Theodore the Stratelates
The Holy Great Martyr Theodore the Stratelates, also Theodore the Heraclea, was a Roman Stratelates (General) who, in the early fourth century, as a Christian preached the Gospel while serving as the military commander in the city of Heraclea in Thrace until emperor Licinius had him tortured and then beheaded after he refused to sacrifice to the Roman gods. St. Theodore is regarded as the patron saint of soldiers. He is commemorated on February 8. The translation of his relics is remembered on June 8.
The martyr Theodore came from the city of Euchaita in northern Asia Minor. A soldier of many talents and a convert to Christianity, Theodore was a speaker of talent and brave as a soldier. His bravery was revealed when, with the help of God, he killed a giant serpent that lived on a precipice in the outskirts of Euchaita. The serpent had devoured many people and animals and terrorized the countryside. Theodore armed himself with a sword and vanquished the serpent, glorifying the name of Christ among the people. These skills and bravery won the esteem of the emperor Licinius who appointed him a military commander (stratelatos) and governor of the city of Heraclea.
After he came into office, Theodore showed no fear that he was a Christian, and his preaching among the pagans subject to him inflamed much of the city to the True Faith. His gift of persuasion, reinforced by his personal example of Christian living, brought many from their false gods, and soon, nearly all of Heraclea had accepted Christianity.
Late in the second decade of the fourth century emperor Licinius began a persecution against Christians. In an effort to stamp out the new faith, he persecuted the enlightened adherents of Christianity who were perceived as a threat to paganism. Among Licinius' actions was that of depriving officers in the army of their commissions if they did not sacrifice to the gods, included Theodore. Licinius tried to force Theodore to offer sacrifice to the pagan gods. The saint invited Licinius to visit him at Heraclea with his idols so both of them could offer sacrifice before the people.
Encouraged by a vision during the night announcing that it was time for him to testify in his own blood to his love of Christ, Theodore greeted the Emperor with pomp. Admiring the good order of the city, the emperor proposed to show his devotion to the gods by offering a sacrifice. Agreeing, Theodore asked only to take the idols at home during the night in order to worship before the public sacrifice. Taking the statues of gold brought by the emperor, Theodore spent the night reducing them into pieces and, in the early morning, he gave the gold to the poor. As the time of sacrifice arrived, a distraught centurion reported to the emperor that he saw a poor man wearing the golden head of a statue of Artemis.
Theodore was arrested and subjected to fierce and refined torture. He was dragged on the ground, beaten with iron rods, had his body pierced with sharp spikes, was burned with fire, and his eyes were plucked out before he was finally crucified. During the torture, the Holy Martyr only repeated: "Glory to Thee, my God!" Varus, Theodore's servant, Varus, barely had the strength to write down the incredible torments of his master.
God, however, in His great mercy, willed that the death of St. Theodore should be as fruitful for those near him as his life was. An angel healed his wounded body and took him down from the cross. The next morning, imperial soldiers found him alive and unharmed. Seeing with their own eyes the infinite might of the Christian God, they were baptized not far from the place of the failed execution.
Thus, St. Theodore became "like a day of splendor" for those pagans dwelling in the darkness of idolatry, and enlightened their souls "with the bright rays of his suffering." Unwilling to escape martyrdom for Christ, Theodore voluntarily surrendered himself to Licinius, and discouraged the Christians from rising up against the torturer, saying, "Beloved, halt! My Lord Jesus Christ, hanging upon the Cross, restrained the angels, and did not permit them to take revenge on the race of man."
Then, going to his execution, people who touched his robe were healed instantly from sicknesses and freed from demonic possession. By order of the emperor, St. Theodore was beheaded by the sword. Before his death he told Varus, " Do not fail to record the day of my death, and bury my body in Euchaita." Then, he bent his neck beneath the sword, and received the crown of martyrdom which he had sought. This occurred on February 8, 319, a Saturday at the third hour of the day.
The Holy Great Martyr Theodore Stratelates suffered for Christ in Heraclea on February 8, 319. At the time of his sufferings the St. Theodore ordered his servant Varus to bury his body on the estate of his parents in Euchaita. The transfer of his relics took place on June 8, 319.