Augustine Sokolovski

The Ancient Tradition called martyrs who were of royal family or very noble origin, or who served in particularly high military or administrative service, “great martyrs.” The word martyr in Greek literally means “witness.” The testimony of great people in the secular sense was very great.

In accordance with this tradition, Saint Irene is called the Great Martyr, since her father was a noble dignitary named Licinius. Some commentators believed that she was the daughter of the Roman Emperor of the same name. Others believed that she lived much earlier, and that Timothy, a disciple of the Apostle Paul, converted her to Christianity. Timothy is mentioned in the Book of Acts, and the First and Second Epistles to Timothy are part of the New Testament. Timothy ended his life as a martyr in Ephesus in 97, and Licinius reigned from 308 to 324. It is surprising that Irene was considered a contemporary by so many different Christian generations.

Unfortunately, the exact dates and place of life of Saint Irene have not reached us. Various cities and countries, from Italy to Greece and even Persia, have historically claimed to be the birthplace or place of the saint’s life. Sometimes she is called Irina of Macedonia or Irina of Thessalonica. Moreover, “Macedonia” is not an ancient region of modern Greece, but a certain territory in Persia, a location that can no longer be determined. The southern Italian city of Lecce also considers Irene its fellow tribesman and patroness.

According to life, the father tried in every possible way to protect his daughter from the influences of the outside world. Despite this, Irene, then called Penelope, came to Christ. The saint received her new name, meaning “peace” in Greek, in honor of the Lord Jesus. “For He is our peace,” writes the Apostle Paul in his Epistle to the Ephesians (Eph. 2:14). The father forced the saint to renounce her faith; in a rage, he tried to trample her with mad horses, but in the end he himself tragically died. The life of the saint is not just a story of confession and suffering, but an abundance of miracles, healings and charismatic gifts.

So, according to the story, Irene resurrected her father, and he came to faith in Christ. Local rulers tried to force her to renounce, to bring torment on her, but in the end, due to signs and wonders, a huge number of people came to faith. Irene remained invulnerable, killed by the pagans, but resurrected. Her body, voluntarily buried, was not found in the grave. The semantic series of the Life is, in fact, a reproduction of the Apostolic Pentecost.

The Church calls Irene the “Great Martyr,” but the content of her life makes her a true “Saint Equal to the Apostles.” Apparently, it was the inexplicable impossibility of determining the exact place of her mission that became the reason why such a name was not fixed in history. Irene “remained,” as she was, a great martyr. The Church, as a Society of Those Asking for Help, turns to her for intercession.