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The Holy Great-Martyress Irene

The Holy Great-Mar­tyress Irene lived dur­ing the I Cen­tu­ry and until bap­tism had the name Pene­lope. She was daugh­ter of the pagan Licinius, gov­er­nor of the city of Migdo­nia (in Mace­do­nia, or Thrace). Licinius built for his daugh­ter a sep­a­rate splen­did palace, where she lived with her gov­erness Karia, sur­round­ed by her peers and her ser­vants. Dai­ly there came to Pene­lope a tutor by the name of Apelian, who taught her the sci­ences. Apelian was a Chris­t­ian, and dur­ing the time of study he told the maid­en about Christ the Sav­iour and taught her the Chris­t­ian teach­ing and the Chris­t­ian virtues. 
      When Pene­lope became an ado­les­cent, her par­ents began to think about her mar­riage. Dur­ing this peri­od of her life the Lord instruct­ed her in a mirac­u­lous man­ner: to her at the win­dow there flew one after the oth­er of three birds – a dove with an olive twig, an eagle with a gar­land, and a raven with a snake. Penelope’s teacher Apelian explained to her the mean­ing of these signs: the Dove, sym­bol­is­ing the virtues of the maid­en, – humil­i­ty, meek­ness and chaste­ness, – bear­ing an olive twig, – the grace of God received in Bap­tism; the Eagle, – sym­bol of sub­lim­i­ty of spir­it, attained through med­i­ta­tion upon God, – bear­ing a gar­land for vic­to­ry over the invis­i­ble ene­my as a reward from the Lord. The Raven, how­ev­er, bear­ing the snake was a sign that the dev­il would rise up against her and would cause her grief, sor­row and per­se­cu­tion. At the end of the con­ver­sa­tion Apelian said, that the Lord wished to betroth her to Him­self and that Pene­lope would under­go much suf­fer­ing for her Heav­en­ly Bride­groom. After this Pene­lope refused mar­riage, accept­ed Bap­tism from the hands of the Dis­ci­ple Tim­o­thy, – who was a dis­ci­ple of the holy Apos­tle Paul, and she was named Irene. She began even to urge her own par­ents to accept the Chris­t­ian faith. The moth­er was pleased with the con­ver­sion of her daugh­ter to Christ; the father at first did not hin­der his daugh­ter, but then he began to demand of her the wor­ship to the pagan gods. When how­ev­er Saint Irene firm­ly and deci­sive­ly refused, the enraged Licinius then gave orders to tie up his daugh­ter and throw her beneathe the hooves of fren­zied hors­es. The hors­es remained motion­less. But one of them got loose from its har­ness, threw itself at Licinius, seized him by the right hand and tore it from his arm, then knocked Licinius down and began to tram­ple him. They then untied the holy maid­en, and through her prayer Licinius in the pres­ence of eye‑witnesses rose up unharmed, with his hand intact. See­ing such a mir­a­cle, Licinius with his wife and many of the peo­ple, in num­ber about 3000 men, believed in Christ and refrained from the pagan gods. Resign­ing the gov­er­nance of the city, Licinius set­tled into the palace of his daugh­ter, intend­ing to devote him­self to the ser­vice of the Lord Jesus Christ. Saint Irene how­ev­er began to preach the teach­ing of Christ among the pagans and she con­vert­ed them to the path of sal­va­tion. She lived in the house of her teacher Apelian.

Hav­ing learned of this, Sede­cius, – the new gov­er­nor of the city, sum­moned Apelian and ques­tioned him about the man­ner of life of Irene. Apelian answered that Irene, just like oth­er Chris­tians, lived in strict tem­per­ance, in con­stant prayer and read­ing of holy books. Sede­cius sum­moned the saint to him and began to urge her to cease preach­ing about Christ and to offer sac­ri­fice to the gods. Saint Irene staunch­ly con­fessed her faith before the gov­er­nor, not fear­ing his wrath, and pre­pared to under­go suf­fer­ing for Christ. By order of Sede­cius she was thrown into a pit, filled with vipers and ser­pents. The saint spent 10 days in the pit and remained unharmed, since an Angel of the Lord pro­tect­ed her and brought her food. Sede­cius ascribed this mir­a­cle to sor­cery and he sub­ject­ed the saint to a cru­el tor­ture: he gave orders to saw her with an iron saw. But the saws broke one after the oth­er and caused no harm to the body of the holy vir­gin. Final­ly, a fourth saw red­dened the body of the holy mar­tyress with blood. Sede­cius with deri­sion said to the mar­tyress: “Where then is thy God? If He be pow­er­ful, let Him help thee!” Sud­den­ly a whirl­wind shot up, gave forth a blind­ing light­ning-flash, strik­ing down many of the tor­tur­ers, thun­der crashed, and a strong rain poured down. Behold­ing such a sign from Heav­en, many believed in Christ the Sav­iour. Sede­cius did not under­stand the obvi­ous dis­play of the pow­er of God and he sub­ject­ed the saint to new tor­ments, but the Lord pre­served her unharmed. Final­ly the peo­ple rebelled hav­ing to look upon the suf­fer­ings of the inno­cent vir­gin, and they rose up against Sede­cius and expelled him from the city.
      Hav­ing replaced Sede­cius as gov­er­nor, they still sub­ject­ed Saint Irene to var­i­ous cru­el tor­ments, dur­ing which while by the pow­er of God she con­tin­ued to remain unharmed, and the peo­ple under the influ­ence of her preach­ing and accom­plish­ing of mir­a­cles all the more in num­ber were con­vert­ed to Christ, hav­ing turned away from the wor­ship of soul-less idols. Over 10,000 pagans were con­vert­ed by Saint Irene.
      The saint went from her native city Migdo­nia to Kallipo­lis, and there she con­tin­ued to preach about Christ. The gov­er­nor of the city by the name of Babadonos sub­ject­ed the mar­tyress to new pun­ish­ments, but see­ing that the saint remained unharmed, he came to his sens­es and believed in Christ. A large num­ber of pagans believed togeth­er with him, all whom received holy Bap­tism from the Dis­ci­ple Timothy.
      After this Saint Irene set­tled in oth­er cities of Thrace – Kon­stan­ti­nos and then Mesem­bros, preach­ing about Christ and work­ing mir­a­cles, heal­ing the sick and under­go­ing suf­fer­ing for Christ. 
      In the city of Eph­esus the Lord revealed to her, that the time of her end was approach­ing. Then Saint Irene in the com­pa­ny of her teacher the elder Apelian and oth­er Chris­tians went out from the city to an hilly cave and, hav­ing signed her­self with the sign of the cross, she went into it, hav­ing direct­ed her com­pan­ions to close the entrance to the cave with a large stone, which they did. Four days after this, when Chris­tians vis­it­ed the cave, they did not find the body of the saint in it. Thus reposed the holy Great-Mar­tyress Irene.

© 1996–2001 by trans­la­tor Fr. S. Janos.