May 5, 2016

Saint Irene the Great Martyr as a Model for our Lives

St. Irene the Great Martyr (Feast Day - May 5)

By Protopresbyter Fr. George Papavarnavas

Saint Irene came from Persia. Her father was a governor named Licinius. Because he was financially able he cared as much as possible for the better education of his daughter. Thus Irene, who before she became a Christian was called Penelope, studied under the best teachers of her time in almost all the known sciences. She was taught the Christian faith by one of her servants, who was illiterate according to worldly standards, but wise according to God. Hence she was baptized and received the name Irene, which suited her, because she was a peaceful, calm and gentle person. It was not long before her father found out about his daughters conversion to Christianity, which made him furious, full of anger and hatred, and for this reason he threw her at the feet of a horse in order for her to be trampled to death. Instead the horse turned against him and killed him. Irene was hurt because of this, and she wept and fervently prayed. She asked Christ to raise her father and Christ heard her prayer and raised him. Then he asked to be baptized and he was baptized along with his wife.

Saint Irene preached the gospel with courage and boldness and attracted many to the true faith. After being arrested she boldly confessed her faith. Suffering horrible tortures she remained unharmed and was cast into prison. It is unknown exactly how her earthly life ended, since when her prison cell was opened she was not found therein.

Her life and conduct give us the opportunity to highlight the following:

First, the hateful vindictiveness and behavior of the father of Saint Irene towards his daughter verifies once again the words of Christ: "A man's enemies will be the members of his own household" (Matt. 10:36). And on the other hand, the full of love and forbearance of Saint Irene reveals the ethos of God's people, who not only forgive, but they even love those who harm and wrong them. The words of Joseph the All-Comely are well known: "I am of God" (Gen. 50:19). He said this to his brothers in order for them to understand that he did not cease loving them and he would not avenge them for what they did to him. In other words he was telling them: "Do not be afraid, for I am a man of God." They knew very well that a man of God does not hold grudges, does not avenge, but truly loves and forgives from the heart.

According to the narrative in the Old Testament book of Genesis, the brothers of Joseph hated him and sold him to traders in order to enslave him. God, however, who is just and a benefactor of those who love Him, delivered him and made him a regent "of all of Egypt." When, during a time of hunger and drought, his brothers went to Egypt to get some wheat, he did not refuse to help them. And later, when he revealed himself to them, they were afraid lest he would have his revenge on them and return their evil. But Joseph reassured them that he was a man of God. These words are beyond important, when one takes into account that the law of the Old Testament allowed for revenge.

Second, as a rule, parents love their children and care for their progress and prosperity. However, the love of parents towards their children is a natural love, and this love is possessed even by irrational animals. Thus, it is not something great and commendable and in no way is it virtuous. Love is imperfect and at a certain point it can cease to exist, or worse it can even turn into hatred. In order for natural love to become perfect love, which is selfless, parents must transform their passions. But this cannot take place without the Grace of God and their own personal struggle, which takes place through the way of life the Church teaches, namely prayer, asceticism and the sacramental life.

Authentic love is the fruit of the Holy Spirit, whom the faithful receive when they are anointed with Holy Myrrh immediately after their Baptism, which takes place in the name of the Holy Trinity by the Hierarch or Priest, who crosses the members of the body of the newly-baptized, beginning with the forehead, saying: "The seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit. Amen." Then the Holy Spirit enters their hearts, remains there and acts, as long as the newly-illumined live according to the will of God. Otherwise He whisks away, but returns with repentance.

Therefore, throughout our lives we must struggle to master our passions, to purify our hearts, in order for the Holy Spirit to reside and act within us. And when this is done, then natural love is transformed into perfect love. In the case of Governor Licinius we see natural love operating within him in his pattern of behavior towards his daughter, but in Saint Irene we see perfect love operating. We have the first to serve our self-interest and selfishness, otherwise it ceases to exist or changes into hatred. While the latter exists when someone is hated, persecuted, suffering, tortured, and their life is in danger. All the Martyrs, during the cruel and inhuman tortures they withstood, prayed with forbearance and love on behalf of their executioners.

Parents should understand that love does not eliminate freedom, and children must realize that relationships do not abolish courtesy and respect.

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "Μεγαλομάρτυς Εἰρήνη, 5 Μαΐου", April 2015. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.