The Holy Great Martyress Irene lived during the first century and until baptism had the name Penelope. She was daughter of the pagan Licinius, governor of the city of Migdonia (in Macedonia, or Thrace). Licinius built for his daughter a separate splendid palace, where she lived with her governess Karia, surrounded by her peers and her servants. Daily there came to Penelope a tutor by the name of Apelian, who taught her the sciences. Apelian was a Christian, and during the time of study he told the maiden about Christ the Saviour and taught her the Christian teaching and the Christian virtues.
When Penelope became an adolescent, her parents began to think about her marriage. During this period of her life the Lord instructed her in a miraculous manner: to her at the window there flew one after the other of three birds – a dove with an olive twig, an eagle with a garland, and a raven with a snake. Penelope’s teacher Apelian explained to her the meaning of these signs: the Dove, symbolising the virtues of the maiden – humility, meekness, and chasteness – bearing an olive twig, the grace of God received in Baptism; the Eagle – symbol of sublimity of spirit, attained through meditation upon God – bearing a garland for victory over the invisible enemy as a reward from the Lord. The Raven, however, bearing the snake was a sign that the devil would rise up against her and would cause her grief, sorrow and persecution. At the end of the conversation Apelian said that the Lord wished to betroth her to Himself and that Penelope would undergo much suffering for her Heavenly Bridegroom. After this Penelope refused marriage, accepted Baptism from the hands of the Disciple Timothy, who was a disciple of the holy Apostle Paul, and she was named Irene. She began even to urge her own parents to accept the Christian faith. The mother was pleased with the conversion of her daughter to Christ; the father at first did not hinder his daughter, but then he began to demand of her the worship to the pagan gods. When however Saint Irene firmly and decisively refused, the enraged Licinius then gave orders to tie up his daughter and throw her beneath the hooves of frenzied horses. The horses remained motionless. But one of them got loose from its harness, threw itself at Licinius, seized him by the right hand and tore it from his arm, then knocked Licinius down and began to trample him. They then untied the holy maiden, and through her prayer Licinius in the presence of eyewitnesses rose up unharmed, with his hand intact. Seeing such a miracle, Licinius with his wife and many of the people, in number about 3000 men, believed in Christ and refrained from the pagan gods. Resigning the governance of the city, Licinius settled into the palace of his daughter, intending to devote himself to the service of the Lord Jesus Christ. Saint Irene however began to preach the teaching of Christ among the pagans and she converted them to the path of salvation. She lived in the house of her teacher Apelian.
Having learned of this, Sedecius, the new governor of the city, summoned Apelian and questioned him about the manner of life of Irene. Apelian answered that Irene, just like other Christians, lived in strict temperance, in constant prayer and reading of holy books. Sedecius summoned the saint to him and began to urge her to cease preaching about Christ and to offer sacrifice to the gods. Saint Irene staunchly confessed her faith before the governor, not fearing his wrath, and prepared to undergo suffering for Christ. By order of Sedecius she was thrown into a pit, filled with vipers and serpents. The saint spent ten days in the pit and remained unharmed, since an angel of the Lord protected her and brought her food. Sedecius ascribed this miracle to sorcery and he subjected the saint to a cruel torture: he gave orders to saw her with an iron saw. But the saws broke one after the other and caused no harm to the body of the holy virgin. Finally, a fourth saw reddened the body of the holy martyress with blood. Sedecius with derision said to the martyress: “Where then is thy God? If He be powerful, let Him help thee!” Suddenly a whirlwind shot up, gave forth a blinding flast of lightning, striking down many of the torturers, thunder crashed, and a strong rain poured down. Beholding such a sign from Heaven, many believed in Christ the Saviour. Sedecius did not understand the obvious display of the power of God and he subjected the saint to new torments, but the Lord preserved her unharmed. Finally the people rebelled having to look upon the sufferings of the innocent virgin, and they rose up against Sedecius and expelled him from the city.
Having replaced Sedecius as governor, they still subjected Saint Irene to various cruel torments, during which while by the power of God she continued to remain unharmed, and the people under the influence of her preaching and accomplishing of miracles all the more in number were converted to Christ, having turned away from the worship of soulless idols. Over 10,000 pagans were converted by Saint Irene.
The saint went from her native city Migdonia to Kallipolis, and there she continued to preach about Christ. The governor of the city by the name of Babadonos subjected the martyress to new punishments, but seeing that the saint remained unharmed, he came to his senses and believed in Christ. A large number of pagans believed together with him, all whom received holy Baptism from the Disciple Timothy.
After this Saint Irene settled in other cities of Thrace – Konstantinos and then Mesembros – preaching about Christ and working miracles, healing the sick and undergoing suffering for Christ.
In the city of Ephesus the Lord revealed to her that the time of her end was approaching. Then Saint Irene in the company of her teacher the elder Apelian and other Christians went out from the city to a hilly cave and, having signed herself with the sign of the cross, she went into it, having directed her companions to close the entrance to the cave with a large stone, which they did. Four days after this, when Christians visited the cave, they did not find the body of the saint in it. Thus reposed the holy Great Martyress Irene.