Theodora, Byzantine Empress (2)
THEODORA, BYZANTINE EMPRESS (2)
Reigned 842 to 855; wife of theophilus (reigned 829–842), mother of michael iii (842–867), saint in the Orthodox Church; b. Paphlagonia, c. 810; d. Constantinople, 862. She was born of a wealthy family of partly Armenian origin. The future Emperor Theophilus chose Theodora as his wife at the traditional bride show presided over by his mother, Thecla, in spring 821. On becoming emperor in 829, Theophilus revived iconoclasm, but Theodora continued secretly to practice icon veneration. After the death of Theophilus she hesitated for a year before deciding to change the religious policy of her husband. On the advice of Manuel and the logothete, or prime minister, Theoctistus, appointed regents by Theophilus during the infancy of his son Michael III, and of the monk Methodius, who had lived at the court, Theodora convoked a local synod in 843. This deposed the iconoclastic patriarch of Constantinople, John the Grammarian; elected Methodius as his successor; and, after confirming the decisions of the Council of Nicaea II, condemned the iconoclastic heresy and its leaders. On Theodora's insistence the name of the Emperor Theophilus was not included in the list of condemned iconoclasts. The reestablishment of icon veneration was to be commemorated annually by the feast of Orthodoxy, celebrated on the first Sunday in Lent.
After the death of Methodius (847), fearing new complications from the rivalry between zealots who advocated the rigorous treatment of repentant iconclasts and liberal prelates who favored a moderate policy, Theodora appointed ignatius patriarch of Constantinople without the convocation of a local council for the election.
Influenced by her ecclesiastical advisers she made vain efforts to force the paulicians in Asia Minor, by persuasion and military expeditions, to abandon their heresy. In 855 Theodora constrained her son to marry the wife of her choice. Embittered by this, Michael III allied himself with his uncle Bardas, who had been ousted from the regency by Theoctistus. In a plot against the prime minister, Theoctistus was murdered, Bardas became regent, and Theodora was forced to abdicate when Michael III was proclaimed emperor. When Theodora with her supporters tried to reverse the situation, she was forced to enter a convent with her daughters. The Patriarch Ignatius refused to bless their monastic vestments and had to resign. Michael seems, however, to have become reconciled with his mother before his assassination by Basil. Because of her role in the restoration of icon veneration, Theodora was canonized by the Orthodox Church. Her vita was written by an unknown contemporary hagiographer.
Feast: Feb. 11.
Bibliography: v. e. regel, ed., Analecta byzantinorussica (St. Petersburg 1891) iii–xix, 1–19, Vita. Acta Sanctae Sedis Feb. 2:554–569. h. g. beck, Kirche und theologische Literatur im byzantinischen Reich (Munich 1959) 562. j. b. bury, A History of the Eastern Roman Empire (London 1912) 81–82; 141 ff. f. dvornik, The Photian Schism (Cambridge, Eng. 1948). g. ostrogorsky, History of the Byzantine State (Oxford 1956; New Brunswick, NJ 1957) 190, 194–198, 221.