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Who is St. Irene?
Saints Agape, Chionia, and Irene were three sisters who were born in Thessalonica, in the Macedonia section in the northern part of modern-day Greece. Around 304 AD, during a persecution of Christians by the Roman Emperor Diocletian, Irene and her sisters were brought before Dulcitius, the Governor of Macedonia, on a charge that they refused to eat meat which had been earlier offered in sacrifice to the gods. He asked Agape and Chionia where they had developed this objection to such food, and Chionia responded that she had learned it from her Lord Jesus Christ. She and Agape again refused to eat the sacrificed food and were burned alive.
Dulcitius learned that Irene had kept Christian books in her possession instead of giving them up as the law required. When brought to the governor, Irene stated that they had fled with the books to the mountains. She would not implicate others saying that she alone knew where the books were hidden. When released she hid the books and so was arrested and placed in jail. None would touch her. She was sentenced to death. Like her sisters, she was ordered to be burned to death. The tradition is that Irene, however, was executed by means of an arrow.
The statute of St. Irene in our church holds a scroll, an arrow, and an olive branch. The name “Irene” means “peace” in Greek. The olive branch is a symbol of peace—following the story of Noah, who after the flood, sent a dove forth to discover if the flood had subsided. The dove returned with an olive branch in its mouth—indicating that God’s covenant with his people was renewed after the flood. The arrow is a symbol of her martyrdom, and the scroll symbolizes the books she refused to give up, reminding us of the young woman who stood up for her faith and suffered the consequences.
St. Irene was a young woman who stood up for her faith and suffered the consequences. Her Feast Day is April 3, the day she found peace in Christ.