St Irene the great Martyr
Commemorated May 5
Holy Great Martyr Irene was born in the city of Magedon in Persia during the fourth century. She was the daughter of the pagan king Licinius, and her parents named her Penelope. Penelope was very beautiful, and her father kept her isolated in a high tower from the time she was six so that she would not be exposed to Christianity. He also placed thirteen young maidens in the tower with her. An old tutor by the name of Apellian was assigned to give her the best possible education. Apellian was a Christian, and during her lessons, he told the girl about Christ the Saviour and taught her the Christian Faith and the Christian virtues.
When Penelope reached adolescence, her parents began to think about her marriage. One day, a dove flew through the window carrying an olive branch in its beak, depositing it upon a table. Then an eagle swooped in with a wreath of flowers in its beak, and placed it upon the table. Finally, a raven flew in carrying a snake, which it dropped on the table. These events puzzled Penelope and she wondered what they meant. Apellian explained that the dove signified her education, and the olive branch stood for the grace of God, which is received in Baptism. The eagle with the wreath of flowers represented success in her future life. The raven and the snake foretold her future suffering and sorrow.
At the end of the conversation, Apellian 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, the priest Timothy baptized her with the new name Irene (meaning peace in Greek). She even urged her own parents to become Christians. Shortly after this, she destroyed all her father's idols.