Agape, Chionia and Irene were three sisters who came from a wealthy and influential family in Thessalonica. When the edict of Diocletian was proclaimed (c. 304), which prohibited people from keeping copies of the Holy Scriptures in their homes, they fled from the city to protect their faith and settled at the top of a high mountain, near a lake, where they led a life of prayer with a holy ascetic named Zoilus. They remained in the body at the top of the mountain, but their spirits were already established in heaven.
When Saint Chrysogonus, the spiritual father of Saint Anastasia Pharmocolytria (22 Dec.), perished by the persecutors’ swords, God revealed to Zoilus the place where the martyr’s body was to be found, so that he could give it worthy burial. Some days later, Chrysogonus appeared to him in a dream and told him that, nine days later, the three sisters would be arrested and would gloriously offer their lives for Christ, together with Saint Anastasia.
Saint Anastasia arrived at their hiding-place without delay. She embraced them warmly and encouraged them to persevere until the end of their battle for the Faith, and promised them her support, at the peril of her life.
On the appointed day, the Emperor’s soldiers discovered where the saints were, and they were brutally taken before Dulcetius, the governor of Macedonia, in the company of three other young Christian women: Cassia, Philippa and Eutychia, and a young man called Agathon. The governor said to them severely: ‘You fools. What folly can have made you not wish to obey the orders of the divine emperors and caesars?’ To Agathon, he said: ‘And you, why have you refused to eat meat offered to the gods, as pious men do?’ ‘Because I am a Christian,’ Agathon replied. Turning towards Agape, Dulcetius asked her what her sentiments were. The young virgin replied: ‘I believe in the living God, and do not wish to lose my good conscience.’ He then asked Irene why she had not obeyed the Emperor’s orders. ‘Through fear of God,’ she replied. Chionia gave the same response. Cassia simply said that she wished to save her soul, and Philippa declared that she would rather die than to touch meat that had been offered to idols. Eutychia showed the same firmness but, as she was seven months pregnant, the governor ordered that she be kept in prison. He then returned to the interrogation and tried to persuade Agape to show herself conciliatory. She replied: ‘It is not possible to submit to Satan. You will not succeed in changing my mind; my determination is unwavering!’ ‘Who has led you into this folly?’ Dulcetius demanded. ‘God Almighty and His only Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ!’ replied Chionia. Realising that he would get nowhere, the governor pronounced the following sentence: ‘I condemn Agape and Chionia to be burned alive, for having acted with impious obstinacy against the divine edicts of our august lords and for continuing to profess the perverse religion of the Christians, which is an abomination to all devout persons. As for Agathon, Irene, Cassia and Philippa, they shall be kept in prison on account of their youth.’
On the day after the execution of the two saints, the guards made Irene appear again before the tribunal, for they had found the Scriptures in her house, although she had denied being in possession of them. Dulcetius threatened her with death, but offered her life if she would offer sacrifice and eat the flesh of the victims. ‘In no circumstances,’ retorted the Saint, ‘for an eternal punishment awaits those who deny the Word of God, which itself commands our love to the death. We therefore prefer to be burned alive rather than to hand over these Scriptures!’ After a gruelling interrogation, through which the servant of God displayed the courage of a true warrior, the governor commanded that she be stripped and exposed naked in a brothel. But the grace of the Holy Spirit protected Christ’s virgin, and no one dared approach her or even address insulting words to her. She was taken back and brought before Dulcetius, who demanded: ‘Will you continue to persist in this folly?’ ‘Not in folly, but in the worship of the true God!’ ‘You will therefore receive the just rewards of your insolence!’ And he wrote the following sentence: ‘Since Irene would not obey the Emperor’s orders and sacrifice, but persisted in holding the Christian faith, I order that she be burned alive, like her sisters.’
The next day, the soldiers took her to the high place where her sisters had been tortured. They lit a pyre and ordered her to throw herself onto it. Chanting psalms and glorifying God, Irene entered the flames and offered herself as a fragrant sacrifice to the Lord.+