11: Empress Theodora

2020 marks the 50th anniversary of the ordination of women in the ELCA, the 40th anniversary of women of color, and the 10th anniversary of LGBTQ+ siblings.

It’s an incredibly important marker for the ELCA, though it is only the beginning for the Church, as women are still denied ordination across the denominations and hold less than 15% of the leadership positions in the worldwide church! Therefore, in 2020, we in the Oregon Synod will highlight one woman from Christian history every week. Some you may know, others you may not, but all worthy of our respect and gratitude.

#11 Empress Theodora

Empress Theodora is regarded as the most powerful woman in Byzantine history. Born in 497 CE, she rose from humble beginnings, overcoming the prejudices of her disreputable early career as an “actress” to marry Emperor Justinian and become Empress of Rome. Because of her intelligence, political savvy, and close relationship with her husband, she was able to use her position and influence to promote religious and social policies. At a time when women were not recognized as having rights she successfully advocated for stricter laws prohibiting the traffic of young girls, and altered the divorce laws of the time to greater benefit women. She was also known for her charitable work, sponsoring the foundation of many institutions for the poor such as orphanages, hospitals, and (perhaps significantly given her former profession) a home for former prostitutes seeking to reenter respectable society. During a time of fierce Christological debate, Theodora held firmly to her own beliefs—though they differed from her husband’s and the emerging orthodoxy. She is probably best known for her and her husband’s work to restore Hagia Sophia in Constantinople (now Istanbul) Turkey.