St. Irene the Righteous, the Abbess of the Monastery of Chrysovalantou - Commemorated on July 28 (Icon courtesy of www.eikonografos.com used with permission)
"Saint Irene was the daughter of a wealthy family from Cappadocia, and was born in the ninth century.
After the death of her husband Theophilus, the empress Theodora ruled the Byzantine Empire as regent for her young son Michael. St Theodora (February 11) helped to defeat the iconoclast heresy, and to restore the holy icons. We commemorate this Triumph of Orthodoxy on the first Sunday of Great Lent.
When Michael was twelve years of age, St Theodora sent messengers throughout the Empire to find a suitably virtuous and refined girl to be his wife. St Irene was chosen, and she agreed to the marriage. While passing Mt. Olympus in Asia Minor, Irene asked to stop so she could receive the blessing of St Joannicius (November 4), who lived on the mountain. The saint, who showed himself only to the most worthy pilgrims, foresaw the arrival of St Irene, and also her future life.
The holy ascetic welcomed her and told her to proceed to Constantinople, where the women's monastery of Chrysovalantou had need of her. Amazed at his clairvoyance, Irene fell to the ground and asked St Joannicius for his blessing. After blessing her and giving her spiritual counsel, he sent her on her way.
When the party arrived in Constantinople, Irene's relatives met her with great ceremony. Since "the steps of a man are rightly ordered by the Lord" (Ps. 36/37:23), God arranged for Michael to marry another girl a few days before, so that Irene might be free to become a bride of Christ. Far from being disappointed, Irene rejoiced at this turn of events.
Remembering the words of St Joannicius, Irene visited the Monastery of Chrysovalantou. She was so impressed by the nuns and their way of life that she freed her slaves and distributed her wealth to the poor. She exchanged her fine clothing for the simple garb of a nun, and served the sisters with great humility and obedience. The abbess was impressed with the way that Irene performed the most menial and disagreeable tasks without complaint.
St Irene often read the Lives of the Saints in her cell, imitating their virtues to the best of her ability. She often stood in prayer all night with her hands raised like Moses on Mt. Sinai (Exodus 17:11-13). St Irene spent the next few years in spiritual struggles defeating the assaults of the demons, and bringing forth the fruits of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).
When the abbess sensed the approach of death, she told the other nuns that they should not accept anyone but Irene as the new abbess. Irene was not told of the abbess's instructions, and when she died the community sent representatives to go and seek the advice of the patriarch, St Methodius (June 14). He asked them whom they wanted as their superior. They replied that they believed he would be guided by the Holy Spirit. Without knowing of the late abbess's instructions to the nuns, he asked if there was a humble nun by the name of Irene in their monastery. If so, he said, they should choose her. The nuns rejoiced and gave thanks to God. St Methodius elevated Irene to the rank of abbess and advised her how to guide those in her charge.
Returning to the monastery, Irene prayed that God would help her to care for those under her, and redoubled her own spiritual efforts. She displayed great wisdom in leading the nuns, and received many revelations from God to assist her in carrying out her duties. She also asked for the gift of clairvoyance so that she would know what trials awaited her nuns. Thus, she was in a better position to give them the proper advice. She never used this knowledge to embarrass others, but only to correct their confessions in a way which let them know that she possessed certain spiritual gifts.
[Irene would pray from the evening until the time of the service of Orthros. After the service she would sleep until the sun rose. She would then go into the church and call the sisters one by one to confession and if one of them did not tell of all sins committed, St Irene would advise as the angel would instruct. All the nuns came to respect her as a saint. Word spread quickly about the holiness of the abbess of Chrysovalantou. Inhabitants of the city came to see this honourable and venerable person by the hundreds. The nobility, political leaders, women, virgins, young, and old. Irene taught with such wisdom and compunction and the name of the holy abbess of Chrysovalantou became ever so popular.
St. Irene beholding a divine vision of Christ surrounded by Angels (source)
Irene continued to pray hard and long. One night as she was praying with her hands lifted up towards heaven, the demons came into her cell and began to scream in a terrifying voice. They spoke in an unfit manner and tried to distract our holy mother from prayer. They, however, were unable to faze the Saint. Nevertheless, the demons continued to taunt Irene and mimicked her by saying,
"Wooden Irene, wooden feet hold you up. For how long will you torture our race, how long will you burn us with your prayers and how long will you hurt and make us sad?" Our venerable mother remained unfazed. This audacious demon then lit a candle from the votive lamp and continued to light the mantle and veil of the saint herself on fire. The flames reached down to the ground and burned not only the saint's clothing, but deep into the skin on her shoulders, chest, and back. Her entire body would have surely burned had it not been for one of the sisters who rushed it to put the fire out after smelling it from her own cell down the hall. Unbelievably, the saint continued to stand unfazed by the whole event. Irene stood tall, hands still in the air and praying to our Lord above. "My child", Irene said to the frightened nun, "why did you do such a bad thing and interrupt the good that was taking place? We shouldn't think about the human things, but rather about the divine. An angel was standing in front of me weaving a wreath of various marvellous and fragrant flowers and as he stretched out his hand to place this wreath on my head, you came in. You thought that you were committing a praiseworthy act but instead committed a most unpraiseworthy act. The angel saw you and left. You brought to me sorrow and I lost a great opportunity."
St. Irene Chrysovalantou with arms uplifted in prayer, despite being set on fire by the demons (source)
The sister began to cry as she began to gather up the fragments of our venerable mother's habit. They were partly burned and stuck to her flesh. A glorious fragrance then came forth from her. This fragrance was sweeter smelling and more powerful than all the costly perfumes that could be purchased. This aroma filled the monastery for many days and the nuns glorified thy God for this was a true miracle. St. Irene did not own a second garment and so her cell-attendant brought her a new one. In just days wounds that would have killed most people were miraculously healed by the Physician of our souls and bodies and she was granted the grace of prophecy. (source)]
Although St Irene performed many miracles during her life, let us mention only one. On great Feasts it was her habit to keep vigil in the monastery courtyard under the starry skies. Once, a nun who was unable to sleep left her cell and went into the courtyard. There she saw Abbess Irene levitating a few feet above the ground, completely absorbed in prayer. The astonished nun also noticed that two cypress trees had bowed their heads to the ground, as if in homage. When she finished praying, Irene blessed the trees and they returned to their upright position.
Afraid that this might be a temptation from the demons, the nun returned the next night to see if she had been mistaken. Again she saw Irene levitating as she prayed, and the cypress trees bowing down. The nun tied handkerchiefs to the tops of the two trees before they went back to their places. When the other sisters saw the handkerchiefs atop the trees, they began to wonder who had put them there. Then the nun who had witnessed these strange events revealed to the others what she had seen. When St Irene learned that the nun had witnessed the miracle and told the others, she was very upset. She warned them not to speak of it to anyone until after her death.
St. Basil the Great, who also was from Cappadocia (Icon courtesy of www.eikonografos.com used with permission)
St Irene observed the Feast of St Basil (January 1) with great devotion, since he also came from Cappadocia. One year, after celebrating the feast, St Irene heard a voice during the night telling her to welcome the sailor who would come to the door the next day. She was told to rejoice and eat the fruit which the sailor would bring her. During Matins, a sailor did come to the door and remained in church until after Liturgy. He told her that he had come from Patmos, where he boarded a ship. As the ship set sail, he noticed an old man on the shore calling for them to stop. In spite of a good wind, the ship came to a sudden halt. Then the old man walked across the water and entered the ship. He gave the sailor three apples which God was sending to the patriarch "from His beloved disciple John." Then the old man gave the sailor three more apples for the abbess of Chrysovalantou. He told the sailor that if Irene ate the apples, all that her soul desired would be granted, "for this gift comes from John in Paradise."
St. John the Theologian, who sent St. Irene apples from Paradise (Icon courtesy of www.eikonografos.com used with permission)
St Irene fasted for a week, giving thanks to God for this wonderful gift. For forty days, she ate small pieces of the first apple every day. During this time she had nothing else to eat or drink. On Holy Thursday, she told the nuns to receive the Holy Mysteries, then gave each one a piece of the second apple. They noticed an unusual sweetness, and felt as if their very souls were being nourished.
St. Irene giving piece of the apples from Paradise to her Nuns (source)
An angel informed St Irene that she would be called to the Lord on the day after St Panteleimon's feast. The monastery's feast day fell on July 26, so St Irene prepared by fasting for a week beforehand. She took only a little water and small pieces of the third apple sent to her by St John. The whole monastery was filled with a heavenly fragrance, and all discord disappeared.
On July 28, St Irene called the nuns together in order to bid them farewell. She also told them to select Sister Mary as her successor, for she would keep them on the narrow way which leads to life (Matthew 7:14). After entreating God to protect her flock from the power of the devil, she smiled when she saw the angels who had been sent to receive her soul. Then she closed her eyes and surrendered her soul to God.
St Irene was more than 101 years old when she died, yet her face appeared young and beautiful. A great crowd of people came for her funeral, and many miracles took place at her tomb.
In some parishes it is customary to bless apples on the feast of St Irene Chrysovalantou."
(taken from: http://ocafs.oca.org/FeastSaintsViewer.asp?SID=4&ID=1&FSID=102119)
The Sacred Patriarchal and Stavropegial Monastery of St. Irene Chrysovalantou in Astoria, New York (http://www.stirene.org/) serves as a grace-filled pilgrimage of this great Saint. Many travel from around the United States and beyond to venerate the holy relics of St. Irene, along with the weeping icon of the Saint (see the following page for more details: http://www.stirene.org/st_irene/stirene_miraculousicon.html) Many miracles throughout the world have occurred through the intercessions of St. Irene Chrysovalantou, including countless healings of soul and body, and especially aid to those with trouble conceiving.
At this monastery, along with many other churches and monasteries, the Priests pray for the Lord to bless apples in honor of St. Irene of Chrysovalantou. Through these blessed apples, many have found healing and deliverance from their afflictions or troubles. For a translation of this blessing, see here.
May St. Irene Chrysovalantou intercede for all of us and help us! Amen!
Apolytikion of St. Irene Chrysovalantou - Plagal of the First Tone
Not a temporal kingdom on earth didst thou obtain, but Christ, thy most comely Bridegroom, vouchsafed thee heavenly crowns, and thou reignest as a queen with Him eternally; for thou didst dedicate thyself unto Him with all thy soul, O Irene, our righteous Mother, thou boast of Chrysovalantou, and mighty help of all the Orthodox.
Kontakion - Third Tone
Leaving all the world behind with its impermanent glory, thou wast wedded unto Christ, the King immortal and holy, bringing Him as precious dowry thy maiden beauty and thy trophies won through abstinence over demons. O Irene, our righteous Mother, entreat thy Bridegroom to show His mercy to us.
(hymns taken from: http://www.stirene.org/st_irene/stirene_hymnology.html)
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!
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