St. Irene, Greatmartyr, of Thessalonica
Commemorated on May 5
The holy Great Martyr Irene was born in the city of Magedon in Persia during the fourth century. She was the daughter of the pagan king Licinius, and her parents named her Penelope.
Penelope was very beautiful, and her father kept her isolated in a high tower from the time she was six so that she would not be exposed to Christianity. He also placed thirteen young maidens in the tower with her. An old tutor by the name of Apellian was assigned to give her the best possible education. Apellian was a Christian, and during her lessons, he taught the girl about Christ the Savior, the Christian Faith, and Christian virtues.
When Penelope reached adolescence, her parents began to think about her marriage. One day, a dove flew through the window of Penelope’s tower carrying an olive branch in its beak, depositing it upon a table. An eagle then swooped in with a wreath of flowers in its beak, and also placed it upon the table. Finally, a raven flew in carrying a snake, which it dropped on the table. Penelope was puzzled by these events and wondered what they meant.
Apellian explained that the dove signified her education, the olive branch stood for the grace of God received in Baptism, and the eagle with the wreath of flowers represented success in her future life. The raven and the snake foretold her future suffering and sorrow. Apellian further 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 to marry, was baptized by the priest Timothy, and was renamed Irene (“peace”). She even urged her own parents to become Christians. Shortly afterwards, she destroyed all her father’s idols.
Since St. Irene had dedicated herself to Christ, she refused to marry any of the suitors her father had chosen for her. When King Licinius learned that his daughter refused to worship the pagan gods, he was furious. He attempted to turn her from Christ by having her tortured. She was tied up and thrown beneath the hooves of wild horses so that they might trample her to death, but the horses remained motionless. Instead of harming her, one of the horses charged Licinius, seized his right hand, and tore it from his arm. The horse then knocked Licinius down and began to trample him. St. Irene demanded to be untied, and through her prayers, Licinius was unharmed with his hand still intact.
Seeing such a miracle, Licinius, his wife, and over 3,000 others professed Christ and turned from the pagan gods. Resigning his administrative duties, Licinius devoted himself to the service of the Lord Jesus Christ. St. Irene lived in the house of her teacher, Apellian, and began to preach Christ among the pagans, converting them to the path of salvation.
When Sedecius, the new prefect of the city, heard of this miracle, he summoned Apellian and questioned him about Irene’s life. Apellian replied that Irene, like other Christians, lived in strict temperance, devoting herself to constant prayer and reading holy books. Sedecius summoned Irene, urged her to stop preaching about Christ, and attempted to force her to sacrifice to the idols. St. Irene staunchly confessed her faith before the prefect, not fearing his wrath, and prepared to suffer for Christ.
By order of Sedecius, she was thrown into a pit filled with vipers and serpents. St. Irene spent ten days in the pit and remained unharmed, with an angel of the Lord protecting her and bringing her food. Sedecius ascribed this miracle to sorcery, and subjected St. Irene to many other tortures. However, she remained unharmed. Under the influence of her preaching and miracles even more people were converted to Christ and turned away from the worship of idols.
Soon, Sedecius was overthrown by his son, Savorus, who persecuted Christians with an even greater zeal than his father. St. Irene traveled to her hometown of Magedon in Persia to meet Savorus and his army to ask him to end the persecutions. When he refused, St. Irene prayed and the entire army was blinded. She prayed again and they received their sight once more. In spite of this, Savorus refused to recognize the power of God. Because of his insolence, he was struck and killed by a bolt of lightning.
After this, St. Irene walked into the city and performed many miracles. She returned to the tower built by her father, accompanied by the priest Timothy. Through her teaching, she converted 5,000 people to Christ.
Later, St. Irene traveled to the city of Callinicum (on the Euphrates River in Syria). King Numerian, the son of Sebastian, was the ruler. When St. Irene began to teach about Christ, she was arrested and tortured by the pagan authorities. She was placed into three bronze ovens which were heated by fire. She was transferred from one to another, but miraculously remained uninjured. Thousands of idolaters embraced Christianity as a result of this wondrous event. King Numerian instructed his men to continue torturing the saint in order to force her to sacrifice to idols. Once again, the tortures were ineffective, and many people turned to Christ.
St. Irene then traveled to the city of Constantina, forty miles northeast of Edessa. By 330, Persian King Sapor II had heard of St Irene’s great miracles. To prevent her from winning more people to Christ, Sapor ordered that she be arrested, beheaded, and then buried. However, God sent an angel to raise her up again, and she then traveled to the city of Mesembria. After seeing her alive and hearing her preach, the local king was baptized along with many of his subjects.
Wishing to convert even more pagans to Christianity, St. Irene traveled to Ephesus, where she taught and performed many miracles. At this place, the Lord revealed to her that the end of her life was approaching. St. Irene left the city accompanied by six people, including her former teacher, Apellian. On the outskirts of the town, she found a new tomb in which no one had ever been buried. After making the Sign of the Cross, she went inside, directing her companions to close the entrance to the cave with a large stone. When Christians visited the cave four days later, the body of St. Irene was nowhere to be found.
The holy, glorious Great Martyr Irene is invoked by those wishing to effect a swift and happy marriage. In Greece, she is also the patron saint of policemen. St. Irene is also one of the twelve Virgin Martyrs who appeared to St. Seraphim of Sarov and Diveyevo Nun Eupraxia on the Feast of the Annunciation in 1831.
Troparion (Tone 4) –
Your lamb Irene, O Jesus,
Calls out to You in a loud voice:
I love You, O my bridegroom,
And in seeking You, I endure suffering.
In Baptism I was crucified so that I might reign in You,
And died so that I might live with You.
Accept me as a pure sacrifice,
For I have offered myself in love.
By her prayers save our souls, since You are merciful.
Kontakion (Tone 3) –
O pure Irene, you adorned yourself with the splendors of virginity,
So you became all-beautiful in your struggle:
You were dyed with the blood you shed for Christ
And so became all-pleasing to God.
Therefore you received the prize of glory from your creator.
Reprinted courtesy of Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America