Saints of the Day – Theodore the Studite, Abbot

detail of an 11th century Byzantine mosaic of Saint Theodore the Studite, artist unknown; Hosios Loukas Monastery, Boeotia, Greece; swiped from Wikimedia CommonsArticle

Born at Constantinople in 759; died at Akrita, 826. Saint Theodore was the son of an imperial treasury official. Theodore became a novice at a monastery established by his father on his estate at Saccudium (Sakkoudion) near Constantinople, where he was sent to study by his uncle Abbot Saint Plato of Symboleon.

He was ordained in 787 in Constantinople, returned to the monastery, and in 794 succeeded his uncle as abbot of the monastery of Sakkoudion in Bithynia. He and his monks were banished for a short time in 796 for his refusal to countenance Emperor Constantine VI’s divorce and remarriage to Theodota but they returned when Constantine’s mother, Irene, seized power, dethroned and then blinded her son.

Theodore reopened Sakkoudion but in 799 he transferred his community to Constantinople to escape the Saracen raids. There they occupied the monastery founded by the Roman consul Studius in 463 and he was again named abbot. The Studios Monastery was famous partly because of its age, but it had been neglected and rundown. Under Theodore’s direction this house developed remarkably from 12 monks to a thousand.

Theodore’s ideals and regulations have had a far-reaching influence in Byzantine monasticism. He encouraged learning and the arts, founded a school of calligraphy, and wrote a rule for the monastery that was adopted in Russia, Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, and even on Mount Athos. He restored liturgical prayer, community life, enclosure, poverty, and manual labor among his monks. These reforms and developments were brought about under great external difficulties.

When he opposed the emperor’s appointment of a layman, Nicephorus, to succeed Tarasius, who had died in 806 as patriarch of Constantinople, Theodore was imprisoned by the emperor.

From 809 to 811 Theodore was in exile on Prince’s Island with his uncle Plato and his brother Archbishop Joseph of Thessalonica on account of further troubles arising out of the late emperor’s adultery. At that time the emperor dispersed the monks of Studios. Theodore returned to Constantinople on the emperor’s death and was reconciled to Patriarch Nicephorus in a common fight against Emperor Leo V the Armenian, who revived iconoclasm as an imperial policy. When Nicephorus was banished, Theodore organized public resistance, and he was again exiled to Mysia in 813.

For seven years he was confined at various places with extreme rigor, even to being flogged by his jailers. But he continued by letter to encourage his followers to keep up the struggle, and he sent an appeal to Pope Paschal I (emphasizing the primacy of the bishop of Rome), who sent legates to Constantinople; but they achieved nothing except Theodore’s removal to Bonita in Anatolia (now in Turkey). He endured great hardships for the three years he was imprisoned there and was then transferred to Smyrna and placed in the custody of an iconoclast bishop who wanted him beheaded and treated him with great harshness.

After the violent death of Leo V in 820, Theodore was released, but was again faced with a renewed iconoclasm under Emperor Michael the Stammerer, and was not allowed to return permanently to the Studite monastery. Theodore left Constantinople and visited monasteries in Bithynia, founded a monastery on Akrita for many of his monks who had followed him, and he died there in semi-exile on November 11. Saint Theodore stands out as a champion of the Church’s religious independence of civil power, a defender of the legitimacy of sacred images, and a monastic reformer of genius. He has been called an incomparable agitator: he was certainly strong-willed and intransigent, even domineering; but there was a less rigid side to him, which can be seen in some of the more personal of his very numerous extant letters. There have also survived, as well as polemical writings, catechetical works, sermons, hymns, and epigrams. Saint Theodore was also a skilled calligrapher, an art which he fostered among his monks (Attwater, Benedictines, Delaney, Gardner).

This anonymous Russian icon shows Saint Theodore with Saint Theodosius the Great.

MLA Citation

  • Katherine I Rabenstein. Saints of the Day, 1998. CatholicSaints.Info. 11 August 2020. Web. 26 November 2020. <>