SAINT THEODORUS OF TABENNESE
A fourth-century head of Pachomian community of PBOW. Theodorus was born of a prominent family and received a good education. As a youth, he joined a monastery in the diocese of Sne. As soon as he heard of PACHOMIUS and his community, however, he wanted to become one of his disciples; he arrived at Tabennese around 328. Theodorus was one of the group known as the “ancient brothers,” those who entered Tabennese before the great movement of expansion started with the foundation of Pbow in 329.
He made rapid progress in virtue. Pachomius appointed him father of the community of Tabennese and then as his assistant at Pbow, when he established the central administration of all the monasteries of the koinonia there. He was a great comforter of souls and was highly esteemed by the brothers. However, although the Life of Pachomius (written by followers of Theodorus) states in a passage inserted by a later scribe that Theodorus “had great grace” while Pachomius was “fearful and always mournful,” it appears from the whole of the Life that Theodorus was often more rigid and less understanding than Pachomius.
When Pachomius appointed PETRONIUS, in whom he had recognized exceptional gifts of discernment, as superior of Tsmine and as supervisor of all the monasteries of the region of Shmin, he was paving the way for him as a potential successor for the headship of the koinonia. However, when Pachomius fell ill some time later, the ancient brothers came to Theodorus and asked him to promise that he would be their father after the death of Pachomius. He agreed. When Pachomius recovered from his illness and learned about this, he reprimanded Theodorus severely and discharged him from all his responsibilities.
Before his final illness, Pachomius appointed the ailing Petronius as his successor. On his deathbed a few months later, Petronius nominated HORSIESIOS as his successor. The latter was a holy man who won the esteem of all the brothers during his first five years as superior. But Theodorus always remained the man trusted by the ancient brothers. When Horsiesios sent him to Phnoum, the newest and most remote foundation, to assume the humble office of housemaster of the bakers, this proved to be too much, and the time became ripe for the smallest pretext to spark a revolt.
In the circumstances, Horsiesios, a humble man, decided to step down and let Theodorus take command of the koinonia. Although the biographers awkwardly try to give the impression that Theodorus acted simply as the vicar of Horsiesios, it is clear that Horsiesios was forced to resign. In his first address as head of the koinonia, Theodorus says to the brotherhood: “You have risen against our blessed and holy father, Apa Horsiesios. You have removed a truly good man from this position. . . . a man whom God and our father installed in this holy place. . . .”
In spite of the rather questionable circumstances under which Theodorus assumed the leadership of the koinonia, he retained his position for eighteen years. With the death of the majority of the “ancient brothers” in the plague of 367, he began to sense a growing opposition to his rule and decided to summon Horsiesios to take over as superior. Theodorus died in the following year, after the reinstatement of Horsiesios.
The personality of Theodorus combined with holiness and spirituality certain qualities that made Pachomius, in spite of his love for him, regard him as second choice for the office of superior. His sensitivity, which retained the affection and support of the “ancient brothers” for him, also made him vulnerable in the ensuing power struggle with Horsiesios, whose extraordinary humility saved the koinonia from imminent disaster. The acute sensitivity of Theodorus’ feelings is illustrated by his reaction when Pachomius deposed him from his principal position. He cried constantly, to the extent that the brothers became apprehensive that he might lose his vision.
Though Theodorus is known to have entered the Pachomian movement at a very early age, it remains uncertain whether he joined the koinonia at the age of thirteen, fourteen, or twenty. Thirteen seems to be the most likely, according to the sources. However, two dates in his biography are relatively certain: about 328 for his arrival at Tabennese and 368 as the year of his death.
There are two letters by Theodorus. One of them is preserved in Jerome’s Latin translation, and the other, in Coptic, has been published by H. Quecke.
[See also: Monasticism, Pachomian.]
- Quecke, H. “Ein Brief von einem Nachfolger Pachoms.” Orientalia 44 (1975):426-33.
- Steidle, B. “Der heilige Abt. Theodor von Tabennesi. Zur 1600.
- Wiederkehr des Todesjahres (368-1968).” Erbe und Auftrag 44 (1968):91-103.
- . “Der Osterbrief unseres Vaters Theodor an alle Klöster. Zur 1600. Wiederkehr des Todesjahres (368-1968).” Erbe und Auftrag 44 (1968):104-19.
- Veilleux, A. “Teodoro di Tabennesi.” Bibliotheca sanctorum 12 (1969):270-72.