Science of the Saints, 16 April, The Holy Virgins and Martyrs Agape, Irene, and Chiona

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The Holy Martyresses Agape, Irene, and Chiona were sisters by birth and they lived during the late third century / early fourth century, near the Italian city of Aquilea. They were left orphaned at an early age. The young women led a pious Christian life and they turned down many an offer of marriage. Their spiritual guide was the priest Xeno. It was revealed to him in a dream-vision, that at a very soon time he would die, and the holy virgins would suffer martyrdom. Situated also at Aquilea and having a similar vision was the Great Martyress Anastasia (+c. 304), who is entitled “Alleviatrix-of-Captives” because she fearlessly made visits to Christians locked up in prison, encouraging them and helping them. The Great Martyress Anastasia made a visit to the sisters and urged them to bravely endure for Christ. Soon what was predicted in the vision came to pass. The priest Xeno died, and the three virgins were arrested and brought to trial before the emperor Diocletian (284-305).

Seeing the youthful beauty of the sisters, the emperor urged them to recant from Christ and he promised to find them illustrious bridegrooms from his entourage. But the holy sisters answered that they have only the Heavenly Bridegroom – Christ – for the faith in Whom they were ready to suffer. The emperor demanded they renounce Christ, but neither the elder sisters nor the youngest of them would consent. They called the pagan gods mere idols, wrought by human hands, and they preached faith in the True God.

By order of Diocletian, who was setting off for Macedonia, the holy sisters were also to be conveyed there. And they brought them to the court of the governor Dulcetius.

When he saw the beauty of the holy martyresses, he was aroused with impure passion. He put the sisters under guard and he informed them that they would receive their freedom if they agreed to fulfill his desires. But the holy martyresses replied that they were prepared to die for their Heavenly Bridegroom – Christ. Then Dulcetius decided secretly by night to have his way by force. When the holy sisters arose at night and were glorifying the Lord in prayer, Dulcetius edged up to the door and wanted to enter. But an invisible force struck him, he lost his senses and staggered away. Unable to find his way out, the torturer on his way fell down in the kitchen amidst the cooking utensils, the pots and pans, and he was covered all over with soot. The servants and the soldiers recognised him only with difficulty. When he saw himself in a mirror, he then realised that the holy martyresses had made a fool of him, and he decided to take his revenge on them.

At his court Dulcetius gave orders to strip bare the holy martyresses before him. But the soldiers, no matter how much they tried, were not able to do this: the clothing as it were clung to the bodies of the holy virgins. And during the time of trial Dulcetius suddenly fell asleep, and no one was able to rouse him. But just as they carried him into his house, he immediately awoke.

When they reported to the emperor Diocletian about everything that had happened, he became angry with Dulcetius and he gave the holy virgins over for trial to Sisinius. This one began his interrogation with the youngest sister, Irene. Having convinced himself of her unyielding, he despatched her to prison and then attempted to sway into renunciation Saints Chiona and Agape. But these also it was impossible to sway into a renunciation of Christ, and Sisinius gave orders that Saints Agape and Chionia be burned. The sisters upon hearing the sentence gave up thanks to the Lord for the crowns of martyrdom. And in the fire Agape and Chionia prayerfully expired to the Lord.

When the fire went out, everyone saw, that the bodies of the holy martyresses and their clothing had not been scorched by the fire, and their faces were beautiful and peaceful, like people quietly asleep. On the day following Sisinius gave orders to bring Saint Irene to court. He threatened her with the fate of her older sisters and he urged her to renounce Christ, and then he began to threaten to hand her over for defilement in an house of ill repute. But the holy martyress answered: “Let my body be given over for forceful defilement, but my soul will never be defiled by renunciation of Christ.”

When the soldiers of Sisinius led Saint Irene to the house of ill repute, two luminous soldiers overtook them and said: “Your master Sisinius commands you to take this virgin to an high mountain and leave her there, and then return to him and report to him about fulfilling the command.” And the soldiers did so. When they reported back to Sisinius about this, he flew into a rage, since he had given no such orders. The luminous soldiers were Angels of God, saving the holy martyress from defilement. Sisinius with a detachment of soldiers set off to the mountain and saw Saint Irene on its summit. For a long while they searched for the way to the top, but they could not find it. Then one of the soldiers wounded Saint Irene with an arrow from his bow. The martyress cried out to Sisinius: “I do mock thine impotent malice, and pure and undefiled I do expire to my Lord Jesus Christ.” Having given up thanks to the Lord, she lay down upon the ground and gave up her spirit to God, on the very day of Holy Pascha (+304).

The Great Martyress Anastasia learned about the end of the holy sisters and reverently she buried their bodies.

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