanuphius, she found a hermit living in a cave. The hermit greeted her by name and invited her to live in his cell, for he would move to another place, where she lived as a recluse.
- When Turks attacked the villages and monasteries around Neamts, the woods became filled with villagers and monastics. Some nuns found St. Theodora's cell, and she called out to them, "Remain here in my cell, for I have another place of refuge." Then she moved into a nearby cave, living there completely alone. An army of Turks discovered the cave, and were about to kill the saint. Lifting up her hands, she cried out, "O Lord, deliver me from the hands of these murderers." The wall of the cave opened, and she was able to escape into the woods. 
As St. Theodora grew old, she was forgotten and there was no one to care for her. Placing all her hope in God, she continued her spiritual struggles, and reached great heights of perfection. When she prayed her mind was raised up to Heaven, and her body was lifted up off the ground. Like the great saints of earlier times, her face shone with a radiant light, and a flame came forth from her mouth when she prayed.
In time her clothes became mere rags, and when her food ran out, she was fed by birds like the Prophet Elias (July 20). They brought her crusts of bread from the Sihastria Skete. Seeing the birds come to the skete and then fly away with pieces of bread in their beaks, the igumen sent two monks to follow them. Night fell as they walked toward Sihla, and they lost their way in the woods. They decided to wait for daylight, and began to pray. Suddenly, they saw a bright light stretching up into the sky, and went to investigate. As they approached, they saw a woman shining with light and levitating above the ground as she prayed.
St. Theodora said, ”Brethren, do not be afraid, for I am a humble handmaiden of Christ. Throw me something to wear, for I am naked.”
Then she told them of her life and approaching death. She asked them to go to the skete and ask for Fr. Anthony and the hierodeacon Laurence to come and bring her Communion. They asked her how they could find their way to the skete at night, for they did not know the way. She said that they would be guided to the skete by a light which would go before them.
The next day at dawn, Fr. Anthony went to Sihla with the deacon and two other monks. When they found St. Theodora, she was praying by a fir tree in front of her cave. She confessed to the priest, then received the Holy Mysteries of Christ and gave her soul to God. The monks buried her in her cave with great reverence sometime during the first decade of the eighteenth century.
News of her death spread quickly, and people came from all over to venerate her tomb. Her holy relics remained incorrupt, and many miracles took place before them. Some kissed the relics, others touched the reliquary, while others washed in her spring. All who entreated St. Theodora’s intercession received healing and consolation.
St. Theodore’s former husband, Hieromonk Eleutherius, heard that she had been living at Sihla, and decided to go there. He found her cave shortly after her death and burial. Grieving for his beloved wife, Eleutherius did not return to his monastery, but made a small cell for himself below the cliffs of Sihla. He remained close to her cave, fasting, praying, and serving the Divine Liturgy. He lived there for about ten years before his blessed repose. He was buried in the hermits’ cemetery, and the Skete of St. John the Baptist was built over his grave.
St. Theodora’s relics were taken to the Kiev Caves Monastery between 1828 and 1834. There she is known as St. Theodora of the Carpathians.
She is the patron saint of a church (Venerable Mother Teodora of Sihla) consecrated in 1997 at the Sihastria Monastery. There is also a men's skete dedicated to her, also affiliated with Sihastria Monastery.