By St. Alphonsus Liguori
St. Theodora, a native of Alexandria, was descended from noble and opulent Christian parents; she was born towards the close of the third century, and at the early age of sixteen years was distinguished for her beauty. Desirous of having Jesus Christ alone for her spouse, she made a vow of perpetual virginity, and her many admirable virtues made her a model of perfection to the other Christian virgins of her acquaintance. No sooner were the edicts of Diocletian against the Christians published in Egypt, than our saint was inflamed with the holy desire of sacrificing her life for Jesus Christ, and by prayer commenced to prepare herself for the great struggle, and to make frequent offerings of herself to God.
She was amongst the first of those who were arrested, and being presented to the judge Proculus, who was much struck with her beauty, was asked whether she was a slave or a free woman; the saint replied that she was a Christian, having been freed by Christ from the slavery of the devil, and that she was also born of what the world called free parents. The tyrant, having discovered that she was of noble birth, inquired why she had not married. St. Theodora replied that she had abstained from marriage that she might live alone to Jesus Christ her Saviour. “But dost thou not know,” continued the judge, “that it hath been commanded by the emperor that each one shall sacrifice to the gods, or else be condemned to the most infamous punishments?” “And thou also knowest very well,” rejoined the saint, “that God is careful of those who serve him, and defends them from contamination.” Proculus continued to persuade her to sacrifice to the gods, threatening that otherwise the imperial edicts should be enforced. The saint answered as before, adding that she was consecrated to Jesus Christ, and would not abandon him though she were torn to pieces. “I am no longer my own,” said she, “but His: He will defend me.”
“Thou shalt pay dearly for thy obstinacy,” said the judge; “what madness to place thy trust in a man who could not free himself from the death of the cross!” “Yes,” replied the saint, “my confidence is placed in Jesus Christ, who hath suffered death to grant life unto us; he will preserve me from all evil. I fear neither torments nor death, but, on the contrary, I long to die for love of my God who died for me.”
“But thou art of noble birth,” said the judge, “and shouldst not dishonor thy family with eternal infamy.” Theodora answered: “My glory is to confess the name of Jesus Christ my Saviour; he hath given me both honor and nobility; he knoweth how to preserve his dove from the hawk.”
“Thou dost but trifle,” said Proculus; “instantly sacrifice to our gods — be not insane.” “I would indeed be insane,” said Theodora, “if I were to sacrifice to devils and gods of brass or marble.” Exasperated by this answer, the judge caused her to be buffeted, and said: “Thou wilt charge us with this dishonor; but thou shouldst not have dishonored our gods.” “I do not complain,” said the saint, “but rather rejoice at this opportunity of bearing insult for my Saviour.”
“I shall give thee,” said the tyrant, “three days to deliberate; after which, if thou wilt remain obdurate, punishment awaits thee.” Theodora replied, “Thou mayest look on these three days as already expired; thou shalt find me the same then as now.” The three days having expired, and the saint being still constant in her faith, Proculus said that he was bound to obey the edict, and commanded her to be conducted whither he had threatened.
Upon entering the infamous place the saint fervently recommended herself to Jesus Christ, and was heard; for Didymus, habited like a soldier, mingled in the crowd, and obtained admission to the room where she was. Upon seeing him, Theodora fled from him into several corners of the room; but Didymus said to her: “Fear me not, Theodora; I am not such a one as thou supposest; I have come to save thy honor and to set thee free. Let us change habits; take thou my clothes and depart; I will remain here in thine.” Theodora did as she was desired, and in her disguise joyfully departed from that place of infamy; holding down her head, she passed undiscovered through the midst of the crowd.
After some time, another young man, on entering the apartment, was astonished to find a man there instead of the virgin, and in his astonishment exclaimed: “Perhaps Christ changeth women into men!” But St. Didymus explained, and said to the idolater: “Christ hath not changed me from a woman to a man, but hath given me an opportunity of acquiring the crown of martyrdom. The virgin is out of your reach; I have remained in her place; do unto me as it pleaseth you.”
The prefect being informed of this, sent for Didymus, and asked him why he had so acted. He replied that it was in consequence of an inspiration from God. He was then commanded to sacrifice to the gods, and to make known where Theodora was. He replied, that as to Theodora he knew not, and as to sacrificing to the gods, the judge had better put in force the imperial edict, since he would never sacrifice to devils, though he should be cast into a furnace. The prefect, incensed at this declaration commanded that he should be beheaded, and that his body should afterwards be burned.
Didymus accordingly went to the place of execution, but at the same moment Theodora arrived, and with holy emulation contended for the crown. Didymus said: “It is mine, because on me hath sentence been pronounced.” Theodora replied: “I was willing thou shouldst save my honor, but not my life. I abominated infamy, but did not shrink from death. If thou hast intended to deprive me of martyrdom, thou hast deceived me.” Finally, the judge ordered them both to be decapitated, and thus both received the crown of martyrdom.