1. The Holy Great-Martyr Irene Irene lived in the Balkans during apostolic times in the town of Magedon. Her father Licinius was a lower-rank nobleman. Some think that she was a Slav. Irene was born a pagan of pagan parents. Penelope–for that was her pagan name- -learned about the Christian Faith from her teacher Appelianus. St. Timothy, the disciple of the Apostle Paul, baptized her and her court attendants, and provided her with the Epistles of the Apostle Paul to read. Refusing to marry, she angered her father, and he wanted to torture her. Instead, she converted her father to Christianity in a miraculous manner. Irene was subjected to various tortures by four kings, not including her father, but God spared her through His angels. King Sedechias buried her up to her neck in a ditch filled with snakes and scorpions, but an angel of God destroyed these venomous and repulsive creatures and preserved the holy virgin unharmed. Then this king tried to saw her in half, but the saw broke against her body as against a stone. After that the same king tied her to a wheel under a water mill and released the flow of water, hoping in this manner to drown her. But the water refused to flow, and stood still, and the virgin remained alive and well. King Sapor, the son of King Sedechias, shod her feet with nails, loaded a sack of sand upon her, harnessed her and ordered that she be led like an animal far outside the town. “Truly, I am as a beast before Thee, O Lord!” said the holy martyr, running bound behind her torturers. However, an angel of God shook the earth, and the earth opened up and swallowed her torturers. Having survived all her tortures, through which she converted a countless number of pagans to Christianity, Irene entered the town of Callinicus, where she preached the Christian Faith. The local king Numerian tried to kill her in this manner: he cast her into three flaming hot metal oxen, one after the other. But the virgin was saved and remained alive. Many saw this and came to believe. The Eparch Vavdonos took her to the town of Constantina, where he thought to kill her by placing her on red-hot grates. But that too did not harm St. Irene, and she brought many to the true Faith. Finally, Irene arrived in the town of Mesembria where she was slain by King Shapur, but God restored her to life. The king and many of the people, upon witnessing this, believed in Christ and were baptized. Thus, through her sufferings and miracles, St. Irene converted over one hundred thousand pagans to the Christian Faith. Finally she lay down in a coffin and ordered Appelianus to close it. After four days, when the coffin was opened, her body was not in it. Thus, God glorified forever the virgin and martyr Irene, who sacrificed all and endured all so that God might be glorified among men.*)

 *) Archbishop Philaret of Chernigov believed that St. Irene was of Serbian

descent. See his Lives of the Saints.

  1. Saint Martin And Saint Heraclius Martin and Heraclius were both Slavs. They were persecuted by the Arian heretics in Illyria. Sent into exile, these two knights of Orthodoxy completed their earthly lives in the fourth century and took up their habitation with the Lord.

Hymn Of Praise Saint Irene Penelope, daughter of the king, was at the balcony, When three birds in a row quickly flew to her. The first a dove, white as milk, with an olive branch; After that an eagle, carrying a wreath of flowers in its bony beak; Finally, a raven, carrying a fierce viper, swooped down and entered. Penelope asked the servants if they knew what this meant. The servants were silent; no one knew; all were struck with amazement. Appelianus the elder said: “We are all mortal men, But hearken to me, Penelope, hearken, beautiful child. The Spirit of God, through these signs, clearly prophesies to you: The dove signifies your serenity; ‘Irene’ you will be called; The olive branch signifies the grace of God upon you; The eagle is a conqueror–you shall conquer the passions; The flowery wreath signifies glory and heavenly sweetness; The raven with a serpent signifies the demon with his maliciousness, But by your endurance you will overcome him.” Irene heard all this, and her heart quivered. And she resolved to give herself wholly to the saving Faith. She carried out what she decided, and God helped her. Through her holy prayers, O God, save even us.

Reflection Prayer consisting of words alone does not help if the heart does not participate in prayer. God hears only a fervent prayer. Once Abba Zoilus of the Thebaid was returning from Mount Sinai and met a monk who complained to him that they were suffering greatly from drought in the monastery. Zoilus said to him: “Why don’t you pray and implore God?” The monk replied: “We have prayed and have implored, but there is no rain.” To this Zoilus replied: “It is evident that you are not praying fervently. Do you want to be convinced that this is so?” Having said this, the elder raised his hands to heaven and prayed. Abundant rain fell to the earth. Seeing this, the astonished monk fell to the ground and bowed before the elder, but the elder, fearing the glory of men, quickly fled. The Lord Himself said: Ask and it shall be given you (Luke 11:9). But a mouth full of prayer is to no purpose if the heart is empty. God does not stand and listen to the mouth but to the heart. Let the heart be filled with prayer, even though the mouth might be silent. God will hear and will receive the prayer. For God only listens to a fervent prayer.

Contemplation Contemplate the ascended Lord Jesus:

  1. How, by His Ascension, He signified the triumphant completion of His entire work on earth in the course of some thirty-three years;
  2. How, by His Ascension, He teaches us that we should direct all of our aspirations toward heaven and not toward earth.

Homily on the divine marriage of the souls of men “Turn, O backsliding children, says the Lord; for I am married to you” (Jeremiah 3:14). The soul of man is the bride, and the Living and All-powerful God is the bridegroom of the soul of man. The Lord clothes His bride, the soul, in light and nourishes it with His grace. And the soul, whose groom is God, gives birth to many good children in the form of many beautiful works of virtue. The soul, on its own, cannot give birth to even one virtuous work. Virtuous works are born only of the soul made fertile by God. However, the soul that is made fertile by the world either remains barren or produces sin and vice. That is why the Lord says to men: “I am married to you.” If a human soul knew to Whom it is betrothed and with Whom it is wed, it would not stray and deaden itself in adultery and turn to dust. God is a faithful Groom of the human soul. He never betrays His bride, the soul. His love toward the soul never cools as long as the soul does not turn away from Him and commit adultery. But even then God does not abandon the soul immediately, but pursues it and returns it from the path of destruction. Turn, the Lord then says to the souls of men. “Repent and I will forgive you. Return and I will receive you.” Penitents can testify to how great the mercy of God is. They can confirm how patient the love of God is toward sinners, even to the last hour. God is faithful in His love, and He is not swift to seek vengeance on the adulterous soul. He constantly tries to restore the sense of shame that has been lost to the adulterous soul because of sin. Shame produces repentance, repentance leads to restoration, and restoration leads to the original love and fidelity. O Lord, All-powerful, help us, that from Thine eternal love our souls may produce good and abundant fruit.

To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.