April 16 
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April 16

Great Lent
Virgin Martyrs Agape, Irene and Chionia, in Illyria (304). Martyrs Leonidas, Chariessa, Nice (Nika, Victoria), Galina, Kalista (Kalisa), Nunechia, Basilissa, Theodora, and Irene, of Corinth (258). Monk Martyr Christopher of Dionysiou (Mt. Athos—1818). Hieromartyr Nicetas. The Weeping “IL’INSKO-CHERNIGOV” (1658) and the TAMBOV Icons of the Theotokos (1658).

Saints Agape, Irene and Chionia

16 avril

The Holy Martyrs Agape, Irene, and Chionia were sisters who lived at the end of the third century to the beginning of the fourth century, near the Italian city of Aquilea. They were left orphaned at an early age.

The young women led a pious Christian life and they turned down many offers of marriage. Their spiritual guide was the priest Xeno. It was revealed to him in a vision that he would die very soon, and that the holy virgins would suffer martyrdom. Also at Aquilea and having a similar vision was the Great Martyr Anastasia (December 22), who is called “Deliverer from Potions,” because she fearlessly visited Christians in prison, encouraging them and healing them from potions, poisons, and other harmful things. The Great Martyr Anastasia visited to the sisters and urged them to endure all things for Christ. Soon what was predicted in the vision came to pass. The priest Zeno died, and the three virgins were arrested and brought to trial before the emperor Diocletian (284-305).

Saint Chionia (“snow” in Greek) preserved the purity of her baptism according to the words of the Prophet-King David, “You will wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow” (Ps. 50/51:7).

Saint Irene (“peace” in Greek) preserved the peace of Christ within herself and manifested it to others, according to the Savior’s word, “My peace I give you” (John 14:27).

Saint Agape (“love” in Greek) loved God with all her heart, and her neighbor as herself (Mt.22:37-39).

Seeing the youthful beauty of the sisters, the emperor urged them to deny Christ and he promised to find them illustrious bridegrooms from his entourage. The holy sisters replied that their only Bridegroom was Christ, for Whom they were ready to suffer. The emperor demanded they renounce Christ, but neither the elder sisters, nor the youngest, would consent. They called the pagan gods mere idols made by human hands, and they preached faith in the true God.

By order of Diocletian, who was leaving for Macedonia, the holy sisters were also to be brought there. And they brought them to the court of the governor Dulcititus.

When he saw the beauty of the holy martyrs, he was aroused with impure passion. He put the sisters under guard, and he told them that they would receive their freedom if they agreed to fulfill his desires. But the holy martyrs replied that they were prepared to die for their Heavenly Bridegroom, Christ.

Then Dulcititus decided to have his way by force. When the holy sisters arose at night to glorify the Lord in prayer, Dulcititus came to the door and tried to enter, but an invisible force prevented him. He staggered about, unable to find his way out. Then he fell down in the kitchen among the cooking utensils, the pots and pans, and he was covered all over with soot. The servants and the soldiers recognized him only with difficulty. When he saw himself in a mirror, he then realized that the holy martyrs had made a fool of him, and he decided to take his revenge on them.

At his court, Dulcititus gave orders to strip the holy martyrs. But the soldiers were not able to do this, no matter how much they tried. Their clothing seemed to be stuck to the bodies of the holy virgins. During the trial Dulcititus suddenly fell asleep, and no one could rouse him. Just as they carried him into his house, he immediately awoke.

When they reported everything that had happened to the emperor Diocletian, he became angry with Dulcititus and he gave the holy virgins over to Sisinius for trial. He began with the youngest sister, Irene. Seeing that she remained unyielding, he sent her to prison and then attempted to sway Saints Chionia and Agape. He also failed to make them renounce Christ, and Sisinius ordered that Saints Agape and Chionia be burned. On hearing the sentence, the sisters gave thanks to the Lord for their crowns of martyrdom. In the fire, Agape and Chionia surrendered their pure souls to the Lord.

When the fire went out, everyone saw that the bodies of the holy martyrs and their clothing had not been scorched by the fire, and their faces were beautiful and peaceful, as if they were asleep. On the day following, Sisinius gave orders to bring Saint Irene to court. He threatened her with the fate of her older sisters and he urged her to renounce Christ. Then he threatened to hand her over for defilement in a brothel. But the holy martyr answered, “Even if my body is defiled by force, my soul will never be defiled by renouncing Christ.”

When the soldiers of Sisinius led Saint Irene to the brothel, two luminous soldiers overtook them and said, “Your master Sisinius commands you to take this virgin to a high mountain and leave her there, and then return to him and report to him that you have fulfilled his command.” And the soldiers did so.

When they reported back to Sisinius, he flew into a rage, since he had given no such orders. The luminous soldiers were angels of God, saving the holy martyr from defilement. Sisinius went to the mountain with a detachment of soldiers and saw Saint Irene on the summit. For a long while they searched for the way to the top, but they could not find it. Then one of the soldiers wounded Saint Irene with an arrow. The martyr cried out to Sisinius, “I mock your impotent malice, and I go my Lord Jesus Christ pure and undefiled.” Having given thanks to the Lord, she lay down upon the ground and surrendered her soul to God on the very day of Holy Pascha (+ 304).

The Great Martyr Anastasia heard about the end of the holy sisters, and she buried their bodies with reverence.

Troparion of the saints, tone 4

Completing the course of your life in martyrdom / And having kept the faith, / As lambs endowed with reason / You were led before Christ the Lamb and Shepherd. / Therefore rejoicing now in spirit, / We celebrate your wondrous and holy memory, / Magnifying Christ.

Kontakion of the saints, tone 3

Bright mirrors of virginity, / radiant with your martyrdom, / you fill the Church with light and dispel the darkness of evil, / Agape, Irene, and Chionia, Christ’s precious jewels.

Isaiah 49:6-10 (6th Hour)

6
Indeed He says, ‘It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also give You as a light to the Gentiles, that You should be My salvation to the ends of the earth.
7
Thus says the Lord, the Redeemer of Israel, their Holy One, to Him whom man despises, to Him Whom the nation abhors, to the servant of rulers: “Kings shall see and arise, princes also shall worship, because of the Lord Who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, Who has chosen You.”
8
Thus says the Lord: “In an acceptable time I have heard You, and in the day of salvation I have helped You; I will preserve You and give You as a covenant to the people, to restore the earth, to cause them to inherit the desolate heritages;
9
that You may say to the prisoners, ‘Go forth,’ to those who are in darkness, ‘Show yourselves.’ “They shall feed along the roads, and their pastures shall be on all desolate heights.
10
They shall neither hunger nor thirst, neither heat nor sun shall strike them; for He who has mercy on them will lead them, even by the springs of water He will guide them.

Genesis 31:3-16 (Vespers, 1st reading)

3
Then the Lord said to Jacob, “Return to the land of your fathers and to your family, and I will be with you.”
4
So Jacob sent and called Rachel and Leah to the field, to his flock,
5
and said to them, “I see your father’s countenance, that it is not favorable toward me as before; but the God of my father has been with me.
6
“And you know that with all my might I have served your father.
7
“Yet your father has deceived me and changed my wages ten times, but God did not allow him to hurt me.
8
“If he said thus: ‘The speckled shall be your wages,’ then all the flocks bore speckled. And if he said thus: ‘The streaked shall be your wages,’ then all the flocks bore streaked.
9
“So God has taken away the livestock of your father and given them to me.
10
“And it happened, at the time when the flocks conceived, that I lifted my eyes and saw in a dream, and behold, the rams which leaped upon the flocks were streaked, speckled, and gray-spotted.
11
“Then the Angel of God spoke to me in a dream, saying, ‘Jacob.’ And I said, ‘Here I am.’
12
“And He said, ‘Lift your eyes now and see, all the rams which leap on the flocks are streaked, speckled, and gray-spotted; for I have seen all that Laban is doing to you.
13
‘I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed the pillar and where you made a vow to Me. Now arise, get out of this land, and return to the land of your family.’”
14
Then Rachel and Leah answered and said to him, “Is there still any portion or inheritance for us in our father’s house?
15
“Are we not considered strangers by him? For he has sold us, and also completely consumed our money.
16
“For all these riches which God has taken from our father are really ours and our children’s; now then, whatever God has said to you, do it.”

Proverbs 21:3-21 (Vespers, 2nd reading)

3
To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.
4
A haughty look, a proud heart, and the plowing of the wicked are sin.
5
The plans of the diligent lead surely to plenty, but those of everyone who is hasty, surely to poverty.
6
Getting treasures by a lying tongue is the fleeting fantasy of those who seek death.
7
The violence of the wicked will destroy them, because they refuse to do justice.
8
The way of a guilty man is perverse; but as for the pure, his work is right.
9
Better to dwell in a corner of a housetop, than in a house shared with a contentious woman.
10
The soul of the wicked desires evil; his neighbor finds no favor in his eyes.
11
When the scoffer is punished, the simple is made wise; but when the wise is instructed, he receives knowledge.
12
The righteous God wisely considers the house of the wicked, overthrowing the wicked for their wickedness.
13
Whoever shuts his ears to the cry of the poor will also cry himself and not be heard.
14
A gift in secret pacifies anger, and a bribe behind the back, strong wrath.
15
It is a joy for the just to do justice, but destruction will come to the workers of iniquity.
16
A man who wanders from the way of understanding will rest in the assembly of the dead.
17
He who loves pleasure will be a poor man; he who loves wine and oil will not be rich.
18
The wicked shall be a ransom for the righteous, and the unfaithful for the upright.
19
Better to dwell in the wilderness, than with a contentious and angry woman.
20
There is desirable treasure, and oil in the dwelling of the wise, but a foolish man squanders it.
21
He who follows righteousness and mercy finds life, righteousness, and honor.

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About the Author

Emma Cazabonne

Emma Cazabonne

Beside an anthology on Cistercian texts, Emma Cazabonne has translated and published articles on Cistercian spirituality, the Middle Ages, and Orthodoxy. She converted to Orthodoxy in 2008. Her husband is an Orthodox priest. If you are interested in having your book translated into French, she can be contacted here https://wordsandpeace.com/contact-me/

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