Saturday, February 28, 2009

Lenten Journey Week 1: San Theodoro

The church of San Theodoro is built on the lower slopes of the Palatine Hill. Tradition has that it was built in the 6th century on the site of an ancient temple erected on the spot where the she-wolf nursed Romulus and Remus. (The famous bronze statue of the she-wolf with Romulus and Remus was kept here until the 16th century.) It was built near the granaries of Agrippa and the church served as a diakonia for the distribution of food to those in need.
The mosaic in the apse of Christ enthroned on an orb with Saints Peter and Paul (and two other saints probably added later, including San Theodoro) dates from 583-590.
The architect Carlo Fontana was commissioned in 1705 to renovate the interior. He created the entry portal and designed the courtyard with the two curving stairs. In 1763 a wooden organ gallery was added above the entrance doorway and the bell tower was constructed.

In 2000 Pope John Paul II presented this church to the Orthodox Christian Diocese of Italy of the Ecumenical Patriarch. Between the years 2001-2004 the church was restored in its entirety and modifications were made to the Church of San Theodoro that were required by the Orthodox liturgy, including installing a templon to shield the sanctuary from the eyes of the congregation and the placement of an icon of the Pantokrator at the highest point of the church dome. The modern icons in the church were executed by I. Karousos.The Church of San Theodoro is a vacant titular church. The last occupant of the seat was Vincenzo Cardinal Fagiolo, bishop of Chieti, Italy, who died in 2000. Because this building is now an Orthodox church it will no longer have a titular cardinal.

Who was San Theodoro?
St. Theodore was Roman general and covert to Christianity during a time of persecution. When he was exposed as a Christian, a military tribunal decided he was a good soldier who had made a mistake, and told him to reconsider. Legend has it that he was set free and promptly burned down a pagan temple. Theodore was arrested again, and martyred in the year 319.

Almighty God, 
your son Jesus Christ fasted forty days in the wilderness;
give us grace to direct out lives in obedience to your Spirit;
and as you know our weakness
so may we know your power to save;
through Jesus Christ our Redeemer.
Collect for the First Sunday in Lent
A New Zealand Prayer Book

As I sat in the Church of San Theodoro, the sun was coming through three tinted windows above the sanctuary and filled the church with a simple light. I sat in one of the very square-shaped chairs, set in straight rows in this round church.
... I wondered, why have they put straight rows in a round sanctuary?
... What are the parts of my life where I have put things in straight rows when my response should be to have things in the round? When have I confronted people, when I should have hugged them? When have I argued for one point of view, when I should have had my mind open to different ideas? When have I kept my emotions inside the box, when I should have shared my feelings?

These are questions I ask of myself during this First Week in Lent. My response needs to embrace the words of Sunday's scripture: The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel. This kingdom is an "upside down" kingdom. (For an artistic example of this I need look no further than the mosaic in the apse of San Theodoro and see that Christ is seated on a ball. The artist did not restrict Christ to a square throne.)

This Lent I need to repent, to turn around, and get out of the corners and be open to where I can embrace life and the kingdom of God more fully.


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