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Saint Irene, Abbess

of Chrysovalantou Monastery
Saint Irene Chrysovalantou flourished after the death of the greedy
Emperor Theophilos I. After Theophilos's death his spouse the most
reverend and God-loving Theodora, took the throne. The Empress
Theodora supported the Orthodox faith and re-established the
veneration of the holy icons, as was the tradition of the Orthodox
Church. The Empress Theodora was reigning in place of her son,
Michael, who was not yet of age to assume rule of the empire. When
Michael was twelve years old Theodora sought to find him a suitable
wife. She sent her scouts on a mission to find a beautiful girl who
was noble as well as virtuous and worthy of becoming an empress.
In the land of Cappodocia there lived a beautiful girl of great virtue.
She was the daughter of noble parents and her name was Irene. The
scouts new of Irene's virtue and beauty and quickly took her to the
empress in hope that she would one day become empress herself.
Irene had one sister who was taken as wife by the Empress's brother
Vardis.
As the scouts escorted the fair Irene to Byzantium, they neared
Olympus. Irene had heard of a man that lived an extremely ascetical
life on Mt. Olympus named Ioannikios the Great and knowing that he
was a holy man she very much desired to see him. She begged the
scouts to lead her to the saint so that she may receive his blessing.
The spies finally agreed but St. Ioannikios, only appeared to those
worthy in heart. Upon their approach St. Ioannikos recognized the
spiritual progress of the young girl and exclaimed, «Welcome
servant of God, Irene. Go to the capitol and rejoice for the Convent
of Chrysovalantou needs you to shepherd her virgins.»
Upon hearing this Irene was quite amazed that the holy man even
knew her destiny, let alone her name. She therefore fell to his feet
and praised him. Before she set on her way, St. Ioannikios gave her
spiritual advice to strengthen her.
When Irene finally arrived at the capitol her relatives, who lived in
the city, came to greet her. They all had their own ranks among
others in the kingdom. They came forward with some of their noble
friends and greeted her with much honor, as was truly due her. The
King of kings, who called all things from nothingness into being,
provided that the earthly king had chosen another girl to be his
bride several days before Irene even arrived. Irene was not in the
least upset by this, but rather, she gave thanks to God that He
enlightened the king to choose another wife.
Many other noblemen and leaders, the richest men of
Constantinople, sought to make Irene their wife because of her
beauty and nobility. However, she desired no other bridegroom than
the heavenly Bridegroom. She all-wisely rejected all the temporal
and earthly things and sought a place to pass her life peacefully and
pleasing to God.
So remembering the words of St. Ioannikios the Great, she sent
people to visit the Convent of Chrysovalantou so that she might
know what it was like. They found that the Convent of
Chrysovalantou was in a quite beautiful and quiet place with a
surprisingly good community of nuns. Upon hearing of the Convent's
good fame St Irene rejoiced and gave to the poor not only all the
expensive clothes that her parents had given her, but also all the
priceless things the queen had bestowed upon her. She then freed
all of her servants and slaves, cut her long golden hair and entered
the Convent of Chrysovalantou with all eagerness. Irene effectively
abandoned every worldly vanity and every worldly way of thinking.
She the tender, noble, and most beautiful, dressed herself in a habit
of animal hair and rejoiced as she took up the light yoke of Christ,
the Anointed One and Most Sweet. She subjected herself to all the
sisters with amazing humility and served all the needs of the
convent with great care and tirelessness without ever contradicting.
She never considered that she was from a noble family and far too
good for such work and performed the most humiliating services
without complaint. Her very image shown brightly and in her soul
she had compunction and happiness.
The abbess of the convent was a woman of great virtue for this
abbess was a struggler at the spiritual trials and always advised
towards good works. Irene had the grace of God which had
mystically descended upon her. This same grace taught her what
was of benefit for her soul for without this grace, as the Lord himself
says, man can do no good. «Without me you can do nothing but the
one who lives in Me and I in him, this one brings forth much fruit.»
Thus this ever-memorable one, as good and fertile earth brought
forth fruit to Christ and was pleasing in the eyes of God and in the
eyes of the entire sisterhood of the convent and all were amazed by
her. Such was the trust that Irene had gained that she was made the
treasurer and purchaser of the monastery and was given the care of
the silver Pieces of the convent. She was obedient to all, displayed
great humility and never scandalized or hurt any of the sisters. She
was well loved and respected by all of the nuns. Irene was not only
very capable of all her physical duties, but more so of all of her
spiritual duties. She was never missing from the church services and
in her cell she would read the lives of venerable monastics in order
to imitate their lives and to teach the sisters and incite them to
similar endeavors.
One day as she was reading the life of St. Arsenios the Great and
learned that he remained awake until the morning hours praying.
She too desired to perform this act and so she sought permission
from the abbess to also practice this spiritual struggle. The abbess
at first hesitated to give Irene her blessing to perform this ascetic
act, fearing that she might become ill from over-exhaustion, but
seeing her eagerness and knowing her humility and her stability she
blessed Irene to carry out this ascetical practice. Irene began this
super-human struggle even though she had not lived in the
monastery for one year. The grace of God, however, gave her
strength and she would stand from evening until morning with her
hands lifted up as Moses and praying to God. Many other times she
would do the same from morning until sunrise and other times she
would stand in prayer all day and night. The abbess was all the
more impressed by Irene's progress.
When three years had passed from the day St. Irene began this
great ascetical struggle, the hater of all good, the devil himself, saw
her great struggles and sought to trap her in transgression. He was,
however, unsuccessful. St. Irene had not succumbed to the passions
and had so much given up care for her flesh for the sake of her soul
that she rejected and totally despised all physical things (food,
glory, money, clothes, etc.). She possessed only one habit. She
would wear her habit for the first time on Pascha and continue with
it for one full year without taking it off or ever washing it. When
Pascha would come she would put on the new one and give the old
one to the poor. Her diet consisted of bread and water, once a day,
and perhaps some herbs. She was not prone to vainglory and had
totally forgotten her noble upbringing.
The demon who was unsuccessful at inciting St. Irene to commit a
sin at all, showed forth discord in Irene's mind by reminding her of
the pleasure of her former life and stirring her with carnal desires.
The man-hating one in vain tortured her, for she recognized his
attack all too well and she confessed his attempts to her abbess so
that she would be delivered from the temptation of this demon and
she continued her struggles as before.
One night, as she was praying as usual, a demon took the form of a
very ugly black man and stood from a distance while insulting her,
trying, the weak one that he is, to instill a terror in the servant of
God. The demon said to her, «You fortune-teller and ill-fated woman,
against me do you battle without realizing what I am and how great
my strength is?» These and other insults did the all-conniving one
say to her, but our saint of God made the sign of the cross and the
demon disappeared immediately.
One day after another, St. Irene was plagued with dark
imaginations. Even though they deeply disturbed her she, the
courageous one, waged battle against the passions of the flesh and
was triumphant. She would often fall to the ground and pray with
tears to the Lord. She often called upon the all-powerful Theotokos
for help and to the Archangels Michael and Gabriel to whom the
monastery's church was dedicated. She also called out to for
assistance to all the heavenly saints so that they might rescue her
from the snares and unclean suggestions of the demons. St. Irene
prayed using these words, «All-holy Trinity, All-powerful, through the
intercession of the Theotokos, and the supplications of the
Archangels Michael and Gabriel, and all the heavenly powers, and all
the saints, help your servant and deliver me from the assault of this
demon.» In this way our holy mother prayed many days and nights
until divine illumination descended on her from above and
overshadowed her soul and drove out all the evil imaginings, leaving
the saint unbothered, so that she began even greater ascetical
struggles and more eagerly labored for God.
Whoever beheld this saint of God, Irene, saw in her great and holy
desire and her many God-given graces. She had become a chosen
vessel, as the Great St. Paul says and a container of the Holy Spirit,
having abiding in her soul the living Christ. She was no longer living
according to the flesh, but for Christ in spirit while Christ lived in
her, as the Holy Apostle writes. In this way St. Irene became totally
enlightened and led many souls towards the Light of Truth. It came
to pass that people of all classes would run to her in numbers.
Diligently, she taught and advised with prudence and sweetness.
Suddenly, however, the abbess of the monastery became very ill. All
the nuns mourned in their cells for they knew that she had reached
the end of her earthly life. Since the abbess was so virtuous they
were grieved by her impending departure. The nuns mourned but
the humble Irene mourned ever so much. The dying abbess said to
them with all meekness, «Don't be sad about me, for you have a
good abbess more capable and more wise than I and to her be ye all
obedient with your whole soul. I am speaking about Irene, the
daughter of light, the lamb of God, the vessel of the All-holy Spirit
and do not choose for yourselves any leader other than Irene.» The
blessed abbess, having reached her last hour said to her Master,
«Glory to your mercy, O Lord!» as she gave up her soul to the
angelic hands that were awaiting her.
The venerable Irene was not present when the abbess departed
from the earthly world. Likewise, none of the nuns told Irene what
the abbess had said, for knowing Irene's great humility and how she
turned away from vainglory, they feared that she might leave the
convent if she heard such words. Therefore, they buried the
deceased abbess as it was fitting and they proceeded to the church
that God might enlighten them.
At that time the Confessor of the faith Methodios was Patriarch of
Constantinople. During the iconoclastic controversy this holy
patriarch had endured many tortures and bore on his body the
marks of the price he paid for Holy Orthodoxy. Truly he possessed
the Holy Spirit and he was able to know the future. When the other
sisters were ready to depart for a visit to the patriarch Irene did not
want to go with them and she found an assortment of reasons and
obstacles not to go. The nuns, however, managed to force Irene
along. When they had arrived and had received the patriarch's
blessing, he asked them which of all the nuns they had considered
for the new abbess. They replied that they had chosen no one but
rather had their trust first in God and in his holiness the patriarch, as
he possessed the Holy Spirit. Therefore, he was asked to make the
decision for the Holy Spirit would guide him. The God-bearer then
responded that he knew that all the nuns wanted the honorable and
pure Irene and that their opinion was good and pleasing to God. The
patriarch gave thanks to God that He had revealed to him the
virtuous acts of his handmaid Irene.
The sisters were amazed and venerated him by saying, «Truly God
dwells in your righteous soul and He enlightens you and makes the
hidden things known unto you.» Immediately the saintly patriarch
arose from his throne and singing the required hymns, incensing,
and blessing the Lord, he ordained Irene a diaconess of the Great
Church, knowing by the Holy Spirit that she was clean. He later read
over her the prayers of the installation of an abbess. He then
instructed her on how to proceed in guiding the sisters in the way of
salvation and in peace. He blessed Irene as well as the sisterhood
and sent them on their way back to their convent. Irene cried long
and hard. She felt unworthy of such a position. The sisters tried to
comfort her by saying to her, «Don't feel sad that you have been
assigned our protection for we will always remain obedient to you
and we will help you in all godly endeavors as much as we are able.
When they arrived at the convent they gave thanks to God and
escorted Irene to the cell of the abbess. Irene cried on. She closed
the door of her new cell and fell on her face, «Master, Lord Jesus
Christ, the Good Shepherd, our Guide and Teacher, help Your
handmaid and this Your small sheepfold and deliver us from the
grasp of the noetic wolf, for you know our weakness and that we are
not able to do anything good without your help and grace.»
She had prayed to the Lord in this manner for a long time and
addressed herself by saying, «And you, lowly Irene, perhaps you
realize what a burden Christ has placed on your shoulders? You take
the responsibility for souls for which God took flesh and became
man and shed His all-holy and all-precious blood. If you allow one
soul to be lost you will answer to God for this on the judgment day.
You will receive hell as your reward for having taken on yourself the
care of so many souls, if you are careless and one of these souls is
condemned. The Lord Himself says that the soul is worth more than
the whole world. Therefore, hold vigil, fast, pray and be careful that
from today on that your own fault does not become cause for one of
the sisters to lose her soul, so that the words of Christ that say, 'a
blind man leading a blind man causes the two to fall into a pit,' may
not be fulfilled in you.»
Irene struggled ever harder and spent many days praying and
fasting. She would also spend the night kneeling and making many
prostrations. She never gave rest to her body, so that the Lord,
seeing her many struggles, might be merciful to her and give her
wisdom to guide her flock God-pleasingly.
According to her desire, the Lord gave her much wisdom and she
was praiseworthy in guiding the sisters. She taught and taught with
wisdom surpassing the great teachers and rhetoricians. Below is a
small selection of some of her precepts and admonitions:
"I know well, sisters in Christ and honorable offerings to God, that it
is neither proper nor blessed, that I the unworthy and uneducated
should teach you, but because the mercies of God are unfathomable
and incomprehensible, His grace established that I should be your
superior. I, your worthless servant, beg you to obey me and to listen
to the words of my lowliness. When we don't keep the rules and
orders of this schema which we wear, and we don't do that which
we promised before God and angels, we are of no benefit, just as
faith without works is dead, as we have heard. Christ has promised
us for the small amount of fatigue that we endure here in this
transient life, to give us the kingdom of the heavens and unending
life, delight, and eternal pleasure. It was for Christ that, having
believed in Him as we should, we left the charms of this world as
being false and passing, in order to inherit those true and eternal
things. If therefore, we don't keep the commandments of the Lord,
wretched and miserable that we are, then we will lose these
transient things along with the eternal things like the unwise virgins,
we will be truly unworthy and foolish. Since the soul cannot be
divided into two parts, one that seeks delights and one that seeks
temperance, one that is haughty and one that is humble, we must
totally hate all of our failings and toil to dispel from our soul every
worldly desire, so that our internal state resembles our external
state and we may work on attaining all the other virtues.
Remember that the virtues of the soul are preferable to the virtues
of the body. Fasting and vigils and the other hardships of the body
do not benefit us so much when the virtues of the spirit are lacking.
The virtues of the spirit are humility, love, understanding,
almsgiving to the poor, and all the other good and God-pleasing
acts. After all of these things let us also work on the virtues of the
flesh and let us fast as much as possible.»
These and others such as these was St. Irene advising her flock,
with motherly affection. Her spiritual children would eagerly accept
everything she would tell them and they brought forth much
spiritual fruit. Our venerable Mother Irene, seeing that her counsel
brought forth much reward to the souls of the sisters rejoiced and
thanked the Lord, whom she loved with all of her soul and strength.
Having in God unshakable faith and immeasurable love for the
sisters, St. Irene dared to ask of God a great and super-natural gift,
the gift of spiritual clairvoyance. She desired to be able to know the
secret transgressions of all the sisters, not out of human curiosity,
but in order to correct them so that not even one be condemned to
hell.
The Lord, seeing that her goal was a good one, immediately heard
her request and sent to her from the heavens a light-bearing angel
who appeared to her dressed in a stunning white garment.
Irene was not frightened nor disturbed at the sight of the angel, but
rather rejoiced. The angel greeted her by saying, «Hail most faithful
and productive handmaid of God! The Lord has sent me to serve you
according to your request for those who are destined to be saved by
you. The Lord commanded me to always stand by your side and to
wisely reveal to you daily the secrets of each one.» Having said this,
the angel, for the time being, disappeared. Our venerable mother
fell to the ground in joy thanking the Lord and from then on this
angel was always beside her. This angel would appear to her,
conversing with her as a Friend each rime it was needed for her to
know something secret. This gift was given to her not only for all the
nuns who were under her spiritual care, but also for the many that
came to her seeking to hear her golden words. Whenever Irene
would see someone who had committed a wrong-doing she would
teach him about the eternal bell trough which all those who die
unrepentant are condemned. St. Irene would speak in this way
whether she was addressing a nun or a laywoman. She never
corrected a person in front of others so as not to humiliate him but
rather she employed the appropriate manner to bring each person
to repentance.
Irene would pray from the evening until the time of the service of
Orthros. After the service she would sleep until the sun rose. She
would then go into the church and call the sisters one by one to
confession and if one of them did not tell of all sins committed, St
Irene would advise as the angel would instruct. All the nuns came to
respect her as a saint. Word spread quickly about the holiness of the
abbess of Chrysovalantou. Inhabitants of the city came to see this
honorable and venerable person by the hundreds. The nobility,
political leaders, women, virgins, young, and old. Irene taught with
such wisdom and compunction and the name of the holy abbess of
Chrysovalantou became ever so popular.
Irene continued to pray hard and long. One night as she was praying
with her hands lifted up towards heaven, the demons came into her
cell and began to scream in a terrifying voice. They spoke in an unfit
manner and tried to distract our holy mother from prayer. They,
however, were unable to phase the Saint. Nevertheless, the demons
continued to taunt Irene and mimicked her by saying,
"Wooden Irene, wooden feet hold you up. For how long will you
torture our race, how long will you burn us with your prayers and
how long will you hurt and make us sad?» Our venerable mother
remained unphased. This audacious demon then lit a candle from
the votive lamp and continued to light the mantle and veil of the
saint herself on fire. The flames reached down to the ground and
burned not only the saint's clothing, but deep into the skin on her
shoulders, chest, and back. Her entire body would have surely
burned had it not been for one of the sisters who rushed it to put the
fire out after smelling it from her own cell down the hall.
Unbelievably, The saint continued to stand unphased buy the whole
event. Irene stood tall, hands still in the air and praying to our Lord
above. «My child», Irene said to the frightened nun, «why did you do
such a bad thing and interrupt the good that was taking place? We
shouldn't think about the human things, but rather about the divine.
An angel was standing in front of me weaving a wreath of various
marvelous and fragrant towers and as he stretched out his hand to
place this wreath on my head, you came in. You thought that you
were committing a praiseworthy act but instead committed a most
unpraiseworthy act. The angel saw you and left. You brought to me
sorrow and I lost a great opportunity.»
The sister began to cry as she began to gather up the fragments of
our venerable mother's habit They were partly burned and stuck to
her flesh. A glorious fragrance came forth from her. This Fragrance
was sweeter smelling and more powerful than all the costly
perfumes that could be purchased. This aroma filled the monastery
for many days and the nuns glorified thy God for this was a true
miracle. St. Irene did not own a second garment and her cell-
attendant brought her a new one. In just days wounds that would
have killed most people were miraculously healed by the Physician
of our souls and bodies and she was granted the grace of prophecy.
At the time a certain eunuch of her sister (the wife of Caesar Vardis)
came to visit the saint. Irene called him aside secretly and said to
him, «Kyrillos, (this was the eunuch's name) tell my sister to prepare
her things because in a few days her husband will die as an
outcome of a plot of King Michael. After a little while this King will
also lose both his kingdom and his life by another machination
against him due to his foolish misdeeds. Be cautious not to say
anything to anyone. None of our relatives should dare to rise up
against the new king who will rise to the throne, neither should they
deter him in any way, even if he will assume the throne after a
murder, for God has loved him because he fears Him and God has
been gracious to him.»
Learning of all this, the sister of Irene told her husband of the
prophecies, being overcome by her love for him. Her husband from
his pride and foolhardiness, rather than running to the Lord with
tears and begging mercy, remained indifferent. He was interested
only in learning who would be the next king and many times he sent
messages to our holy mother Irene trying to learn the future king's
name. A few days later he was killed in the military camp. King
Michael was then killed in the same way and Basil the Macedonian
became king.
A noble and beautiful woman from Cappadocia, the home-city of St.
Irene, was engaged to a certain man. Later on, however, she
thought better of it and decided against marraige. She decided
instead to become a nun at the famed monastery of
Chrysovalantou. The demon grew jealous, however, and filled her
ex-fiance with tremendous sexual passion. However, the man knew
well that he would not be able to enter the monastery. Instead, he
hired a powerful magician, a most able servant of the devil to whom
he gave him a large amount of money for the deliverance of the
woman he wanted as his wife. The magician wrought his evil art in
Cappadocia and the woman in the monastery went completely out
of her mind. She began to run around the convent screaming and
crying out the name of her ex-fiance and swearing that if they did
not open the doors of the convent she would suffocate. Our
venerable mother heard the uprise and cried, «Woe to me the
wretched one, if by the carelessness of the shepherds the wolves
snatch the sheep away.
However, in vain do you labor, O sly devil, because Christ will not
allow you to swallow my lamb.» She then called the sisterhood
together and instructed them to guard themselves against the
snares of the demons and she ordered them all to fast for the entire
week while praying to God and each one of them to make a
thousand prostrations a day with tears for this sister of theirs who
was undergoing temptation.
Our venerable mother prayed in her cell daily for this sister and on
the third day, she saw St Basil the Great in front of her and he said
to her, «Why do you deride us, Irene? We have left our homeland
and all the vile and impious acts take place there now. When the sun
rises take your sick disciple and bring her to Vlachernae and there
the mother of our Master Christ who is powerful will make her well.»
Having said this, St. Basil disappeared. St. Irene took the sick sister
along with two other nuns and arriving at the Church of Vlachernae,
they prayed the entire day with tears in their eyes. At about
midnight, St. Irene fell asleep and in her sleep she saw many people
dressed in brilliant golden clothes and preparing the roads with the
most fragrant flowers and incense. Our venerable mother then
asked why so much preparation was taking place. They answered
that the Mother of God was coming and warned her to prepare
herself that she might be accounted worthy to venerate God's
mother. Then the Mother of the Life arrived followed by a vast
crowd. So much did the face of the Virgin radiate that it was not
possible for a mere mortal to gaze upon her. Our Lady having looked
at all the ill, assembled in the church, looked at the disciple of St.
Irene. Our venerable mother Irene fell at the spotless feet of the
Mother of God, full of fear and trembling. The Mother of God then
called on St. Basil the Great and asked him what Irene needed. St.
Basil explained to the Theotokos exactly what St. Irene's need was.
Hearing this the Theotokos said, «Call here, Anastasia!» When St.
Anastasia had arrived, the Mother of God said to her, "Go with Basil
to Caesarea, and study carefully the situation in order to cure this
girl, for to you my Son and God has granted this grace.»
Venerating the Theotokos, St. Anastasia and St. Basil left in all haste
in order to perform the ordained task. Our venerable mother Irene
then heard a voice saying. "Go to your convent and she will be
made well.» On awakening, Irene explained to the sisters what she
had seen and they went on their way rejoicing greatly. When they
arrived at the convent it was Friday at the time of vespers and all
the nuns were gathered at the church. St. Irene explained her vision
and then ordered them all to raise their hands and eyes towards
heaven and with all their hearts and burning tears to cry out, «Lord
have mercy!» After a long time, when the entire floor of the church
had become wet from the tears of the sisters, St. Basil and the
Great-martyr Anastasia appeared floating in the air and the sisters
heard them say, «Irene open your arms and receive this, and don't
grieve us needlessly again.» (St. Irene had been praying before the
icon of St. Basil and begged him to free Caesarea from magicians).
Stretching out her hands, St. Irene received from the midst of the air
a package weighing about three liters and containing a host of
charms including strings, hair, and lead, bound together with the
names of demons written upon them. It also contained two small
idols made of lead, one in the shape of the ex-fiance and the other
in the shape of the sick nun, stuck together as if they were
committing a sin. The nuns were amazed and remained praying the
entire night. They thanked the Theotokos. In the morning, St. Irene
sent the sick nun, along with two other nuns to Vlachernae. Taking
with them the charms, oil and prosphora, they attended the Divine
Liturgy. After the liturgy, the priest anointed the sick nun with oil
from the vigil lamp and later put the magical charms on live coals.
As the charms burned, the nun became well and regained her
senses. When the spell of the charms was totally broken, a crying
sound came forth from the coals that resembled the squealing of
pigs at their slaughter. The nuns returned to the monastery
glorifying God that He does such strange and magnificent things
and on entering the monastery they told all what had happened.
The humble Irene, seeing that she was revered for her holy acts, all
the more condemned herself and tears were always to be found in
her eyes. She would especially cry during the Holy Liturgy when the
priest would sacrifice God on the holy altar. She would ponder how
the invisible and immortal God accepted to become man and to be
crucified for our love and to prepare for us those divine mysteries
that we might receive them as food and drink. Being overcome with
compunction, she was not able to hold back her grief and she would
bow down her head so that no one would see her crying, feeling that
she was a thief and evil-doer and committed great misdeeds.
Let us relate to you another of her miracles during her lifetime: A
young man by the name of Nicholas used to take care of the
vineyard of the convent of our venerable mother. Nicholas fell in
love with one of the nuns of the convent and could find no peace
day or night for desire of this nun. The devil led Nicholas to this
passion in order to punish St. Irene. So much did the evil one darken
the mind of this young man that one night as he made his way
towards the convent he fantasized that he found the gate of the
cloister open, went into the cell of this nun, fell down with her on her
mattress and did that which he desired. He then actually fell down
on the ground and began to grind his body up against the earth. Not
only did he cut and bruise his body but he also gave the demon a
chance to disturb him.
In the morning, the doorkeeper opened the gate of the monastery
and noticed him outside possessed, foaming at the mouth and
writhing. She went and told our venerable mother what she had
seen and asked her if she knew the reason that Nicholas was now
possessed. Falling down in Prayer, St. Irene said, «Blessed are you O
Lord, that you did not allow us to become neither the prey nor the
victims of the demons.» She then sent the young man to the Church
of St. Anastasia to be healed. A few days later Irene saw a vision of
St. Anastasia and heard the Great-martyr say to her, "To free
yourself from this possessed man you sent him to me? Only you, my
sister, can make him well.» So, St. Irene ordered that the young man
be brought to her. So that no one might learn of her miraculous
power St. Irene did not cure the man immediately but rather they
tied him to a column of the church. The saint, along with the other
sisters, prayed daily for him. When the priest was serving the Divine
Liturgy and had put down the holy gifts on the holy table after the
great entrance the possessed man broke the chain that was binding
him and ran into the altar. He grabbed the priest and began to bite
his shoulder as if he was actually trying to eat his flesh. Immediately
our saint of God rushed to the possessed man and ordered him to
remain still. Seeing the saint, Nicholas wanted to run away, but he
was not able to move at all being held tighter by the command of
the saint than by any chain. When the liturgy had finished, our
venerable mother remained alone in the church with the possessed
young man. She prayed to the Lord and then addressed the demon.
She ordered the demon to tell her the reason and the manner with
which he had entered this man. The demon, forced by divine power,
answered all of our saint's questions honestly. She then commanded
the demon to come out of the man. Shaking the man and throwing
him down to the ground the demon came forth. St. Irene raised the
man up and advised him as to how to always be careful in avoiding
overeating and intoxication. Never to be absent from church on any
feast day and to pray without ceasing so that the demon might
never again get a chance to bother him. When people would ask
him, «Who cured you?» he would respond, «The Lord through the
prayers of His angels.» Nicholas went forth praising and giving
thanks to God.
Our saint remained as before, occupied with her ascetical struggles
and often spent the entire day and night in prayer for one, two, and
even three weeks at a time. So long and in such ecstatic prayer
would she have her hands upraised that she later would be
incapable of lowering them. At such times she would call one of the
sisters to help her lower her hands and from far away one could
hear her shoulders cracking. She would not eat bread from the
beginning of Great Lent until Pascha. She would eat only fruit and
vegetables only once a week with a little water. On major feasts she
would hold vigil and not sleep an all. She would spend those nights
praying and chanting and many times she would stand out in the
convent's yard praying with much compunction. When she would
look at the stars and the vastness and the beauty of the universe,
she would glorify the Creator who wisely made all things.
One night a sister of the nunnery noticed St. Irene praying in the
outer yard of the convent. Our venerable mother's feet were not
touching the ground but rather she was standing in the air about
two yards above the ground! Near her there were two extremely tall
cypress trees. So long as our glorious saint was praying the two
cypress trees bowed down to the ground and waiting for our
venerable mother to finish her prayer. When finished with her prayer
St Irene touched the treetops and blessed them in the sign of the
cross as they returned to their original position! The nun, saw this
amazing site and became frightened. She watched this strange
event for three hours. She went so far as to check the cell of her
abbess in order to make sure that she was not dreaming. It was not
a dream.
So was the nun terrified that she did not mention the event to the
others. Several days later the nuns noticed two handkerchiefs tied
to the tops of the two cypress trees. Our venerable mother had tied
those two handkerchiefs there for the glory of God because many
times the trees venerate her. Awed by this strange sight, one sister
began to ask another, by whom, and how, and when might these
handkerchiefs been hung on the tops of such tall and slender trees.
Then the sister who had seen the above stated miracle explained to
the other nuns how the cypress trees bowed when their abbess
prayed. On hearing this, the other nuns were filled with joy and
began to cry and even scolded the sister because she did not wake
them so that they also might see the miracle.
When St. Irene learned that this nun had made known this great
sign she became scandalized. She called the nun before her and
asked her, «If you saw me, as a human being that I am, fall into sin
would you tell everyone what sin I had committed?» Then our
venerable mother warned this nun along with all the others, that if
they ever reported another miracle as long as she lived that they
would receive a very strict penance. The sisters saw countless other
miraculous signs during our holy mother's life, but for fear of being
chastised, they did not make them known to anyone.
It was the custom then of their convent to celebrate the feast of St.
Basil the Great on the first day of January, because St. Irene had a
great devotion to him as they were both from the same city. One
particular year, after the priest finished serving the Divine Liturgy on
this feast day, he came out of the altar and announced that there
was a mouse in the altar that was defiling the sacred vessels and
that the nuns should try to kill it. Our venerable mother went to her
cell and prayed even for this seemingly very small request. When
the priest was ready to leave the convent the abbess sent the
ecclesiarch to the church and said to her, «Go to the door of the
altar and there you will find a dead mouse. Throw it outside.» The
priest found the mouse dead just as St. Irene had said and
proclaimed, «Magnified is God in His Saints!»
On that same day, Wednesday, during the watchguard of the night,
our holy mother heard a mystical voice say to her, «Receive the
sailor who will bring you fruit today and eat this fruit rejoicing in
your soul.» During the Orthros, St. Irene called two nuns to her and
said to them, «Go to the convent's gate and you will find a sailor
waiting outside. Bring him into the convent.» On meeting, the sailor
our venerable mother exchanged greetings and asked him from
where he was and how it was that he happened to come to the
convent. He replied in this manner: "My lady, I am a sailor from the
island of Patmos. I had embarked on a voyage with my crew to come
here to Constantinople for a certain service I had to perform. When
we were passing by the far end of my island we saw on the land a
most pious and handsome looking old man. This old man yelled out
to us to wait for him. However we were close to the land and there
were many rocks there. We had a good wind behind us and we
continued to speed along farther and farther away. The old man
yelled again louder and at that moment the ship came to a
complete stop and this old man began to come towards us while
walking on the waves. At that point, he took out of his shirt three
apples and gave them to me saying, «When you arrive in the
capitol, give these apples to the patriarch and tell him that God sent
them to him from paradise by way of His servant John.» Taking out
three other apples he said to me, «Give these three to the abbess of
Chrysovalantou whose name is Irene. Tell her to eat these in
fulfillment of the desire of her soul because now I have brought
these from paradise.» The old man then gave thanks to God and
blessed us and immediately the ship began to move and the old
man disappeared. I gave the three apples to the patriarch and now
1 am bringing you the other three.» Our venerable mother hearing
this began to cry from joy and gave thanks to the beloved Disciple
and Apostle of Christ. Then the sailor took the apples out of a silk
and gold embroidered handkerchief in which he had kept them as
divine possessions and he gave them to St. Irene with much
reverence. These three worldly and corruptible apples were so large
and so beautiful in their shape and so fragrant that in their physical
nature alone they were an amazing sight. The only explanation for
the beauty of these apples is that they were from paradise.
The sailor, received a blessing and forgiveness from the abbess
before he went on his way. Our venerable mother fasted for one
week to give thanks to the Lord for this gift He had sent her. After
giving thanks in this way she began to eat a small piece of one of
the apples every day without eating food nor even water for forty
days. Whenever St. Irene would eat a piece of this apple a fragrance
would exude from her mouth so strong that all the nuns of the
convent could smell it. The entire convent smelled as if it had been
washed with a most costly perfume and it truly smelled like
paradise.
When the day of Great and Holy Thursday arrived, St. Irene blessed
all the nuns to receive the Holy Mysteries and having received
communion our venerable mother cut the second apple and gave a
piece to each nun to eat. They all ate of it without knowing what it
was being only aware of its great fragrance and sweetness. Not only
did they taste the sweetness of the apple with their mouths, but on
eating it they also felt a sense of joy and jubilance in their souls. The
third apple she kept as a very valuable possession and every time
she smelled it, she felt joy and comfort in her soul.
On Great and Holy Friday, when our Master suffered His passion, our
holy mother was in ecstasy and as the sisters were singing the
service of the Holy Passions with much, compunction, she beheld a
vision. She saw an innumerable amount of beautiful and brilliant
youth come into the church holding in their hands guitars and
singing hymns to the glory of God in great harmony, sweetly and
gloriously. They were also carrying vessels filled with myrth and they
emptied these on the holy table. Then the angel who was waiting at
the holy table cried out, «For how long my Lord?» A voice was heard
answering the angel and saying, «Until the second Solomon shall
come to join the heavenly things with the earthly and that they
might become one, so long will the Lord magnify the remembrance
of His handmaid.» At this point the youth in white cried out the
«Glory to God in the Highest» and ascended to the heavens.
Our venerable mother, however, also had to pay her own debt as
mortal man. An angel appeared to her and told her, «Be aware that
in the coming year, on the twenty-eighth of the present month,
when you will celebrate the martyr Panteleimon, you will come to
stand at the throne of the Godhead.» It was then July twenty-sixth
and at the Convent of Chrysovalantou that they were celebrating
the consecration of the Church of the Archangel for on this day was
its building and restoration completed.
The next year, when they were again celebrating this feast and the
feast of St. Panteleimon, our holy mother received the holy
mysteries having first fasted for one week according to the order of
our Church. During that time she was praying and had not even
drunk water at all during the week. She had only eaten of the holy
apple that the beloved apostle of our Master Christ sent to her from
Paradise. Before this time she had nor wanted to eat of this third
and last apple because she wanted to have some comfort in this
exile here on earth. Every time she or one of the sisters would fall
into despondency or sadness or have a certain complaint, as
humans are prone to, she would take the apple into her hands and
from its unimaginable fragrance she would be immediately be filled
with joy and would ponder what happiness awaits those who are to
inherit the eternal heavenly kingdom. Again this time, upon eating
the apple, the entire convent was filled with the heavenly aroma.
After partaking of the apple, our venerable mother fell into agony,
weeping, fearing death, and looking to heaven. The nuns, not being
aware of what was happening, asked what had upset her that she
was now crying. She replied to them, «Today, my children, I am
leaving this world and you will no longer see me. When the hour will
have come and I will leave this life for the eternal one, I want you to
elect Maria abbess, because the Lord has chosen her as she will
govern you God-pleasingly.
Be alert to walk the narrow and difficult road in order to find the
spacious place of paradise. Hate the world and the worldly things
because all of these temporal things are vain. According to the
divine order, hate your own souls in order to save them. In a few
words, don't do anything that your flesh wants, but rather the desire
of God, because only He can help you at the hour of judgment.»
These and other spiritually beneficial words did St. Irene say to her
sisters during her last hour. Then she lifted up her hands and eyes
towards heaven and prayed in this way to the Lord, «Master, Lord
Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God, the Good Shepherd, who
saved us with Your all-holy and precious blood, into Your hands do I
give over Your small flock. Protect it in the shelter of Your wings and
guard it against the snares of the devil, for You are our Sanctification
and our Salvation and to You do we send up thanks and glory to all
ages.» Having prayed this prayer, she sat down and began to smile,
seeing before her the holy angels, who were greeting her. Then her
face began to shine as the sun and she closed her eyes as one
falling asleep and she Rave up her sacred soul to the Lord, having
lived one-hundred and three years. Even though she had reached
such a great age, her physical beauty had not faded as she looked
like a young, beautiful girl, by grace of her virginity and by the fact
that she had never known anything worldly. God had granted that
the all-pure one remain in this state to give witness to the beauty of
her soul and that grace had been bestowed on her by her heavenly
Bridegroom.
The nuns of the convent began to weep and wail and they mourned
their mother worthily. The entire city, men and women of every age
wept. Such a crowd of men and women came to venerate her holy
relics that the convent was not able to hold them all. Neither was it
possible for them to bury her, because of the pilgrims who were
arriving. When the night arrived they managed with difficulty to
bury our venerable mother according to the order of our holy
Church. According to the custom, the bishops brought incense and
myrrh and most-precious perfumes, but the fragrance that came
forth from our holy morher's relics far surpassed all of the earthly
aroma.
Having sung the burial service, they placed the body of our
venerable mother in a temporary burial place until they had
prepared a tomb for her in the Church of St. Theodore, which was
next to the Church of the Archangel and there was the body of our
holy mother given final rest and from her tomb, more miraculous
than the tomb of a martyr, came forth a most heavenly fragrance.
The noble relative of St. Irene, who had been delivered from dearth
by the intercession of the saint with the emperor, began to
celebrate every year the memory of our holy mother in the most
brilliant manner. All those who called on the name of our most
venerable mother Irene, received that which was to their benefit.

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THE STORY BEHIND
THE MIRACULOUS WEEPING
ICON OF
SAINT IRENE
CHRYSOVALANTOU
Beyond doubt, The Miraculous weeping icon of Saint Irene
Chrysovalantou is the crowning jewel of The Sacred Patriarchal and
Stavropegial Monastery. But how and why has such an icon gained
such a powerful name and why do thousands of people visit the
monastery from around the world each year to see it?
The icon was painted in 1921 by an Orthodox monk on Mount Athos,
Greece. Athos is also referred to as «The Holy Mountain». It᾿s home
to a semi-autonomous all-male monastic community of twenty
monasteries composed of 1,500 inhabitants. The monasteries on
Athos operate in the same manner that they have for over one
thousand years. The monks keep Byzantine time, use the Julian
calendar and spend their days in isolation, mystique and
contemplation praying and fasting. It᾿s no wonder so many
miraculous icons have originated from this holy place.
The icon of Saint Irene Chrysovalantou was brought to the United
States of America in 1972 by Metropolitan Paisios of Tyana, abbot of
the current Patriarchal Monastery in Astoria who also served time as
a monk on Mount Athos for many years. Metropolitan Paisios᾿s
dream was to errect a new monastery in the heart of Astoria
dedicated to Saint Irene, the most gracious abbess of a very famous
monastery during the 9th century AD called Chrysovalantou.
The fame of the monastery of Chrysovalantou reached the corners
of the earth as its most gracious and all-holy abbess, Irene of
Cappadokia, a woman with spiritual and bodily beauty so unparrallel
that she was saught out to marry the King before she cut her long
blonde hair and gave all she had to the poor so that she may devote
her life to Jesus Christ.
Miracles, sick people healed, demons vanishing, souls saved and
more miracles. Such dramatic events were all the more common at
Chrysovalantou during this Holy abbess᾿s tenure as she
relentlesssly guided her spiritual daughters to paradise. She prayed
and she prayed. Days and nights she went on praying without
stopping for food or water. Yet, even when Saint Irene
Chrysovalantou eventually passed away at the age of 103(!) she
was as beautiful as ever and barely looked over 30. But her miracles
continued even after her death.
Metropolitan Paisios of Tyana knew it well and in 1972, with the icon
of the Most Gracious Abbess of Chrysovalantou as his guide, he
realized his dream as the Sacred Patriarchal and Stavropegial
Orthodox Monastery of Saint Irene Chrysovalantou was founded in
the heart of Astoria. As Irene᾿s pure life and her many miracles
touched the lives of many who sought her help the monastery in
Astoria rapidly gained fame and established itself as a center of
orthodox faith.
Many came to visit her, to eat of her miraculous apple. Then came
the miracles. People walked into the monastery, sick at heart and
body and came out healed. Letters, hundreds of letters poured into
the monastery from faithful thanking Irene for her miraculous
interventions. Her fame grew larger still. Now other churches, other
comminities far and near asked for Her visit.
Then came 1990. Yet another year marked with human blood. The
United States of America was gearing up for the Gulf War. The icon
of Saint Irene Chrysovalantou was on loan to The Greek Orthodox
Church of Saint Athanasios and John the Baptist. October 17th... it
happened...oh glorified be Thy name!
Tears. Our most gracious abbess wept as more tears rolled down Her
Holy Icon.
The miraculous icon was returned to the monastery in New York but
the Gulf war continued. Again tears rolled over her cheeks. News of
the weeping icon spread quickly and thousands rushed to see her.
The miracles continue to this day.