Theodora of Alexandria vs. Theodora the Empress

Welcome to the final battle of the first full week of Lent Madness 2021 aka the Theodora Throwdown! Today it’s Theodora of Alexandria vs. Theodora the Empress. Only one Theodora will make it to the next round.

Yesterday Arnulf of Metz left Vincent of Saragossa to drown his sorrows 56% to 44%. Arnulf will face off against Egeria in the Saintly Sixteen.

Go ahead and catch your breath this weekend. We’ll be back for another engaging week of First Round battles bright and early Monday morning as Evagrius the Solitary tangles with Euphrosyne. But first, cast your vote!

Theodora of Alexandria
Theodora of Alexandria was a noble woman who was married to a wealthy Christian man. While her story is often conflated with Theodora of Egypt, tradition says that Theodora of Alexandria became a target of the devil. Threatened by her piety, the devil brought her to the attention of another rich man who became enamored with her. He bought her gifts and sent her love letters, but she was unmoved. Finally, he sent a young woman, a sorceress in some accounts, who told Theodora that if she gave in to the rich man’s advances at dusk or at night, God would not see. Theodora, in a moment of weakness, gave in and immediately felt guilt over her betrayal. She went to the local abbess who told her that God sees all, and she must perform penance. Theodora decided to join a monastery to do penance.

Worried her husband would find her if she joined a women’s monastery, Theodora cut her hair, put on men’s clothes, and joined a men’s monastery as Brother Theodore. She lived as a monk, with no one suspecting her secret.

Some years after joining the monastery, Theodora was sent on an errand in a faraway town. On the journey, she stayed the night in another monastery. According to Orthodox tradition, the daughter of the abbot attempted to seduce her. Theodora resisted. The daughter slept with another man and became pregnant. She accused Theodora of fathering the child. Eventually, the child was sent to Theodora’s monastery, and the abbot kicked her out with the child. Theodora saw the injustice as further punishment for her adultery. She tended to the child outside the walls of the monastery for seven years. Local shepherds gave her milk for the baby while she lived off of wild vegetables. When the abbot saw her persistence and fidelity, he invited her back into the monastery with the child.

After her return, Theodora lived two more years in the monastery until her death in 470. As the monks prepared her for burial, they discovered that she was a woman. The abbot called her husband to the monastery, and he became a monk and occupied her cell until his death. The boy she had raised and committed to God grew and followed her example of a virtuous life, ultimately becoming the abbot of the monastery.

Collect for Theodora of Alexandria
Almighty God, whose will it is to be glorified in your saints and who raised up your servant Theodora to be a light in the world: Shine, we pray, in our hearts, that we also in our generation may show forth your praise, who called us out of darkness into your marvelous light; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

—David Creech


Theodora the Empress
Theodora (500–548) knew her way around the hippodrome of Constantinople. Her father kept bears there, and her mother performed as an actress. When she was about four, her father died, and Theodora also became an actress. Rumors swirl around her. She was a stripper and a courtesan. One unreliable account described Theodora performing a lurid dance involving geese. It’s hard to know if these things are factually true or if the historian’s imagination created these juicy tidbits because he didn’t know how to get his head around understanding a woman of great power.

What we do know is that between the animal training and acting, Theodora learned how to soothe dangerous beasts and convincingly perform before great crowds, and both skills became the perfect  training for an adept politician. Those talents paired with extraordinary intellect, ambition, and wit catapulted Theodora from humble beginnings to the empress of the Byzantine Empire.

Theodora married Justinian I around 525 and ushered the Byzantine Empire into its golden years. During Justinian’s coronation, she was also crowned as an equal. She did not take the position of empress lightly. Her name can be found on every law that was passed at that time. And her commitment to gender equality extended beyond her self-interests. Theodora worked for gender equality, marriage rights, and anti-rape laws. She wrote papers against pimps and banished brothel-keepers from major cities. She opened a home for women and girls who wanted to transition out of sex work.

For our purposes, however, we should also consider her religious influences. Between Theodora’s time at the hippodrome and meeting Justinian, Theodora joined a religious community in Alexandria and converted to the non-Chalcedonian church, believing that Christ had only one nature and was fully divine. The debate was boiling up at this time, and Theodora aided and sheltered the non-Chalcedonians and kept the peace between the factions of Christianity. During their reign, Theodora and Justinian I constructed more than twenty-five churches, including Hagia Sophia, the largest Greek Orthodox church for more than 1,000 years.

Collect for Theodora the Empress
O God, who called your servant Theodora to an earthly throne that she might advance your heavenly kingdom and who gave her the wisdom to establish unity where there had been division; Create in your church such godly union and concord that we might proclaim the Gospel of the Prince of Peace, not only in correct theology but in right action; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

—Carol Howard Merritt


Theodora of Alexandria vs. Theodora the Empress

  • Theodora the Empress (75%, 5,435 Votes)
  • Theodora of Alexandria (25%, 1,777 Votes)

Total Voters: 7,212

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Theodora of Alexandria: Anonymous / Public domain
Theodora the Empress: Basilica of San Vitale / CC BY-SA (

118 Comments to "Theodora of Alexandria vs. Theodora the Empress"

  1. John Cabot's Gravatar John Cabot
    February 26, 2021 - 8:05 am | Permalink

    Though Theodora’s past was quite murky
    And her fame from some talents most quirky,
    A remarkable brain
    Fueled her twenty-year reign
    As the empress of Byzantine Turkey.

    • Diane DeOrio's Gravatar Diane DeOrio
      February 26, 2021 - 9:17 am | Permalink

      I love it!

    • RoseAnn Evans's Gravatar RoseAnn Evans
      February 26, 2021 - 9:22 am | Permalink


    • RodneyDudley's Gravatar RodneyDudley
      February 26, 2021 - 9:38 am | Permalink

      That sums it all up! I thought the Empress Theodora was a remarkable woman who overcame a sketchy beginning and ultimately used her power for lasting good for many people.

    • Kathleen Stamm's Gravatar Kathleen Stamm
      February 26, 2021 - 10:25 am | Permalink

      Well said! Thank you!

    • Rod McFadden's Gravatar Rod McFadden
      February 26, 2021 - 12:18 pm | Permalink


    • Josh Nixon's Gravatar Josh Nixon
      February 26, 2021 - 3:33 pm | Permalink

      This disciple escaped the philandering
      Of lascivious men and their gandering;
      As a monk she cross-dressed,
      As a saint she was blessed–
      Theodora the great Alexandrian.

    • Doug's Gravatar Doug
      February 26, 2021 - 5:31 pm | Permalink

      Did you really scribe this before 8:05a? I am in awe.

  2. Irene's Gravatar Irene
    February 26, 2021 - 8:08 am | Permalink

    Two strong women, hard to pick. I went with the Empress out of sympathy on the hatchet job Procopius did on her in his Secret Histories.

  3. Steve H's Gravatar Steve H
    February 26, 2021 - 8:19 am | Permalink

    Oh no! The battle of the Teddies!

  4. Leon Spencer's Gravatar Leon Spencer
    February 26, 2021 - 8:22 am | Permalink

    Theodora of Alexandria reads like a bad novel. Really?

    • February 26, 2021 - 8:28 am | Permalink


    • Lani's Gravatar Lani
      February 26, 2021 - 8:36 am | Permalink

      Agreed. Oi. So the woman whose mark is on just laws and equality receives my vote today.

    • Melissa's Gravatar Melissa
      February 26, 2021 - 8:57 am | Permalink

      Her early life might read like a novel partly because some of the stories about her were lurid by design, to discredit her. Learn more about Procopius and his motives for writing the Secret History here :*.html
      We always tell the most lurid stories about actors! Besides which, she was a powerful woman who rose up out of humble origins. I love that she was an actor.
      To compare another account for the sake of objectivity, you could look her up in the Britannica.
      I also appreciate a saint who is non-Chalcedonian. I think it is important to acknowledge that we don’t always have to agree — even when it is about something so vital as the very nature of Jesus. She was faithful to the best of her abilities.
      The laws that she passed on the behalf of women earn my vote!

      • Melissa Jo Sites's Gravatar Melissa Jo Sites
        February 26, 2021 - 8:59 am | Permalink

        Oops! I fell victim to the confusion!! my comment was about the Empress, not the wife turned monk.

      • Millie Ericson's Gravatar Millie Ericson
        February 26, 2021 - 12:41 pm | Permalink

        And isn’t it amazingly shameful that we are still crucifying women in 2021. I’m so impressed with these 5th & 6th century women. Hooray for the Alexandrias. But it just makes me wonder why we are still struggling why there can’t be more progress. Yet we must keep persisting as they did!

      • Linda Kisker's Gravatar Linda Kisker
        February 26, 2021 - 7:07 pm | Permalink

        Thank you for providing more information. It should encourage us to be less judgmental of these good people who lived in a very different tone and place.

    • Mike Juhasz's Gravatar Mike Juhasz
      February 26, 2021 - 9:28 am | Permalink

      I agree. It was at least nine years between her leaving her husband and her death. But they found the guy.

    • Lucy Simola's Gravatar Lucy Simola
      February 26, 2021 - 1:00 pm | Permalink

      Yes, or a soap opera.

    • Jayne B Abrams's Gravatar Jayne B Abrams
      February 26, 2021 - 3:53 pm | Permalink

      I was done at “the devil was threatened by her piety”….. Augh!

    • Richard's Gravatar Richard
      February 26, 2021 - 4:55 pm | Permalink

      It’s a tale that could make for a good opera.

  5. Jane Bucci's Gravatar Jane Bucci
    February 26, 2021 - 8:22 am | Permalink

    The ability to create these daily gems of creativity leaves me gob-smacked. And topping it off, this early in the day! The Empress took my vote this morning – promoting gender equality, marriage rights and anti-rape laws while keeping the peace between factions of Christianity. Indeed……..

  6. Laura Clarke's Gravatar Laura Clarke
    February 26, 2021 - 8:25 am | Permalink

    I can almost see each episode of Theodora of Alexandria as it plays out on Netflix. I would definitely watch it, but for our purposes, voted for the Empress.

    • Tiffany's Gravatar Tiffany
      February 26, 2021 - 12:20 pm | Permalink

      Haha, that sounds apt!

      As for the other Theodora, I thought that life in the palace of Constantinople sounded like a reality show. Bears and actors. Like the Tiger King meets Real Housewives. (Disclaimer: I’ve never watched either of those shows, so my comparison may be off.)

      I do appreciate that the Empress fought for anti-rape laws and gender equality and marriage rights for women. Good for her! It’s enough to get my vote.

  7. Jim Wheeler's Gravatar Jim Wheeler
    February 26, 2021 - 8:34 am | Permalink

    A Netflix portrayal Theodora the Empress could make as great a series as the Crown!

  8. Melanie's Gravatar Melanie
    February 26, 2021 - 8:36 am | Permalink

    Are we going to get a semi-final round between Emperor Constantine and Empress Theodora? I sure hope not.

    Nonetheless, I was happy to vote for the Empress today. Theodora of Alexandria’s tale was way too much melodrama this early in the morning.

    • Patricia Gordon's Gravatar Patricia Gordon
      February 26, 2021 - 8:48 am | Permalink

      I’m with you, Melanie! But even if T of Alexandria’s story has been less lurid and more plausible, I was inclined toward the Empress who really did seem to have it all and to very good ends.

  9. Sharon's Gravatar Sharon
    February 26, 2021 - 8:37 am | Permalink

    I fell for the one who succumbed to a moment of weakness. I can certainly identify with that many times a day — not in the same way, but still succumbing. The fact she turned her life around gives all of us in our weaker moments hope. I admire the empress for her stands and accomplishments, but have a harder time relating to her story.

    I would also say that most of what we read about the saints in the first five or six centuries, when records were not well kept or. in the case of Alexandria’s library, burned to the ground, most of our knowledge comes from tradition or oral stories.

  10. Sarah P's Gravatar Sarah P
    February 26, 2021 - 8:39 am | Permalink

    I voted for the underdog today, having heard Theodora of Alexandria’s story before. Yes, soap opera, but so many saints have lived a melodramatic life (Augustine comes to mind). My sister in another state tends to vote for the candidate I don’t vote for, and as we have agreed that between us, we sometimes have one brain, I’ll bet half of my vote will go to the Empress today. I am satisfied.

    • Melissa's Gravatar Melissa
      February 26, 2021 - 9:01 am | Permalink

      Isn’t there another saint who joined a monastery as a man, and who was accused of fathering a child? That sounded familiar, but I can’t remember their name.

      • Melissa's Gravatar Melissa
        February 26, 2021 - 9:04 am | Permalink

        I found it pretty quickly, it was Marina the monk. Different origin story but similar outcome of living as a monk and being accused of fathering a child.

        • Michelle's Gravatar Michelle
          February 26, 2021 - 9:52 am | Permalink

          Thank you Melissa…we just moved and shuttered to think I was going to have to go find my previous books to look up LOL

        • N Tinkham's Gravatar N Tinkham
          February 26, 2021 - 4:11 pm | Permalink

          Theodora’s and Marina’s stories sound suspiciously alike. Does anyone know if either of the stories is historically true? The similarities makes me doubt the historicity of both stories (though I could see such a character in a George R. R. Martin novel!).

          • Sasha Bley-Vroman's Gravatar Sasha Bley-Vroman
            February 26, 2021 - 9:31 pm | Permalink

            About Marina and Theodora of Alexandria–If you’re passing as a man, what better way to affirm your supposed masculinity than to acknowledge fathering a child? And if you give up all chance of motherhood by entering monastic life, wouldn’t it be nice to get hold of a baby of your own? One supposes that in acknowledging fatherhood one got control of the child, in those days when women had few rights. I can imagine this happening twice, and I can certainly imagine countless women fantasizing the whole story, whether they are wives or Sisters!

      • Marlena's Gravatar Marlena
        February 26, 2021 - 9:21 am | Permalink

        Pope Joan!

        • Rene Jamieson's Gravatar Rene Jamieson
          February 26, 2021 - 11:08 am | Permalink

          Funny, that’s the person I thought of as I read the harrowing tale of the Alexandrian Theodora. Which is why I came to the conclusion that Theodora of Alexandria was probably just about as real as Pope Joan, which means not at all. My vote went to the Empress Theodora. I may not agree with her views on the nature of Christ, but I wholeheartedly endorse her stand on gender equality, marriage rights, anti-rape laws, and her support of women wanting to leave the sex trade. Besides, as a former actor (although I never did any exotic dances with geese), I feel a certain kinship.

  11. February 26, 2021 - 8:39 am | Permalink

    As a person who’s been wrongly accused, my heart and vote goes with Theodora of Alexandria.

  12. Roger Mattes Jr.'s Gravatar Roger Mattes Jr.
    February 26, 2021 - 8:42 am | Permalink

    Any woman who can live in a house full of men as penance is truly remorseful and deserving of sympathy. She raised someone else’s illigitimate child as her own without causing it more shame. I think that is more noble than marrying an Emperor, living a life of luxury, and contributing to good causes.

    • Christine Cannon's Gravatar Christine Cannon
      February 26, 2021 - 11:52 am | Permalink

      I so agree.

  13. Martha Cook's Gravatar Martha Cook
    February 26, 2021 - 8:42 am | Permalink

    Both are fascinating stories! What interesting women. Yes, a show about either one would be fun to watch. It must have been challenging to promote equality for women in those times.

  14. Susan Erickson's Gravatar Susan Erickson
    February 26, 2021 - 8:42 am | Permalink

    I admired Empress Theodora’s work on behalf of women, but I just couldn’t bring myself to vote for a non-Chalcedonian.

    • Lisa Keppeler's Gravatar Lisa Keppeler
      February 26, 2021 - 9:05 am | Permalink

      I had to read up on that. It turns out the differences were basically semantic, and (with Theodora’s help) the two strands of Orthodox Christianity have coexisted ever since. When I was General Seminary, there was a Syrian Orthodox priest studying there — a church that descended from those non-Chalcedonian groups. Yes, I used to shoot pool with the now Metropolitan (presiding Archbishop) of the Syrian Orthodox Church!

      • John Cabot's Gravatar John Cabot
        February 26, 2021 - 11:23 am | Permalink

        Now there’s an idea for a limerick!

  15. Rita Pino Vargas's Gravatar Rita Pino Vargas
    February 26, 2021 - 8:47 am | Permalink

    where do you folks dig up these “saints”?!!!

    • Tessa's Gravatar Tessa
      February 26, 2021 - 11:11 am | Permalink

      The SEC invites the public to submit nominations each year, usually around Ascension Day (40 days after Easter) and some of the nominees do make it into the brackets. Though they do seem to find some very obscure ones — I’m hoping Christina the Astonishing gets renominated at some point — the SEC also tends to include some well known saints, even though not all the well known ones make it out of the first round. Like Joan of Arc earlier this week. It’s an opportunity to learn about some very obscure saints!

      • Susan Lee Hauser's Gravatar Susan Lee Hauser
        February 26, 2021 - 11:32 am | Permalink

        Yes! I’m a huge fan of Christina! It drive me crazy that people wouldn’t vote for her because “she wasn’t real”!

        • Shelly's Gravatar Shelly
          February 27, 2021 - 1:28 am | Permalink

          I agree! Christina the Astonishing was one of my favorites!

      • Verdery Kassebaum's Gravatar Verdery Kassebaum
        February 26, 2021 - 11:47 am | Permalink

        Tessa, I second the motion! Christina was a hoot.

  16. February 26, 2021 - 8:57 am | Permalink

    Theodora of Alexandria’s story sounds like a Shakespearean play, but the Empress Theodora was in fact an actress and animal trainer. As a former actor, myself, I feel obligated to support her. I also appreciate all the work she did to help the women of her empire.

  17. Emily Correll's Gravatar Emily Correll
    February 26, 2021 - 8:59 am | Permalink

    Had to go for the empress since she was one of the women covered in our first class on Empresses yesterday. (The story in our readings had swans rather than geese, but who believes Procopius anyway?)

    • Conny Santana's Gravatar Conny Santana
      February 26, 2021 - 3:19 pm | Permalink

      The geese thing surely harks to Leda and the swans. Titillating, naughty. I’m sure it was a hit. This was before her Empress days and her survival depended on her audiences approval.

  18. February 26, 2021 - 9:10 am | Permalink

    Like yesterday we must choose between power and piety, worldly accomplishments and devotion, fame and fidelity. The accomplishments of the Empress are astonishing but my vote goes to piety.

  19. Sophia's Gravatar Sophia
    February 26, 2021 - 9:11 am | Permalink

    You had me at Hagia Sophia.

  20. tully monster's Gravatar tully monster
    February 26, 2021 - 9:26 am | Permalink

    A difficult choice, but my vote goes to Theo of Alexandria, because there was just something infuriating about that story. The patriarchy that has infected the Church since Paul told women to sit down and shut up, the patriarchy that has women continually doing penance for the sins of men, *is* the devil. At least her husband was a mensch in the end.

  21. Davis Dassori's Gravatar Davis Dassori
    February 26, 2021 - 9:31 am | Permalink

    I feel sorry for Theodora’s husband.

    • Rene Jamieson's Gravatar Rene Jamieson
      February 26, 2021 - 11:09 am | Permalink

      Which one?

    • Davis Dassori's Gravatar Davis Dassori
      February 26, 2021 - 12:21 pm | Permalink

      Of Alexandria. Imagine having your spouse suddenly disappear without a trace. Of course she may have feared his wrath, but the dénouement suggests otherwise.

  22. RodneyDudley's Gravatar RodneyDudley
    February 26, 2021 - 9:35 am | Permalink

    I agree. I was not impressed. She was a ultimately a good woman, but did not stand up for herself because she did not feel she deserved it. Perils of Pauline.

  23. Kaneala Nelson's Gravatar Kaneala Nelson
    February 26, 2021 - 9:35 am | Permalink

    I hope Theodore wins this round!

  24. Ruth Eller's Gravatar Ruth Eller
    February 26, 2021 - 9:42 am | Permalink

    Even before I read of her great accomplishments as a ruler, Theo the Empress hooked me with her geese.

  25. Joan Drody Lutton's Gravatar Joan Drody Lutton
    February 26, 2021 - 9:42 am | Permalink

    Too many lies in the life of Theodore of Alexandra.

    • Miss Jan's Gravatar Miss Jan
      February 26, 2021 - 10:15 am | Permalink

      How do you know that? Were you there? The only lie I see comes from Theodora the Empress’ non-Chalcedon ways. If Christ lacks a human nation then what was the point of the Incarnation? I voted for Theodora/e of Alexandria who raised another’s child as her own, following in the example of Saint Joseph the Carpenter.

      • Jan's Gravatar Jan
        February 26, 2021 - 10:33 am | Permalink

        “Theodora/e of Alexandria who raised another’s child as her own, following in the example of Saint Joseph the Carpenter.”

        That’s what won me over.

  26. Helen's Gravatar Helen
    February 26, 2021 - 9:50 am | Permalink

    Theodora was also a victim of breast cancer and accounts of her courage in facing her disease are humbling and inspiring. ‘A fascinating woman in all regards.

    • Ruth Douglas Miller's Gravatar Ruth Douglas Miller
      February 26, 2021 - 10:04 am | Permalink

      Which Theodora? Or both?

      • Helen's Gravatar Helen
        February 26, 2021 - 10:41 am | Permalink

        Sorry, Theodora the Empress. She hid her condition and endured horrible pain with grace and determination to continue her very real contributions her subjects.

  27. Susan Lee Hauser's Gravatar Susan Lee Hauser
    February 26, 2021 - 9:50 am | Permalink

    You had me at “actress.”

  28. Jack Zamboni's Gravatar Jack Zamboni
    February 26, 2021 - 9:53 am | Permalink

    All in for Theodora the Empress, especially as the mosaic of her above comes from one of my favorite churches in the world that she and Justinian had built: San Vitale in Ravenna, Italy. I first learned of it in a college course, and over 30 years later convinced my wife to drive across the spine of Italy on our honeymoon from our base outside of Florence in order to see the churches of Ravenna. Judith had gotten a little tired of all the church visiting we had done in Tuscany, but agreed that the trip to Ravenna for sun Vitale was absolutely worth it. Thank you, Theodora, for the memory!

    • Barbara Gay's Gravatar Barbara Gay
      February 26, 2021 - 9:05 pm | Permalink

      That church is magnificent! One of the reasons I voted for the Empress.

  29. Jack Zamboni's Gravatar Jack Zamboni
    February 26, 2021 - 9:55 am | Permalink

    *San* Vitale. Autocorrect, I curse you!

  30. Fiona's Gravatar Fiona
    February 26, 2021 - 10:04 am | Permalink

    Having read two novels based on the life of Theodora the Empress which have left me with an enduring admiration for her, my vote can only go to her. She came to power from such unpromising beginnings, and used it to benefit others, whilst holding together the differences within the church. I also recognised the story of Marina the monk in T of A which made me wonder about stories being conflated.

    • Rev William D Loring's Gravatar Rev William D Loring
      February 26, 2021 - 2:16 pm | Permalink

      Which two novels? I remember reading Gore Vidal’s The Female back in 1955 but was not aware of another.

  31. SJSanders's Gravatar SJSanders
    February 26, 2021 - 10:08 am | Permalink

    Cross dressing Monk or stripper cum Empress. Pick the one who never hid herself.

  32. Kate Cabot's Gravatar Kate Cabot
    February 26, 2021 - 10:20 am | Permalink

    It’s the Empress for me today! And I agree, her story should be a miniseries. Come on, BBC and PBS, it is just waiting for you!

    • John Cabot's Gravatar John Cabot
      February 26, 2021 - 11:34 am | Permalink

      How about a meta-series about influential women who were slagged by contemporary (male) biographers? You could call it The Guests at “The Dinner Party”

      I can think of a bunch just from the last few years of Lent Madness!

  33. Ruth Douglas Miller's Gravatar Ruth Douglas Miller
    February 26, 2021 - 10:22 am | Permalink

    Sounds like Theodora of Alexandria should be patroness of the #MeToo movement, while Theodora the Empress was privileged with a high seat she used mightily for good. Guessing that the Empress will be getting more support, I shall today support #MeToo, which includes my little sister, and vote for Alexandria. If she didn’t have as much influence as the Empress, it was hardly her fault, and in Lent Madness, at least, she gets equal time for her own cause.

  34. MARY ROSA's Gravatar MARY ROSA
    February 26, 2021 - 10:45 am | Permalink


  35. Brian Perkins's Gravatar Brian Perkins
    February 26, 2021 - 10:46 am | Permalink

    I have a vision of God counseling these two women as he cautions them that the votes of mortals matter little, and he alone can judge their worth. This moment would be called a Ted Talk.

    • Susan Lee Hauser's Gravatar Susan Lee Hauser
      February 26, 2021 - 11:39 am | Permalink

      Hahahaha! Good one!

  36. Charles Sadler's Gravatar Charles Sadler
    February 26, 2021 - 10:54 am | Permalink

    This is quite a battle between two contenders named Theodora,
    One that was seduced by the devil and until her death dressed like a man and maybe wore a fedora;
    While you got to give props for never letting her love of Christ fade,
    Theodora the Empress gets my vote for building Hagia Sophia and putting a dent in the sex trade.

  37. Lois Alworth's Gravatar Lois Alworth
    February 26, 2021 - 11:02 am | Permalink

    At first I was going to vote for Theodora of Alexadria due to her bizarre story but then the Empress won me over with her laws and helping such a diverse group of people.

  38. Brynda Wilson's Gravatar Brynda Wilson
    February 26, 2021 - 11:06 am | Permalink

    I went with the Empress since she actively worked to better lives of women. Theo of A has a great story, but I don’t think the devil made her do it. That being said, we really don’t know what her marriage was like. Was her husband really a victim? Was she forced to marry (an arranged marriage)? Not like women had much chance to fall in love and live happily every after back then!

  39. julie's Gravatar julie
    February 26, 2021 - 11:25 am | Permalink

    Oh no! I used the Empress from the 9th century married to Theophilus for my video at work! *facepalm

    • James Lodwick's Gravatar James Lodwick
      February 26, 2021 - 2:05 pm | Permalink

      I‘ve always admired the gorgeous mosaics of Theodora and Justinian in Ravenna and decided to vote for this powerful and complicated Christian woman

  40. Robert Coates's Gravatar Robert Coates
    February 26, 2021 - 11:30 am | Permalink

    Actually, St. Theodora the Empress was not the wife of Justinian, but the wife of Theophilos some 300 years later. Her husband was a supporter of the iconoclast movement. When he died, she used her influence to end the iconoclastic rule and restore the veneration of icons. She was very different from Justinian’s Theodora.

    • Rev William D Loring's Gravatar Rev William D Loring
      February 26, 2021 - 2:24 pm | Permalink

      They were both empresses, and both were recognized as saints (though only the later one made it into LFF.

  41. AJM's Gravatar AJM
    February 26, 2021 - 11:37 am | Permalink

    Fun history fact: the Hagia Sophia was rebuilt by Justinian I and Theodora in 532-537. It was and remains one of the most innovative and spectacular buildings of the pre-Modern world. They rebuilt it because the earlier structure burned during the Nika Riots of 532, a massively destructive series of events that killed thousands and burned over half the city. The final end of the Riots came when Justinian I tricked 30,000 protesting citizens to come to the Hippodrome, promising them peace talks. They were massacred by members of the Imperial guard, thus effectively ending the Nika Riots. Theodora is credited with convincing Justinian not to flee the city during the riots, convincing him instead that an expression of imperial power was needed, leading to the massacre. Many historians assert that the reconstruction of the Hagia Sophia was part of Justinian and Theodora’s plan to reassert their power and dominance in the wake of the Riots.

    I notice that the Lent Madness write up did not include “complicit in the massacre of 30,000 people” in Theodora’s bio.

  42. Charles Stuart's Gravatar Charles Stuart
    February 26, 2021 - 11:38 am | Permalink

    Today’s vote: Theodora. Empress, that is.

  43. Anne E.B.'s Gravatar Anne E.B.
    February 26, 2021 - 11:51 am | Permalink

    Theo the Empress.

  44. Beverly Harmon's Gravatar Beverly Harmon
    February 26, 2021 - 11:52 am | Permalink

    Hagia Sophia. The Empress it is

  45. Lisa Keppeler's Gravatar Lisa Keppeler
    February 26, 2021 - 11:56 am | Permalink

    Why does the story of a monastic posing as a member of the opposite gender, and later accused of being party to an extramarital birth, sound familiar to me? Was there another obscure saint with a similar legend featured in a previous year? If so, which one, if either, was real?

    • Shelly's Gravatar Shelly
      February 27, 2021 - 1:38 am | Permalink

      I thought I remembered a similar story too. According to an earlier comment, it was Marina the monk. I don’t remember which year.

  46. Verdery Kassebaum's Gravatar Verdery Kassebaum
    February 26, 2021 - 11:59 am | Permalink

    OK, SEC, what did you do with the “Vote” button?! Was 9:00 a.m. Pacific Time too late? Suppression of West Coast voters? Rigging the outcome? (Nah, you wouldn’t do that.)
    Great write-ups, by the way. I’m just sorry I didn’t get to vote.

    • Sasha Bley-Vroman's Gravatar Sasha Bley-Vroman
      February 26, 2021 - 9:42 pm | Permalink

      Not too late: we in Hawaii have been voting at night our time, when it’s already well into the next day in the east. Try again.

    • Tessa's Gravatar Tessa
      February 27, 2021 - 10:36 pm | Permalink

      Try a different browser. IE, MS Edge, Firefox, or Chrome can react differently to websites.
      If you’re on Safari, I’m sorry.

  47. February 26, 2021 - 12:02 pm | Permalink

    T The A or T the E Whom shall I vote for we shall see.
    Dancing , singing ,animals such fun
    Even birds of the air? Son of a gun.
    Then the married one to a Christian I see
    The devil and all could hardly be.
    So the empress or the Egyptian who will it be? For me the Empress 25 churches you see.(

  48. Carol Duncan's Gravatar Carol Duncan
    February 26, 2021 - 12:04 pm | Permalink

    Gillian Bradshaw wrote a wonderful historical novel about the Empress called The Bearkeeper’s Daughter.

  49. Scott's Gravatar Scott
    February 26, 2021 - 12:21 pm | Permalink

    Read Belisarius by Robert Graves for more on the Empress.

  50. JoJo's Gravatar JoJo
    February 26, 2021 - 12:29 pm | Permalink

    Neither of these women seemed saintly to me, has the criteria changed?
    Even though this has been quite the history lesson, I voted for the Theodora that seemed more revelant today ….. the Empress.

  51. Henry R Cooper Jr's Gravatar Henry R Cooper Jr
    February 26, 2021 - 12:43 pm | Permalink

    Theodora of Alexandria’s story is a ‘wandering motif’ of folklore. The exact same plot can be found in “The Tale of Lady Thi Kinh” from Vietnam. At least we can be sure the Byzantine Theodora really existed, and that she had a powerful impact on her society.

  52. St. Celia's Gravatar St. Celia
    February 26, 2021 - 1:42 pm | Permalink

    I refuse to vote for a woman who was beloved of a rich man (so far this story sounds like the end of every romance novel ever–hello, Elizabeth Bennett!) but then . . . . “piously refused him” (what!) . . . but then had sex once and then was guilted for the rest of her life. Boo. Hiss. Standard misogyny with adultery and lesbianism thrown. On the other hand, Theodora seems somewhat sketchy not so much for the goosey webdance with ganders but for dabbling and diving in theology, possibly not because she actually believed the “monophysite” position (I don’t think we call it that anymore but I’m also not sure there exists a good term for the “Christ has one nature” stance) but as a political maneuver to counter the power of the church. The Council of Chalcedon in 451 had taken the tricky, brain-cracking position that Christ was homoousious (he was “two two two mints in one”), forever condemning every low-ranking clergyperson to have to do the Christ the King Sunday sermon and explain the trinity, and also leading to the Great Schism, by declaring the bishops of Rome and Constantinople co-equal (good luck with that!). Nevertheless, Theodora did ban the execution of women who committed adultery, and while “transition out of sex work” seems like highly anachronistic language, she does seem to have expanded the rights of women. I am voting for the awesome fresco of Theodora, which makes her look like Christ Pantocrator in jewels. She even has a halo; talk about successful self-branding. Don’t Cry for Me, Constantinople . . .

    • Susan Lee Hauser's Gravatar Susan Lee Hauser
      February 26, 2021 - 4:19 pm | Permalink

      Never heard “homoousious” described in such a minty-fresh way!

  53. Pamela Payne's Gravatar Pamela Payne
    February 26, 2021 - 2:32 pm | Permalink

    I voted for Theodora of Alexandria because her story is one of remorse for sin, but it put her in the position to do good for the life of the illegitimate child she saved. I am trying to bc careful not to view the somewhat apocryphal lives of the earlier saints through the lens of our current understanding of the roles of women and social justice. Even though we would not respond like Theodora today, does not mean that her dedication to repentance and good works does not offer an example to us. I love the work of Theodora the Empress, but her greater fame and historicity have already made her a worthy example. We need all the worthy examples we can get!

  54. Beverly Duncan's Gravatar Beverly Duncan
    February 26, 2021 - 2:42 pm | Permalink

    I was spared making an agonizing decision. My daughter’s name is Alexandra and she lives in Alexandria, VA!
    Sorry, Theodora.

  55. Gloriamarie Amalfitano's Gravatar Gloriamarie Amalfitano
    February 26, 2021 - 2:53 pm | Permalink

    I am stunned by the many similarities in the stories of Theodora of Alexandria and Kuan Jin, Boddhisatva of Compassion.

  56. Conny Santana's Gravatar Conny Santana
    February 26, 2021 - 3:01 pm | Permalink

    I’m sorry but out of the thousands and thousands of saintly souls available to choose from we are offered Theodora of Alexandria? I guess you just needed another Theodora and came up with this one. Surely you folks could have come up with someone who was remotely more “saintly’.

    • Susan Lee Hauser's Gravatar Susan Lee Hauser
      February 26, 2021 - 4:28 pm | Permalink

      Having seen the PBS Newshour feature on the number of grandparents who are raising their grandchildren in our country these days, I think taking on the responsibility of raising someone else’s child when that was not in your life plans, living homeless outside the monastery walls, begging for milk for said child and subsisting for seven years on root vegetables sounds pretty saintly to me. Here’s to people stepping off their chosen paths to answer God’s uncomfortable call!

      • Tessa's Gravatar Tessa
        February 27, 2021 - 10:40 pm | Permalink

        And when we talk about subsisting on root vegetables, we also need to remember that nobody in the Eastern Hemisphere had any idea that potatoes existed. I think many of us could imagine living on a diet consisting mostly of potatoes. Turnips and rutabagas, OTOH…not so sure.

  57. Bettie K.'s Gravatar Bettie K.
    February 26, 2021 - 3:26 pm | Permalink

    Have always been fascinated by the empress, so no contest here, for me. Another voice for a miniseries, told from her POV.

  58. Judy Bye's Gravatar Judy Bye
    February 26, 2021 - 4:57 pm | Permalink

    I wasted too much time on this today. Decided I should search for more info. Then read all the comments. Not really excited about either one. I had clicked on one, left the site, thinking I could come back and change it. When I came back my vote was gone. Not taking a chance on voting twice. So, that’s fine.

    • St. Celia's Gravatar St. Celia
      February 26, 2021 - 5:14 pm | Permalink

      If your vote was recorded, you will see the vote percentages on your screen. If your vote was not recorded, you will simply have two blank radio buttons at your disposal. If so, you can still vote! More agony! But that’s Lent for you . . .

  59. Sharon Davis's Gravatar Sharon Davis
    February 26, 2021 - 5:12 pm | Permalink

    Wow two women that shows women were always stood up for justice and the marginalized. I’m voting for Theodora of Alexandera

  60. Barbara MacRobie's Gravatar Barbara MacRobie
    February 26, 2021 - 5:42 pm | Permalink

    Like many here, I noticed the striking similarity of Theodora of Alexandria’s story to Marina the Monk from LM 2019. I was deeply moved by Marina’s story and found it entirely plausible, so now I’m saddened that it might not be true. Regardless, the Empress has my vote. So many people with great power do *not* use it for good, but she knew that great responsibility went hand-in-hand. That she went from actor to Empress is the icing on the cake!

  61. Jim Oppenheimer's Gravatar Jim Oppenheimer
    February 27, 2021 - 1:13 am | Permalink

    “Theodora performing a lurid dance involving geese.” ????
    I read this to my beloved spouse, who snickered mightily.
    “Do not try to think about it.
    If you do, feathers will come out of your ears.”
    I wonder if that’s where the verb, to goose, comes from…..

  62. Shelly's Gravatar Shelly
    February 27, 2021 - 1:46 am | Permalink

    I thought I remembered a similar story too. According to an earlier comment, it was Marina the monk. I don’t remember which year.

  63. Barbara A. K. Franklin's Gravatar Barbara A. K. Franklin
    February 27, 2021 - 3:00 am | Permalink

    Very glad the empress is winning. How can we reward someone for infidelity followed by abandonment of her poor husband followed by lying about who she was. Honestly!!! All she did was take care of a kid! A lot of us doing that without the rest of it. WE should be getting golden halos.

    • Verdery Kassebaum's Gravatar Verdery Kassebaum
      February 27, 2021 - 11:14 am | Permalink

      If I am not mistaken, part of Lent Madness is learning about ordinary, everyday people, sometimes not-so-nice people (see Saul/St. Paul) whose lives are turned around by God’s love and grace and go on to do or say or write ways God’s love is shared with others

    • Gloriamarie Amalfitano's Gravatar Gloriamarie Amalfitano
      February 27, 2021 - 11:55 am | Permalink

      We have no idea what the circumstances were that resulted in her infidelity. What impressed me about the story was her repentance and her patient humility to endure undeserved censure. She didn’t argue, she didn’t attempt to convince anyone they were wrong about her, she wanted the life of a monk and so she pursued it, all the while knowing God knew what was in her heart.

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