Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Miraculous Icon of Saint Irene Chrysovalantou in Lykovrisi, Attica

A copy of the wonderworking icon of Saint Irene Chrysovalantou venerated at Lykovrisi and painted by Monk Nektarios in 1919 on Mount Athos (it is signed and dated on the bottom).

By John Sanidopoulos

Saint Irene Chrysovalantou lived in asceticism as a nun in the Monastery of Chrysovalantou in Constantinople in the ninth century. It was located on its fifth hill known then as Chrysovalantou from which the monastery took its name (though according to St. Irene's biography the offical name of this monastery was dedicated to the Archangels Michael and Gabriel). Today the fifth of the seven hills of Constantinople is occupied by the Mosque of Sultan Selim and the Church of the Theotokos Pammakaristos and is considered the best place to view Constantinople and the Golden Horn. Though the remains of the monastery have not been found, the only topographical allusion to it that we have is its close proximity to the cistern of Aspar, according to St. Irene's biography, which was on the fifth hill north of the Church of the Holy Apostles (which was on the fourth hill). This monastery operated until the 10th or 11th century.

Interestingly we are informed that following St. Irene's death she was entombed either in or near Chrysovalantou Monastery in the Church of Saint Theodore (possible location of which was here and here if outside the monastery, but this is doubtful). Innumerable miracles were attributed to the sacred relics of St. Irene. However, following the Fourth Crusade and the Fall of Constantinople to the Turks, the story and relics of St. Irene seemed to be lost or little known. A codex (no. 151) was found from the 16th century around 1917 in the Sacred Monastery of Saint Dionysios on Mount Athos that once again revealed her life, and a Service to Saint Irene Chrysovalantou was written by one of our great hymnographers of modern times, by the Athonite monk Gerasimos Mikragiannanitis in 1958.

In the same monastery on Mount Athos there was found an icon of St. Irene as well. This icon was painted in 1919 by a gentleman from Smyrna who lived at Saint Anna's Skete, known as Monk Nektarios. When he returned to Smyrna for a visit in 1922 he was martyred by the Turks together with his companion Monk Cyril Lemonia, who had the gift of prophecy and once said outside his cell, "These days many martyrs will be revealed."

In 1926 a monk from Mount Athos named Archimandrite Paisios Philiokaliotakis gave this icon of St. Irene painted by Monk Nektarios to his spiritual daughter Lemonia upon her elevation to the Great Schema. Upon her elevation to the Great Schema at the age of twenty, Lemonia had her name changed to Meletia.

Nun Meletia had a passion to establish a monastery, and thus bought many acres in an area of Attica known as Lykovrisi. This came about after her mother, who also was a monastic by the name of Taxiarchia, fell asleep on October 10, 1927. To honor her memory it was Abbess Meletias' desire to dedicate her monastery to the Holy Archangels (Taxiarchi).


When construction began on the church of the monastery, one day one of the workers named Michael Gerasimou (who lived in between the streets of Petrou Rally and Archmidous in Chalkidona Peraias) saw with his naked eyes a tall and beautiful nun approaching him. The worker did not recognize this nun and asked her: "Who are you?" She responded: "I am Irene." Upon saying this she distanced herself a bit and with her right hand indicated the spot which today occupies the church dedicated to her name. The worker related this strange appearance of this nun named Irene to the Righteous Abbess Meletia and she also wondered about this unknown nun.

Another time Saint Irene appeared to one of the nuns as she was shutting the window of the building in which they were all staying. This nun saw the same tall beautiful nun which had appeared to the worker pointing to the same spot in which she wanted her church to be built. This seemed strange at the time since the architectural plans called for the church to be built in the area already being worked on. This time however the foundation stone from the other church had been miraculously transferred to the new area desired by St. Irene.

It appears that when the foundation stone had been set with the purpose of building the church dedicated to the Archangels, at that moment the spiritual father of the Abbess Meletia expressed his desire to her to resurrect the name of the Venerable Saint Irene of Chrysovalantou. He told her that she was a great abbess who wants to help establish this monastery as the first founded in her name after the monastery in Constantinople in which she lived her monastic life and became a saint. He wanted her grace to surround this monastery and for the church dedicated to her name to be a well spring of miracles, which would in turn spread her name far and wide throughout the world to eternity.

When Abbess Meletia heard this she was overjoyed as she recalled the manifestation of the mysterious nun Irene and the indication to establish a church foundation in another area.

Eventually this church dedicated to St. Irene Chrysovalantou was built. Desiring for the monastic grounds of this monastery to imitate to a certain extent the monastic life of St. Irene, next to her church they also built a chapel dedicated to the Great Martyr Theodore which originally in Constantinople housed her miraculous relics.

The Monastery of Saint Irene of Chrysovalantou was officially founded in 1930 and the icon of the Saint given to the abbess years earlier was placed in her church for veneration. It was not long before the faithful who came to this monastery witnessed the miraculous grace flowing from this icon. So many stories began circulating that in truth her name became known throughout the Orthodox world. Faithful came from Constantinople, Germany, America, Africa and other such places to venerate this holy icon and offer up their requests. As the fame of the monastery spread, it was built to accommodate its many pilgrims and came to resemble a traditional monastery built in the style of those in Constantinople during Roman times.

On January 29, 1977 Abbess Meletia departed in peace.

Cover of the bi-monthly periodical distributed by the Monastery

The Periodical of the Monastery

In 1960 a bi-monthly periodical began to circulate out of this monastery in Lykovrisi called Righteous Irene of Chrysovalantou (ΟΣΙΑ ΕΙΡΗΝΗ Η ΧΡΥΣΟΒΑΛΑΝΤΟΥ) and has been distributed since for the past fifty years. It was common in the monastery, and still is today, for the faithful who have been aided in one way or another by St. Irene to write a letter of thanks to her and these accounts have been compiled in books by the monastery. In 1964 some of these stories began to be published in the periodical and have been published ever since in both English and Greek. I highly recommend everyone to subscribe to this periodical which you can start receiving for whatever donation you can afford. With the letters and addresses of the faithful it often publishes pictures of children as well born to infertile couples that were blessed by St. Irene, as well as excellent articles to build the faith of Orthodox Christians.

The Miraculous Apples

Saint Irene kept the feast of St. Basil (January 1) especially holy out of great reverence because they both came from Cappadocia. One year after the feast day of St. Basil, during the fourth watch of the night, she heard a voice saying: "Welcome the sailor who brings fruit to you today. Eat it with joy and let your soul be gladdened!" This was followed by a similar voice during Matins saying: "Go to the door and bring in the sailor who is visiting you." She invited the sailor in and they greeted one another, and stayed until the end of the Liturgy. After Liturgy, Irene inquired after the sailor's journey, to which he replied:

"I am a sailor from the island of Patmos and I joined a boat coming to this City for business. As we were passing the coast of that island, we saw a very old man on the shore who called to us to wait for him. We could not because we were near the rocks, so with a good wind behind us we left. He then shouted all the more loudly ordering the boat to stop. This it did at once. Then he came to us walking on the waves and soon entered the boat. Then taking three apples from beneath his cloak, he gave them to me saying, 'When you go to the imperial City, give these to the Patriarch [Methodios] and tell him that the Almighty sends them to him from His beloved disciple, John.' After that he took another three and asked that these be presented to you, the Abbess of Chrysovalantou named Irene. To you he said, 'Eat these and all that your beautiful soul desires will be granted you because this gift comes to you from John in Paradise.' Having said this he blessed God, wished us well, and disappeared."

Irene, with tears of joy, received this gift with thanksgiving from St. John the Theologian, the Apostle, Evangelist, and beloved disciple of Christ. The sailor asked for a blessing and left the monastery.

These three holy apples from Paradise were superior to the earth's fruits: first and foremost in beauty; second, according to fragrance; third, they were markedly larger and extraordinary. To have received such a gift only indicated that none were holier in Constantinople than Patriarch Methodios and Irene.

Irene fasted for a week, thanking God for the apples. After this, she ate small pieces of the first apple daily, without any other form of sustenance, for forty days; when she ate, she smelt as if she was exuding myrrh; during this time, the remaining apples became more beautiful and aromatic. On Holy Thursday, she directed her sisterhood to receive Communion; after the Liturgy, the second apple was divided between them; when eaten, so sweet was the taste that the sisters felt as if their souls were being fed. The third apple was kept until Irene would know what to do with it and until then she would often inhale its outstanding fragrance. She partook of this marvelous apple the last week before her repose, at 103 years of age, as her only sustenance.

In the narthex of the Church of St. Irene in Lykovrisi there is a sign concerning the apples distributed at the monastery which reads: "You eat, you believe, you hope" (Τρως, πιστεύεις, ελπίζεις). This pretty much summarizes the instruction on how to obtain divine grace and receive divine intervention towards your needs.

The Monastery of Saint Irene Chrysovalantou in Lykovrisi contains what many believe to be an actual tree of life. Apples played a major role in the life of St. Irene and the monastery has planted apple trees that are blessed and mediate divine grace and healing to all those who receive it with proper faith and preparation. Remarkably these apples also do not rot when cut in slices and maintain moisture, and there is a wonderful fragrance that emit from these apples for a long time even when they dry up after many months.

Many couples who wish to have a child frequently visit or request apples to be sent to them from this monastery hoping in a miracle. Thousands over the years have received this miracle, as is evidenced by the large number of both males and females among the Orthodox who bear the name of either Chrysovalantou or Chrysovalanti. Children who are considered a gift of St. Irene through her miraculous intervention either bear this name as a first or middle name. I have given a sample of two such miracles that appeared in last months periodical of the monastery at the bottom of this page.

It is not only infertile couples which receive miraculous intervention, but also those who are suffering any kind of ailment such as various body pains, cancers, incurable illnesses and diseases, and even emotional pains. It is recommended that to be a recipient of such divine grace, that one must fast strictly for three days and pray. Couples should not enter into sexual relations for those three days either. During those three days if you have holy water, a little should be drunk each day and if you have holy oil from the monastery you should anoint the area of the body for which you are praying with the sign of the cross. If it is a child you are seeking, the mother should also request a belt/cord that is made by the nuns with prayers and blessed for the specific purpose of receiving a child as a gift. When the three days have passed you are to eat the apple. If it be God's will, believe that God will heal you of your ailment and suffering through the intercessions of his faithful and fervent intercessor St. Irene.

The Blessing of the Apples takes place every year on the feast of the Saint on July 28th. A prayer is said "in remembrance of the three apples which were given from Paradise to Saint Irene Chrysovalantou". The apples keep vigil during the service in front of the wonderworking icon of the Saint at which time the appropriate prayer of blessing is said for divine grace to permeate through the apples to bring life to infertile couples and health to all those in need.

In some parishes it is customary to bless apples on the feast of St Irene Chrysovalantou.

My Aunt Received a Vision of Saint Irene in Athens

My mother Panagiota has a very special reverence for Saint Irene Chrysovalantou. Every time she travels to Greece from Boston she always makes a special trip to St. Irene's monastery in Lykovrisi to venerate her wonderous icon. Growing up we always had the periodical being mailed to us from the monastery and our home never lacked a slice from the miraculous holy apple.

One year back in the 1970's she made one of her special pilgrimages together with my father Panagioti and my Aunt Penelope, or Popi as we all call her. Whenever my mother visited this monastery she would always make an offering in gold to the holy icon to be used for the benefit of the monastery and this year she continued that tradition. My father also was wearing a gold necklace and decided to offer this as well. When his older sister, my aunt, saw this she scolded him saying: "Panagiota already made an offering. There is no need for you to make one too and lose your expensive gold necklace." This sounded logical to my father, so he put his necklace back on and they left for Menidi (where my aunt lived) after all had venerated the holy icon.

That night everyone went to bed. As my Aunt Popi was getting ready her husband Apostoli had already fallen asleep. My aunt then got into bed and before she fell asleep, even though the room was pitch dark, she saw a nun enter her bedroom. With fear my aunt looked at her. The nun then said: "Penelope, why did you not allow Panagioti to make his offering?" The nun then turned around and disappeared as she walked away. My aunt realized at once that St. Irene had visited her and scolded her for what she had done.

The next morning when everyone awoke she urgently told my father and mother to get dressed because they had to go back to the monastery for my father to make his offering. They returned to the monastery and my father gladly made his offering.

Years later I had the chance to visit this monastery with my Aunt Popi. In front of the wonderworking icon of St. Irene she became very reverential, remembering the scolding she had received years earlier.

My Grandfather Was Healed By Saint Irene of his Lung Cancer

The following was written by my sister Vaso Christopoulos concerning another miracle of St. Irene related to the one above, but this time involving my grandfather.

In 1995, my Grandfather, Vasili, who lived near us in Boston, was diagnosed with lung cancer. I was 21 years old and planned a vacation to Greece for that summer. During his chemotherapy treatments my mother Panayiota, who has a special devotion to St. Irene Chrysovalantou, had given her father, my grandfather, the monthly periodicals she received in the mail from St. Irene Chrysovolantou Monastery for him to read since they were written in Greek. These periodicals were filled with miraculous stories of healings through the prayers of St. Irene. He was very moved by these and found faith and hope from reading the stories. He asked that when I visit St. Irene's Monastery to give them a donation from him and buy him an icon of St. Irene as well as a "milo" [apple].

I arrived in Greece and decided to just have a relaxing vacation by myself and visit family, allowing myself no burden of having anything planned. During my stay in Athens I visited with my Aunt Popi from Menidi [see above] and I had the beautiful opportunity (I believe) to be part of a miracle of St. Irene Chrysovolantou. It was a very hot summer afternoon. I spent the day at my aunts house relaxing because of the heat. There weren't many neighbors or family around that day. I had taken an afternoon nap as I usually did, but that afternoon was different. I woke up from my nap with an extreme urgency to go visit the monastery immediately. I didn't question myself nor did I care about the heat or how I was going to get there, but I got up with a mission to go immediately. I remember telling my Aunt Popi and cousin Demetri: "I MUST go to the monastery right now!" Without question, they agreed. My cousin Demetri had a long day at work, but simply said: "OK let's go, I will drive you!" I went with the monetary donation that my Pappou Vasili had given me, and upon his request I prayed before the icon of St. Irene for his recovery of the cancer, spoke to two nuns about my Pappou Vasili, and they assisted me in lighting a candle on his behalf and gave me the milo, an icon and their monthly periodical to bring back to him. I knew I had to call my mother and tell her the task that my Pappou asked me to fulfill was complete.

I called my mother in Boston from my Aunt Popi's house the very next morning when I woke up. I remember telling her the details of my visit to the monastery and at the end of the conversation she gasped and questioned me again to clarify if I really went the day before. I told her yes. Apparently during the time of my visit to the monastery it was also the same time that my Pappou was visiting the doctors to get the test results of his on-going cancer treatments for the lung tumor. The results came back clear of all traces of the tumor. Our family firmly believes that this was a miracle of St. Irene and I have the humble honor of being a part of it. I tear up just by the thought of this.


Two Miracles of Saint Irene Published in the Periodical of the Monastery in its Most Recent Issue

Letter One

Sweet Saint Irene Chrysovalantou, we want to thank you so much for your kindness towards our family through your miracles.

When I called on you, you comforted us in our time of anguish. All our hopes were in God and you Saint Irene Chrysovalantou.

We feel so small in front of you and our feelings cannot be described on this lifeless paper. For the rest of our lives we will talk about you, healer of human pain.

The time has come for us to tell of the miracle you worked for us and the help you showed us. When we got married we wanted to have a child but nearly two and a half years went by.

I, Chrysovalantis, the husband of Joanna, wanted very much to become a father. One night as I was praying in my house and because I wanted to feel the experience of fatherhood I vowed that if I had a child I would call it by your name even though I had the same name Chrysovalantis. That is what happened.

You heard my prayers and in October 2004 my Chrysovalantis was born. That is why my son and I have the same name because I from one of your miracles came into existence. That miracle was also published in your magazine as my mother had also vowed to Saint Irene to give me her name.

Now I will let my wife Joanna continue relating the miracle.

It is true that before I married Chrysovalantis I knew nothing about you, Saint Irene Chrysovalantou and what I know today I learned from my husband. Newlywed I came for the first time with my husband Chrysovalantis and I prayed before your miraculous icon to give me a child.

I left impressed by what I had seen at the Monastery and with the hope that you would hear my prayer. Time went by and my desire for a child grew bigger but worry tormented me.

One night I dreamed of you Saint Irene. Even though you were at a distance from me you looked at me and beckoned to me with your blue eyes to come near you. I ran to reach you but bumped into a tree which had no leaves or fruit.

You told me to stand under the tree and I saw a red apple which I picked stretching my arms. At that moment I woke up. Stunned by the dream I was sure that you would help me to make reality what I so much desired. That is what happened.

After two months I was pregnant with many problems. The placenta came away and I was in danger of having a miscarriage. At one and a half months the doctors recommended strict measures and bed rest. One day I had terrible pains with hemorrhage. I phoned the doctor and told him and he replied that I had lost the baby and to go to the hospital to be cleared.

When in tears I arrived at the doctors with my husband in terrible pain holding the icon of Saint Irene Chrysovalantou and praying not only did I not lose the child but I too heard his heart beat. Not only us but the doctor too was sure of the miracle which Saint Irene Chrysovalantou had worked. He advised me to stay in bed for the rest of the pregnancy until I give birth.

During my pregnancy from time to time I heard a sweet voice saying, "Let Ioanna relax because in a short time she will give birth to Chrysovalanti."

The problems continued to become more and more dangerous. I had severe spasms in the womb and I was continuously going to the hospital for various problems as well as for my breathing problem. The doctors said it was impossible for this pregnancy to reach full term unless a miracle happens.

Seeing I was in this condition I asked for your Monastery to send me, Saint Irene Chrysovalantou, the cord and holy apple which I received quickly. I wore the cord immediately around my waist and ate the holy apple with much faith.

In the sixth month of my pregnancy I had signs that I was going into labour. The doctor told me I must stay in the hospital for observation. I saw you in my sleep, sweet Saint Irene, and you were holding a baby boy in a blue sleep suit and you said, "Ioanna, do not be afraid; I will hold the child in my arms for three months. Do not worry little Chrysovalantis will be fine and healthy."

This is what happened. In spite of all the problems I was healthy and you did not allow my child to come to harm. When I reached the ninth month the doctors were all amazed how my pregnancy could reach full term. They all called me a heroine.

In October 2004 my Chrysovalanti was born. At the time I could see above my head a huge light and thousands of stars. I was sure that you supported me until the last moment and were next to my side.

I, Ioanna and my husband Chrysovalantis, thank you, Saint Irene Chrysovalantou, for enabling us to hold in our arms little Chrysovalanti who is also a child of yours.

We shall always thank you for the rest of our life. Please always have us under your protection and we shall never forget your living miracle which you worked for us.

With endless respect, gratitude and thanks
The parents
Chrysovalantis and Ioanna Hania
Volos, Greece

Letter Two

Sweet Saint Irene Chrysovalantou, thank you for the miracle which you worked for me.

I had been married for sixteen whole years and I had not had a baby yet. I came to the Monastery and prayed before your miraculous icon and ate your holy apple after three days of fasting. You worked your miracle at once.

Even though the doctors said there was a problem I would not accept it. I believed that you would help me, Saint Irene Chrysovalantou, and you gave me twins. I told my husband to call the one by your name and we did. So I brought into this world my Chrysovalantou and Constantina, two beautiful and healthy little girls.

Saint Irene Chrysovalantou I thank you for working your miracle for me and you enabled me to become a mother. Please always protect us and be near us when we need you.

The parents
Georgia and Christos Avgerantonis
Fthiotida, Greece


The Monastery Today

Today the monastery follows one of the strictest monastic rules in any convent in Greece and adheres to the Old Calendar. The nuns maintain a permanent fast at this monastery in imitation of St. Irene, their Abbess. It comprises a building which occupies approximately 50 acres.

It offers accomodations for both men and women in seperate wings for those who wish to stay at the monastery to participate in its worship services. These several guest rooms are available throughout the year except on the feast day of St. Irene on July 28th (according to the Old Calendar). Because of the nuns strict fast, they only offer pilgrims fruit and nuns, so if one wishes to eat at the monastery one must bring their own food and not expect to feast in the dining room as in most other monasteries.

Suitable clothing must be worn to enter the monastery. Shorts, short skirts, and sleeveless shirts, are strictly prohibited from both men and women. Men are to be dressed as men and women as women. This means that women are prohibited from wearing any kind of pants and must wear a long dress to cover their legs. In fact when I visited this monastery at the age of 16 I was wearing shorts and the nuns would not allow me to enter no matter how much my mother and family tried to persuade them. They allowed me to enter only when I wrapped my grandmothers shawl around my legs. Sometimes they provide skirts for forgetful women, so don't hesitate to try to visit if you forget to bring your skirt for this pilgrimage.

If a woman wishes to venerate any icons, lipstick must be completely removed.

The monastery is open to the faithful during the following times:

Winter
Opens at 07:00 (their time)
Closes at 17:00 (their time)
Summer
Opens at 07:00 (their time)
Closes at 18:00 (their time)

If anyone wishes to make a pilgrimage or contact this monastery to make a small donation and request a slice or two of the miraculous apple, subscribe to their periodical, send in prayer requests or a thanksgiving letter, or purchase an icon or holy water or holy oil or a belt/cord or books, the following methods of contact should be taken:

Contact details for the monastery:

Address:
Αγ.Ειρήνης Χρυσοβαλάντου
17 Λυκόβρυση
Αθήναι 14123

or

St. Irene Chrysovalantou
17 Lykovrisi
Athens, Greece 14123

Telephone: there is no phone communication with the monastery.

Affiliation: This is an Old Calendar Monastery (G.O.C.) and is not in communion with the canonical or official Orthodox Church.

Apolytikion in the 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 in the 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.


The gate of the Monastery




The holy water in the courtyard of the Monastery


Courtyard of the Monastery

The wonderworking icon of St. Irene adorned with gifts from the faithful.

The dome of the church. The bottom-most icon depicts St. John the Theologian giving the sailor the six apples from Paradise off the coast of Patmos.

The iconastasis of the Church of Saint Irene Chrysovalantou with her icon encased in silver next to the Theotokos.
Mosaics of the Monastery

Mosaic of St. Irene together with its creator Vlasios Tsotsonis.

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