On Forfeiting the World and Acquiring God

From our Holy Mother Theodora of Alexandria, The Nun Who Struggled in the Guise of a Man (Sep. 11)

The Great Collection of The Lives of the Saints
For if you acquire God, it is sufficient, and you will rejoice in Him more than if you were to gain the whole world.

One evening, in the sight of all, Theodora took the child and shut herself in her cell with him, and she began to instruct him. The abbot, moved by the Spirit, sent some of the brethren to listen silently outside the cell to what Theodora was saying to the boy. Holding the child to her breast, she embraced and kissed him, saying, “My beloved son, my time has come; my end approaches, and I am about to depart from you. Do not weep over me, and do not say, ‘I am an orphan,’ for you have a Father in God, Who protects you by His grace and to Whom I (if I be granted boldness before Him) shall pray for you. Hearken to my last words, and inscribe them in your heart. Love God more than anything which is created, more even than yourself, and sing to Him with your whole heart. Do not cease praising Him. Pray to Him with your lips and heart, your tongue and mind. Do not neglect common prayer, but go to the church with the brethren for the First Hour and the Third, the Sixth and the Ninth, for Vespers and the Midnight Office, and Matins.

Let your every prayer be offered up with tears and with sighs from a broken heart.
Weep before God each day so that you may be granted eternal consolation. Be obedient to the abbot and the brethren; renounce your will; preserve the guilelessness of your character from today until the very end of your life. Guard your lips with silence; take care that you judge no one nor laugh at the sins of others. But if you see someone committing a sin, pray for him to God, Who alone is sinless, that He may correct him and deliver you from transgression and the enemy’s temptations. Say nothing that is vain, foul, or profane, for which you will have to give account on the Day of Judgment. Be meek and humble of heart; regard all the brethren as your fathers and benefactors, and yourself as beneath all. If you hear that one of the fathers is ailing, do not be idle but visit him and serve him sincerely. Fulfill every task which you are given without complaint; cherish poverty and non-acquisitiveness as a rich treasure. Recall my life, when I wandered with you outside the monastery walls. What possessions did I have in my hut? Was there food or clothing? Were there any vessels or treasures? There was nothing there, save God. What does man need, save God and His divine love? He is our treasure, our wealth. He is food and drink; He is clothing and shelter. He is our health and strength, our happiness and joy. He is our trust and hope; labor, my son, to gain Him. For if you acquire God, it is sufficient, and you will rejoice in Him more than if you were to gain the whole world. Take care to guard your purity, and as you are now chaste in body and spirit, remain so until your repose. Be careful, my child, not to grieve the Spirit of God, Who dwells in you, with the love of pleasure and the lusts of the flesh. Mortify your members, and do not allow your body rest and relaxation. Treat it like a stubborn mule. Humble it with hunger, thirst, work, and illness, until you are enabled to present your soul to Christ like a pure bride. Guard yourself carefully against the tricks of the demons. Be sober and vigilant, because the devil never ceases to hunt all who serve God, in order to devour them. May God’s help preserve you from his cunning. Moreover, remember me, my son, in your prayers, that I might obtain mercy from the righteous Judge, Who does not regard sins alone, but repentance also.”

“Can it be, my father,” said the child, “you will leave me an orphan? What will I do without you? I cannot bear to be deprived of you!”

Seeking to comfort him, Theodora said, “Did I not tell you not to say, ‘I am an orphan?’ God will preserve you and care for you. May He be to you father and mother, teacher and instructor, a protector and guide to salvation!”

Then she stood and began to pray tearfully, saying, “O God, Thou knowest my sins and my repentance; Thou knowest the sufferings of my heart, which hath not ceased to grieve because I have angered Thee, O Lord. Thou knowest the labors with which I have humbled my sinful body, which I have undertaken because I dared to sin and grieve Thy goodness. Thou knowest my soul’s sorrow, for since the time when I perceived my sin, I have for all these years mourned and cried out bitterly that I offended Thy compassion. Wherefore, hearken to my groaning; hear my prayer; look upon my heart, which melteth away like wax. Try mine inward parts and behold my tears, and have mercy upon my wretched soul! Remit my transgressions; forgive my sins; and remember not mine evil deeds. Remember me in Thy mercy for the sake of Thy goodness, O Lord. Accept my repentance, accept my prayer and my weeping, and receive my soul as well!”

Thus did Theodora pray for a long time. Not all that she said while praying could be heard, but her weeping could be heard plainly as she beat her breast. The child wept with her, lamenting that he would be left an orphan. But Theodora consoled him, and then she continued to pray. 

Finally she said with joy, I thank Thee, O my most Merciful Creator, that Thou hast heard me and hast shown Thy mercy to me and delivered my soul from death and mine eyes from tears!

After saying these words, she continued giving thanks with a joyful soul, and then she became silent. It seemed that she had surrendered her soul into the hands of her Lord, for nothing more was heard from her.

The Great Collection of The Lives of the Saints

This offering of the famous Russian collection of Lives of the Saints by Saint Demetrius of Rostov (1651-1709) marks the first time any of these national collections have been published in their entirety in the English language.