Today we remember the miracle of Saint Theodore the Recruit and the boiled wheat. Fifty years after Saint Theodore’s martyrdom, Emperor Julian the Apostate (361-363), devised a plan to corrupt the Christians during the first week of Great Lent. He knew that Christians purify themselves through fasting, especially during this week (which is why it is known as Clean Week). Therefore, he ordered the Polemarch (military leader) of Constantinople to go secretly and sprinkle all the food in the marketplace with the blood of animals which had been offered in sacrifice to idols. Saint Theodore appeared to Archbishop Eudoxios in a dream, telling him to assemble all the Christians on Monday morning and tell them that they must not buy any food from the marketplace; instead they were to boil some kollyva and to eat it with some honey during that week. The hierarch asked Saint Theodore what he meant by kollyva. He replied, “Kollyva is what we call boiled wheat in Euchaita.” Thus the scheme of the idol-worshipping emperor was thwarted and the pious people were preserved undefiled during Clean Week.
Ever since the middle of the fifth century, the Orthodox Church has honored the holy Great Martyr Theodore the Recruit on the first Saturday of Great Lent. On Friday evening, at the Divine Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts following the prayer at the Ambo, the Canon to the holy Great Martyr Theodore, composed by Saint John of Damascus, is sung. Afterward, kollyva is blessed and distributed to the faithful. The commemoration of the Great Martyr Theodore on the first Saturday of Great Lent was established by Patriarch Nektarios of Constantinople (381-397).
The Troparion to Saint Theodore is quite similar to the Troparion for the Prophet Daniel and the Three Holy Youths (December 17 and Sunday Before the Nativity).1 The Kontakion for Saint Theodore, who suffered martyrdom by fire, reminds us that he also had faith as his breastplate (see 1 Thessalonians 5:8).2
Saint Theodore the Recruit is also commemorated on February 17.
1 The term “water of rest” comes from Psalm 22:2 (LXX). It is also found in the Troparion for the Prophet Daniel (perhaps from Daniel 1:12). The Hypakoe (in Tone 2) for December 17 mentions that an angel “turned the furnace into a place of rest” for the Three Holy Children. In today’s troparion (and that of Feb. 17), we should not say sweet bread, because of the term “sweetbread,” which is made from unappetizing parts of animals.
2 The term “breastplate” is an exact translation from the Greek. It is not a “shield,” or any other thing.