"Welcome Irene, Servant of God. Proceed to the Imperial City in joy because the convent of Chrysovalantou needs you in the community."
This welcoming of the saintly hermit Ioannikos was rendered to a beautiful young lady from Cappadocia named Irene. It was the ninth century, the most beautiful and virtuous young women were being summoned to Constantinople so that Empress Theodora’s son, Michael, could choose a wife. Irene was from an aristocratic family of Cappadocia and she gladly accepted the invitation. The envoys of the Empress were impressed with Irene’s presence and were confident that she would be chosen to be the future emperor’s wife.
While traveling to Constantinople, Irene asked to visit Ioannikos, a holy recluse who lived on Mt. Olympos in Asia Minor. The saintly hermit possessed the gift of spiritual insight and foresaw not only the arrival of this young girl but also her future role in the life of the convent of Chrysovalantou.
When Irene arrived in the Imperial City she was greeted by her relatives. In the meantime, however, it had been arranged for young Emperor Michael to marry another girl. Far from being disappointed, Irene gave thanks to God who had led the Emperor to make this decision. Remembering the hermit’s prophecy Irene visited the holy convent of Chrysovalantou. She was so impressed with the environment of the monastery that she freed her slaves, gave all her wealth to the poor, and entered the convent.
While in the monastery, this young aristocratic girl served the community with humility and obedience. Not once did she reminisce about her past and she cheerfully accepted the most despised tasks of the day-to-day chores in the convent.
In accordance with the discipline of the monastery, she read the lives of the saints and was impressed with the life of the great Arsenios who taught a discipline of nightlong prayers. She requested permission to emulate this teaching regarding prayer. Her devotion to communicate with God through prayer enabled her to stand for 24 hours without movement. Through abstinence and prayer, she was now totally free of worldly temptations. So great was her devotion to God that she was blessed with the Holy Spirit in the manner of St. Paul, living no more according to the flesh, but so dwelling in Christ and Christ in her that she appeared transfigured to those who sought her spiritual counsel. In time, the Abbess of the monastery would die breathing her last wishes to the nuns who had gathered in her cell. She said, "Do not lament my departure for in my successor you have a leader who is wiser than I. Be obedient to her, this daughter of light, lamb of Christ and vessel of the Holy Spirit. Do not accept anyone but Irene." Then closing with the words: "Glory to you, O Lord, in your mercy" she committed her soul to the care of the angels. Irene would become the spiritual mother of the convent and she increased her prayer life and received wisdom from above to lead her community. The Holy Convent of Chrysovalantou grew and enriched the lives of many pilgrims who would seek the humble guidance of Irene. There are many miraculous stories that pertain to the life of St. Irene. People from all walks of life experienced a renewal of faith when they spoke with her and followed her advice.
We, too, can be strengthened in our faith if we consider the lives of the saints. The life of St. Irene Chrysovalantou offers Christian Orthodox stewards the opportunity to understand that our involvement in the Church is an expression of faith. We are expected to be humble, obedient, and faithful as individuals and as members of an assembly of the faithful who glorify the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit through ministries offered by the Church. Prayerfully and faithfully let us move forward into the 21st century encouraged by the holy example of the saints.
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