St Irene the Righteous of Chrysovalantou

Born in the 9th century in Cappadocia, St Irene was a beautiful girl from an aristocratic family.

On her journey to Constantinople to marry Emperor Michael (son of St Theodora the Empress) St Irene sought the blessing of St Ioannikos near Mt Olympos. The hermit, with the gift of foresight, knew she was coming and told her that she would instead join the convent of Chrysovalantou. By the time she reached the city the king had married – St Irene was overjoyed.

Impressed by the convent’s atmosphere and way of life she freed her slaves, gave her inherited wealth and dowry to the poor and entered the convert wearing a habit of sackcloth. She served the community performing the most lowly and despised tasks. The abbess noticed how St Irene followed Christ’s words (John 15:5) and was admired for her obedience, humility, love and enthusiasm.

St Irene exceeded greatly in her ascetical labours and suffered many attacks from demons. Yet, still a novice, she attained the practice of St Arsenius the Great (May 8) of praying whilst standing still all night-long with arms stretched out towards Heaven – sometimes standing for days!

Upon the death of the current abbess, many miracles happened which lead to St Irene to be chosen as the next abbess. St Irene redoubled her spiritual exercises after commanded by God to lead her community of sisters.

As a wonder-worker St Irene is responsible for many miracles and signs, a few being:
·        gift of foresight – to correct her sisters and know what trials awaited them;
·        revelation of Prince Varda’s & Emperor Michael’s death & fall of the empire;
·        the exorcism of a young novice who was healed by the Theotokos after St Basil appeared to St Irene;
·        destroyed demons who possessed a young man;
·        she appeared in a vision to the king to save a man falsely accused.

She is commemorated on 28th July (New Calender).

Handkerchiefs on the Cypress trees
On great feasts it was customary of St Irene to keep vigil in the courtyard of the monastery, giving thanks for the awesome beauty of creation.

During one of these vigils one of the nuns, who was unable to sleep, left her cell and entered the courtyard. The nun was blessed to see St Irene motionless, in prayer and levitated a metre off the ground, with two cypress trees bent to the ground before her. After St Irene had finished, she blessed the trees and they returned to standing upright.

At first the nun thought this to be a trick of demons. The nun returned the next night and again saw St Irene absorbed in prayer, levitating and the two cypress tress bent to the ground. The nun tied handkerchiefs to the tops of the trees before they went back to their places. The next day when the other sisters saw the handkerchiefs, they wondered who had put them there. Then the nun who had witnessed these events revealed what she had seen. St Irene instructed them to concentrate on their own prayer rule and ordered them not to relate any miracles until after her repose.

Apples from Paradise
After the feastday of St Basil, a sailor from Patmos came to tell St Irene how an old man walked on water towards his boat and gave the sailor three apples which God was sending to the Patriarch “from His beloved disciple John.” Then the old man gave three more apples for the abbess of Chrysovalantou. He told the sailor that if St Irene ate the apples all that her soul desired would be granted “for this gift comes from John in Paradise.”

St Irene ate small pieces of the first apple daily, without any other form of sustenance, for 40 days. When she ate, she smelt as if she was exuding myrrh. During this time, the remaining apples became more beautiful and aromatic.

On Holy Thursday, she directed her sisterhood to receive Communion. After the Liturgy, the second apple was divided between them. When eaten, so sweet was the taste that the sisters felt as if their souls were being nourished.

An angel informed St Irene that she would be called to the Lord on the day after St Panteleimon's feast. St Irene prepared by meditating and fasting for a week. She took only a little water and small pieces of the third apple sent to her by St John. The whole monastery was filled with a heavenly fragrance, and all hostility disappeared.

After giving instructions for the next abbess she smiled when she saw the angels who had been sent to receive her soul. She closed her eyes and surrendered her soul to God. She was 103 years old yet still retained her youthful beauty.

Traditions of St Irene
It is customary to take fresh apples to be blessed at church on her feastday. These apples can be eaten or dried and kept on reserve when needed. They can also be given to others as gifts.

Women unable to conceive pray to St Irene and consume these blessed apples. Upon falling pregnant the parents will name their child Irene in honour of the Saint or Chrysovalanti/Chrysovalantou.

Church and monasteries dedicated to St Irene keep some of the dried apple pieces and give them to people, especially women, who need the saint’s help.

Although not a traditional custom, one can bake an apple cake or apple pie to celebrate the saint’s feastday:

Up-side-down apple cake
4 apples, peeled and cut into wedges
150g unsalted butter
200g caster sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 eggs
1 tsp natural vanilla extract
1½ cups self-raising flour
½ cup milk

1.      Preheat oven to 180°C. Fry the apple wedges with 25g butter and 50g sugar for 5 minutes, until lightly softened. Arrange in the bottom of a lined large loaf pan and dust with cinnamon.
2.      Beat the remaining butter and sugar until light and creamy, then beat in the eggs and vanilla. Fold in the flour and milk then bake for 40 minutes until a skewer can be inserted and removed cleanly. Cool briefly then invert to serve.

Our need for St Irene
St Irene is a shining example of:
·        Faith
·        Humility
·        Love

Those who, in faith, ask for her prayers will find them answered, especially for women unable to conceive.

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