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August 13, 2021

Synaxarion of Saint Irene, Empress of the Romans, Founder of Pantocrator Monastery in Constantinople

 On the same day[August 13], we commemorate the renowned and most blessed empress and founder of the revered Monastery of the Pantocrator Savior Christ, Irene, who was renamed as the Nun Xene on taking the holy and angelic schema.


The Pantocrator gave you a Monastery above,
Having built Him the same Monastery below.

It was necessary that this most great and supreme city of Constantinople should not just take pride in the beauty of things given over to corruption, and take delight and rejoice in tales of men of old who are renowned for their virtue. Rather, it was right for her to boast of and be embellished by the celebrated empress and founder of the Pantocrator Monastery. On the one hand, since the things of old had faded with time, and their beauty was extinguished, they no longer served as sources of delight to their beholders. Not even if they had undergone restoration would they have been sufficient to delight the eye; they still looked neglected. For such were the beauty and brightness of the buildings raised from their very foundations by the celebrated empress, with the consent and approval of the mighty emperor, in glorification and thanks to the Pantocrator our God and Savior Jesus Christ who glorified them with coronation, that the city was dignified by them, and by the rays that they emitted, they illumined and brightened the buildings that grown old and faded with time. On the other hand, the empress, who had acquired all the virtues from childhood and was a receptacle of all good things – this is why she was joined in marriage to the God-crowned and Purple-born emperor – showing herself to be a veritable ornament, not only to the offspring of the imperial Porphyra raised as emperors, in that she was reckoned to be, as indeed she was, the one who set the seal on all the empresses before her, as well as a root of all good qualities and archetypal mould for those who came after her; she was also an adornment to the Queen of Cities.

This celebrated empress, then, came from parents who were fortunate royals of the West; from the cradle, so to speak, like the noblest of plants, she showed the way that things would turn out, so that her progress in excellence belied her tender age. For virtue tends to reveal and proclaim those who pursue it, even if they are hidden away in a corner.

When a search for a beautiful and virtuous girl was conducted by the celebrated and pious imperial couple Alexios Komnenos and Irene, and they found this one brimming with excellent qualities, they joined her to their God-given offspring, the Purple-born emperor John; then everything was filled with joy and gladness.

Having borne him male children and as many females to a total of eight, she raised them in a royal and splendid manner, but reckoned the pleasures of life and even the royalty itself as nothing, whispering to herself the words of David, ‘What profit is there in my blood, when I go down to the pit?’ (Ps. 29:10 [30:9]). She did not desist from ministering to God, by her good intercessions with the imperial power, representing the causes of petitioners, and guiding them in every way.

But she also rejoiced in almsgiving, more than in receiving money. Before her coronation, she gave everything that came into her hands to the poor, and after it she became just as much a protector of orphans and widows, and she enriched monastic dwellings with money. How shall I tell of the rest? Her gentleness, her quietness, her humility, her compassion, her cheerfulness, her approachability, her placid nature, for she was never moved to anger, and neither did she malign or insult anyone. And if ever she ventured a smile, this too was done with modesty, for she was ever grieving and sorrowful in private, because the Psalter was ever on her lips. She was distinguished by continence, she delighted in the wasting of the flesh, and partaking of a lowly and simple diet, she lived an ascetic life.

Yet considering all this inadequate to the God-loving purpose that she nurtured, slowly and latterly, after receiving the imperial crown and being elevated to imperial power, she disregarded everything else, and setting at nought all necessary and urgent matters, she established from its very foundations the imperial monastery that is named after the Pantocrator Savior Christ our God.* She erected the beautiful churches that can be seen there now, hostels and old-age homes, all of which in beauty, situation and construction technique take first place among all previous buildings, both old and recent. In everything she was greatly assisted by the most worthy Nikephoros, her most trusted household man, truly a new Beseleel, He fittingly ordered the harmonious design of the buildings, driving the construction work with great energy, so that he neither allowed his eyes sufficient sleep, nor rest to his head.

And thus constructing and establishing the whole complex with his collaboration, she set it up as a delightful embellishment for the imperial city, rejoicing in the beauty of the successful result and giving thanks to God.

Now that she needed a greater helping hand, she found it. For on one occasion, taking her husband the emperor by the hand, and entering the lovely church of God the Pantocrator our Lord Jesus Christ, she suddenly threw herself down, pressing her head to the sacred floor. “Receive, O Lord, the church that God has built for you”, she exclaimed in tears, adding tears to tears and affirming that she would not get up if the thing that she desired did not receive fulfillment. As she washed the sacred floor with her tears, she heard the emperor promise what she wanted, to fulfill every one of her wishes, and to do all that was in his power and more, in every way, in the dedication of sacred vessels and in the donation of property, in order to contrive that this revered monastery should prevail over all others in moveable and immovable property and in annual revenues, just as our Lord and God the Pantocrator Jesus Christ, who is honored and revered therein, takes precedence over all things. Hearing this, she rose to her feet full of inexpressible joy and cheerfulness.

Sarcophagus in Hagia Sophia considered to be that of Empress Irene.
And so the celebrated empress, as if casting off a weight that had been oppressing her, was glad from that moment and rejoiced. Not long afterwards, when she was in the province of Bithynia, she departed to Christ Pantocrator for whom she longed. She was laid to rest in this monastery, which she had raised from its foundations. The promise that she had received from the pious emperor had been fulfilled and the imperial Pantocrator Monastery had been extended to take first place over all and among all others. And it was not long before the most pious and celebrated emperor John himself, laying aside the earthly empire, migrated to the Lord and King who is in heaven [+ 1143]. His body was laid to rest in the imperial Pantocrator Monastery that had been made splendid by him, to the glory of the Pantocrator Christ our true God, for to Him is due glory unto the ages of ages, Amen.


* The Monastery of Christ Pantocrator is located on the fourth hill of Constantinople overlooking the Golden Horn, east of the Church of the Holy Apostles and north of the Aqueduct of Valens. Built between 1118-1136, it was a large monastic complex with a hospital. It is possible that the nearby Şeyh Süleyman Mosque was once part of the complex, perhaps serving as its library. There are also several cisterns in the vicinity, including the prominent Unkapanı Cistern. At one time it held more than a dozen tombs of Roman emperors.