Translated by Hierodeacon Philaretos
The Life of St. Irene Chrysovalantou
St. Irene Chrysovalantou flourished after the death of the greedy Emperor Theophilos the first. After Theophilos’s death his spouse, the most reverend and God-loving Theodora, took the throne. The Empress Theodora supported the Orthodox faith and re-established the veneration of the holy icons, as was the tradition of the Orthodox Church. The Empress Theodora was reigning in place of her son, Michael, who was not yet of age to assume rule of the empire.
When Michael was twelve years old Theodora sought to find him a suitable wife. She sent her scouts on a mission to find a beautiful girl who was noble as well as virtuous and worthy of becoming an empress. In the land of Cappodocia there lived such a beautiful girl and of great virtue. She was the daughter of noble parents and her name was Irene. The scouts new of Irene’s virtue and beauty and quickly took her to the empress in hope that she would one day become empress herself. Irene had one sister who was taken as wife by the Empress’s brother Vardis.
As the scouts escorted the fair Irene to Byzantium, they neared Olympus. Irene had heard of a man that lived an extremely ascetical life on Mt. Olympus named Ioannikios the Great and knowing that he was a holy man she very much desired to see him. She begged the scouts to lead her to the saint so that she may receive his blessing. The spies finally agreed but St. Ioannikios, only appeared to those worthy in heart. Upon their approach St. Ioannikos recognized the spiritual progress of the young girl and exclaimed, “Welcome servant of God, Irene. Go to the capitol and rejoice for the Convent of Chrysovalantou needs you to shepherd her virgins.”
Upon hearing this Irene was quite amazed that the holy man even knew her destiny, let alone her name. She therefore fell to his feet and praised him. Before she set on her way, St. Ioannikios gave her spiritual advice to strengthen her.
When Irene finally arrived at the capitol her relatives, who lived in the city, came to greet her. They all had their own ranks among others in the kingdom. They came forward with some of their noble friends and greeted her with much honour, as was truly due her. The King of kings, who called all things from nothingness into being, provided that the earthly king had chosen another girl to be his bride several days before Irene even arrived. Irene was not in the least upset by this, but rather, she gave thanks to God that He enlightened the king to choose another wife.
Many other noblemen and leaders, the richest men of Constantinople, sought to make Irene their wife because of her beauty and nobility. However, she desired no other bridegroom than the heavenly Bridegroom. She all-wisely rejected all the temporal and earthly things and sought a place to pass her life peacefully and pleasing to God.
So remembering the words of St. Ioannikios the Great, she sent people to visit the Convent of Chrysovalantou so that she might know what it was like. They found that the Convent of Chrysovalantou was in a quite beautiful and quiet place with a surprisingly good community of nuns. Upon hearing of the Convent’s good fame St Irene rejoiced and gave to the poor not only all the expensive clothes that her parents had given her, but also all the priceless things the queen had bestowed upon her. She then freed all of her servants and slaves, cut her long golden hair and entered the Convent of Chrysovalantou with all eagerness. Irene effectively abandoned every worldly vanity and every worldly way of thinking. She, the tender, noble, and most beautiful, dressed herself in a habit of animal hair and rejoiced as she took up the light yoke of Christ, the Anointed One and Most Sweet. She subjected herself to all the sisters with amazing humility and served all the needs of the convent with great care and tirelessness without ever contradicting. She never considered that she was from a noble family and far too good for such work and performed the most humiliating services without complaint. Her very image shown brightly and in her soul she had compunction and happiness.
The abbess of the convent was a woman of great virtue for this abbess was a struggler at the spiritual trials and always advised towards good works. Irene had the grace of God which had mystically descended upon her. This same grace taught her what was of benefit for her soul for without this grace, as the Lord himself says, man can do no good. “Without me you can do nothing but the one who lives in Me and I in him, this one brings forth much fruit.” Thus this ever-memorable one, as good and fertile earth brought forth fruit to Christ and was pleasing in the eyes of God and in the eyes of the entire sisterhood of the convent and all were amazed by her. Such was the trust that Irene had gained that she was made the treasurer and purchaser of the monastery and was given the care of the silver pieces of the convent. She was obedient to all, displayed great humility, and never scandalized or hurt any of the sisters. She was well loved and respected by all of the nuns. Irene was not only very capable of all her physical duties, but more so of all of her spiritual duties. She was never missing from the church services and in her cell she would read the lives of venerable monastics in order to imitate their lives and to teach the sisters and incite them to similar endeavours.
One day as she was reading the life of St. Arsenios the Great and learned that he remained awake until the morning hours praying. She too desired to perform this act and so she sought permission from the abbess to also practice this spiritual struggle. The abbess at first hesitated to give Irene her blessing to perform this ascetic act, fearing that she might become ill from over-exhaustion, but seeing her eagerness and knowing her humility and her stability she blessed Irene to carry out this ascetical practice. Irene began this super-human struggle even though she had not lived in the monastery for one year. The grace of God, however, gave her strength and she would stand from evening until morning with her hands lifted up as Moses and praying to God. Many other times she would do the same from morning until sunrise and other times she would stand in prayer all day and night. The abbess was all the more impressed by Irene’s progress.
When three years had passed from the day St. Irene began this great ascetical struggle, the hater of all good, the devil himself, saw her great struggles and sought to trap her in transgression. He was, however, unsuccessful. St. Irene had not succumbed to the passions and had so much given up care for her flesh for the sake of her soul that she rejected and totally despised all physical things (food, glory, money, clothes, etc.). She possessed only one habit. She would wear her habit for the first time on Pascha and continue with it for one full year without taking it off or ever washing it. When Pascha would come she would put on the new one and give the old one to the poor. Her diet consisted of bread and water, once a day, and perhaps some herbs. She was not prone to vainglory and had totally forgotten her noble upbringing.
The demon who was unsuccessful at inciting St. Irene to commit a sin at all, sowed forth discord in Irene’s mind by reminding her of the pleasure of her former life and stirring her with carnal desires. The man-hating one in vain tortured her, for she recognized his attack all too well and she confessed his attempts to her abbess so that she would be delivered from the temptation of this demon and she continued her struggles as before.
One night, as she was praying as usual, a demon took the form of a very ugly black man and stood from a distance while insulting her, trying, the weak one that he is, to instil a terror in the servant of God. The demon said to her, “You fortune-teller and ill-fated woman, against me do you battle without realizing what I am and how great my strength is?” These and other insults did the all-conniving one say to her, but our saint of God made the sign of the cross and the demon disappeared immediately.
One day after another, St. Irene was plagued with dark imaginations. Even though they deeply disturbed her she, the courageous one, waged battle against the passions of the flesh and was triumphant. She would often fall to the ground and pray with tears to the Lord. She often called upon the all-powerful Theotokos for help and to the Archangels Michael and Gabriel to whom the monastery’s church was dedicated. She also called out to for assistance to all the heavenly saints so that they might rescue her from the snares and unclean suggestions of the demons. St. Irene prayed using these words, “All-holy Trinity, All-powerful, through the intercession of the Theotokos, and the supplications of the Archangels Michael and Gabriel, and all the heavenly powers, and all the saints, help your servant and deliver me from the assault of this demon.” In this way our holy mother prayed many days and nights until divine illumination descended on her from above and overshadowed her soul and drove out all the evil imaginings, leaving the saint unbothered, so that she began even greater ascetical struggles and more eagerly laboured for God.
Whoever beheld this saint of God, Irene, saw in her great and holy desire and her many God-given graces. She had become a chosen vessel, as the Great St. Paul says and a container of the Holy Spirit, having abiding in her soul the living Christ. She was no longer living according to the flesh, but for Christ in spirit while Christ lived in her, as the Holy Apostle writes. In this way St. Irene became totally enlightened and led many souls towards the Light of Truth. It came to pass that people of all classes would run to her in numbers. Diligently, she taught and advised with prudence and sweetness.
Suddenly, however, the abbess of the monastery became very ill. All the nuns mourned in their cells for they knew that she had reached the end of her earthly life. Since the abbess was so virtuous they were grieved by her impending departure. The nuns mourned but the humble Irene mourned ever so much. The dying abbess said to them with all meekness, “Don’t be sad about me, for you have a good abbess more capable and more wise than I and to her be ye all obedient with your whole soul. I am speaking about Irene, the daughter of light, the lamb of God, the vessel of the All-holy Spirit and do not choose for yourselves any leader other than Irene.” The blessed abbess, having reached her last hour said to her Master, “Glory to your mercy, O Lord!” as she gave up her soul to the angelic hands that were awaiting her.
The venerable Irene was not present when the abbess departed from the earthly world. Likewise, none of the nuns told Irene what the abbess had said, for knowing Irene’s great humility and how she turned away from vainglory, they feared that she might leave the convent if she heard such words. Therefore, they buried the deceased abbess as it was fitting and they proceeded to the church that God might enlighten them.
At that time the Confessor of the faith Methodios was Patriarch of Constantinople. During the iconoclastic controversy this holy patriarch had endured many tortures and bore on his body the marks of the price he paid for Holy Orthodoxy. Truly he possessed the Holy Spirit and he was able to know the future. When the other sisters were ready to depart for a visit to the patriarch Irene did not want to go with them and she found an assortment of reasons and obstacles not to go. The nuns, however, managed to force Irene along. When they had arrived and had received the patriarch’s blessing, he asked them which of all the nuns they had considered for the new abbess. They replied that they had chosen no one but rather had their trust first in God and in his holiness the patriarch, as he possessed the Holy Spirit. Therefore, he was asked to make the decision for the Holy Spirit would guide him. The God-bearer then responded that he knew that all the nuns wanted the honourable and pure Irene and that their opinion was good and pleasing to God. The patriarch gave thanks to God that He had revealed to him the virtuous acts of his handmaid Irene.
The sisters were amazed and venerated him by saying, “Truly God dwells in your righteous soul and He enlightens you and makes the hidden things known unto you.” Immediately the saintly patriarch arose from his throne and singing the required hymns, incensing, and blessing the Lord, he ordained Irene a diaconess of the Great Church, knowing by the Holy Spirit that she was clean. He later read over her the prayers of the installation of an abbess. He then instructed her on how to proceed in guiding the sisters in the way of salvation and in peace. He blessed Irene as well as the sisterhood and sent them on their way back to their convent. Irene cried long and hard. She felt unworthy of such a position. The sisters tried to comfort her by saying to her, “Don’t feel sad that you have been assigned our protection for we will always remain obedient to you and we will help you in all godly endeavours as much as we are able.
When they arrived at the convent they gave thanks to God and escorted Irene to the cell of the abbess. Irene cried on. She closed the door of her new cell and fell on her face, “Master, Lord Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd, our Guide and Teacher, help Your handmaid and this Your small sheepfold and deliver us from the grasp of the noetic wolf, for you know our weakness and that we are not able to do anything good without your help and grace.”
She had prayed to the Lord in this manner for a long time and addressed herself by saying, “And you, lowly Irene, perhaps you realize what a burden Christ has placed on your shoulders? You take the responsibility for souls for which God took flesh and became man and shed His all-holy and all-precious blood. If you allow one soul to be lost you will answer to God for this on the judgement day. You will receive hell as your reward for having taken on yourself the care of so many souls, if you are careless and one of these souls is condemned. The Lord Himself says that the soul is worth more than the whole world. Therefore, hold vigil, fast, pray and be careful that from today on that your own fault does not become cause for one of the sisters to lose her soul, so that the words of Christ that say, ‘a blind man leading a blind man causes the two to fall into a pit,’ may not be fulfilled in you.”
Irene struggled ever harder and spent many days praying and fasting. She would also spend the night kneeling and making many prostrations. She never gave rest to her body, so that the Lord, seeing her many struggles, might be merciful to her and give her wisdom to guide her flock God-pleasingly.
According to her desire, the Lord gave her much wisdom and she was praiseworthy in guiding the sisters. She taught and taught with wisdom surpassing the great teachers and rhetoricians. Below is a small selection of some of her precepts and admonitions:
“I know well, sisters in Christ and honourable offerings to God, that it is neither proper nor blessed, that I the unworthy and uneducated should teach you, but because the mercies of God are unfathomable and incomprehensible, His grace established that I should be your superior. I, your worthless servant, beg you to obey me and to listen to the words of my lowliness. When we don’t keep the rules and orders of this schema which we wear, and we don’t do that which we promised before God and angels, we are of no benefit, just as faith without works is dead, as we have heard. Christ has promised us for the small amount of fatigue that we endure here in this transient life, to give us the kingdom of the heavens and unending life, delight, and eternal pleasure. It was for Christ that, having believed in Him as we should, we left the charms of this world as being false and passing, in order to inherit those true and eternal things. If therefore, we don’t keep the commandments of the Lord, wretched and miserable that we are, then we will lose these transient things along with the eternal things like the unwise virgins, we will be truly unworthy and foolish. Since the soul cannot be divided into two parts, one that seeks delights and one that seeks temperance, one that is haughty and one that is humble, we must totally hate all of our failings and toil to dispel from our soul every worldly desire, so that our internal state resembles our external state and we may work on attaining all the other virtues.
Remember that the virtues of the soul are preferable to the virtues of the body. Fasting and vigils and the other hardships of the body do not benefit us so much when the virtues of the spirit are lacking. The virtues of the spirit are humility, love, understanding, almsgiving to the poor, and all the other good and God-pleasing acts. After all of these things let us also work on the virtues of the flesh and let us fast as much as possible.”
These and others such as these was St. Irene advising her flock, with motherly affection. Her spiritual children would eagerly accept everything she would tell them and they brought forth much spiritual fruit. Our venerable Mother Irene, seeing that her counsel brought forth much reward to the souls of the sisters rejoiced and thanked the Lord, whom she loved with all of her soul and strength. Having in God unshakable faith and immeasurable love for the sisters, St. Irene dared to ask of God a great and super-natural gift, the gift of spiritual clairvoyance. She desired to be able to know the secret transgressions of all the sisters, not out of human curiosity, but in order to correct them so that not even one be condemned to hell.
The Lord, seeing that her goal was a good one, immediately heard her request and sent to her from the heavens a light-bearing angel who appeared to her dressed in a stunning white garment.
Irene was not frightened nor disturbed at the sight of the angel, but rather rejoiced. The angel greeted her by saying, “Hail most faithful and productive handmaid of God! The Lord has sent me to serve you according to your request for those who are destined to be saved by you. The Lord commanded me to always stand by your side and to wisely reveal to you daily the secrets of each one.” Having said this, the angel, for the time being, disappeared. Our venerable mother fell to the ground in joy thanking the Lord and from then on this angel was always beside her. This angel would appear to her, conversing with her as a friend each time it was needed for her to know something secret. This gift was given to her not only for all the nuns who were under her spiritual care, but also for the many that came to her seeking to hear her golden words. Whenever Irene would see someone who had committed a wrong-doing she would teach him about the eternal hell to which all those who die unrepentant are condemned. St. Irene would speak in this way whether she was addressing a nun or a laywoman. She never corrected a person in front of others so as not to humiliate him but rather she employed the appropriate manner to bring each person to repentance.
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.
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.”
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.
At the time a certain eunuch of her sister (the wife of Caesar Vardis) came to visit the saint. Irene called him aside secretly and said to him, “Kyrillos, (this was the eunuch’s name) tell my sister to prepare her things because in a few days her husband will die as an outcome of a plot of King Michael. After a little while, this King will also lose both his kingdom and his life by another machination against him due to his foolish misdeeds. Be cautious not to say anything to anyone. None of our relatives should dare to rise up against the new king who will rise to the throne, neither should they deter him in any way, even if he will assume the throne after a murder, for God has loved him because he fears Him and God has been gracious to him.”
Learning of all this, the sister of Irene told her husband of the prophecies, being overcome by her love for him. Her husband from his pride and foolhardiness, rather than running to the Lord with tears and begging mercy, remained indifferent. He was interested only in learning who would be the next king and many times he sent messages to our holy mother Irene trying to learn the future king’s name. A few days later he was killed in the military camp. King Michael was then killed in the same way and Basil the Macedonian became king.
A noble and beautiful woman from Cappadocia, the home-city of St. Irene, was engaged to a certain man. Later on, however, she thought better of it and decided against marriage. She decided instead to become a nun at the famed monastery of Chrysovalantou. The demon grew jealous, however, and filled her ex-fiancé with tremendous sexual passion. However, the man knew well that he would not be able to enter the monastery. Instead, he hired a powerful magician, a most able servant of the devil to whom he gave him a large amount of money for the deliverance of the woman he wanted as his wife. The magician wrought his evil art in Cappadocia and the woman in the monastery went completely out of her mind. She began to run around the convent screaming and crying out the name of her ex-fiancé and swearing that if they did not open the doors of the convent she would suffocate. Our venerable mother heard the up-rise and cried, “Woe to me the wretched one, if by the carelessness of the shepherds the wolves snatch the sheep away.
However, in vain do you labor, O sly devil, because Christ will not allow you to swallow my lamb.” She then called the sisterhood together and instructed them to guard themselves against the snares of the demons and she ordered them all to fast for the entire week while praying to God and each one of them to make a thousand prostrations a day with tears for this sister of theirs who was undergoing temptation.
Our venerable mother prayed in her cell daily for this sister and on the third day, she saw St Basil the Great in front of her and he said to her, “Why do you deride us, Irene? We have left our homeland and all the vile and impious acts take place there now. When the sun rises take your sick disciple and bring her to Vlachernae and there the mother of our Master Christ who is powerful will make her well.” Having said this, St. Basil disappeared. St. Irene took the sick sister along with two other nuns and arriving at the Church of Vlachernae, they prayed the entire day with tears in their eyes. At about midnight, St. Irene fell asleep and in her sleep she saw many people dressed in brilliant golden clothes and preparing the roads with the most fragrant flowers and incense. Our venerable mother then asked why so much preparation was taking place. They answered that the Mother of God was coming and warned her to prepare herself that she might be accounted worthy to venerate God’s mother. Then the Mother of the Life arrived followed by a vast crowd. So much did the face of the Virgin radiate that it was not possible for a mere mortal to gaze upon her. Our Lady having looked at all the ill, assembled in the church, looked at the disciple of St. Irene. Our venerable mother Irene fell at the spotless feet of the Mother of God, full of fear and trembling. The Mother of God then called on St. Basil the Great and asked him what Irene needed. St. Basil explained to the Theotokos exactly what St. Irene’s need was. Hearing this the Theotokos said, “Call here, Anastasia!” When St. Anastasia had arrived, the Mother of God said to her, “Go with Basil to Caesarea, and study carefully the situation in order to cure this girl, for to you my Son and God has granted this grace.”
Venerating the Theotokos, St. Anastasia and St. Basil left in all haste in order to perform the ordained task. Our venerable mother Irene then heard a voice saying. “Go to your convent and she will be made well.” On awakening, Irene explained to the sisters what she had seen and they went on their way rejoicing greatly. When they arrived at the convent it was Friday at the time of vespers and all the nuns were gathered at the church. St. Irene explained her vision and then ordered them all to raise their hands and eyes towards heaven and with all their hearts and burning tears to cry out, “Lord have mercy!” After a long time, when the entire floor of the church had become wet from the tears of the sisters, St. Basil and the Great-martyr Anastasia appeared floating in the air and the sisters heard them say, “Irene open your arms and receive this, and don’t grieve us needlessly again.” (St. Irene had been praying before the icon of St. Basil and begged him to free Caesarea from magicians). Stretching out her hands, St. Irene received from the midst of the air a package weighing about three liters and containing a host of charms including strings, hair, and lead, bound together with the names of demons written upon them. It also contained two small idols made of lead, one in the shape of the ex-fiance and the other in the shape of the sick nun, stuck together as if they were committing a sin. The nuns were amazed and remained praying the entire night. They thanked the Theotokos. In the morning, St. Irene sent the sick nun, along with two other nuns to Vlachernae. Taking with them the charms, oil and prosphora, they attended the Divine Liturgy. After the liturgy, the priest anointed the sick nun with oil from the vigil lamp and later put the magical charms on live coals. As the charms burned, the nun became well and regained her senses. When the spell of the charms was totally broken, a crying sound came forth from the coals that resembled the squealing of pigs at their slaughter. The nuns returned to the monastery glorifying God that He does such strange and magnificent things and on entering the monastery they told all what had happened.
The humble Irene, seeing that she was revered for her holy acts, all the more condemned herself and tears were always to be found in her eyes. She would especially cry during the Holy Liturgy when the priest would sacrifice God on the holy altar. She would ponder how the invisible and immortal God accepted to become man and to be crucified for our love and to prepare for us those divine mysteries that we might receive them as food and drink. Being overcome with compunction, she was not able to hold back her grief and she would bow down her head so that no one would see her crying, feeling that she was a thief and evil-doer and committed great misdeeds.
Let us relate to you another of her miracles during her lifetime: A young man by the name of Nicholas used to take care of the vineyard of the convent of our venerable mother. Nicholas fell in love with one of the nuns of the convent and could find no peace day or night for desire of this nun. The devil led Nicholas to this passion in order to punish St. Irene. So much did the evil one darken the mind of this young man that one night as he made his way towards the convent he fantasized that he found the gate of the cloister open, went into the cell of this nun, fell down with her on her mattress and did that which he desired. He then actually fell down on the ground and began to grind his body up against the earth. Not only did he cut and bruise his body but he also gave the demon a chance to disturb him.
In the morning, the doorkeeper opened the gate of the monastery and noticed him outside possessed, foaming at the mouth and writhing. She went and told our venerable mother what she had seen and asked her if she knew the reason that Nicholas was now possessed. Falling down in Prayer, St. Irene said, “Blessed are you O Lord, that you did not allow us to become neither the prey nor the victims of the demons.” She then sent the young man to the Church of St. Anastasia to be healed. A few days later Irene saw a vision of St. Anastasia and heard the Great-martyr say to her, “To free yourself from this possessed man you sent him to me? Only you, my sister, can make him well.” So, St. Irene ordered that the young man be brought to her. So that no one might learn of her miraculous power St. Irene did not cure the man immediately but rather they tied him to a column of the church. The saint, along with the other sisters, prayed daily for him. When the priest was serving the Divine Liturgy and had put down the holy gifts on the holy table after the great entrance the possessed man broke the chain that was binding him and ran into the altar. He grabbed the priest and began to bite his shoulder as if he was actually trying to eat his flesh. Immediately our saint of God rushed to the possessed man and ordered him to remain still. Seeing the saint, Nicholas wanted to run away, but he was not able to move at all being held tighter by the command of the saint than by any chain. When the liturgy had finished, our venerable mother remained alone in the church with the possessed young man. She prayed to the Lord and then addressed the demon. She ordered the demon to tell her the reason and the manner with which he had entered this man. The demon, forced by divine power, answered all of our saint’s questions honestly. She then commanded the demon to come out of the man. Shaking the man and throwing him down to the ground the demon came forth. St. Irene raised the man up and advised him as to how to always be careful in avoiding overeating and intoxication. Never to be absent from church on any feast day and to pray without ceasing so that the demon might never again get a chance to bother him. When people would ask him, “Who cured you?” he would respond, “The Lord through the prayers of His angels.” Nicholas went forth praising and giving thanks to God.
Our saint remained as before, occupied with her ascetical struggles and often spent the entire day and night in prayer for one, two, and even three weeks at a time. So long and in such ecstatic prayer would she have her hands upraised that she later would be incapable of lowering them. At such times she would call one of the sisters to help her lower her hands and from far away one could hear her shoulders cracking. She would not eat bread from the beginning of Great Lent until Pascha. She would eat only fruit and vegetables only once a week with a little water. On major feasts she would hold vigil and not sleep an all. She would spend those nights praying and chanting and many times she would stand out in the convent’s yard praying with much compunction. When she would look at the stars and the vastness and the beauty of the universe, she would glorify the Creator who wisely made all things.
One night a sister of the nunnery noticed St. Irene praying in the outer yard of the convent. Our venerable mother’s feet were not touching the ground but rather she was standing in the air about two yards above the ground! Near her there were two extremely tall cypress trees. So long as our glorious saint was praying the two cypress trees bowed down to the ground and waiting for our venerable mother to finish her prayer. When finished with her prayer St Irene touched the treetops and blessed them in the sign of the cross as they returned to their original position! The nun saw this amazing site and became frightened. She watched this strange event for three hours. She went so far as to check the cell of her abbess in order to make sure that she was not dreaming. It was not a dream.
So was the nun terrified that she did not mention the event to the others. Several days later the nuns noticed two handkerchiefs tied to the tops of the two cypress trees. Our venerable mother had tied those two handkerchiefs there for the glory of God because many times the trees venerate her. Awed by this strange sight, one sister began to ask another, by whom, and how, and when might these handkerchiefs been hung on the tops of such tall and slender trees. Then the sister who had seen the above stated miracle explained to the other nuns how the cypress trees bowed when their abbess prayed. On hearing this, the other nuns were filled with joy and began to cry and even scolded the sister because she did not wake them so that they also might see the miracle.
When St. Irene learned that this nun had made known this great sign she became scandalized. She called the nun before her and asked her, “If you saw me, as a human being that I am, fall into sin would you tell everyone what sin I had committed?” Then our venerable mother warned this nun along with all the others, that if they ever reported another miracle as long as she lived that they would receive a very strict penance. The sisters saw countless other miraculous signs during our holy mother’s life, but for fear of being chastised, they did not make them known to anyone.
It was the custom then of their convent to celebrate the feast of St. Basil the Great on the first day of January, because St. Irene had a great devotion to him as they were both from the same city. One particular year, after the priest finished serving the Divine Liturgy on this feast day, he came out of the altar and announced that there was a mouse in the altar that was defiling the sacred vessels and that the nuns should try to kill it. Our venerable mother went to her cell and prayed even for this seemingly very small request. When the priest was ready to leave the convent the abbess sent the ecclesiarch to the church and said to her, “Go to the door of the altar and there you will find a dead mouse. Throw it outside.” The priest found the mouse dead just as St. Irene had said and proclaimed, “Magnified is God in His Saints!”
On that same day, Wednesday, during the watch-guard of the night, our holy mother heard a mystical voice say to her, “Receive the sailor who will bring you fruit today and eat this fruit rejoicing in your soul.” During the Orthros, St. Irene called two nuns to her and said to them, “Go to the convent’s gate and you will find a sailor waiting outside. Bring him into the convent.” On meeting, the sailor our venerable mother exchanged greetings and asked him from where he was and how it was that he happened to come to the convent. He replied in this manner: “My lady, I am a sailor from the island of Patmos. I had embarked on a voyage with my crew to come here to Constantinople for a certain service I had to perform. When we were passing by the far end of my island we saw on the land a most pious and handsome looking old man. This old man yelled out to us to wait for him. However we were close to the land and there were many rocks there. We had a good wind behind us and we continued to speed along farther and farther away. The old man yelled again louder and at that moment the ship came to a complete stop and this old man began to come towards us while walking on the waves. At that point, he took out of his shirt three apples and gave them to me saying, “When you arrive in the capitol, give these apples to the patriarch and tell him that God sent them to him from paradise by way of His servant John.” Taking out three other apples he said to me, “Give these three to the abbess of Chrysovalantou whose name is Irene. Tell her to eat these in fulfillment of the desire of her soul because now I have brought these from paradise.” The old man then gave thanks to God and blessed us and immediately the ship began to move and the old man disappeared. I gave the three apples to the patriarch and now 1 am bringing you the other three.” Our venerable mother hearing this began to cry from joy and gave thanks to the beloved Disciple and Apostle of Christ. Then the sailor took the apples out of a silk and gold embroidered handkerchief in which he had kept them as divine possessions and he gave them to St. Irene with much reverence. These three worldly and incorruptible apples were so large and so beautiful in their shape and so fragrant that in their physical nature alone they were an amazing sight. The only explanation for the beauty of these apples is that they were from paradise.
The sailor received a blessing and forgiveness from the abbess before he went on his way. Our venerable mother fasted for one week to give thanks to the Lord for this gift He had sent her. After giving thanks in this way she began to eat a small piece of one of the apples every day without eating food or even water for forty days. Whenever St. Irene would eat a piece of this apple a fragrance would exude from her mouth so strong that all the nuns of the convent could smell it. The entire convent smelled as if it had been washed with a most costly perfume and it truly smelled like paradise.
When the day of Great and Holy Thursday arrived, St. Irene blessed all the nuns to receive the Holy Mysteries and having received communion our venerable mother cut the second apple and gave a piece to each nun to eat. They all ate of it without knowing what it was being only aware of its great fragrance and sweetness. Not only did they taste the sweetness of the apple with their mouths, but on eating it they also felt a sense of joy and jubilance in their souls. The third apple she kept as a very valuable possession and every time she smelled it, she felt joy and comfort in her soul.
On Great and Holy Friday, when our Master suffered His passion, our holy mother was in ecstasy and as the sisters were singing the service of the Holy Passions with much, compunction, she beheld a vision. She saw an innumerable amount of beautiful and brilliant youth come into the church holding in their hands guitars and singing hymns to the glory of God in great harmony, sweetly and gloriously. They were also carrying vessels filled with myrrh and they emptied these on the holy table. Then the angel who was waiting at the holy table cried out, “For how long my Lord?” A voice was heard answering the angel and saying, “Until the second Solomon shall come to join the heavenly things with the earthly and that they might become one, so long will the Lord magnify the remembrance of His handmaid.” At this point the youth in white cried out the “Glory to God in the Highest” and ascended to the heavens.
Our venerable mother, however, also had to pay her own debt as mortal man. An angel appeared to her and told her, “Be aware that in the coming year, on the twenty-eighth of the present month, when you will celebrate the martyr Panteleimon, you will come to stand at the throne of the Godhead.” It was then July twenty-sixth and at the Convent of Chrysovalantou that they were celebrating the consecration of the Church of the Archangel for on this day was its building and restoration completed.
The next year, when they were again celebrating this feast and the feast of St. Panteleimon, our holy mother received the holy mysteries having first fasted for one week according to the order of our Church. During that time she was praying and had not even drunk water at all during the week. She had only eaten of the holy apple that the beloved apostle of our Master Christ sent to her from Paradise. Before this time she had nor wanted to eat of this third and last apple because she wanted to have some comfort in this exile here on earth. Every time she or one of the sisters would fall into despondency or sadness or have a certain complaint, as humans are prone to, she would take the apple into her hands and from its unimaginable fragrance she would be immediately be filled with joy and would ponder what happiness awaits those who are to inherit the eternal heavenly kingdom. Again this time, upon eating the apple, the entire convent was filled with the heavenly aroma. After partaking of the apple, our venerable mother fell into agony, weeping, fearing death, and looking to heaven. The nuns, not being aware of what was happening, asked what had upset her that she was now crying. She replied to them, “Today, my children, I am leaving this world and you will no longer see me. When the hour will have come and I will leave this life for the eternal one, I want you to elect Maria abbess, because the Lord has chosen her as she will govern you God-pleasingly.
Be alert to walk the narrow and difficult road in order to find the spacious place of paradise. Hate the world and the worldly things because all of these temporal things are vain. According to the divine order, hate your own souls in order to save them. In a few words, don’t do anything that your flesh wants, but rather the desire of God, because only He can help you at the hour of judgement.”
These and other spiritually beneficial words did St. Irene say to her sisters during her last hour. Then she lifted up her hands and eyes towards heaven and prayed in this way to the Lord, “Master, Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God, the Good Shepherd, who saved us with Your all-holy and precious blood, into Your hands do I give over Your small flock. Protect it in the shelter of Your wings and guard it against the snares of the devil, for You are our Sanctification and our Salvation and to You do we send up thanks and glory to all ages.” Having prayed this prayer, she sat down and began to smile, seeing before her the holy angels, who were greeting her. Then her face began to shine as the sun and she closed her eyes as one falling asleep and she gave up her sacred soul to the Lord, having lived one-hundred and three years. Even though she had reached such a great age, her physical beauty had not faded as she looked like a young, beautiful girl, by the grace of her virginity and by the fact that she had never known anything worldly. God had granted that the all-pure one remain in this state to give witness to the beauty of her soul and that grace had been bestowed on her by her heavenly Bridegroom.
The nuns of the convent began to weep and wail and they mourned their mother worthily. The entire city, men and women of every age wept. Such a crowd of men and women came to venerate her holy relics that the convent was not able to hold them all. Neither was it possible for them to bury her, because of the pilgrims who were arriving. When the night arrived they managed with difficulty to bury our venerable mother according to the order of our holy Church. According to the custom, the bishops brought incense and myrrh and most-precious perfumes, but the fragrance that came forth from our holy mother’s relics far surpassed all of the earthly fragrance.
Having sung the burial service, they placed the body of our venerable mother in a temporary burial place until they had prepared a tomb for her in the Church of St. Theodore, which was next to the Church of the Archangel and there was the body of our holy mother given final rest and from her tomb, more miraculous than the tomb of a martyr, came forth a most heavenly fragrance. The noble relative of St. Irene, who had been delivered from dearth by the intercession of the saint with the emperor, began to celebrate every year the memory of our holy mother in the most brilliant manner. All those who called on the name of our most venerable mother Irene, received that which was to their benefit.