Mor Dodo, Bishop of Tikrit (529-609)
In the 6th century, in the village of Sidus, in the region of Orumi (also called Urmia) and Manazgard, there lived a very pious and godly couple, Simon and Helena. They were wealthy. Out of their love for God and the neighbor, they helped the poor and the needy. From their possession, they gave to monasteries and churches. Their house was a well known accommodation and hostel for strangers and pilgrims. However, they had an oppressive sorrow: They had no heir, although they have been married for about fifty years.
One day, a holy hermit named David who lived in a convent on the hill near the city of Tabriz (in present-day northern Iran) lodged in their house. This monk was on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. This couple approached the hermit and asked him for his prayers and his blessing. He gave them his blessing and prayed that they have a child and his name shall be great in both worlds.
After nine months, Helena gave birth to a son who was baptized and named after that hermit by whose prayers he was born. The whole family and the villagers rejoiced with them about this child.
When the hermit returned from Jerusalem he entered the house of Simon and saw the child. At the request of his parents, again he prayed for the child and asked God that his name be great in both worlds. After a few days, when the hermit was about to leave, Simon and Helena offered him many gifts, such as gold, silver, vessels, and fabrics, which he could have used for the monastery. But he took only a chalice for the Holy Liturgy and went back to his monastery near Tabriz.
When David was five years old he went to school where he diligently studied both the Old and the New Testament for seven years. He was also reading books of monks. After those seven years his father passed away and his mother followed him two years later. Many times David was thinking about becoming a monk, but his parents had marriage plans for him. Now that they were no longer, he was glad that he did not have to marry and that he was able to pursue his vocation.
One day he read in the Scriptures the words of our Lord Jesus about the discipleship. From that moment on he despised the world and with his thoughts he was in the world to come. The large fortune which his parents had left behind, a part of it he gave to the Church and the rest he distributed among the poor and the sick. He took the rags of a poor, put them on and took only the Holy Gospel, in which he used to read at his parent’s house and went his way to Tabriz, to that monastery where the hermit lived who once had visited his parents.
Arriving at the monastery, he knocked at the door with prayers. He introduced himself to the abbot and the community and requested to be received in the monastic community. When they saw that he was humble, quiet, and was of radiant handsomeness, they agreed and dressed him the next morning to the monkhood. He got a monk's cell in the monastery and was entrusted to the care of David the hermit.
The young monk David practiced very difficult exercises and hard ascesis: He did not cease to pray, through the night he woke in prayer. He loved long fasting and continuous long prayers. Once a week, namely on Sunday, he took a meal and when he broke his fast, he ate a little vegetable or simple food. For the love toward his Lord, he wore a hard metal which tormented him in the summer because of the heat and in the winter because of the cold. He suffered voluntarily like a martyr.
After he stayed two years in the monastery, exercising asceticism, David the hermit, his old master passed away. Hereafter, the young monk secretly left his monastery and settled on the high mountain near Tabriz and was living there without shelter under the open sky. In his monastery, he fell into oblivion, none of the monks knew where he was staying. On that mountain, he exposed himself to the heat of the sun and the snow of the cold, becoming hungry and thirsty severely. For twelve years he persevered in these hard exercises. Besides these exercises he had to face serious challenges and struggles from the devil and the demons. As a example, he took for himself St. Barsawmo (+458), the head of the anchorites. He was imitating the exalted conduct of that saint.
One night, the abbot of his monastery saw in a dream how two angels came down from heaven to the holy monk David, bowing before him and staying with him for about an hour. One of the angels was carrying a golden bowl of bright shining bread, the other a golden pitcher with water sweeter than honey. The abbot asked the angel, for whom they were. They replied, “They are for the holy David who is living on the mountain. God wanted this meal to be sent for him because out of love for his Master he is since twelve years without food. He is a holy man, whose life is nobler and more exalted than the conduct of all his contemporaries.” And the angel rebuked the abbot and the monastic community that they hadn’t looked yet for David and asked him for his prayers and his blessing.
When the abbot awoke from his sleep he was frightened and gathered the monastic community, asking them about David. But no one knew where he was. Then the abbot explained to them that he had a dream about him and that an angel had demanded them to visit the saint on the mountain and to ask for his blessing. They took incense with them to meet him worthily. In a vision, David was told by the Holy Spirit that he should rise and hasten toward the brethren who were coming to visit him. They both met with deep humility and great joy and gave a blessing to each other.
The monks were amazed at the vivid words from David’s mouth. They asked him for forgiveness of their trespasses and pleaded with him that he may return with them to the monastery. He was persuaded and went with them. He stayed there for a week with them and saw that they respect him very much and bow themselves before him. Since he wanted to flee the glory of this world, he decided to leave the monastery again and go to a place where nobody would know him.
He left the monastery at night and went to Jerusalem. From Jerusalem, he visited the monasteries in Egypt and received the blessing of the hermits there. On his way back he performed many miracles. He came to Urhoy / Urfa (today’s Şanlıurfa in Turkey) and was blessed by the many monasteries on the holy mountain there.
On the way back to his monastery near Tabriz, the providence of God led him to the area of a city called Fir and Beth Zabday / Azekh (today’s Idil in Turkey), to the "Valley of Hell", north of the village Esfes (today’s Yarbaşı in Turkey) in today’s Tur-Abdin (South-East Turkey). There he found a narrow crevice in which he lived for two years and from there he performed many miracles, such as healings, exorcisms, and conversion of unbelievers. The villagers of Esfes wanted to build him a monastery, so he would no longer have to live in that narrow crevice and so one could reach him easily. So they began to lay the foundations for the new monastery. While digging, a large poisonous snake came out and killed two men by its poison. As the saint heard about this occurrence, he was very sad and out of humility, he did not want to be called ‘David” anymore, but he had himself called from that day on “Dodo”, because he said he was not worthy to be called with the same name like King David, who was also called “the heart of God”. He went down and prayed earnestly and rose the two men from the dead in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. All who saw it praised God. Then he went to the snake, exorcized it, breathed on it, and it became dry and died.
After seven months, the new monastery was built and named after him. In the monastery Dodo was the abbot of forty venerable and exemplary monks, for which he established canons and rules. He instructed them to holy life and taught them about love and humility, he warned them against pride, exhorted them to fast, pray, and watch. They received his words as if they were from Christ Himself.
When Dodo was sixty years old, the bishop of Tikrit (in today’s Iraq) passed away. The inhabitants of the city went to the Patriarch of Antioch and asked him to propose a new bishop and to consecrate him for them as their shepherd. The Patriarch of that time, Peter 3rd (571-591), was a holy and virtuous man. According to reports of eyewitnesses, he lit the candles of his church in Antioch by the fire that came out of his fingers, so that he needed all his life no strange fire. This patriarch stood in prayer, fasting and watching, and he asked God to show him a candidate for the consecration. The Holy Spirit revealed to him about Dodo who was worthy to be consecrated to the episcopate. When Dodo received this information he refused out of humility. The Patriarch, however, forced him in 589 and consecrated him as the Bishop of Tikrit with the name “Gregory” and gave him to the people of Tikrit with accompanying prayers and blessings.
Before leaving his monastery in Esfes, he put a monk priest in charge to represent him there. Isaac, the new Abbot, was the son of his maternal uncle. After the consecration of Dodo to the episcopate, this Isaac took care of the forty monks in that monastery, which was named after Mor Dodo.
The Diocese of the saint was excited about its new shepherd. He was received by all the clergy and the faithful, adults and infants, young and old with cheers and chants and he was inaugurated into his office. On the day of his entrance into the city he healed sick people, cleansed lepers, gave sight to the blind and cast out demons out of demon-possessed people. By the many miracles he performed, he was highly respected and honored like an angel of the Lord.
At the end of his holy life he was overcome by a severe illness so that he had to lie in bed. He had the priests and deacons, rulers and managers and the faithful in the city called before him and instructed them three days and three nights about the Christian way of love and humility, and he warned them against the evil and sinful conduct of the world. Then he entered the eternal homeland and was received in the choir of the angels and saints on May 20, 609.
At his funeral in the big church of Tikrit 1,800 priests were present who were praying for a week and celebrating the Holy Liturgy. During the liturgical prayers all were surrounded by a divine light. During his funeral, many miracles of healing happened, all sick who touched his body were healed.
In his consecration papers the saint had noted that during the twenty years of his episcopate he consecrated 1,300 priests and 1,700 deacons.
Furthermore, it is reported of him that twenty years after his decease he appeared to his cousin Isaac, the abbot of the monastery of Mor Dodo in Esfes. He said that he and another monk should come to Tikrit to move his body from there to their monastery without letting anyone becoming aware of it, for among the followers of Nestorius he had no rest in the East because of their heresy. The next day the abbot went with one of his monks to Tikrit inside the great church, they took his body out of the decorated tomb of stone without letting anyone to become aware of it. They put him on a pack animal and returned to their monastery in Esfes. On their way back they were attacked by two robbers. The monks were afraid and ran away. When the robbers wanted to push the body of the saint to the ground and take the animal with them, something like a lightning came out of his body and blinded the two robbers. This way the two monks were saved, took the body of the saint, and came to their monastery.
The two robbers later heard about the saint and came to his monastery, prostrated themselves to the ground before his tomb and asked for sight and promised to change their lives. They received their sight again and asked to be received in the monastery. They became monks and led a virtuous life.
After another two years, it was the year 631, Saint Dodo appeared again to Abbot Isaac and told him that the heresy of Nestorius would reach the monastery near Esfes. Therefore, he should move him from there also and bring him to the blessed region of Tur-Abdin, where he would rest until the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Immediately, the abbot took the body of the saint and came on his way to a village called Beth Sbirino (or Bsorino, Turkish: Haberli), where at that moment a lament suddenly rose over a twelve-year-old boy who had just died. His name was Isaiah, he was the only child of his parents. As they carried the child to the tomb, a virtuous old priest named Samuel felt in the spirit that St. Dodo had come to the village. He stopped the procession, took the body of the deceased boy, and put him on the coffin of the saint. The priests and all the people prayed to God to raise the child through the prayer of St. Dodo. Suddenly, the boy stood up as from sleep. All rejoiced a lot at this miracle.
On the next day, when Abbot Isaac was ready to continue his way the villagers of Beth Sbirino asked him and, after imploring and pleading with him, convinced him not to go, but to leave the saint in their village, for he was a gift from God to their village. The villagers built a large church for the saint, where they laid him to rest and named it after him. On the day of his funeral and afterwards many miracles of healing were done and still happen, even to this day.
The church celebrates the feast of St. Dodo on May 20.
JOHN from Tikrit, The life of Mor Dodo, Bishop of Tikrit. Midyat, 1959. – (John lived in the 6th century. He was a disciple, companion, and the first priest of St. Dodo. For this English translation we used the original Syriac text from a manuscript.)