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July 28, 2013

St. Irene Chrysovalantou as a Model for our Lives

By Protopresbyter Fr. George Papavarnava

The Venerable Irene of Chrysovalantou came from Cappadocia and lived in the ninth century, during the years of Empress Theodora, who restored the holy icons. She was distinguished for her piety, her noble upbringing, and internal as well as external beauty, which made her a much sought after bride. She, however, chose to pursue a life of asceticism, with full dedication to God, the Heavenly Bridegroom, and she was tonsured a nun at the Sacred Monastery of Chrysovalantou, after distributing the fortune she inherited from her family to the poor.

Saint Irene truly loved God and people, which is why the nuns, after the repose of the abbess, felt that she was best suited for this service, and despite her refusal, they elected her abbess. Then "the lamp was placed upon the lampstand" and illumined those who were "near and far". Indeed, she was a bright beacon who led many near to Christ by her words and by her example. God endowed her with many spiritual gifts. Among these was the gift of working miracles, by which she benefacted and is a benefactor to many people. Her repose was most venerable, having predicted the end of her earthly life, and she was "perfected in peace".

Her life gives us the opportunity to highlight the following:

First. Every person is gifted by God with various gifts, natural and spiritual, depending on their strength and spiritual progress. Which is why there is nobody that does not have their own gifts, by which they are called to use them to the glory of God and to the service of our fellow man. Each of these gifts are like the flame of a fireplace which needs a constant reflaming, otherwise it will slowly go out and extinguish. The Apostle Paul, writing to his disciple the Apostle Timothy, the Bishop of Ephesus, reminds him to reflame the gift of the high priesthood, which he received from God through the hands of the Apostle Paul: "Therefore I remind you to reflame the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands" (2 Tim. 1:6).

When the gift is not utilized and reflamed, then it goes out. If, however, there remains a small spark hidden beneath the ashes of indifference, negligence and casualness, it does not need much effort to ignite, but it is enough to just lay aside the ashes and blow onto the spark the vivifying air of prayer, enriched with the fragrance of repentance and the life according to Christ.

Each gift is a gift of God - this is revealed in the word gift - which is why it should not be self-utilized and exploited for our own benefit and our own empty glory, but it should be offered to the Gift-giver thereby allowing it to be a cause for God to be glorified. Besides, we do not have anything of our own that we have not received from God, for "the earth is the Lord's and fullness thereof". Also, when a person offers to God His gifts, they actually receive back in multiples. For example, when we offer to the Sacred Church bread and wine, in order for them to change during the Divine Liturgy into the Body and Blood of Christ, in actuality we are not offering to God something that is ours, but we are offering to Him His own gifts. For this reason the liturgist priest, when addressing God, says: "Thine own of Thine own we offer to Thee, in all and through all". We offer them to God, but again it is offered to us and we receive "the Body and Blood of Christ, for the remission of sins and eternal life".

When we accept the gifts God has given us with a gracious attitude and we try to utilize them towards His glory, then we will feel an inner fullness and meaning to our life.

Second. Many people when they encounter serious problems that concern themselves or loved ones, pray with pain, asking from Christ, the Panagia His mother, and His friends the Saints, for some miracle in order to be cured of the incurable illness which science is unable to heal. They come to the churches and monasteries seeking support and comfort. Of course, there is nothing wrong with someone supplicating for a miracle, but they should not make demands and blackmail God, but having made their request, they should say: "Let God's will be done, since God loves me, and He does not allow anything to happen in my life unless it is to my actual benefit". In this way they will have internal peace. That is, they should say what Christ said in Gethsemane to God His Father: "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from Me. Yet not as I will, but as You will... if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may Your will be done" (Matt. 26:39, 42).

That which is more important than a miracle is our salvation, which we must continuously work towards, as God works towards it. That is, we should work together with God with our free will and struggle to live according to His will. Besides, the greatest miracle is sincere repentance and obedience to the commands of God. The spiritual rebirth of man does not happen automatically, as if by magic, but it requires struggle, toil, pain and great patience, according to the patristic saying: "Give blood, receive the Spirit".

We usually ask from the saints for a miracle of an incurable illness of ours or for one of our loved ones, to extend biological life. This, of course, is utterly human and it reveals our love, but what matters most is the transcendence of death, which happens with true repentance, and the acquisition of eternity.

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "Οσία Ειρήνη η Χρυσοβαλάντου", June 2011. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.