The Lord likened the Kingdom of Heaven to ten virgins, which is most evidently true of the ten holy women renowned in the Church for having led the ascetic life disguised in monasteries of men.+ Saint Theodora, who lived in Alexandria in the reign of the Emperor Zeno (474-91), is one of these women. She was married to a devout and respectable man called Paphnutius, but one day, led on by the devil, she committed adultery. No sooner had she sinned than she was so afflicted in conscience that she dared not return home, but felt a burning desire to do penance without delay. So, dressing as a man and calling herself Theodore, she asked to be admitted as a novice in a neighbouring monastery. The Abbot, supposing her to be a eunuch, and seeing how eager she was to set out on the path of repentance, straightway accepted her and clothed her in the angelic Habit.
For the space of two years, Saint Theodora showed an ardent zeal in the performance of every ascetic labour, doing the most menial tasks, and spending the nights in tears and fervent prayers to the Lord to forgive her sin, and to restore in her the grace of chastity. Her manner of life edified the brethren but greatly angered the devil who saw his prey escaping him. But this wolfish enemy of the good would not acknowledge himself defeated and he made use of some jealous monks to put it about that the youthful Theodore had committed fornication with a woman of a nearby village. They even brought his reputed child to the gate of the monastery. Theodore was silent before her accusers. She did not want to reveal her true identity and took what happened as a chastisement willed by God. She was expelled from the monastery for seven years, and took the child with her as if it were her own. She settled in a little hut not far off where, in extreme poverty, she endured summer heat and winter cold and manifold temptations of devils until, at the completion of her years of exclusion, she was allowed to rejoin the brethren.
On her return, far from resting from her labours, Theodora increased her vigils, fasts and prayers, showing an obedience and long-suffering even greater than before. She brought the child with her, teaching him how to acquire the holy evangelic virtues and unceasing prayer, so that he truly became her son according to the Spirit. When she had given him a final word of admonishment, she fell asleep in peace. At that moment the Abbot saw in a vision a woman clothed in shining raiment taken up into the air to join the choir of the Righteous and of the Saints. Then they all wept as they realized how far they had been mistaken in her and glorified God who had wrought so great a wonder. For living disguised among men and surpassing them in her ascetic labours, she was healed of carnal passion through struggling directly against fleshly temptations so that, while still clothed in the body, she attained the passionlessness and purity of the angels.