Way Of The Orthodox
Life Of The Saint, Our Holy Mother Irene
Life and Conduct of Our Holy Mother Irene Abbess of the Convent of Chrysobalanton
1. The Triumph of Orthodoxy
The persecution of the venerators of the image of Christ had now come to an end. Overcome by the will of Him that scorneth the scorners and defeated, the senseless rush of the Iconoclasts' rabid arrogance' had been abhorred, expelled, and destroyed. Like smoke, its zeal, great but not according to knowledge, had been dispelled. For with the end of the life of Theophilos, the gold-loving and Christ-hating, this impiety too had been brought to an end; and through his destruction this evil dogma too had been destroyed, like the trailing tail, as it were, of a dragon. The Empress Theodora, who had been married to the Emperor although she was faithful to God, succeeded to his throne but not to his impiety. Already at the very beginning she gave mature and perfect life to the piety with which she in her fear of God had been pregnant, opening the way for all to revere and venerate the undefiled icons safely and candidly. God's Church regained her adornment, the God-pleasing representations on icons, which were painted and venerated on walls and panels, in all kinds of material, bronze, silver, and gold.
In time she was second to the blessed Empress Irene?the latter had at an earlier date shown the same degree of piety in much the same situation, convening the great Seventh Synod in the metropolis of Nicaea and bridling all opposition of the Iconoclasts with the unanimity of the many holy fathers gathered there, men who set down in writing the articles of the Orthodox doctrine and confession whereby the mouth of them that speak lies was stopped?, but she was not second to her in faith, zeal, and earnestness. For such traces of this impiety as still remained in evil people she assigned to complete abolition and silence with the help of the fathers whom she in her turn had summoned, men who bore in their bodies the marks of Christ for the sake of His image. Then, to confirm the piety she ordained with wise forethought that praiseworthy feast to endure as long as all time, that celebration which we perform with a populous procession on the Sunday of the first week of Lent, and which to this day we call and know as the 'Feast of Orthodoxy'. We then assemble in the Great Church named alter the Wisdom of God, solemnizing the re-establishment of the holy icons and annually thanking God for the complete destruction of the Iconoclasts. For it was not for a short time that the irreverence of the holy icons had held sway, but for a very long period. To begin with, its tyranny had lasted for fifty-seven entire years, later for another thirty, kindled by the Evil One's breath, and great thanks were due to the Lord, slow to wrath but swift to help. He that creates all things and changes them in due season, as He knows in the depth of His dispensing wisdom.
2. The Emperor Theophilos Redeemed
But behold the abundant virtue of a woman beloved by God! She did not look to her own good only, nor was she content with the glory she had brought on herself by saying hold on eternal life through her faith and through the great triumph of Orthodoxy; no, unless she could save her husband from the eternal condemnation that awaits the impious, she neither desired, it was thought, her own salvation. Now what did she do? Assembling all the holy fathers, in particular those who had suffered for the reverence of the holy icons and still bore wounds and bruises, the Empress without reserve fell at their feet. She wetted her cheeks with tears, she urged them to compassion, she beseeched them to pray and supplicate our compassionate and benevolent Lord to spare the wretched soul of her husband and in His goodness liberate him from the eternal punishment, forgiving him, for the sake of their intercession, his severe trespass. While the supplication was being performed over several days, with vigils, prayers and tears, the holy fathers decided that the names of all those heretics who had been champions and leaders of the impiety, together with the name of the like-minded Theophilos, should be inscribed in a document to be sealed and deposited on the holy altar; and this was done.
The days of propitiation went by. On the following day, when they opened the document?O Christ, our King, numerous are Thy mercies! Ineffable Thy love!?, they found that the name of Theophilos had alone been wiped out from the list of heretics ' Thus was fulfilled the statement of the Apostle that says, 'What knowest thou, O, Wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? Surely rely, the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much. Surely, God is glorified in the assembly of the saints.'
3. The Bride-Show Irene Meets St Ioannikios
As all the Empress' designs had succeeded in accordance with her wishes?for all things work together for good to them that love God?. she decided to bring home a bride for her son Michael, whom she held as heir to the Empire. The girl should belong to the illustrious and outstanding and to a pious family who took pride in the Orthodox faith, she should excel in moral beauty and spiritual nobility, and be distinguished by corporeal fairness so as to surpass all girls of her age. A proclamation about this was sent throughout all the land that was subject to the Empire of the Romans.
People who reared such girls prepared them and had them escorted from their various lands to the Imperial City. Thus the admirable Irene, whose mode of life this writing will narrate from the beginning, a woman renowned for moral grace and corporeal beauty alike, was given a most rich and splendid outfit by her parents, who sent her to Constantinople from Cappadocia whence she drew her origin. Along with her they sent her sister, who was later married to the Caesar Bardas, the maternal uncle of the Emperor Michael, a man otherwise worth nothing, all consumed by envy and rejoicing in robberies and murders.
In the course of the journey the girls and their escort had to pass through Mysia near the spurs of Mount Olympos. The reverend virgin Irene had heard what was told about the great Ioannikios, for instance that he, in addition to his other virtues, would not always be visible to all who wished it, but only appeared, by divine dispensation, to those who were worthy of it. Giving a digression priority to the main track, she left nothing unspoken nor undone to persuade her escort to let her climb up to him and, if the Lord would permit, see him, talk with him, and be blessed with his efficacious prayers. Finally they were persuaded and led her up to the holy man.
Seeing her approach from a distance, he foresaw with the divining endowment of his soul what course her life would take and said to her even before she was near him, 'Welcome, Irene, servant of God! Hasten, my child, with joy to the Imperial City, hasten! The Convent of Chrysobalanton needs you to shepherd her virgins!' When she heard her name she was , all amazed and threw herself to the ground before his feet, awaiting a prayer and a blessing from him. She cared little about the rest of his words?'What has Chrysobalanton to do with me?', she thought?, it was only the calling of her name that startled her, as she considered how he had addressed by name one whom he had never seen nor heard about. The holy man had her stand up, supported her with spiritual words, gave her provisions of prayers and blessings, and let her depart in peace to accomplish the journey that lay before her.
When they arrived in the city, all those of her kin who lived there or were staying there for some important business went out to meet her. They both wished to see with their own eyes a woman whom they had long desired to behold, and held her in respect as the probable fiance of the Emperor. As holders of patrician dignity they belonged to the council and presidency of the Senate and had great influence with the Emperors; they were called the Goubers, people admired for wealth and glory and renowned for their virtue.
But assuredly the Lover of good souls was to be victorious, the King of kings. He who calls those things which be not as though they were and appoints those things which have not yet happened as though they already had. For a woman had anticipated Irene in being married to the Emperor, certainly because of God's wise dispensation, that He might bring His virgin Irene to His own chamber. When this reached the ears of the wonderful Irene, it filled her soul with joy and she offered great thanks to God. Many among the magnates and the foremost of the city tried to induce her to marry because of her beauty and the prominence of her family. But she did not endure even to listen to this, no, with all her heart and soul she desired to become the bride of Christ and always to satisfy Him alone.
4. Irene Enters Religion at Chrysobalanton
Disdaining all things of this life and shaking off the desire for earthly goods she daily searched and made inquiries for a dwelling-place in which to pursue her God-pleasing contemplative life, a place secluded from all kinds of noise and disturbances. Making thorough search all over the city, at last she recalled the prediction spoken to her by the great Ioannikios. At once she abandoned all else and speedily sent men to search for the Convent of Chrysobalanton. When she learned that it was situated in a beautiful part of the city, with temperate air, lying far from market places and other annoyances, and had been recently turned into a nunnery?for the tyranny of the Iconoclasts had banished the monks from the city as a pollution because of the black colour of their sacred habit, and left many of the monasteries devoid of their inhabitants who had been scattered in various directions, some of the monks having left this life with the lapse of time, others wandering far off and living in exile without hope of return?, when she heard this, she fell great joy. The necklaces and jewels she wore, and all other things that she kept as imperial gifts ever since she had been liberally received by the Empress, all these she willingly either distributed to the poor and to her own servants or brought to the convent as an offering to God. Then she had her hair shorn, and with it was shorn, too, all her mundane and earthly concern. She also changed her dress; arraying herself in a ragged hair-shirt, as she wished to wear out that tender and delicate body to have a soul that was renewed and flourished and approached God to the same extent as the body perished.
5. The Beginning of Irene's Ascesis
Thus one could see that Irene, joyfully shouldering the voluntary yoke of Christ, was not only able bin also always prepared to obey God in all, so that in her was carried out the word, 'Christ's yoke is easy and His burden is light for those who bear it thankfully'. She was wholly unable to raise contradictions. She showed absolutely no hesitation before any orders given to her. There was in her an unfading wakefulness, an incessant compunction, and a spiritual joy so deep that with a cheerful countenance she always showed forth her glad heart, as the Scripture says.
She received discerning stimulation and encouragement to good deeds from the abbess and was mystically overshadowed and taught beneficial things by God's grace. 'For without me', says the Lord, 'ye can do nothing. He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit'. And indeed she did bear fruit like good and fertile earth receiving the divine seed purified from all material attachment and affection. For a soul that loves God and is vested in a virginal body will soon find divine grace flying to her and becoming all to her. Her modesty and humility towards the sisterhood were a wonder not only to the abbess but to all who heard of it, for she regarded all the sisters as a servant regards queens, performing the meanest services for each of them.
She was so devoted to the Divine Scriptures and so engrossed by the Lives of the Fathers, collecting everything good and useful, that she seemed a mouthpiece of the God-inspired words. Once she read the Life of St. Arsenios and learnt about his standing exercises: he had used to stand with his hands extended to the east, beginning at sunset, and to cease from standing when the rising sun shed light on his face. Then she began to covet equality with that brave man in his angelic rather than human attendance on God. This she confided to the abbess who at first hesitated to give her consent, raising objections to an enterprise of such dimensions. But as she considered how Irene beseeched her still more and asked for her prayers as support in the undertaking, she yielded and consented, taking confidence in the humbleness of Irene's mind and taking into account that her zeal would not lack the help of God.
She ran to her exercises with joy as if to recline and rest her body, and that though she had not pursued her ascetic struggle for more than a year. She began her standing exercise little by little, but shortly, as divine grace joined her from on high, she reached so far in ascetic mastership that with all eagerness she endured standing for whole nights and whole days, stretching her hands to heaven. Sometimes her standing began when the sun was setting and ended the following evening, sometimes she began to stand when the sun rose, awaiting the following sunrise. This was a wonder to the abbess whom alone, second to God who sees in secret, she made privy to her activities. When she saw Irene approach her, with a smile and a blush on her face, talking to her with calm and downcast eyes and in gentle speech, then from these signs she concluded about the measure of her standing exercises.
6. Irene Tempted by the Devil
Seeing her prosecute the ascetic struggle in this way for three years, the Evil One was grieved, distressed, and vexed. He was unable to make her an easy prey for his own traps, because From her he could get nothing of what he gets in his war against us. Money and luxury and glory she shunned so much that she did not own more than one frock and one cloak. Her food was a minimal amount of bread and water, just enough to live off, sometimes with some vegetables, and that in the evening. Prestige she so disdained that she was not ashamed even to clean the dirt from the forecourts of the convent. Yet in his usual envy the Devil began to instill evil thoughts in her, reminding her of her former glory and the prominence of her family, of her wealth and abundance of delights, and then to make her yield to the unwholesome softness of pleasure. But with her pure spiritual eye she perceived this to be part of the Evil One's plot and immediately revealed all these thoughts to her guide and abbess. Finding relief from the attack through her confession, she persevered in her struggle as before.
One night, when she was reading her usual prayers to God, the adversary of our souls, in the guise of an ugly black man, took his stand at some distance from her. He insulted and threatened her arrogantly, calling her a doer of witchcraft and magic, and tried to frighten her with his insolence. Finally he said, 'So you rise against me? Wait a little and you will certainly learn who I am and what my power is!' He was about to utter still more words, but when he saw her extend her right hand and make the sign of the cross against him, he fled.
The following day even more violent temptations than before assailed her, terribly agitating and bewildering her and reducing her to helplessness. Yet she kept reading continuously in the Divine Scriptures, calling to mind the word of the Fathers that says, 'None among men is able to wage war against the Evil One unless he seeks refuge in the shelter of the Lord and God of hosts, and then, with the faith he has in him, strikes down and overthrows the fiend'. Therefore she took refuge in God, bringing forward as intercessors the all blameless Mother of God and the Lord Jesus Christ. Michael, the archistratege of the Lord of hosts, and Gabriel that stands in the presence of God, he who has given his name to the chapel of the convent. Invoking all the heavenly hosts and all the saints she composed the following prayer: 'All-holy Trinity, omnipotent, magnipotent! Through the intercession of the Mother of God, through the mediation of Michael the archistratege, of Gabriel the archangel, of all the heavenly hosts and all saints, help your servant. Turn unto me and have mercy upon me, and deliver me from the plotting of the fiend.' Now stretching her hands towards heaven, now throwing herself to the ground, she wetted the floor with tears for whole nights and whole days, and did not cease to pray until she perceived a divine irradiation overshadowing her soul from on high and chasing away the evil thoughts.
Seeing her persevere in invocation and prayer, the Lord, who has respect unto the lowly and tries our faith and devotion to Him, sent down the Spirit's grace to her abundantly and made her in future inaccessible to all the Evil One's attacks, but also terrifying to the demons. No longer did she live her own life, but had Christ living in her, all possessed by God, all illumined, or rather illumining, with the power to guide the souls of many to the light of truth, taking forth, us God's mouth, the precious from the vile. Therefore the rumour about her spread widely among her kin and among wives and daughters of senators who approached her and learned the means of salvation. Many of them began to despise worldly vanity and change their lives so as to be pleasing to God, subordinating themselves to her as their counsellor and guide.
7. Irene Succeeding the Dead Abbess
As the prophecies that the blessed Ioannikios had spoken to her were not to come to naught, nay, were to be fulfilled, the end of life was drawing near for the abbess of the convent. All her spiritual daughters bewailed their orphanhood, but the lament of Irene by far exceeded that of the other women. No other of them possessed such contrition and humility of heart as she, and from such things the deepest love, the most purely flowing tears will spring for those whose conscience is clear. Surrounding the bed which she lay breathing her last, they wiped her clean and embraced her and wetted her with tears, some taking care of her hands, others her feet, sharing the parts of her body between themselves. For the abbess had every kind of virtue in abundance, meekness being her characteristic trait. When they finally despaired of her life, they gently asked her, lamenting, 'What will become of us when you leave us? Where shall we find your equal to succeed you as abbess, someone who will love us with deeper care than a mother, being good and meek as you, and hear the burdens of each of us and fulfil the law of Christ amongst us as you have done?' As they had said this to her wailing for a long time and striving, had it been possible, to prevent her departure, they heard her speak with a thin and very faint voice, perceived only by those who had the keenest ears, ' Why do you disquiet my soul with your crying? In fact, my children, you already possess your future good shepherd. Believe me, she is as superior to me as I am to you owing to my age, and the spirit of God resteth upon her. If you obey my advice not to look for anyone else?, it is your sister Irene I mean, the daughter of light, the lamb of Jesus, the treasury of gifts of the Comforter.' After these words she finally said, 'Glory to Thy mercy, O Lord', and entrusted her spirit to the hands of holy angels.
When they had performed for her all the due rites of burial and interred her with other holy corpses, they turned their minds to the concern about their future abbess. Gathering together in the Church of the Archangel Gabriel, which the narrative has shown to be a chapel at the convent, all looked unanimously to the admirable Irene. To her they said nothing at all about the matter, suspecting that she might escape from the convent without their notice. They knew the modesty of her mind: she would not accept the leadership without Providence from on high urging her to it even against her will.
After praying in the church, they took their way to the patriarch to obtain through him their worthy guide from God. At the helm of the see of Constantinople was Methodios, a man excellent in all respects, the confessor who had suffered hard from the Iconoclasts, when emperors were fighting for impiety and waged war against piety. He could pride himself upon many stigmata and dangers undergone for the reverence of the immaculate icons. Therefore he was not only a destroyer of the heresy and a competent champion of Orthodoxy, but also a miracle-worker, filled with Holy Spirit, and a visionary who accurately divined God's decisions.
As they took the road, Irene made excuses and would not follow them. Only with difficulty they persuaded her to go with them and they arrived at the patriarchate. When the great Methodios had been notified, as the custom is, all the sisters went in to him together. Having prostrated themselves in the usual way, they lay awaiting his blessing. He blessed them and exhorted them to rise, and then asked to be informed about whom they had chosen to lead them. 'Your Grace', they answered, 'as yet we have not designated anyone among us. We wish to refer the whole question to God and the Spirit of God which dwells in you, and therefore approach your Holiness.' 'I know', said the God-bearing man, 'that you all elect the venerable Irene. That is a good and God-pleasing choice. Thanks be to God that He has not hidden her virtues from me.' When they heard this they could not even answer from the astonishment and awe they felt. Throwing themselves at his feet they said merely, 'Surely God is in you. By Him you have been guided, you holy man of God!' Without delay the patriarch rose from his throne at once and asked for a censer. Burning incense and praising God he initiated a hymn befitting the occasion. Then he first ordained Irene deaconess of the Great Church?for through the Sprit in him he knew her purity?, and thereafter consecrated her with the seal of hegumenate. He spoke many words to her about leadership, but still more to the other nuns about faith and obedience, reminding them of the punishments and again of the good things that beyond await those who lead a virtuous or a vicious life here. After a prayer for concord and love among them he let them depart in peace.
8. Irene Admonishing Herself and the Nuns
Having assumed the leadership of the convent of Chrysobalanton in accordance with divine Providence, Irene called to mind the prediction long ago spoken to her by the great Ioannikios. Realizing what had been dispensed by God's ineffable wisdom, she could not hold her tears back throughout the journey, stupefied at the wonderful works of God and now descending still more into the depth of humility, deeming herself unworthy even of the earth. For when the God-bearing Methodios imposed his hands on her, divine grace, one may presume, flowed down upon her soul and helped to prepare her for the utmost modesty. Wondering at this the sisters begged her not to be so worried and distressed about being their abbess. 'Look', they said, wholly ignorant of the sorrows she bore in her mind, 'we are all ready for every kind of obedience towards you, and you will meet with no obstruction from us. No, with God's will our obedience will make all your ways easy.'
When they had reached the convent, spoken the usual thanks to God the Protector and partaken of a meal at a common table, she took up residence in the cell designated for the abbess. Closing the door she prayed to Him which seeth in secret, beseeching God to assist her in leading the sisters, and wetting the floor with tears she begged that powerful help be sent down to her abundantly from on high, saying, 'Thou art the good shepherd. Thou saidst to the disciples, One is your Master, even Christ. Thou art the door of the sheep which leads them to eternal salvation. Thou art both the Lord and the Master. And if Thou art our guide, help Thy servant and this little flock of Thine protect us from the grasp of the perfidious spiritual wolf. Thou knowest our infirmity: we cannot perform anything whatsoever unless they help is bestowed upon us.'
After a protracted prayer and a modest rest she spoke the following words to herself: 'Do you realize, humble Irene, what a burden Christ has laid on your shoulders? You have been entrusted with souls, and for the sake of souls God even became man and shed His blood. As you have heard, not even the whole world outweighs the price of a single soul. Now, in the day of judgment everyone shall give account for an idle word. If this is so, can you be ignorant of the price for a soul that is lost, to be paid by him who has undertaken to care for her but fails to do all in his power to save her? You must by all means be utterly wakeful in your prayers and persevere in your fasting and bear the infirmities of the sisters, enduring all bravely and gently. Take heed to yourself lest one of your faults, although escaping yourself, become the cause of destruction for anyone of the sisters, and the word of Christ be fulfilled upon you that says, "If the blind lead the blind both shall, fall into the ditch".'
Such were the words she spoke to herself, thereby arousing her soul and provoking it to a still harder training. The mode of life and conduct she had chosen was wholly angelic: she performed fasts of many days' duration and standing exercises lasting whole nights; she accomplished numberless genuflections; she slept on the Hour, using the bed less as a source of rest than of discomfort. By these means she strove to attract God's benevolence and obtain the sagacity dispensed by Him to teach her and guide her mystically into all truth.
Similarly the wise woman taught the sisters, saying, 'I know, dear devotees to God, that it is by no means reasonable that my worthless person should be your leader in a teacher's position and teach you, for I am convinced that you are taught by God. But since God's judgments surely are unsearchable and His versatile wisdom, therefore, has led me here, humble though I am, I request that you attend to me not as a teacher but is a counsellor and sister for the sake of the necessity that is laid upon me. "Yea, woe is unto me", as the divine Apostle says, if I do not give you profitable advice. Endure the words I speak in my humility: they are brought to you in love. For unless we lead this ascetic life, to which we have submitted ourselves voluntarily, in accordance with the laws laid down for it, we shall have no profit even from faith itself. Yes, faith without works is dead.
We have heard of a kingdom of heaven, an eternal and endless life, and an enjoyment of undefiled and everlasting good things. We have come to belief in Jesus our God and Lord who brought these good news and gave these promises: in Him we do believe. Having come to belief in the great good things that were promised, we have left the pleasures of this world as being transient, yielding only petty enjoyment and worthless at that, not only being unstable but even presenting a considerable obstacle for us in reaching the heavenly world. Thus, if we fall short of this hereafter, we are of all people most miserable. And we will fail herein and all this toil will be in vain for us unless we live according to the laws of Christ. The Lord said, 'No man can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will hold to the one and despise the other.' Being one, the soul cannot be divided into two, nor can the same soul simultaneously enjoy herself and restrain herself, both live in poverty and be rich, both seek the Lord's humility and win the futile glory of men.
We. then, have forsaken all and followed Him. To follow Him will be of no avail to us if we do so merely corporeally, but only if our soul and our whole inner being follow Him too. Yes, we must dispel all desire and attachment to this life from our souls, lest we, outwardly appearing to have fled this world, be inwardly in the very middle of the world, longing to be honoured by men, to adorn ourselves with bright-coloured and precious clothes and delight therein, to lie down on high, soft, and precious beds, to fill ourselves by measureless gluttony and wine-drinking, doing harm to the soul (for doing harm is anything that exceeds the need); and to indulge in those other worldly things to which we have once for all bid farewell before God and the holy angels. No, having food and raiment, we should, as is written, be therewith content.
Let it be our work and our hard struggle to acquire such virtues as will save us. namely, purity and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord but shall hear, "Away with the ungodly one lest he behold the majesty of the Lord!"
Humility, for whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased, as the Lord said, and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted. Continuous contrition, because blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Yes, it belongs to those who have realized their own weakness, not to those rich in the presumption and imagination of the vanity of their mind. Further, freedom from passion, for whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. "Without a cause" is anything that does not take place through God. For except our righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees (says Holy Writ), we shall not be able to enter into the kingdom of heaven. What "exceeds their righteousness" is these virtues, for from those men such things were not demanded: purity is above nature, above nature is also freedom from passion. But when He came who is above nature, being both God and man. He save these things above nature to those who believe in Him. They are given, however, only to those who pray for them, and even to them not when in doubt of the heart; for a double minded man is unstable in all his ways.
The acquisition of these things does not depend on ourselves. For this reason we have been commanded to hate the world and the things that are in the world, so that, firstly, we may not henceforth be at enmity with God (for the love of the world is enmity with Christ), but rather obtain His love and benevolence; and that, secondly, we may fast, watch, pray, distribute our goods among the poor and beseech the Lord with tears to regard our low estate and grant us these virtues. Yes, a purified soul will see God as she is seen by Him, and become an abode of divine goodness. As Holy Writ says, "Blessed are the pure in hours, for they shall see God.'' Not ignorant of whence she has her purity, that soul does not glory as if she had not received it, but is humble because she has received it, and is always contrite and full of faith and mercy. Shown mercy by God she shows mercy to all and is lovingly compassionate to all. Thus she rests free from passion, an heir of both the earthly and the celestial, as having nothing, and yet possessing all things. Such a soul has angels of God as guardians and servants, who show her respect and honour her and care for her. Therefore I exhort you all and beseech you, embracing your feet, let us not tire in our prayers to the Lord until He grants us these heavenly and perfect gifts of His and implants them in our souls, inalienable in a way we do not know, not for our righteousnesses but for His name, for His mercy.'
These and similar things the all-wise Irene unceasingly taught her spiritual children with motherly love. Casting her seed into good ground and seeing it sprout and grow and yield fruit, she rejoiced and gave thanks to God.
9. The Gift of Second Sight
Once a strange and awe-inspiring thought came to her mind, clearly testifying to her faith in God. She said to herself, 'If the Lord would grant me the gift of knowing by second sight those things which are done in secret by my sisters, I should try to set aright those who fall and stimulate those who are successful to run the race of virtue even more vigorously.' With these thoughts she immediately devoted her whole self to prayer, delivering with many tears and genuflections an intense supplication to God about her idea. She was not ignorant how great a gift this was, being second in order among the things distributed by the Spirit to the edifying of the church after the measure of faith, according to the word of the Apostle: 'And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets.' Swiftly, then. He hearkened to her who says, 'Thou shalt cry, and I will say. Here I am.' For there appeared from heaven an angel of God, clad in a white garment and effulgent of appearance. Taking his stand before her he filled her with an unfathomable joy. Not only did he not frighten her with his marvellous figure, but even spoke gently to her and said, 'Hail, faithful servant of God! Behold, in accordance with your prayer the Lord has sent me to serve you for them who shall be heirs of salvation through you. I will be with you always, clearly showing you, day by day, those things which are done in secret.' And with these words he disappeared from her sight. Prostrating herself on the floor, striving to cleave to it, she sent up thanks to God, and from that day on God's angel did not cease to appear and reveal to her acts committed secretly not only by the sisters but by anyone.
After the morning doxology she took a short rest in solitude and dozed for a while according to her habit (for her standing prayer lasted all night). Then she went into the diaconicon of the church. Calling each of the sisters in to her, naming their names and having them sit down beside her, she gently made intimations about obscure and secret things. Skilfully hinting at their souls' emotions and thoughts and pricking their conscience, she provoked them to confess their transgressions and repent, and exacted promises of complete improvement of such faults. This made the sisters beside themselves for amazement. No longer did they merely pay heed to her as before but confessed and proclaimed that Irene was superior to human beings.
10. Admonitions to Visitors
Thereafter a mighty rumour about her spread to the ears of all, and the whole city gathered before her, desiring to see her venerable face, hear a word from her, and enjoy her prayers. To all comers fulfilling the law of love, she eagerly revealed in her conversations with them what they bore in their souls and urged them on to repentance and conversion to God's commands, expounding the vanity of life, the inescapability of justice, the terror of Gehenna and the enjoyment of the good, saying, 'Unless we find redemption through repentance for our faults and are purified from our sins here, then, as there is no room for confession and repentance after our departure, so there will be no escape from the punishment and retaliation that await those who sin.'
She exhorted them most of all to ret rain from impurity, greed, and luxury. 'Therewith', she said, 'the Evil One will easily capture, as with strong nets, those who are harassed by life. You must be careful', she continued, 'to the best of your ability about mercy and moderation and self-control, and always show repentance for transgressions made, for numerous are our offences every day.' You must also train the tongue not to lend itself to presumptuous and reviling speech. For whosoever shall say to his brother "Thou fool!" shall be in danger of hell fire, as we have heard, and with what judgment we judge we shall be judged. Sin committed with the tongue is both easy and severe, for whereas other kinds of sin are not readily accessible, sinning with the tongue is ready to hand. Oaths you must avoid completely and not hold God's name up to ridicule everywhere and on the most extravagant and petty pretexts, the name that even angels tremble to mention; such is contempt of God. And since whoso despiseth a thing shall be despised thereby, what shall he suffer who is despised by God? A fire awaits to try us and to distinguish the righteous from the wicked. Let us show reverence and fear of God, and let us not disregard our own salvation. From non-existence He has promoted us to existence in order that we become God's portion and lot, not a portion of the Devil for whom the everlasting fire is prepared, to be thrown with him into that insupportable and unextinguishable flame and be burnt for ever. Sinning belongs to our natural weakness, whereas it is a work of God's love to show mercy and forgiveness. But this is for those who understand their own great nothingness and who confess it before Him and with tears beg for forgiveness of their sins.' Taught and admonished with these and similar words, many among her visitors, senators as well as people with other positions in this life, and also women and girls who took pride in the prominence of their families, began to take heed to themselves and to walk with all readiness of mind the way which leadeth unto life, speaking about Irene everywhere and admiring her.
11. Irene Attacked by Demons
But she did not cease from her thanksgiving to God nor relax from her night-longstanding. Once. when she had begun her exercise about sunset, raising her holy hands to heaven, as was her wont, a horde of demons suddenly appeared before her?it was about midnight?and tried with inarticulate shouts and agitated cries to shake her so as to prevent her immobile standing. One of them, being more evil as well as more insolent than the others, seemed to approach her and sneer at her, shouting such words as mimes use to utter. 'Irene is made of wood', he said, 'she is carried by wooden legs', and he spoke still other nonsense. Again he changed his tone and lamented, 'How long will you oppress our race? How long will you lash us with your protracted prayers? How long will you burn us? How long shall we have to endure you? We have enough of the distress that you cause us.'
Then also the rest of them seemed to be afflicted and give vent to loud lamentation, slapping their cheeks as if a great calamity had befallen them. But they made no progress towards the goal which they strived for, whereas Irene, as if caught up to heaven, had her whole mind there with God, standing wholly unshaken and undaunted. Then the demon stretched out his hand and kindled a stick against the lamp-wick.3 He dropped it around the neck of the holy woman, and it burnt up as if fanned, violently inflaming her whole hood along with the scapular and the shift, and began even to lick her flesh. It went over her, scorching her shoulders, her breast, her spine, her kidneys, and her flanks. As it spread, the fire would soon have encircled her body, had not one of the sisters, who was awake for the nocturnal prayers, smelled the smoke from her flesh and left her cell in fear, thinking, 'In what part of the convent can the fire be?' Tracking the scent she followed the odour to the cell of the abbess and stopped there. Looking in and seeing that it was filled with smoke and steam she only just managed to fling the door open and entered. She found?a terrible sight!?Irene all in flames but standing immobile and unwavering and unconquered, paying no heed whatever to the fire.
As the sister, striving only to quench the flame and remove her teacher from the fire, began to agitate and shake her, extinguishing the fire and putting out the flame, at last she lowered her hands from their extended position and remarked, 'Why did you do this, my child? Why did you deprive roe of those great good things through your untimely kindness?4 We ought to savour not the things that be of men, but those that be of God. Behold, before my eyes there appeared an angel of God twining me a wreath of flowers that eye hath not seen not ear heard, and he already kept his hand extended to put it on my head. But because of your concern he left me and went away with his wreath. Why, my child, did you render me an act of consideration worse than ingratitude? I hate a gift that causes me a loss.' When the disciple heard this she began, tears falling from her eyes. With her fingers to pull away the Saint's clothes which, still glowing, stuck to her flesh. And a strange fragrance was exhaled from them, incomparably more fragrant than any perfume and precious scents, which filled the whole convent, for many days sufficing even for passersby to delight in. But as the Saint did not possess another garment but the one that the flame had consumed together with her precious flesh, the laudable disciple went away, and bringing a garment of her own dressed her spiritual mother. For it was also a part of her virtues not to possess a second dress, but once a year at Easter, on the great Holy Thursday, to leave off the one she had been wearing all the year and don a new one, handing the old garment over to some poor woman.
12. The Murders of the Caesar Bardas and the Emperor Michael Predicted
After a few days, when her burnt flesh had been cured by the Healer of souls and bodies, she adhered to her former practices. But the gift of prophecy grew ever stronger in her, illumining her so as to let her foresee future events. Once when the eunuch Cyril had come to her, being an intimate and loyal servant of her sister?the above narrative has shown her eventually to have become the wife of the Caesar Bardas?, she took him aside and informed through him her sister, saying, 'Beware and take care of yourself. By God's permission and inscrutable decisions, such as He is wont to take, the Caesar, your husband and my brother-in-law, will shortly fall foul of a plot and be killed by the plotter. Before long also his nephew, the Emperor Michael himself, will suffer the same fate because of his impious and unlawful deeds: jeering at the divine he will be jeered at. But you must beware of making this known to anyone and of failing to prevent anyone among your kin from intervening against the man who shall seize the sceptre of the Empire. Even if the man will be guilty of murder, he is adorned with pious and imperial superiority, and therefore God is pleased with him and the enemy shall not outwit him.' But she, knowing that her sister's predictions were trustworthy and indisputable, and overcome by love for her husband, revealed to him all that she had been told. He however, being proud and full of madness, did not understand, foolish as he was, to seek refuge with God and with help from on high to avoid the danger that lay before him, as in the saying of Jeremiah, 'If he turn from his evil, I will repent of the evil that thought to do unto him.' No, he only persisted in seeking to learn the name of the man who was to assume the imperial power. But he had none to tell him, for who can disannul what the holy God has purposed? As again and again he sent messengers to the holy woman to ask about this, he appeared to labour in vain, until before long all turned out in accordance with her prediction. The Caesar was killed in front of the army, and the Emperor Michael himself, having entered the Palace of St. Mamas after a horse-race (he used to act as a charioteer), drunk to surfeit with wine which he constantly consumed, was butchered, his life cut short. Basil of Macedonia seized the imperial power after him, and his government was extended to the fourth, nay, fifth generation. Let this suffice as proof of the prophetic gift bestowed on her.
13. The Possessed Nun from Cappadocia
A woman from among the nobles, she too deriving her origin from Cappadocia, betook herself to Irene, most marvellous of women, and had the hair of her head shorn, becoming one in the row of nuns in her care. The Evil One, who always in particular envies the good, violently took possession of her suitor at home, inflamed him badly, and broke him down from his love for his betrothed. This man she had left, in contempt of all things for her love to the Lord, taking refuge under the leadership of Irene, her compatriot. As the pour wretch did not realize that his vain and prospectless love for her was not an effect of his own nature (in fact he had already learnt that she had submitted herself to the easy yoke of Christ) but a work of the Devil's offence, he was distressed and vexed and suffered all that people in his predicament are likely to suffer. Finally running to a sorcerer he found him, as an approved servant of Satan, promising to do and fulfil all his desires. This was what he was doing in Cappadocia.
Again, the girl was unexpectedly attacked by a seething passion which maddened her with a frantic lust for her former suitor and did not allow her to control herself. Violently leaping, screaming, moaning, crying, and calling out his name in a loud vice, she assured with fearful oaths that unless someone let her see him with her eyes and enjoy to excess his sight and conversation, she would hang herself. Then one could see her continually running to the gateway, urging her escape and with inarticulate screams and shameless gestures ordering the door-keeper to let her out. When this reached the ears of the blessed Irene, she smote her eyes with both hands and said, 'Woe is me, wretched woman! When the shepherds are careless, the wolves catch the sheep. But you shall not have this pleasure. Evil One, you shall by no means devour the lamb of Christ! Against your own head will the power of my Lord Jesus turn this too.'
When she as usual had entered the diaconicon, she gathered the sisters before her, and having spoken long for their admonition and explained the Devil's power against us, starting from the example of the possessed girl, she said, 'We must watch always, for our adversary the Devil as a roaring lion, walketh about seeking whom he may devour. For this reason God has permitted him to wander about and howl outside the flock, that from fear of him everyone should come together under the shelter of Christ, the good Shepherd, and laugh at his roarings, being, as it were, in a safe fortress.' She exhorted them to take neither bread nor wine whatever during the whole week alike, but to sustain the hardship of the body solely with fruit in the evening, and to make genuflections to God on behalf of their sister, each of them to a number of a thousand a day. 'You have heard', she said, 'our Lord saying. This kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting. No one among you must think that the toil for our sister does not contribute to our own good. For this brings the great benefit, on this hangs the conduct of the Christian order, by this shall all men know (so says the Lord), that ye are my disciples, if ye love one another as 1 have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.'
Taking leave and prostrating herself before the prostrate sisters she let each go to her own cell. As their assiduous prayer was ardently performed by the whole sisterhood, and the purified mind of Irene, worshipping God in spirit and in truth, accurately and freely referred the supplications of all of them to God, the Compassionate, the third day passed by. About cockcrow the following fourth day, while the holy woman stood interceding with her hands lifted up, she saw Basil the Great standing before her, looking such as the icons represent him, and saying to her, 'Why do you reproach me, Irene, as if I connived at the abominable and unlawful deeds performed in our common native land? Look, tomorrow morning the Mother of God will come to Blachernai. Make your way there quickly with your possessed disciple, then she will surely be healed.' With these words he disappeared. She recognized at once what she had said the evening before, while contemplating the icon of Basil the Great: these were the words she had spoken amid her tears, calling on him as helper and saviour of the sick woman. In accordance with his command she took the girl together with two selected sisters and went to Blachernai, and all day long she unceasingly supplicated the Mother of God and wet the sacred church-floor with tears.
Evening came, and she prolonged her prayer until midnight along with the sisters; at midnight they sat down and had a short sleep, exhausted as they surely were. In a dream the holy Irene saw an awe-inspiring populous procession being prepared. The floor was minutely cleaned and again strewn with all kinds of fragrant flowers, while some figures in golden clothing scented the air with incense, walking up and down.
Very frightened at this sight and asking what was going on, she dreamt that she heard someone answering her, 'Who are you to be wholly ignorant that the Mother of God is here and that she has been pleased to proceed from the Great Church to that of the Holy Casket, the fame of which is far greater in heaven than on earth? Be ready! Perhaps you will be permitted to see and adore her.'
Presently, while he was speaking, she saw the participants in the procession walking in line, bright and luminous, dignified by a certain awe and deep reverence. The Mother of the Lord went about with a numerous company of attendants who shone bright as the sun, yet her face was invisible because of its unbearable effusion of light. She visited those who lay ill until she came just to the disciple of Irene. She, the holy woman, fell at the feet of Our Lady in deep awe and trembling. Lying there she heard a cry from the all-holy Lady calling for Basil and John and saying to them, 'Why has Irene left her flock and come here?' Out of the two Basil told her in detail about all that her daughter in the spirit had suffered and about the accusations with which she continued to charge him, because he tolerated sorcerers dwelling in their native land. 'For this reason', he concluded, 'did she seek refuge in Thine all-powerful might, O Lady.'
Again Irene heard her saying, 'Call for Anastasia!' At once two women appeared, one of whom was dressed in a monastic habit and was called (it seemed to her) 'the Roman'. Turning to the other the Mother of God said, 'Hasten, with the help of St Basil, to inquire carefully into the illness of Irene's disciple and let her be healed, for you have received the gift of effecting such ends from my Son and God.' Then Anastasia and Basil seemed to make obeisance together and then in haste to set out for Cappadocia. When they were gone a voice was heard of someone saying to Irene, 'Go to your convent, there she will be healed.' At the sound of that voice she woke up.
Awake and recollecting her dream, she remained wondering and dejected. When she also had roused the others, she told them everything, and giving glory to the Mother of God they returned to the convent, trusting the dream to be unerring. The day was a Friday. About sunset she went into the chapel of the convent to perform the usual prayers and related the vision to the other sisters. When she was assured that they all felt no distrust but were amazed at the wonderful works of God, she enjoined all to raise their hands to heaven and from the depths of their hearts to cry, 'Lord, have mercy!', as the possessed girl lay before them, speaking and acting unseemly in her disordered state of mind. But who can utter the mighty acts of the Lord? who can shew forth all His praise? As their prayer was protracted over a long time and the church-floor was wet with their tears the martyr Anastasia and Basil the Great were seen flying through the air and a voice was heard from them saying to Irene, 'Unfold your garment and receive this, then reproach us no more.' From the air there was let down a package weighing about three pounds, and this she received in her unfolded garment. Running together, excited at the wonderful occurrence, all the sisters beat their breasts and extolled the Mother of God. Lighting candles they began to undo the package which contained a variety of magic devices wrapped in it: two idols made of lead, one resembling the suitor, the other the sick nun, embracing each other and bound together with hairs and threads, then some other contrivances of malignancy, and inscribed on them the name of the author of the evil and appellations of his servant demons. Thus they spent the rest of the night undoing the bundle and thanking the Mother of our God.
When morning came she entrusted candles and incense and the contrivances just mentioned to the two nuns who had been with her at Blachernai. Committing to them the sick girl she sent them to the Church of the Great Martyr Anastasia; giving them oblatory gifts and oil she asked them to put the oil in the lamps at the martyr's tomb, to have the oblatory gifts brought to God as thanksgiving through the priest, and to light the candles in the church. They went away, and after performing all according to the prescriptions they told the caretaker of the church and the clergy how the miracle had come about. All who heard it praised God, and the priest in charge of the church went down to the tomb of the martyr with the women. Praising God together with them and anointing the possessed nun with oil from the lamps there, he went up into the church again. Asking to have glowing charcoals brought to him, he began to burn the instruments of sorcery. Now one miracle could be seen following the other. As the fire consumed each of the instruments of the sorcery, so the woman was liberated from her invisible ties and restored to soundness of mind, thanking and praising him who had saved her. Reduced to ashes, all the objects were already disappearing into nothingness when screams resounded from the charcoals, like the squeals one may hear when swine are butchered in great numbers. This threw all those present into great fear and made them flee from the church shouting, 'Great is the power of the martyr!' Such miracles God can work. He who honours them that honour Him. Those who had been sent out by the holy Irene along with the girl who was healed returned to her, and relating the miraculous events in the presence of the other sisters increased their zeal for still more abundant thanksgiving. Thus on the next day they celebrated the sister's deliverance with a great feast.
14. Irene's Compunction and Abundant Tears
Hereafter compunction held fast and controlled all the sisters, uniting them in fear of God and devotion to Him. But the Saint, as one could see, by far surpassed them and was immersed therein more deeply than they. In fact the Fathers' comprehended and defined the progress of the soul by progress of humility, and the recognition of piety by recognition of humility and meekness. Therefore the tears gushed forth from her eyes like an ever-flowing stream from a spring, especially at the time of divine service, when the priest presented the manifest God offered on the holy table. Considering how the Invisible, the Impalpable, the Incomprehensible or Inconceivable One not only condescended to put on mortal and corruptible flesh for our salvation, but also to be sacrificed, and how He, being dead, proceeds, setting forth to us as food and drink the immaculate body and the venerable blood which He shed in order that the compound of which we are composed be mixed with the intangible through the tangible, with the impalpable through the palpable, with the invisible through the visible, and like fire be transformed into the nature of the glory and splendour of Divinity through the union with Him, and live the eternal, the undefiled life?, then she fell down on her face and made the whole floor beside her wet with tears. Rather being ashamed of this, like a criminal who steals or commits an improper act, she wiped up the moisture with her clothes before standing up; but as this was not easy for her to do continuously, what did she contrive? Secretly sending for a stonemason she gave him a hint to cut out a small pit at the appointed place in which she used to stand singing the divine hymns together with the sisters, and conceal it with a cover of equal size. Hereafter, at the time of service she lowered her face to the earth above the reservoir. Making a wall around it with her two arms, the tears flowing, she did not rise until overflowing it was on the verge of betraying her, her to whom it was a major concern to escape notice. Telling its silent tale, the reservoir has remained until the present day.
15. The Possessed Vine-Dresser Nicholas
How great a power against demons He had given her, who let His disciples tread on all the power of the enemy, the following episode will suffice to demonstrate. The Fiend, in his malice preparing still another affliction for the Saint, instilled love for one of the nuns of the convent into the man who was paid to look after its vine-yard, which was situated close by. He was a young man with unruly instincts who was called Nicholas. Already conquered and wholly a victim of his abominable desire, he walked about the convent for whole nights, doing his utmost in order to enter it and sleep with the one he coveted. As the inventor of the evil would by no means leave him in peace, he one night shed darkness over his eyes and made him believe that he went in through the gateway of the convent, entered the cell of the beloved girl, lay down on her bed, embraced her and did what he desired.
While in his imagination he achieved this he was hurled to the ground. Rolling on the earth and foaming at the mouth he suffered all the anguish of demoniacs. The neighbours, naturally alarmed by his screams, gathered at this sight. In the morning, when the gateway of the convent was opened, the door-keeper saw with her own eyes what had happened and reported it eagerly to the holy woman. Having heard about the disaster, she inquired with the divinely enlightened eye of her spirit into its origin. Realizing the cause she sprang up from her seat in tears, raising her hands high, and said, 'Blessed be the Lord who hath not given us as a prey to the teeth of the Evil One.' Then she immediately sent him away to the Church of the Great Martyr Anastasia, and there he was kept to await the cure, bound with chains and in fetters by those attending on such people.
Many days passed by but he obtained no cure. As the blessed Irene was impatient hereat and somehow importuned the martyr, the latter appeared in a dream and said to her, 'Surely, dearest sister, it was in order to try me that you sent me the demoniac? Then you should know: he shall not obtain the cure save through you. I am not ignorant of the power deposited by God as a treasure in you.' When day came she was worried and grieved in reverent fear of the miracle-working; therefore she even shrank from sending for the man. But when she learnt again about the affliction that oppressed him, she summoned him and had him brought, bound in his fetters, and commanded that he be tied to one of the columns of the convent church. For herself she considered how she could escape notice in curing him. 'If he get a rapid cure', she thought, 'all will know, and my situation will no longer be undisturbed. Therefore I must proceed with moderation about the cure, so as to ward off annoyances from people while letting God deliver the possessed man.' So she began to make daily prayers for him together with the sisters, in order that a gradual procedure should conceal the fact that she had healed him.
Now, once when the holy service was in progress and the sacraments were being carried over to the holy table, the man suddenly sprang up. Breaking the chains which bound him at the throat and the hands, he rushed against the priest, gnashing his teeth, and struck fear and anxiety into him as he gaped to bile him. Rapidly moving towards him, the holy woman censured him with rebuking words. Commanding him to advance no further she made him stand still and quivering. When he had relaxed somewhat from his quivering?incomprehensible is Thy power, Christ!?, he struggled hard to escape, but could not, restrained, at the Saint's command, with invisible ropes much stronger than the perceptible fetters. When service was at an end she remained alone in the church. She threw herself to the floor, and after beseeching God with tears for a long time she stood up from the prayer, rose on to question the abominable spirit and said, 'In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, I say to you, evil and unclean spirit, tell me the cause why you have dared to enter into this creature of God, and tell me who sent you.' At first he strove to escape and ward off the holy woman with insults as being the cause of his fetters, calling her 'night-eater', 'wooden leg', 'insatiable slander', 'iron-hearted', 'subduer of stones' and such frivolous names. But as he was not released from the fetters binding him, he agreed, though unwillingly, to all and said, 'Unless the angel encamping roundabout you was flogging me, I would not even deem you worth an answer. But now I tell you, the man has already for a long time detached himself from service and communion. As he also fell passionately in love with one of your disciples, this was reported to the Prince and I was sent to satisfy his desire. When I found you becoming an obstacle to me, I observed that he was devoid of all that could hinder me, so I entered and made him my dwelling-place. But you, why do you injure me, chasing me from my house?' 'Who', asked the holy woman, 'is that "Prince" you mentioned?' 'You mock me, it would seem', he answered, 'asking me something you are not ignorant of. For who has not heard, who does not know what kind he is? Who is ignorant of his great prowess? He who in his ingenious inventiveness and pride drove Adam out of Paradise and at once showed the first man to be destructible and mortal. Why, does this not seem great to you? And the internecine slaughters after that, the idolatries, the sweet incitement of lust, the aberrations of sexuality, who but him prepared them? The murders of the prophets and of all the others who paid honour to God's name, and the heresies and schisms, who arranged them, who accomplished them? And Jesus himself, who crucified him? But he escaped us and we were deceived through the greatest of all deceptions. For if he had not been executed, you would not now have laid these fetters on me and mocked me, questioning me like a slave. You despise us and laugh at us only because there has been bound one so great and so strong that if he were set free, nobody would be able to withstand our power.' 'What is it', said the Saint, 'that produces this powerlessness in you:'' 'God's power', he said, 'for only with you has God been reconciled, whereas we are enemies to him. Even if Jesus is a man, he is still the God who has made all. Ever since we persuaded his murderers, the Jews, to kill him, we do not dare to approach those anointed with his blood. For who can stand against his creator? We cannot sit idle, for nothing that God has made is idle. But unable to do good, because completely devoid of participation in the good, we toil and are busy and eager about three things: either to make the reconciled revolt against God, or again to make those who revolt into our own instruments or, as you can see, to appropriate to ourselves, as our dwellings, those who are wholly destitute of communion with the good.' 'What gain do you have from this', asked the holy woman again, 'or what advantage?' 'Does it seem a petty thing to you', he said, 'to have many companions, now in our fall, hereafter in the future punishments?'
Grieving at this in her soul and full of tears the holy woman censured him harshly and commanded him to go out of the man and betake himself far away from her boundaries. Then he left the man, convulsing him and hurling him to the ground. Giving him a hand as he lay there Irene raised him up, and making the sign of the cross on his forehead she made him sit. She supported him with admonitions and exhorted him to abstain from insatiable eating and from drinking wine to surfeit, to attend church, to pray continuously and thus to evade the ambushes of the Devil, and she said. 'Those who ask you. Who has healed you? you shall answer, God, through the intercession of the archistrateges Michael and Gabriel.' Thus she let him go, and he thanked and glorified God.
16. Irene's Continued Ascesis and Levitation The Bowing Cypresses
As she incessantly offered thanks to God for everything, so for this too did she perform them, clinging to her usual standing exercises and always affectionately disposed towards them. Alter washing her hands and face' and wiping them off with a clean towel?to this end she had a basin of water standing in her chamber?, she stretched her arms to heaven and began the prayer. She extended her exercises to last now for a whole day, now for a whole night or even for a day and a night. Often they were protracted over two or three days, and it even occurred that she remained standing for a whole week without leaning against any support. Therefore, when she was to lower her hands, she was unable to draw her arms together by herself, since the elbows and the shoulders, in consequence of the severe stretching and the prolonged extension, resisted their natural flexibility. Calling for those among the sisters that were closest to her she received help, and one could hear the joints emit a terrible cracking. During all the forty days of fast before Easter she took neither bread nor any other food save cannabis-seed mixed with honey and a little fruit, and that once a week, sometimes, at intervals of several days, also a minimal quantity of water. As a consequence her all-holy body appeared as mere skin clinging to the hones. At the Dominical feasts she continuously kept awake, singing psalms in solitude. Often she also went out into the forecourt of the church at midnight, and raising eyes and hands towards God offered prayers, gazing at the sphere of the stars and the beauty and greatness of the firmament, delighted and rejoicing and praising Him who stretches it out. Once?surely by divine dispensation, lest the miracle should remain hidden-one of the sisters happened to peep out of her cell just to behold Irene hanging in the air about two cubits above the ground and praying with her hands extended towards heaven. Two lofty cypresses were standing on either side of the forecourt, reaching far up into the air. As Irene bent forward and prostrated herself before God, they trembled gently together and bowed their crowns to the ground along with her, waiting for her to rise. But even when the holy woman stood upright, the trees did not raise their crowns until approaching she made the sign of the cross on each of them; then, as if blessed, they returned to their erect position.
At this the nun who had witnessed the scene was beset by fear and anguish and disturbed by evil thoughts, lest the sight be a phantom; for she surmised that the event had extended over three hours' time or even more. Seeking confirmation, however, she ran to inspect the cell of the Saint, and not finding her there returned and met her as she was just entering from the forecourt. For the moment she feared to reveal the secret. But after a short time kerchiefs of silk-web were seen hanging in the crowns of the cypresses, bringing amazing delight to the spectators? surely Irene had fastened them with her all-holy hands, as the tree-tops often thus bowed before her. Then the sisters asked one another saying, 'Who has been able to climb the insurmountably high trees and attach the webs to them?' Thereafter they asked the holy woman herself, in amazement pointing to the kerchiefs as if she were ignorant, and she gave the following answer: 'Someone who considered these trees sacred, my children, has suspended the webs to God's glory.' Taking this as a pretext, the nun who had been eyewitness of the miracle told the sisters in detail all she had seen. On hearing this, distilling tears from their eyes as their souls were filled with fear and joy, they reproached her for not rousing them and calling them to join her in the awe-inspiring sight, particularly since she maintained that a span of three hours had elapsed. Learning, meanwhile, that the secret had already spread to the ears of the sisters, the holy woman called aside the nun who had perceived the miracle and said with a sharp glance at her, 'If you had observed me committing a sin, a human being as I am, would you then too have blazed my defeat abroad so rapidly?' Astonished that she had not escaped notice she fell at the Saint's feet at once and, afraid and trembling, asked forgiveness. She obtained it straightway and received an instruction never to reveal anything of the kind to anyone whatever. Likewise Irene assembled the other nuns and commanded them all in no wise to speak highly of her, until the Lord (as she said) would remove her from this life. In fact God performed many other wonderful deeds through her, and she wished them all to be veiled in silence for the time being.
17. The Mouse on the Altar
Once when she had celebrated the memory of Basil the Great, the priest told her after the divine liturgy that a mouse had come up from somewhere in the ground and circled about the table of the divine sanctuary. Now the loathsome creature had to be prevented from defiling the hallowed place again. She was deeply grieved, and while the priest and all the sisters, the former for himself, the latter together, had a satisfying meal for the sake of the festival, she supplicated God about this inside her chamber. After the meal, when they offered thanks to God together, she summoned the overseer of the church and said to her, 'Go and take up the mouse which lies dead before the entrance to the sanctuary and throw it out on the dunghill.' Meanwhile the priest had joined them to pray, and since he had seen that very mouse dead, he was amazed at the holy woman's command and went out crying, 'Wonderful is God in his saints!'
18. The Apples from Paradise
About the fourth watch of that night a voice invisibly reached the Saint saying, 'Receive gladly the skipper who will bring you fruit today. You shall eat and your soul shall rejoice.' After the morning doxology she bade two of the sisters to wait at the gateway of the convent and readily to admit the first comer, whoever it be. 'However', she continued, 'I will myself come out to you for a short while.' And behold, as she was going the expected man entered and they met. On learning that she was the abbess he hastened to make obeisance, but she anticipated him, and they stood up and went to the church. They entered and after a prayer sat down, then the Saint said to him, 'Whence, Your Charity, do you come to me, humble woman?' He answered, 'Mistress, I am a seafaring inhabitant of the isle that is called Patmos. When in the course of my voyage here 1 approached the uninhabited part of our island, I caught sight of a beautiful and godlike old man who ordered us to stop. As the rush of the wind, however, did not allow the ship to halt, the more so as the place from which he gave this command was rocky, we had no means of obeying his behest. Realizing himself how helpless we were, he bade the ship in a loud voice to halt, and so it did at once, wholly unable to advance." Full of fear hereat we gazed at him; and behold, he approached us walking on the waves! He produced three apples out of the fold of his garment, gave them into my hands and said, "When you are safe in the Imperial City, carry them to the Patriarch Ignatios and say to him. He who tarries has sent you these." Then again he lei down his hand and brought forth another three similar apples, saying, "Give these to Irene, the abbess of the Convent of Chrysobalanton, and say to her. Eat of that which your good soul has desired, for that is what I have now come to bring you from Paradise." Praising God, he dismissed us and our ship with prayers. Now that I have fulfilled what was due to the patriarch, I have come to Your Holiness to accomplish the command given to me.' When she heard this, her eyes filling with tears, the holy woman returned great thanks to God and to the disciple whom He loved. Producing the three apples, which were covered in a precious cloth decorated with flowers of golden thread, he gave them into her hands. Their beauty and size and fragrance?why, needless to speak thereof! For they drew their origin from that place whence our kind is banished and which no mortal eye has seen. The man was treated with much honour and hospitality by her, then bid her farewell and left.
And she, after fasting for a whole week, made the whole of one apple her food. Its nourishing power permitted her to endure for forty whole days without any other food or drink whatever; nay, with the fragrance of her mouth she rather even saturated the sisters' sense of smell with full delight. For such was its quality and intensity as it was exhaled, that one believed that mixtures and preparations of incenses and precious perfumes were being made in the convent every day, so as to tinge the air with their sweet smells. Hereafter, when the Great Week of Divine Easter came and the Holy Thursday was at hand, she commanded all the sisters to partake of the sacraments that evening in which truly the Lord, having supper with His disciples, handed down the model of the soul-sustaining table. After Communion she cut the' second apple and distributed it among them. They did not know what their food was; they were merely amazed at the sensation of a marvellous delight and mirth. The third apple she kept for herself as an amulet, continuously smelling it and never lacking the joy it afforded.
19. Irene's Future Fame Predicted
On that night when the undefiled Passion of the Redeemer and Lord Jesus is celebrated in hymns among all faithful, she saw," as in trance, a great throng in white clothing surrounding the singing sisters. Holding lyres in their hands they seemed harmoniously to sing ineffable hymns to Christ, all being youths of luminous appearance. Then they brought bowls of fragrant oil which they emptied on the table of the sanctuary. The fragrance was incomparable and everything was imbued with it. After a short while she saw a man, he too in while clothes, beautiful, tall, his face shining as the sun. whom they showed great honour and met with reverence. He gave them gorgeous and, as it were, royal silk to cover accurately and safely the oil emptied on the holy table. On seeing this, the angel waiting in the sanctuary cried aloud in deep dejection to the tall man, 'How long, O Lord?' And a voice was heard saying to him, 'Till the second Solomon shall come and the heavenly and the earthly worlds shall intermingle. Then the Lord shall be exalted in this place and His servant's memory shall be magnified.' At once the throng in white clothing seemed to answer, 'Glory to God in the highest', and fly up to heaven. Turning this over in her mind during the day, the holy woman interpreted it thus: neither was she to be glorified in the present age nor, even after her death, was the convent itself, as long as her disciples remained in life. In fact she had, as she said, prayed to God for this shortly before, trying wholly to evade honour from men and seeking that which comes from God only. This was also her advice to the sisters, as she taught them always to shun honour from men, saying, 'It is impossible for a soul not avoiding such honour ever to see the glory of God.'
20. Illness Better than Health
When one of the sisters in the simplicity of her mind asked Irene to pray for health of body, she called them all together and said, 'Believe me, children, if I possessed any candour before God, I would first of all pray that none of you should pass one single day of your entire lifetime in corporeal health. For I know, I know very well that when the body is ill, the soul will benefit greatly," especially for such as offer thanks for this to God, the Guardian of our souls.'
21. The Liberation of Irene's Imprisoned Kinsman
One more of her wonderful deeds should be added to the narrative, a clear proof of her proximity to God and her freedom of speech before Him. Driven by envy some people slandered one of the holy woman's beloved close relatives before the Emperor, an act such as the Evil One often will induce those passionate about mundane things to commit. It was a man honoured with the dignity of illoustrios and distinguished with other worldly prominence. The slander was of no petty purport for it said, 'He is plotting and preparing against Your Majesty all that traitors are wont to do.' The Emperor did not even tolerate a simple question, and that about such an important issue, but ordered the man to be arrested and confined him to a dark dungeon in the palace, leaving him ignorant even of the cause of the Emperor's wrath. When the man's family heard a rumour whispered around the Imperial Palace that the Emperor was planning to have him thrown into the depth of the sea?not at daytime but at night, so that his body would not even be buried, since none of his relatives would learn in what way lie had died?, then they surrendered all hope and sought refuge with Irene with her great candour before God. Totally draining their eyes of tears they begged her to help their unjustly accused relative with her acceptable prayers. What could a soul trained in God's benevolence and well knowing to fulfil His law of love have done in this situation? Utterly grieved and deeply sighing and weeping she commanded them to go home and not to be disheartened, saying, 'Let us set our hopes to the Lord, He will help.' What else she had in hand she considered unimportant, and so she closed her door and fervently supplicated God. So far about her.
About midnight the Emperor, awake, not dreaming, seemed to see the holy Irene standing beside him, saying, 'Emperor, stand up at once and release from prison the man you have unjustly confined. None of the accusations brought to you against him are true; no, they are lies and slander. Otherwise I will stir the King of heaven Himself against you, and raise a war and a slaughter against you, so that your flesh will provide food for the beasts of the earth and fowls of the air.' He was agitated, and seething with anger answered her, 'Who are you and where do you come from, daring to threaten me with such insolence? And who let you in at this hour?' She replied, 'I am Irene, the abbess of the Convent of Chrysobalanton.' This she said not once but thrice, and pricking him in the side the last time she retired. But who shall not marvel at the wonders of God? As he woke up, alarmed by the pain in his side, he saw how she walked before his eyes, went away, and reaching the door passed out of the chamber. Then he began to shout so that a great tumult arose among all his bodyguards, excited lest the Emperor had met with some danger. He asked the foremost of his confidants, the so-called Chamberlain, 'Did you not see the nun who just left the chamber?' He stood aghast, suspecting the Emperor of being mad. Yet he answered that he had not seen any such thing, and no such thing had happened. 'No', he continued, 'all the doors are safely locked and guarded, and the keys are still under my bed where 1 have put them. From absolutely nowhere is there a way into your chamber.' Returned to his senses the Emperor said, 'Now I know for sure that my sight was a divine vision.'
In the morning he had the prisoner led out of the dungeon, brought him forward and said, 'What magic did you use to threat and confuse us with dreams, trying through such sorceries to escape the consequences of your plottings against our Imperial Majesty?' Unable to say anything to this, the man only looked to the right and to the left at those who stood by, but at last answered, 'By God, I am convinced that I have never spoken with a sorcerer, and throughout my life. Emperor, I have refused even to listen to anyone speaking of such a sacrilege. No?the Lord is my witness?, far be it from me to have planned any assault against Your Majesty!' Somewhat mollified the Emperor asked, 'Do you know one Irene living in a convent called Chrysobalanton?' 'Yes, Emperor', he said, 'the convent is situated quite near the sweet-water cistern of Aspar.' 'So if I send for her now', said the Emperor, 'I could find her?' 'Certainly', he answered, 'she never leaves her convent.' Immediately dispatching the Master of the Robes and the Treasurer and some others from among the grandees with their usual retinue, he commanded that a painter should also be in their company. By him Irene's face should be portrayed and brought to him, so that he might recognize, as he said, the features of his vision. Having given this order he resolved that the man he considered guilty should be imprisoned again.
But the holy Irene, having performed the prayers prescribed for the occasion, went into the diaconicon of the church, and gathering together all the sisters said to them, 'This night I had a dream in which I saw grandees sent out to us by the Emperor, bringing with them a numerous crowd of horsemen and footmen, so large that there was not room for them all in the courts of the convent. Yet if something of the kind should happen, you must by no means be troubled: the Lord will surely dispense a favourable issue.' But they were beset by fear and anxiety and kept wringing their hands in great distress.
Presently the men sent out by the Emperor arrived. Leaving the gates of the convent open in fear of their multitude and magnificence of appearance, the door-keeper ran away to announce the unexpected arrival of the officials. Meanwhile horses and mules were seen thronging both inside and outside the convent. At first this inspired great excitement into the sisters, especially since they had the holy woman's prophecy still ringing in their ears. But when they saw that the men dismounting the horses were friendly disposed towards them, they relaxed from their fear and marvelled at the foreknowledge of their teacher. Through one of the sisters the Saint gave a signal to the grandees to enter the church and see her there. Not all went in but only as many as had received the orders from the Emperor with their own ears, and after a prayer they waited for the holy woman to arrive. As clouds screened off the light of the sun, the day happened to be dark. The Saint came in to them through the side-door. Taking the lead in prostration, she made the men too prostrate themselves, and when they raised their eyes, they saw a flash of lightning suddenly rise from her precious face. Unable to bear it, they went backward and fell to the ground, like those who had come to arrest Christ, her Teacher and Bridegroom; for it flooded the whole church with its brightness. Approaching, she stretched her hands towards each of them and made them stand up, saying, 'My children, do not be frightened. I am also a human being, compassed with the natural infirmity of humans. But why did he who sent you cause you trouble in his distrust? Only tell him again what he believed to hear from me in the dream:
"Release the man from prison. He has done no wrong, nor has he plotted against Your Majesty. Otherwise the words spoke to you will surely come true, and the Lord will not delay, for He is nigh unto all them that call upon Him in truth".' When they heard this, being not yet fully relaxed from their former fear, they said to her in great dread, 'We will report all to the Emperor according to your command. But we pray you, sit down for a short while and give us part of your soul-benefiting conversation.' This they requested from her with two intentions, firstly to enjoy her precious appearance and her God-inspired words, secondly to enable the painter to perform the Emperor's command, delineating her face the more accurately as the conversation was protracted.
Bidden farewell with her prayers, they returned with the image of the holy woman to him who had sent them, reporting to him all they had seen and all they had heard from her. Then they showed him her image, and just as the Emperor cast his eyes on it, a flash of lightning suddenly sprang up from it, gleaming terribly before his eyes, and made him cry aloud in terror, 'Have mercy upon me. O God, according to Thy loving kindness!' Greatly appalled he stood speechless for a long time, looking at the portrait in amazement that it showed exactly the woman who had threatened him in his dream. No longer doubting his vision he led the prisoner out of his confinement, thanking God that He had prevented him from the unjust murder of the man and manifestly rescued him from the evils that would in consequence have befallen him. Then he wrote a letter to the Saint with the following content: 'Servant of Christ, according to your command we have released the prisoner from his confinement, for he is, as you have shown, without guilt. Assigning you gifts, since through you we have been rescued from the imminent punishment, we beg for forgiveness for whatever wrong we have done your Highness. When we were granted your epiphany, we should have obeyed your command and by no means bothered you. Forgive us with motherly sympathy and make God gracious to us, using your great freedom of speech. Your sympathetic heart will be apparent of you do not decline to pay a call on us so that I and the Empress might be blessed with the laying on of your sanctified hands. If this does not please you, then we will certainly come to you and beg for a second forgiveness for importuning you a second time.'
Having received the letter and the gifts which the Emperor sent her along with it through one o the chamber servants, Irene wrote to the Emperor in her own hand: 'Being good. Emperor, God is always wont to overlook our infirmities. He loves mankind and has no pleasure at all that the wicked should die but that he should be converted and live. Not unto us, then, but unto His name give glory. It is not suitable, however, that Your Imperial Highness should visit me nor that I in my humility should visit you, for you have no need of a poor sinful woman. You have people to bless you, the hands of whom are assigned solely to sanctifying: our Holy Father, the patriarch, the bishops of the Catholic and Orthodox Church, the spiritual fathers of the monasteries. If you are willing to listen to advice from them, you will both serve God and be a pious and wise and righteous ruler of the empire entrusted to you. But if you wish to pursue your intention, you should know that neither if you send for me nor if you come here will you by any means see me, but rather annoy God. And if you listen to me, the right hand of the Supreme will surely protect you from every temptation.'
Having written and sealed this, she also sent some gifts in return to the Emperor. He was very grieved hereat, since he was not permitted to see her, but decided not to persist in his entreaty. Yet through messengers, whom he frequently sent to her, he fully enjoyed her prayers and words and derived great comfort from her. Again, the kinsman who had been saved from the peril threw himself at her feet and washed them with tears of gratitude. Raising him and uttering many words of gratitude to God, she supported him with many admonitions and exhorted him to begin a life of service to God, and she said, 'Unless we are abandoned through our sins and through disdain of Christ's commands, the Evil One has no power to impose temptations on us.' And .since our Shepherd and Teacher and God warned us always to watch and pray in order that we might not enter into temptation, she taught the man to do so continuously. She decided that the present day should be a day of joy and rejoicing at his salvation, and ordered that a common table be prepared, decorated with all kinds of ascetic foods. To God's glory she shared the meal with him along with the sisters, then she sent him away, a cause of still greater joy and happiness for his wife, his children, and all his kin.
22. Christopher's Death Predicted
Although this will suffice to show forth the riches of God's grace in her, the narrative strives to reveal another deed which does not deserve to be concealed. A man among her close friends called Christopher, whom she held in respect and honour because of his inherent piety, candidly conversing with him and confiding must of her concerns to him?, this man, who was healthy and had no reason to expect corporeal trouble from any illness, had had one of his habitual conversations with her. When he was about to leave, he fell on his knees and asked, as was his wont, for a prayer from her. She said to him in a gentle voice, 'Go, my son, may God let your spirit rest among the righteous.' The man, who was intelligent and keen of mind, surmised that her words were no mere phrase, and deeply disturbed in his soul he stood trembling and dejected. When the holy woman saw him in this condition, she began to cheer him up with gentle words, saying, 'Do not worry, my son, thoughts kept my mind distracted, and lack of attention made that prayer for you slip from my tongue.' But since he knew her by experience he would not be comforted, and therefore she had him seated beside her and started to talk afresh, eager to bring him round to cheerfulness. She proceeded with her words to advise him about the Kingdom of Heaven, the enjoyment of the eternal good, and the imperishable life with Christ. She moved him to compunction and tears, and when she perceived that his soul was settled and calm, she let him depart in peace. About the time of the lighting-up hymns, when he was home and had taken some food, he said merely 'My head, my head!', and no more, whereupon he fell to the ground and gave up the ghost. But this was not yet known."
When he had bid farewell to the holy woman and left, one of the sisters?in fact they all had sincere feelings for him?asked her, 'Why, Mistress, did you answer Christopher, our all-faithful friend, in that way? See, now the man leaves utterly distressed and grieved in his soul.' 'Go, my child', she answered, 'you will not find him among the living. I would not have uttered a word of that kind without reason; no, while I was speaking to him, I saw a youth standing behind him, brilliant in his appearance and his dignified attire and holding a sharp-edged sickle in his right hand. Together with the youth some figures were standing, counting the years of Christopher's life on their fingers and concluding to each other that those years would come to an end the present evening. But now call for the maid Euetheia.' As the latter stood before her, Irene said, "Go, my child, to the house of our friend Christopher. Ask how he is, then come here quickly and tell us.' Returning, the maid reported that she had not found him alive, and when the sisters learnt this they were all struck dumb and sent up glory to God who had granted them such a teacher. From now on, if she said a prayer to someone who was to leave after a conversation with her, they paid close attention, and for anyone to whom she said, 'May God let you rest, my child', it was beyond doubt that death would precipitately overcome him.
23. Irene's Last Words, Death, and Interment
Herself a human being, Irene had to pay the common debt of death?if in her case it should be called death rather than a removal to heaven or an ascent and a perfect proximity to God?, and she learnt about this too from the Spirit.' For how could she, who used to predict the death to others, have been ignorant of her own death? She heard it, as it is likely for the worthy to hear, by the Spirit's own words. It was on the twenty-sixth of the month of July, the day on which the consecration of the convent's church, which is dedicated to the archangel Gabriel, is annually commemorated. As she prayed, the Holy Spirit said to her, 'Now, Irene, and in the year to come you will celebrate the consecration day. But on the third feast-day from today you will sing a new song along with angels, standing before the throne of the Godhead.'
When that year was at an end and the month of July again had come, she persevered in her prayer and her standing exercises, abstaining from food for a whole week. Having cele brated the memory of the consecration and partaken of the Divine Mysteries, she took no food whatever except that venerable apple which, as the above narrative has shown, the beloved disciple at the bosom of Christ had sent her together with another two, and which she had preserved by herself as an amulet?in fact she kept it as a constant help to remove any dejection from her, for it comforted her with the wonderful nourishment it brought to her sense of smell. When she with ineffable joy had but eaten this apple and by chewing it again had filled the whole convent with its incomparable fragrance, she celebrated the day of the divine great martyr Panteleimon. The following day, about the ninth hour, she seemed to be in anguish and distress. Joining prayer to prayer she repeatedly turned her eyes to heaven, shedding tears in floods and wetting the floor beneath her, soaking all her clothes. Shocked and perplexed at this strange situation, the sisters took courage to approach her and asked to learn the cause of this lamentation. With difficulty at last she answered them, 'Today, my children, I shall leave this life and go to another, eternal world. You will no more see my face, for behold, the hour of my departure is at hand. But you will have the mistress Maria as a spiritual mother in my stead. That is pleasing to God on high, and she will be a good leader for you. Hasten along the strait and narrow way to reach the wide plain of eternal life. Hate the world and the things that are in the world: vanity of vanities! all is vanity. Hate your souls that you may win them, resisting their will and accepting only the will of God. There will be no advocate for us when we are judged before the fearful tribunal. You may conclude in what predicament we will find ourselves when we shall stand up with our bodies naked, finding none of our kith and kin to help us. The only one who can free us from condemnation then will be Christ the Judge, He who foretells this and urgently exhorts us, although He is now despised.'
When she had given these final instructions, she raised hands and eyes to heaven and spoke, 'My Lord and God, Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, good Shepherd, who gave Yourself a ransom for our souls, into Thy hands I commend this little flock of Thine. Keep it through Thine own name. Hide it in the shadow of Thy wings and protect it from the offences of the Evil One; for Thou art alone to show mercy and bring salvation, and Thine is the might and Thine is the power. Yes, Thou art the One who is made unto us righteousness and sanctification and redemption, and we thank Thee and praise Thee for ever. Amen.' After this prayer she sat down and began to smile as it she had perceived the many good things which were waiting to receive her, and seen and rejoiced at the light-like angels who would carry her away, certainly those angels with whom she had often spoken as a friend; and suddenly her face shone as the sun. Then she closed her eyes, as it expecting to sleep for a short while, and rendered up her holy soul to God. At once there rose a clamour, and crying and lamentation and wailing echoed loud among her spiritual daughters, willing, had it been possible, even to die with her. In their mind it was wholly intolerable to lose her.
Her death became known everywhere, and in a moment almost the whole city gathered before the convent. The forecourt would not hold them as it was pressed by the entering multitude, for they were like a streaming river. Not even wives and daughters of senators failed, as one could see, to join the crowd; no, surrendering all shame they, too, ran to the Saint's corpse, eager to win sanctification, some through contact, others, whom the pressure of the multitude did not allow to touch her, through mere sight.
Only late at night did the crowd give the nuns some opportunity to prepare for the interment of her holy body. Lamps and candles were kindled, especially by all those of senatorial rank who had countlessly thronged together. Beyond measure, magnificent perfumes and incenses of the most fragrant and precious kind were unsparingly lavished upon it. Despite their multiplicity however, they could not match the fragrance that issued from her skin, but somehow mixing with it produced a scent that was amazing and?what else could it have been??divine. After venerating the body, venerable as it was with virginity and sanctity, and with spiritual hymns and songs praising God who had dwelled and walked in it they shrouded it in a coffin. Soon after they prepared a new tomb in the Chapel of Theodore, the martyr of Christ, which is annexed to the church of the convent. There they solemnly buried her, the corpse emitting the same, nay a much more wonderful fragrance. Honouring her with psalm-singing and lighting of lamps they represented the mystery of the illumination and the ineffable glory which was in store for her in heaven.
It is told that her lifetime extended over a hundred years but three and that no sign of old age was seen in her: for the flower of virginity never fades. That relative however, whom the blessed woman had rescued from the Emperor's hands, continued throughout his lifetime to visit her tomb and commemorate her in a most splendid and lavish way, thus incessantly offering thanks to her even when she was dead.
24. Irene the Peacemaker
Even now her revered coffin is a source of every kind of benefit, and everyone approaching it in search of the cure of whatever his prayers include, will find it ready and helpful, especially such as are dragged into court by people who love evil more than good and lying rather than to speak righteousness. 'To have lawsuits at all is defeat for them,' according to the divine Apostle. Yes, it is a shame that 'brother goeth to law with brother.'' Why do ye not rather take wrong,' he continues, 'but do wrong and defraud, and that your brethren? Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God?' Again the same applies to those upon whose wrath the sun goes down. For being named after the peace which passeth all understanding, she had received from her in full measure the gift of making peace. Yes, Christ is our peace. He who hath reconciled us to Himself by the cross when we had been made His enemies by sin. With ineffable and divine power He will, above reason, let people be reconciled with each other, people who not only since yesterday and today and the day before yesterday, but even for a long period have been angry and brutal to each other and have not endured even to hear each other's names. This He will confer on whomsoever approaches Him in faith and recalls the commandment of love from which he, deceived, did momentarily deviate. For 'it is for angels not to sin', as the saying goes, 'but for men endowed with reason to repent when they do sin'.' So may we observe the law of love through her intercession, that it be known to all that through her we are disciples of Christ, to whom is due all glory, honour and veneration, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, the one Godhead and Kingdom, now and forever and ever. Amen.
The Life and Conduct of Our Holy Mother Irene, Abbess of the Convent of Chrysobalanton, ed. and trans. Jan Olof Rosenqvist, in The Life of Saint Irene Abbess of Chrysobalanton: A Critical Edition with Introduction, Notes and Indices. Acta Univers. Upsaliensis, Studia Byzantina Upsaliensis, (Uppsala: Almqvist & Wiksall, Stockholm, 1986), 3-113.
The text is copyright to Dr. Rosenqvest, and is presented here with his permission. The full book contains extensive introductions, annotations, a edited Greek text on facing pages, and documentation on the cult.
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