Remember that passage in the synoptic gospels (Luke 2:24, Matthew 18:1, Mark 9:34) where the disciples start arguing about which one of them is the greatest? Jesus basically tells them to get a life (by losing it). Here at Lent Madness, however, Dionysius and Irene are battling to resolve the question once and for all. In the Battle of the Greats, Dionysius the Great takes on Irene the Great as we crank things back up for another week of saintly action. The winner will take on Brigid of Kildare.
We’re glad to have the drama of Friday’s server crash behind us and Lent Madness is now being hosted on a shiny new purple server using a company that understands “unlimited bandwidth” to actually mean “unlimited bandwidth.” So, vote (once), comment, tell all all your friends to log on at the exact same moment and we should be fine. Thanks for collectively having the patience of a, well, saint.
Dionysius the Great
Dionysius was born sometime around 190 to a well-to-do pagan family. He attended a church school and was educated to be a priest. He was a bright and well-read child and a student of the scholar Origen. Dionysius became head of the Catechetical School of Alexandria in 232 and was elevated to Bishop of Alexandria in 248, succeeding Heraklas in both posts.
In 249 a series of riots broke out and anti-Christian violence ensued. This soon evolved into the Decian Persecutions. Christians were subjected to all manner of torture and cruelty, with the goal to force them to sacrifice to false gods. It was a time of martyrdom and forced migration as many fled to the deserts for safety.
Dionysius was among those who fled but was later seized after being recognized. He was ultimately freed by a party of Christians and resumed his exile in the desert where he remained until the persecutions came to an end in 251.
Dionysius is remembered especially for his role in how to treat Christians who had lapsed during the persecutions. Many believed there was no possibility for readmission to Holy Communion and the Church after such apostasies. Dionysius, however, offered a way toward reconciliation. He said that after a period of penance and re-baptism, those who had succumbed to pressure would be welcomed back into the Church.
A prayer penned by Dionysius reads,“O God the Father, Origin of Divinity, good beyond all that is good, fair beyond all that is fair, in whom is calmness, peace, concord: Heal the dissensions that divide us from one another, and bring us back into the unity of love that resembles your divine nature.”
Upon returning to Alexandria, Dionysius took up extensive writing, especially opposing heresy and exploring scripture. His work in interpreting scripture was especially admired.
In 257, at the instigation of Emperor Valerian, Christians were once again under persecution and Dionysius was exiled when he refused to sacrifice to pagan gods. After two years of exile, he returned to a city plagued by disease and wracked by violence. In this environment he served five more years as bishop until his death in 265.
Persecution, plague, and violence marked the life of Dionysius, and yet through all of this he remained faithful and diligent, causing Saint Basil to term him “Dionysius the Great.”
Collect for Dionysius the Great
Almighty God, you called your servant Dionysius the Great to be a champion of reconciliation during times of great fear and persecution. Grant us the grace to seek the calm, peace, and concord that mark the things of the kingdom of God, reminding us that our greatest consolation may be found in pondering your holy words, even in the darkest of times. Amen.
Named Penelope and born as a Persian princess in the fourth century, Irene the Great is a legendary figure credited with miracles that astonish the modern reader. To keep her from hearing the gospel, her father (the pagan king Licinius) isolated her in a high tower like a Rapunzel of late antiquity, where she was watched over by thirteen young maidens and the statues of ninety-eight gods. She desperately objected to her seclusion and isolation from her mother and even the sunshine, but Licinius would not relent and sealed her in the tower with his signet ring until she was to marry. In spite of her father, an elderly tutor was hired to teach her. Servants hauled him up into the tower by an elaborate pulley system, and he spoke to her from behind a curtain and taught her about Jesus Christ.
When she reached marrying age, she received a series of signs from God delivered to the tower via an assortment of birds. Her tutor interpreted them as a call to virginity and as omens foreshadowing her suffering for her savior. Penelope was baptized and took the name Irene, which means peace. She initially failed to convert her parents, and like a righteously indignant teenager, destroyed all her father’s idols. As punishment, he threw her under wild horses to be trampled to death, but the horses did not stomp on her and instead attacked Licinius, gravely injuring him. Irene prayed for her father and he was healed in the presence of eyewitnesses, leading to the conversion of her parents and three thousand others.
Later, she refused the governor’s order to cease preaching, and he threw her into a pit of vipers. She remained unharmed for ten days, fed and guarded by an angel until her release. Her life of preaching and miracle-working continued, and thousands more people converted to Christianity.
In 330 the Persian King Sapor II had her arrested, beheaded, and buried. Remarkably, even for a woman who survived a pit of vipers, God resurrected her, and she continued teaching all the way to Ephesus, converting thousands more to the Christian faith! Finally, at divine bidding, she found an unused tomb, made the sign of the cross, and was sealed inside. When her friends returned four days later, the tomb was reportedly empty.
Ironically, those wishing to land a quick and happy marriage are encouraged to pray to Saint Irene, despite her role in history as a virgin and martyr saint. In Greece, she is also the patron saint of policemen.
Collect for Irene the Great
Jesus, you raised up your servant Irene the Great and set her before us as an example of deep thirst for faith and a hunger for righteousness. May we have the discerning spirit to seek more of you, disregarding the detours and damage the enemy may place in our path toward you. Let us, like Irene, never be given over to anger or malice, but continually pray for those who do not know you, never letting violence or intractability steal away the peace and consolation you give us with yourself. Amen.
Dionysius the Great vs. Irene the Great Total Voters: 6,012
Dionysius the Great vs. Irene the Great
Total Voters: 6,012