The Holy Great Female Martyr Irene
Irene lived in the Balkans during apostolic times in the town of Magedon. Her father, Licinius, was of
lesser royal nobility. Some think that she was a Slav. Irene was born a pagan of pagan parents.
Penelope was her pagan name.
She learned about the Christian Faith from her teacher Appelianus. St. Timothy, the disciple of the
Apostle Paul, baptized her and her court attendants and provided her with the epistles of the Apostle
Paul to read. Refusing to marry, she enraged her father and he wanted to torture her but, in a
miraculous manner, she converted her father to Christianity. Irene was subjected to various tortures
by four kings, not counting her father but, God through His angels, spared her. King Sedechias buried
her up to her neck in a ditch filled with snakes and scorpions but an angel of God made these
venomous and repulsive creatures ineffective and saved the holy virgin from harm. King Sedechias then
wanted to saw her in half but the saw rebounded from her body as from stone. After that, the same king
tied her to a wheel under a water mill and released the flow of water hoping, in this manner, to kill
her. But the water refused to flow, rather stood still and the virgin remained alive and well.
King Sapor, the son of King Sedechias, shod her feet with nails, loaded a sack of sand on her,
harnessed her and ordered that she be led like an animal far outside the town. "Truly, I am a beast
before You, O Lord!" said the holy martyr, running bridled behind her torturers. However, an angel of
God shook the earth and the earth opened up and swallowed her torturers. Surviving all tortures, by
which she converted a countless number of pagans to Christianity, Irene entered the town of Callipolis
[Gallipoli] where she preached the Faith of Christ.
The local king Numerian wanted to kill her in this manner: he tossed her into three flaming hot metal
oxen; one after the other. But the virgin was saved and remained alive. Many witnessed and
The Eparch [governor] Vaudon took her to the town of Constantina where he thought to kill her in this
manner: he placed her on red-hot grates. But that did not harm St. Irene and she converted many to
the True Faith.
Finally, Irene arrived in the town of Mesembria where she was slain by King Sapor but God restored
her to life. The king, with many of the people, upon witnessing this, believed in Christ and were
baptized. Thus, St. Irene, by her suffering and miracles converted over one-hundred thousand pagans to
the Faith of Christ. Finally, she lay down in a grave and ordered Appelianus to close the grave. After
four days, when they opened the grave, she was not in the grave. Thus, God glorified forever the
virgin and martyr Irene, who sacrificed all and endured all so that God may be glorified among men.
HYMN OF PRAISE SAINT IRENE
Penelope, daughter of the king, at the balcony was,
When, in a row, three birds to her quickly flew.
The first a dove, white as milk, with an olive branch,
After that an eagle, in its bony beak, a wreath of flowers
Finally, a raven, with a bitter serpent, swooped and entered.
Penelope, asked the servants, could they recall what this means?
The servants remain silent. No one knows.
With amazement, everyone is struck.
We are all mortal men, Appelianus the Elder said:
But harken to me Penelope, harken, beautiful child,
The Spirit of God, through these signs, to you clearly prophesies;
The dove, your serenity signifies, Irene you will be called,
The Grace of God you, the olive branch signifies
The eagle, the conqueror signifies, passions you will conquer,
The flowery wreath, glory and heavenly sweetness signify;
The raven with a serpent, the demon with his maliciousness, that is
But, by our endurance, overcome him, you will.
This, Irene heard all, and in her heart quivered,
And to the saving Faith decided to give herself completely;
What she decided, that she carried out and God helped her.
Through her holy prayers, O God, save even us.
Reference: The Prologue from Ohrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich.
Icons courtesy of www.eikonografos.com used with permission.