28 July – St Irene of Chrysovalantou Monastery, Constantinople


St Irene became the Abbess of the women’s Chrysovalantou[1] Monastery, Constantinople (modern day Istanbul).  Irene was born in Cappadocia, Central Anatolia, she came to Constantinople at the invitation of scouts, who were looking for potential suitors for Emperor Michael III[2].  After his father, Emperor Michael ll died, his mother, Empress Theodora reigned as regent.  Empress Theodora was an iconodule and restored the use of icons in the church[3].  We will look further at Theodora’s life on 11 February when her life is celebrated. 
St Irene was born into a wealthy, aristocratic Cappadocian family.  Irene’s sister was already married to Vardis[4], the Empresses brother.  On her journey to Constantinople Irene had visited a Holy man called Ioannikios the Great who lived on Mt Olympus in Asia Minor[5].   Ioannikios the Great did not receive every visitor but he received St Irene because he knew from God that she was a spiritual woman and about her quest in going to Constantinople.  When they met he said to her: “Welcome servant of God, Irene. Go to the capitol and rejoice for the Convent of Chrysovalantou needs you to shepherd her virgins.”[6]  
Irene was undoubtedly surprised that Ioannikios knew her name and that he suggested that she should enter a convent.  He had agreed to meet her because he believed she was a woman of God’s choosing who was spiritually mature for her age.  After their meeting she continued to Constantinople where she learnt that Emperor Michael had married someone else.  In Constantinople she was welcomed by her relatives already living there and received many offers of marriage.  After finding out more about the Convent Chrysovalantou she entered the convent as a novice.  As she took this step she gave away all her clothes and wealth, freed her servants and became a novice nun. 
In the Convent she was faithful in prayer and in doing whatever work was required of her – she was always ready to do the humblest of service.  While still a novice the Abbess, who recognized St Irene’s spiritual development, allowed her to pray during the night hours.  During these times of night prayer she would stand with her arms outstretched to heaven.  After she became Abbess she would sometimes go and pray in the convent garden and was observed there in the night levitating and the Cyprus trees bowing down to her. 
When the Abbess died St Irene was nominated as her successor by Patriarch Methodios.  She felt unequal to the task.  Patriarch Methodios believed in nominating St Irene to be Abbess he had been directed by the Holy Spirit.  The other nuns were in agreement with him as was the former Abbess who had spoken of Irene taking her role while on her death bed.   Patriarch Methodios ordained Irene as deaconess and appointed her Abbess.   
Irene was throughout her life a diligent woman of prayer.  She was able, through the power of God that was bestowed on her to pray for healing and for freedom from demonic activity in individuals lives, she also had a gift of being able to understand what was troubling the hearts and minds of those she met. 
There is a Life of St Irene which was possibly written in the last two decades of the tenth century.  The Swedish Byzantine scholar Jan Olof Rosenquist[7]has translated the text and deals with some of the inconsistencies of the text. 
John Sanidopoulos[8], in his blog suggested that the Convent may have been on the fifth hill of Constantinople.  He suggests that the Monastery of Chrysovalantou was “located on its fifth hill known then as Chrysovalantou from which the Monastery took its name (though according to St Irene’s biography the official name of this monastery was dedicated to the Archangels Michael and Gabriel).  Today the fifth of the seven hills of Constantinople is occupied by Sultan Selim Mosque and the Church of the Theotokos Pammakaristos…Though the remains of the monastery have not been found, the only topographical allusion to it that we have is its close proximity to the cistern of Aspar, according to St Irene’s biography, which was on the fifth hill north of the Church of the Holy Apostles (which was on the fourth hill).”
St Irene knew from God when she would die, she gathered the nuns around her and passed away on 28 July 912 at the age of 103 years.   
For further information see:

[1] It is not clear where this monastery/convent would have been in Constantinople.  It, like the church of the Apostles and other great Byzantine Churches may well have fallen into disrepair and the monastery’s place in the city is known no longer although there is a Monastery Chrysovalantou in New York, US and another in Greece. 
[2]Michael III reigned from 842 to 867. 
[3] The use of icons was restored on 11 March 843 – 11 March is still celebrated within the Greek Orthodox Church as the Feast of Orthodoxy. 
[4]Bardas according to John Julius Norwich Byzantium: The Apogee, Penguin Books, 1991, P54
[5] There is a Mt Olympus near Antalya, on the Mediterranean Coast and one near Bursa East of Constantinople.  That is the more likely Mt Olympus. 
[6] http://www.stirene.org/life-of-st-irene—beta943omicronsigmaf-tauetasigmaf-alphagamma943alphasigmaf.html

[7] The life of St Irene Abbess of Chrysobalanton: A critical edition (Studia Byzantina Upsaliensia) 1 Jan 1986

by Jan Olof Rosenqvist
[8] https://www.johnsanidopoulos.com/2009/07/miraculous-icon-of-saint-irene.html


Copyright © 2018 Rev Ros Wilkinson