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Theodore of Amasea

Saint Theodore of Amasea (d. 306; Amasenus, now Amasya, Turkey) is one of the Greek military saints of the 4th century, the earlier patron saint of Venice, now outshone there by Saint Mark, but still represented atop one of the two Byzantine columns standing in the Piazzetta of the Piazza San Marco, treading upon the sacred crocodile of Egypt.

According to his hagiography Theodore was a soldier in the legions. He is often named Theodore Tyro ("of Tyre"), according to some sources because for a time he belonged to the Cohors Tyronum; according to others because he was a tiro, or recent recruit. In Western Christianity he is usually called of Amasea from the ancient city in Pontus where he suffered martyrdom. Sometimes he is Theodore Euchaita from the place, Euchais, to which his body had been carried, and where he was held in such veneration that the city came to be frequently spoken of as Theodoropolis. In Eastern Christianity he is more often known as Theodore the Recruit.

His martyrdom and feast are dated in the Menologies February 17, 306, under the Emperors Galerius, Maximian and Maximinus. The Eastern Orthodox and Armenians honor him on the first Saturday of Great Lent, while the Roman Martyrology records him on November 9.

In the 12th century his body was transferred to Brindisi, and he is there honored as patron; his head is enshrined at Gaeta. There are churches bearing his name at Constantinople, Jerusalem, Damascus, and other places of the former Christian east. An ancient church of San Teodoro, Venice, is said to have been founded by Narses. At the foot of the Palatine in Rome is a very old church, circular in shape and dedicated to San Teodoro, whom the Roman people call San Toto, which was made a collegiate church by Felix IV. The people showed their confidence in the saint by bringing their sick children to his temple, as to an asclepieion, or healing-temple. His martyrdom is represented in the choir of the cathedral of Chartres by thirty-eight 13th-century stained-glass panels (Migne, Dict. iconogr., 599). He is invoked against storms.

His encounter with a dragon (represented as a crocodile in his statue in St Mark's Square (above, right) was transferred to the more widely venerated Saint George.

St. Gregory of Nyssa delivered a panegyric on his feast day and gave several data concerning his life and martyrdom. The oldest text of the Martyrium S. Theodori Tironis was published by Hippolyte Delehaye in "Les legendes grecques des saints militaires", p. 227, but the Bollandists is considered largely interpolated (Anal. XXX, 323).

St. Theodore is said to have been born in the East (Syria or Armenia are mentioned). He enlisted in the army and was sent with his cohort to winter quarters in Pontus in Anatolia. When the edict against the Christians was issued by the emperors, he was brought before the magistrates at Amasea and ordered to offer sacrifice to the gods. When he refused, the magistrates gave him some time, because of his youth, for reflection. "This he employed in burning the Temple of Cybele", the Catholic Encyclopedia reports.

He was quickly taken and burned at the stake.

Whatever a modern hearer may think of Theodore's action, it must be comprehendible that the general population looked at Christians as a source of dangerous fanaticism, dangerous to the state, which depended on the good-will of the Great Mother of Anatolia, Cybele. There was a large enough Christian population at Amasea to be governed by a bishop, and Basil of Amasea was martyred in 391 according to Jerome's interpolation in his Latin version of the church chronicle of Eusebius of Caesarea. Eusebius chronicles persecutions under Licinius as Amasea and other places, though Basil is not apparently mentioned. The fictional Acts of Basil have him drowned in the sea, an unusual martyrdom.

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