Theodore Stratelates

For Theodore Tyro, see Theodore of Amasea.
Theodore Stratelates

St. Theodore Stratelates
from the personal Gospel Book of St. Theodore the Black.
Great Martyr
Born ?
Died 319
Heraclea Pontica
Venerated in Eastern Orthodox Church
Roman Catholic Church
Feast 8 February, formerly 7 February in the Latin Rite but not now liturgically celebrated in the western church
Attributes Dressed as a warrior , with spear and shield, or as a civilian
Patronage soldiers

Theodore Stratelates (in Greek, Στρατηλάτης, translated as ("the General" or "Military Commander"), also known as Theodore of Heraclea) is a martyr and Warrior Saint venerated with the title Great-martyr in the Eastern Orthodox Church, Eastern Catholic and Roman Catholic Churches.

There is much confusion between him and St. Theodore of Amasea and they were in fact probably the same person, whose legends later diverged into two separate traditions.


Small cut-stone depicting images of St. Theodore were encased in precious metal frames and worn around the neck by both clerics and laymen[1] The Walters Art Museum.

Theodore came from the city of Euchaita in Asia Minor. He killed a giant serpent living on a precipice in the outskirts of Euchaita. The serpent had terrored the countryside. Theodore armed himself with a sword and vanquished it.[2] According to some of the legends, because of his bravery, Theodore was appointed military-commander (stratelates) in the city of Heraclea Pontica, during the time the emperor Licinius (307–324) began a fierce persecution of Christians. Theodore himself invited Licinius to Heraclea, having promised to offer a sacrifice to the pagan gods. He requested that all the gold and silver statues of the gods which they had in Heraclea be gathered up at his house. Theodore then smashed them into pieces which he then distributed to the poor.

Theodore was arrested and subjected to torture and crucified. His servant Varos (also venerated as a saint), witnessed this and recorded it.[2] In the morning the imperial soldiers found him alive and unharmed. Not wanting to flee a martyr's death, Theodore voluntarily gave himself over again into the hands of Licinius, and was beheaded by the sword. This occurred on 8 February 319, on a Saturday, at the third hour of the day.

The two St Theodores

Numerous conflicting legends grew up about the life and martyrdom of St Theodore of Amasea so that, in order to bring some consistency into the stories, it seems to have been assumed that there were two different saints, St Theodore Tiron of Amasea and St Theodore Stratelates of Heraclea. The earliest text referring to the two saints is the Laudatio of Niketas David of Paphlagonia in the 9th century. It was said that his Christianity led to many conversions in the Roman army, which was the reason that Licinius was so concerned.[3] Christopher Walter treats at length of the relationship between these saints.[4]

It is suggested that Theodore Tiron as a recruit and ordinary foot soldier was viewed by the people of Byzantium as a patron of common soldiers and that the military aristocracy sought a patron of their own rank.[5]

Another possibility is that he was in fact originally derived from a third St Theodore called St Theodore Orientalis from Anatolia.[6]

In art both Theodore of Amasea and Theodore Stratelates are shown with thick black hair and pointed beards. In older works they were often distinguished by the beard having one point for Theodore Tiron of Amasea and two points for Stratelates as in the fresco from the Zemen Monastery below.[7]

There is much confusion between them and each of them is sometimes said to have had a shrine at Euchaita in Pontus. In fact the shrine existed before any distinction was made between the saints. The separate shrine of Stratelates was at Euchaneia (the modern Çorum in Turkey), a different place about 35 km west of Euchaita (the modern Avkhat).[8]

However, it is now generally accepted, at least in the west, that there was in fact only one St Theodore.[9] Delehaye wrote in 1909 that the existence of the second Theodore had not been historically established,[10] while Walter in 2003 wrote that "the Stratelates is surely a fiction".[11]

The patron saint of Venice before the relics of St Mark were (according to tradition) brought to the city in 828 was St Theodore and the Doge's original chapel was dedicated to that saint, though, after the translation of the relics, it was superseded as his chapel by the church of St Mark.[12] This may be either St Theodore of Amasea or St Theodore Stratelates, but the Venetians do not seem to have distinguished between them. See the section on St Theodore and Venice in the article on Theodore of Amasea.

A view from the Eastern church

St. Gregory of Nyssa, brother of St. Basil the Great (also known as Basil of Caesarea), who is venerated as a saint in Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Oriental Orthodoxy, Lutheranism and Anglicanism, held a different opinion. And this is because, although the two Theodores were born in close territories and martyred in parallel, their names were involved in the confusion between two pilgrimage sites. St. Theodore Stratelates was from Euchaneia while St. Theodore Tiron (in Greek Άγιος Θεόδωρος ο Τήρων) was from Euchaita (territories close to each other [13]). Usually mostly western researchers by mistake interpret the lack of reference to two Theodores in the valley of Irida (or Iris) in Yeşilırmak River (up to the 9th century, which was the date that their names were established) as proof that they both were one and the same person.[14] Unfortunately this is not the case since, in fact, each of the saints had his own pilgrimage site. What causes western researchers to get confused is at that time (9th century) the pilgrimage site of Euchaita had declined but that of Euchaneia was starting to flourish. (cf.,[15] Άγιος Θεόδωρος ο Στρατηλάτης). Also, Avgaros or Uarus (in Greek Αύγαρος or Ούαρος) the personal secretary of St. Theodore Stratelates wrote his biography, which clearly differs from the one St. Gregory of Nyssa wrote for St. Theodore Tiron.


His annual feast day is commemorated on 8 February (21 February N.S.); 7 February in the Latin Rite though this is no longer liturgically celebrated in the Roman Catholic church

One of the few ceramic icons in existence, dated to c. 900, shows St. Theodore. It was made by the Preslav Literary School and was found 1909 near Preslav, Bulgaria (now National Archaeological Museum, Sofia).

See also


  1. "St Theodore Stratelates". The Walters Art Museum.
  2. 1 2 "Greatmartyr Theodore Stratelates 'the General'", Orthodox church in America
  3. Walter p.59
  4. Walter pp.59-64
  5. Grotowski p.119
  6. See Walter pp.60-1 & note 93 and fig.57
  7. Walter p.60
  8. Walter p.58, showing that Delehaye was mistaken in thinking them the same place
  9. Delaney pp.547-8. Butler (1995). Butler(1926/38)
  10. Delehaye p.15
  11. Walter p.59
  12. Donald M. Nicol, Byzantium and Venice: A Study in diplomatic and cultural relations (Cambridge: University Press, 1988), pp. 24-26
  13. Grotowski p. 101
  14. Hippolyte Delehaye (1909) was mistaken in thinking of Euchaita in Pontus and Euchaneia as the same place (Walter p. 58) and this may have caused confusion to many western researchers, questioning at the same time Delehaye's credibility
  15. Oikonomidès pp. 327 - 335


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