St. Irene the Great Martyr icon (1)
Orthodox icon of Saint Irene the Great Martyr (1). Copy of a contemporary icon.
Commemorated 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 told the girl about Christ the Savior and taught her the Christian Faith and the Christian virtues.
Apellian explained that the dove signified her education, and the olive branch stood for the grace of God which is received in Baptism. The eagle with the wreath of flowers represented success in her future life. The raven and the snake foretold her future suffering and sorrow.
It is said that an angel gave her the name Irene and instructed her in the faith. It was Timothy. the disciple of Saint Paul, who baptized her. Shortly after this, she destroyed all her father’s idols. he questioned her and ordered that she be bound. She was cast between many horses so they might trample on her. Instead, one of the horses, instead of harming the saint turned on Licinius, her father, crushing his right hand and slaying him. Afterwards at the request of bystanders she prayed for him and he was resurrected. He then came to believe in the true God and di his wife, Licinia.
Since St Irene had dedicated herself to Christ, she refused to marry any of the suitors her father had chosen for her. When 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 he horses remained motionless. Instead of harming the saint, one of the horses charged Licinius, seized his right hand and tore it from his arm. Then it knocked Licinius down and began to trample him. They untied the holy virgin, and through her prayers Licinius rose unharmed in the presence of eyewitnesses with his hand intact.
After Licinius renounced the world Sedekias rose to power. He tried to force her to sacrifice to the idols but she refused. He then ordered Saint Irene to cast into a deep pit filled with poisonous snakes and other reptiles. She persevered and emerged safe after fourteen days. Next they amputated her feet but through the miracle of an angel she was able to stand again on her feet. Next they bound her to a wheel turned by the force of water. The water miraculously stopped flowing. as a result of these miracles many, eight thousand, came to believe in Jesus Christ.
Sedekias was ousted and his son, Saavor, fought with those who had deposed his father. Irene met him in Magedon and through her prayers his entire army was stricken blind. She again prayed that their sight be restored and it was. Even so those who were ungrateful pierced her heels with spikes and tied a sack of sand to her back and led her on a three mile March. But, suddenly, the earth opened up and swallowed ten thousand infidels. Because of these events there were thirty thousand infidels who accepted Christ as their savior. Savor still persisted as a pagan but shortly he died apparently the work of an angel sent by God. Saint Irene was then able to walk through the city unhindered and performing many miracles.
Next, the saint went to the city of Callinicus, or Callinicum (possibly on the Euphrates River in Syria). The ruler of that place was King Numerian, the son of Sebastian. When she began to teach about Christ, she was arrested and tortured by the pagan authorities. She was placed into three bronze oxen which were heated by fire. She was transferred from one to another, but miraculously she remained uninjured. Twenty thousand of idolaters embraced Christianity as a result of this wondrous event.
Christ’s holy martyr then traveled to the city of Constantina, forty miles northeast of Edessa. By 330, the Persian king Sapor II (309-379) had heard of St Irene’s great miracles. To prevent her from winning more people to Christ, she was arrested, beheaded, and then buried. However, God sent an angel to raise her up again, and she entered the city of Mesembria with an olive branch in her hand. She was accepted by the ruler who immediately accepted Christ and was baptized along with many others by Timothy.
When she returned to her home Magedon, she mourned the death of her father. She left her mother and went to Ephesus where she taught the people and performed many miracles. The Lord revealed to her that the end of her life was approaching. Then 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, which they did. When Christians visited the cave two days later, they did not find the body of the saint.
Thus did God glorify St Irene, who loved Him and devoted her life to serving Him. Although many of these miracles may seem improbable to those who are skeptical, nothing is impossible with God.
St Irene led thousands of people to Christ through her preaching, and by her example. The Church continues to honor her memory and to seek her heavenly intercession.
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 (January 2) and the Diveyevo nun Eupraxia on the Feast of the Annunciation in 1831. By her holy prayers, may the Lord have mercy upon us and save us.