The Scriptures say, "Many are the afflictions
of the righteous, but the Lord delivers them out of them all"
(Psalm 33/34:19). Born Penelope but renamed Irene (Greek for Peace)
at her baptism, this holy saint suffered the pains of martyrdom,
not once, but several times during her life. In every case, though,
she was miraculously rescued from death, and in fulfillment of
the name given to her by divine inspiration, she ended her life
in peace after persuading tens of thousands of her countrymen
to believe in Jesus Christ.
She was born in Magedon of Persia during the reign of Constantine the Great (306-337 AD) of the governor Licinius and his wife Licinia. One day, while sitting in the tower her father had built for her safekeeping, the saint saw three birds enter her room and place articles on her table. The first was a dove with an olive branch, the second an eagle with a garland of flowers, and the third a crow with a snake. Her tutor Apellian interpreted these events, saying that these were various symbols of her calling and preparation to proclaim the Christian faith to her people and of her trials and sufferings as well. Penelope was baptized and received the name Irene at that time.
Her father, discovering Irene's new faith, decided to punish her with death by having her trampled under the hooves of his horses. The saint, however, remained unhurt, whereas her father himself fell and was mortally wounded. Through the prayer of Saint Irene, though, her father was resurrected and came to believe in Christ, along with his wife. Her resigned his governorship and took to the tower in order to spend the remainder of his days in acts of repentance.
The new governor, Sedekias, resolved to have Irene sacrifice to his idols. After her repeated refusals, he cast her into a pit filled with poisonous snakes and lizards. Once again, though, she suffered no harm. Subsequent attempts to harm her by governors Sedekias, Sabor, and Noumerianos failed time and again, and all the while Irene's peaceful faith in the face of torture won many converts to Christianity among her people.