The Only Female Monk

by | Jun 1, 1999 | Persecution

When I speak in a Christian Orthodox church, I tell the story of Theodora from their Lives of Saints, which sadly-the average Orthodox never reads. When Theodora’s mother died, her father decided to become a monk and suggested that she enter a convent. But she was so attached to her father that she decided to go to the monastery with him. Since she was not conspicuously feminine in appearance, she was accepted as a monk. Because of her-or more appropriately to her disguise, “his”-gentleness, she soon became a favorite among her brethren, whom she served with all devotion. From time to time the abbot sent “him” and two monks to a town far away to purchase what was needed in the monastery. They would spend the night in an inn.

The inn owner had a young daughter. One day he discovered to his horror that she was pregnant, and used violence to find out who had brought this shame upon them.

Wanting to protect her lover from her father’s fury, the girl said, “The young, handsome, monk did it to me.” Her father went to the abbot in a rage and complained to him. He in turn questioned Theodora who, thinking that one of “his” fellow monks was responsible, fell on her knees and said, “Forgive me. I am guilty.” Knowing that the monk would be expelled from the monastery for this misdeed, Theodora thought, “If he sinned like this as a monk, he will do even worse things when he is dismissed.” So she said only, “Forgive me, Father, I have sinned.”

“He” was immediately expelled but did not leave the monastery. For years in heat or cold she stood at the gate asking forgiveness from all who came and went. In the end the abbot had pity on her and took her in again, but until the end of her life she was kept at menial work and was not given any consideration. When she died and the corpse had to be washed, according to the monastic rules, it was seen that “he” was a woman. She had taken upon herself another’s guilt to keep him in the religious atmosphere of the monastery in the hope that he would not fall even deeper into sin.

The Orthodox church now honors the name of Theodora.

Such deeds are so far beyond what we meet in daily life that you wonder if those who act like this are from our world, or if they receive their inspiration from another realm.

Hannah, a personality of the Old Testament, sang with sadness, “There is none holy like the Lord” (1 Samuel 2:2). This song is tragic. God wishes us all to be holy and perfect like Himself. Jesus is only adored for His love and self-sacrifice, but He would prefer to see His example followed, to be “one among many brethren”.

We are all invited to take decisive steps toward this.

Wurmbrand, Richard. In the Face of Surrender. North Brunswick, NJ, Bridge-Logos Publishers, 1998, p. 7-9.


The Only Female Monk