Δευτέρα 11 Μαρτίου 2024

Saint Theodora the Queen of Arta, March 11

Χαίροις βασιλίδων ἡ καλλονή, χαίροις τῶν Ἀρταίων, 
ἐγκαλώπισμα ἱερόν· χαίροις δωρημάτων, 
ταμεῖον οὐρανίων, Ὁσία Θεοδώρα, ἀξιοθαύμαστε.

Theodora Petralifena or Saint Theodora of Arta (Serbia, 1210 - 1280) was the wife of the Despot of Epirus Michael II and an Orthodox Christian Saint.

Early years
Theodora was born and raised around the year 1210 AD. in Serbia, Macedonia. Her father was Sebastokrator Ioannis Petraliphas governor of Thessaly and Macedonia, Her mother was Eleni who came from an aristocratic family of Constantinople. The Petralifa Family was of Norman origin with Peter of Alifa as its progenitor from Alife, near Caserta, participated in Robert Guiscard's Norman invasions and then entered Byzantine service. The Petralifa Family was originally settled in Didymoteicho, offered many important services to the empire and was honored with high offices. Her life was unknown until the time when a monk named Job wrote the "Hagiography of Saint Theodora of Arta" about her face, the monk is identified with Job Iasite who lived in the late 13th century. The hagiography contains many mistakes and inaccuracies, which puts the identification between the two faces in doubt.
In the courtyard of Epirus
With the death of her father, in the period (1224 - 1230), Theodora was taken under his protection by the Despot of Epirus Theodoros Komnenos Doukas. Theodore crashed at the Battle of Klokotnitsa (1230) in an area between Philippopolis and Adrianople, the Bulgarian Tsar Ivan Asen II took him prisoner and later blinded him. His successor in the Despotate was the illegitimate nephew of Michael II Comnenus Duke, the illegitimate son of the half-brother of Michael I Comnenus Duke the founder of the Despotate. Michael II, passing through Servia where Theodora lived, was impressed by her beauty and married her immediately after his ascension to the Despotate even though she was still a little girl (1231). Michael is said to have married Theodora in an attempt to expand his power.

Exile
Theodora, a particularly sensitive nature and devoted to God, cannot follow the worldly rhythms of her husband's life and becomes more and more an example of a dedicated and philanthropic queen. Michael abandoned her despite her early pregnancy which quickly resulted in the birth of his successor Nikephoros and began living with mistresses, one of them being the Artian noblewoman Gangrini whom he carried to the palaces. Theodora could not bear the shame and exiled herself, she lived for five years under miserable conditions and poverty as a simple villager only from the goods that nature could offer her. In this state, and while collecting grass, the priest of the village of Prenista in today's Corfu Artas found her, the detail is detailed by Job's biographer who describes her as "breathless". Theodora revealed her identity to the priest, the priest took her with him and lived under his protection for the rest of the exile. The people of Arta, led by its lords, revolted by Michael's behavior, Michael II was forced to expel Gangrini from the palace and ask Theodora to return, from then on they lived together until the end of their lives.

Return and sleep
Theodora continues the work of philanthropy that she had started while Michael indulges in works of penance and built two temples, the temple of Pantanassa on the right bank of the Arachthos at the site of Vlachiorou (which today is called the temple of Vlacherna), the Monastery of Kato Panagia, the Monastery of Agios Georgios and the Monastery of Panagia Pantanassa outside Philippiada. Theodora and Michael have four more children, Ioannis, Dimitrios, Eleni and Anna. Theodora, as the wife of the Despot of Epirus, had close ties with the traditional enemy of the Despotate, the Empire of Nicaea. The historian Georgios Akropolites who lived in her time records that she accompanied her son Nikiforos to her engagement and then to her marriage with the daughter of the Emperor of Nicaea Theodoros II Laskaris. The resolution of the differences between the two kingdoms with the contribution of Theodora resulted in the resolution of their ecclesiastical differences, but the peace did not last long. Theodora also founded the Church of Agios Georgios in the capital of the Despotate of Arta which today bears her name. After the death of her husband (1268), Theodora retired as a nun to the Church of Agios Georgios and lived until her own death (1280), she was buried in the narthex of the church.
Η Βυζαντινή εκκλησία της Αγίας Θεοδώρας στην Άρτα.

Canonization
Her memory is commemorated on March 11 and she is today the patron saint of Arta. In her temple is her relic in a silver urn which is paraded through the streets of the city on her feast day with a majestic litany. The Saint is also represented in a fresco to the left of the entrance gate in the katholikon of the Kato Panagia monastery.
Λειψανοθήκη Αγίας Θεοδώρας Άρτας

The collection of her holy relics is celebrated every year on the first Sunday after the feast of All Saints, her tomb became a place of pilgrimage while many miracles have been recorded by the faithful.

Family
With her husband Michael II Angelos despot of Epirus, she had:

Nikephoros I d.1240-d.1297, despot of Epirus.
John flourished 1261-1280, general.
Dimitrios, changed his name to Michael. He flourished 1278-1304, with the nickname "Koutroulis".
Helen b. 1242-1271, married Manfredo of Hoendaufen king of Sicily.
Anna Rev. 1286, married first William II Villeardouin prince of Achaia and then Nicholas II of Saint-Omer lord of 1/2 of Thebes.

Λειτουργικά κείμενα
Ἀπολυτίκιον
Ήχος γ΄.
Των βασιλίδων το κλέος, ασκητριών τε αγλάϊσμα, της Ακαρνανίας το εύχος και ιαμάτων ρείθρον ακένωτον` των λυπουμένων και πτωχών την προστάτιν, την ακτίνος δίκην την Αιτωλίαν πάσαν καταφωτίζουσαν` επώνυμον την όντως δωρεών των του Θεού, την πάνσεπτον και οσίαν Θεοδώραν την Βασίλισσαν, δεύτε οι Αρταίοι πάντες πιστώς συνελθόντες ύμνοις τιμήσωμεν` αυτή γαρ αενάως υπέρ ημών ου παύει πρεσβεύουσα.

Έτερον Ἀπολυτίκιον
Ἦχος α’. Τῆς ἐρήμου πολίτης.
Βασιλείου ἀξίας παριδοῦσα τὴν εὔκλειαν, ἐγκρατείᾳ καὶ πόνοις καὶ ἀσκήσει ἐβίωσας, καὶ θείων ἐπληρώθης δωρεῶν, Ὁσία Θεοδώρα ἀληθῶς. Διὰ τοῦτό σε ἡ Ἄρτα χαρμονικῶς, γεραίρει ἀνακράζουσα· δόξα τῷ σὲ δοξάσαντι Χριστῷ, δόξα τῷ σὲ στεφανώσαντι, δόξα τῷ ἐνεργοῦντι διὰ σοῦ, πᾶσιν ἰάματα.

Κοντάκιον
Ἦχος β’. Τοὺς ἀσφαλεῖς.
Βασιλικὴν τιμὴν καὶ δόξαν καταλέλοιπας, καὶ ἐν ἀσκήσει τὴν ζωὴν διήνυσας, Θεοδώρα παμμακάριστε, γέρας τῆς Ἄρτης καὶ διάδημα· διό σου τῇ σεπτῇ θήκῃ προσπίπτοντες, ἁγιασμὸν ἐκ ταύτης κομιζόμεθα, ὑμνοῦντες Χριστὸν τὸν σὲ δοξάσαντα.

Μεγαλυνάριον
Χαίροις βασιλίδων ἡ καλλονή, χαίροις τῶν Ἀρταίων, ἐγκαλώπισμα ἱερόν· χαίροις δωρημάτων, ταμεῖον οὐρανίων, Ὁσία Θεοδώρα, ἀξιοθαύμαστε.