Ss. Agape, Irene & Chione
The Holy Martyrs Agape, Irene, and Chione 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 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 soon, and that the holy virgins would suffer martyrdom. Also at Aquilea and having a similar vision was the Great Martyr Anastasia who is called “Deliverer from Potions” (as she fearlessly visited Christians in prison, encouraging them and healing them from potions, poisons, and other harmful things). The Great Martyr Anastasia visited the sisters and urged them to endure all things for Christ. Soon what was predicted in the vision came to pass. The priest Xeno died, and the three virgins were arrested and brought to trial before Emperor Diocletian.
St. Chione (“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).
St. 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).
St. 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 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 none of them would consent. The sisters called the pagan gods mere idols made by human hands, and they preached faith in the true God.
By Diocletian’s order, the holy sisters were brought to Macedonia to the court of Governor Dulcititus. When Dulcititus saw their beauty, he was aroused with impure passions. He put the sisters under guard and told them that they would receive their freedom if they agreed to fulfill his desires. However, they replied that they were prepared to die for their Heavenly Bridegroom, Christ.
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. He then fell down in the kitchen among the cooking utensils and became covered with soot. The servants and the soldiers barely recognized him. When he saw himself in the mirror, he realized that the holy martyrs had made a fool of him and decided to take revenge.
At court, Dulcititus gave orders to strip the holy martyrs. However, the soldiers were unable to do so, no matter how hard they tried. The women’s clothing seemed to be stuck to their bodies.
When everything that had happened was reported to Emperor Diocletian, he became angry and gave the holy virgins over to Sisinius for trial. Sisinius began with the youngest sister, Irene. Seeing that she remained unyielding, he sent her to prison and attempted to sway Sts. Chione and Agape, but he also failed to make them renounce Christ. Sisinius ordered that Sts. Agape and Chione be burned. On hearing the sentence, the sisters gave thanks to the Lord for their crowns of martyrdom. In the fire, Agape and Chione surrendered their pure souls to the Lord.
When the fire went was extinguished, all those present saw that the bodies of the holy martyrs and their clothing had not been scorched, and their faces were beautiful and peaceful, as if they were asleep. On the following day, Sisinius gave orders to bring St. Irene to court. He threatened her with the fate of her older sisters and urged her to renounce Christ. He then 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.”
While the soldiers were leading St, Irene to the brothel, two luminous images in soldier’s uniforms appeared before 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 that you have fulfilled his command.”
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 St. Irene on the summit. They searched for the way to the top, but could not find it. One of the soldiers then wounded St. Irene with an arrow. The martyr cried out to Sisinius, “I mock your impotent malice, and I go to 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 in 304.
The Great Martyr Anastasia heard about the end of the holy sisters, and she buried their bodies with reverence.
Troparion (Tone 1) –
Sisters in the flesh united in the Spirit,
you wrestled with the prince of evil and endured your martyrdom.
Holy and blest Agape, Irene, and Chionía,
pray to Christ our God to save our souls.
Kontakion (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 Chionía, Christ’s precious jewels.
Troparion (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,
Kontakion (Tone 4) –
Becoming beautiful brides of Christ,
You offered to Him a gift of blood and sacrifice,
O passion-bearing maidens,
Irene, Agape and glorious Chionia,
Rightly entering the bridal chamber,
Ever filled with ineffable enlightenment.
Therefore celebrating in spirit
Your precious and holy memory,
We give glory to the Savior
And cry out in piety:
Pray to the Lord for us.
By permission of the Orthodox Church in America (www.oca.org)