Today, May 18, the Church celebrates the memory of St Irene. The saint is one of those few of the countless host of men and women who suffered for Christ in the first centuries of Christianity, whom the Ancient Church called great martyrs.
It is very important to remember that these saints were named great martyrs not by the number and severity of their suffering, but by virtue of a very noble, often royal family and origin.
“There are not many glorious among you,” the Apostle Paul testified in the Epistles (1 Corinthians 12:1). When any of the people of noble, famous, royal family and origin turned to faith in Christ, this was an extraordinary event. Such a testimony in the darkness of the pagan world was very great.
History has not preserved a single version of the origin, and even the time and place of Irina's suffering. The geography of her veneration is so great that the interpreters of these stories must make a choice between Greece, Italy, Persia, Italy, and other countries.
According to one of these hagiographic narrations, the Great Martyr Irene came from Persia. According to one of the stories, Irene came from Persia. She was from that part of it that was on the border of the Roman and Persian Empires and was disputed by the two superpowers for centuries. Irene's father was the ruler of the region, which in this context meant his very significant position in society.
From birth, Irina was called Penelope. This name in honor of the ancient heroine suggests that she was born in an educated pagan family. According to the life, her father's name was Licinius, so many interpreters believed that the saint was the daughter of the eponymous co-ruler Emperor Constantine. He ruled in the East of the Empire, and even though in 313 he also signed the famous Edict of Milan on religious tolerance, he continued to persecute Christians.
The actual Persian religion of that time was Zoroastrianism. His adherents divided the world into good and evil principles. The role of rituals was very great. The deceased person was considered unclean, therefore, in order not to defile the earth with decomposition, the corpses were placed in special towers with open tops. The griffins ate the deceased, while the bones were collected in a special place to avoid contact with the ground.
The paganism of that time, unlike, for example, modern sects and beliefs, did not have a stable system of ideas. He was not dogmatic. Like the dry earth from the gospel parable (Matthew 13:3-23), it absorbed everything that it could come into contact with but did not bear fruit.
For reasons that are not entirely clear, the pagan father went insane in his attitude towards his daughter and walled her up alive in a tower. According to the life, he did this to hide the beauty of Irina from the eyes of strangers. He did this in a panic before the outside world, like the religious fanatics of our time, who think that decadence reigns everywhere. But it is possible that a bizarre combination of philosophical, Zoroastrian and other pagan ideas has formed in his mind. He considered his daughter to be spiritually dead, and the extreme clouding of his mind prompted him to take such a step.
In those days, Christianity was rapidly spreading. Its strength lay in the fact that the good news about Christ was broadcast not by professional preachers, but by merchants, soldiers, people of different classes. This contributed to the conviction that Christianity is the faith of all and for all. Through the providence of God, the gospel sermon reached the ears of Saint Irene.
By the power of divine predestination, it turned out that, having isolated his daughter from communication with the outside world, Licinius involuntarily prepared her spiritual gaze for accepting the truths of the Christian faith.
The border regions were the place of preaching for many Christian preachers. In turn, Syrian Christianity, whose influence was very strong in Persia, was distinguished by extreme asceticism, was a kind of monasticism before monasticism. Moreover, on the basis of the Old Testament, it tried to observe not only moral, but also ritual purity. In this sense, the tower in which Licinius immured his daughter Irina became a prophetic image of those towers on which the stylites would pray a century later. Stylites have become a unique type of Syrian monastic asceticism.
Unlike other virgin martyrs of antiquity, who, being a royal family, were betrayed to torment and death by their relatives for accepting faith in Christ, Irene converted her father to Christianity, and many others. According to life, the pagans for a long time failed to destroy her, because their deceit and cruelty were inferior to the almighty divine will that delivered Irene.
Unlike many of her contemporary martyrs, she not only remained ready to suffer for the name of Christ but preached the Gospel in the most effective way. So it happened, as if the Lord Himself, by such an example, taught all subsequent Christian generations always, in all circumstances, even the most difficult and constrained, to proclaim the gospel always and everywhere.
She endured a lot of torment but survived. And then she preached the faith. Her word was accompanied by such an abundance of help, miracles, and healings that it seemed to contemporaries as if apostolic times had returned to earth. Therefore, some interpreters of her life in subsequent centuries believed that she was a student of the Apostle Timothy - a disciple and companion of Paul himself.
In Baptism, the virgin, who was formerly called Penelope, received the name "Irina". This word in Greek means peace. Peace is one of the names of the Lord Jesus in the Holy Scriptures. “For He is our peace, who has abolished enmity by His flesh,” writes the Apostle Paul in the Epistle to the Ephesians (2:14-15).
The new name became for the saint a prophecy about her death. After all, Irina departed to the Lord in peace. Once in her youth, the cruel world imprisoned her in a tower. Now she, having conquered the world by the evidence of grace-filled power, according to the testimony of her life, has been confined alone in a cave, where she has given up her spirit to God. But even now, standing before God, the saint continues to preach the gospel. After all, her very name reminds Christians that all of them, the great multitude of the redeemed (Rev. 14:3), were baptized in the name of the Peace of God and the Savior of the World, the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 2:38; Rom. 6:3).