Dionysius the Great vs. Irene the Great

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. 

LMdionysiusDionysius 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.

-Robert Hendrickson

Irene_of_ThessalonikiIrene the Great

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.

-Amber Belldene


Dionysius the Great vs. Irene the Great

  • Dionysius the Great (58%, 3,466 Votes)
  • Irene the Great (42%, 2,546 Votes)

Total Voters: 6,012

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214 comments on “Dionysius the Great vs. Irene the Great”

    1. I agree, but today's match up is do not fair! Finally two individuals who were truly known for Christ like perseverance, faith, and mercy bearing much eternal fruit, unlike some of the crazed fanaticism of some of the past line ups.
      Both Greats are truly great in my book and particularly relevant given the state of affairs these days.

      1. Once again, I voted for who I thought would be the underdog - Irene. But, I agree with the voters who think this "unfair." In addition, I have to say, I will generally vote for the female if in doubt, because women have been underappreciated throughout history, I think.

        1. Yes, women have been underappreciated in the past, and still are today but shouldn't we women be concerned that the brightest and the best are the ones who advance, not just on the basis of their womanness?

      2. I'm not sure I agree with those who complain that today's match-up is unfair. None of the match-ups are really "fair" because the contestants are all saints! They had to accomplish a lot to even be considered for the Golden Halo in the first place. If the choices were easy, Lent Madness wouldn't be half the fun that it is. If you think the choices are hard now, just wait until the later rounds!

    2. Although I love the prayer shared that Dionysius wrote which certainly applies today, I have to vote for Irene. What determination and perserverance!

  1. Exciting though Irene's story is, Dionysius gets my vote. Healing dissensions is still needed so much.

    1. Dionysius was real; Irene…not so much. Gotta vote for the real person over the legend every time!

    2. I definitely agree! While Irene's tale is exciting, I'm more inclined toward the man who lived and even defined a process to welcome all back to the church

      I'm not so sure of the whole re-Baptism business, but I am assuming it was more in the spirit of ss

      1. Whoops - Pilot Error!

        I was going to say "in the spirit of the Baptism of John", meaning a baptism of repentance.

        Heaven knows we need all the reconciliation, love, and forgiveness we can muster to heal our fractured, broken, hurting churches these days .

      2. Notice the words "in case"! That's the essence of conditional baptism. It is not a rebaptism, merely a precaution.

  2. Dionysus' prayer is just too timely and moving not to garner him my vote, vipers and wild horses not withstanding.

  3. Irene, patron saint of policemen, whose name means peace. Holy Mockingbirds, vipers, and wild horses couldn't stop me from voting for this righteously indignant teenager, drama saint, preacher and martyr. A John the Baptist beheading couldn't even keep her in the tomb. Vote Irene!

    1. Hear! Hear! How could one not vote so...resurrected after being beheaded. Wild horses who would not trample the fair maiden but instead attacked her persecutor!

    1. Irene showed forgiveness by praying for her father after he threw her under the bus, oops horses, and that after years of keeping her captive in a tower! Great role model for teens. She is no more legendary than Brigid. Otters vs wild horses and being resurrected after a beheading--I love seeing God's power on display.

  4. Dionysius just edging it at this early stage. He got my vote for the reconciliation thing as well.

  5. Although Irene's vipers and wild horses and prophetic birds are appealing, my vote goes to Dionysius, who lived in times of great peril yet worked for peace and reconciliation. His prayer for the healing of dissension is a gem. We need someone like him today to guide us.

  6. While I agree that Dionysus' prayer is wonderful and healing dissensions is always needed somewhere, I had to vote for the princess who didn't run from the horses, snakes, or the ax. She put her faith in God and let Him work wonders through her in horrible situations. Go, Irene!

  7. Both bios were fun to read, but consider my nod to Dionysus a vote for the collective noun contained therein -- "a party of Christians." I like that (along with his reconciling work, which is so needed in the world).

  8. Dionysius gets my vote. I am reminded of the debate in the movie Stand By Me. Between Mighty Mouse and Superman, pick Superman. How can a cartoon beat a real guy? Irene's account is so amazingly and fabulously hagiographic that Dionysius looks like Superman!

  9. I voted for Dionysius, we need more reconciliation in the church, and healing of our differences.

    1. Patron Saint of Second Chances! As appealing as Irene is, I can't not vote for the far-sighted Dionysius.

  10. Dionysius. The bird messengers are tempting, but the kindness and forgiveness in Dionysius I find more worthy and relevant. His acts reached out to others; after Father Scott's post yesterday on 7WD I can do no other.

  11. While I find the story of Irene compelling, I voted for Dionysius for we all deserve a second chance.

  12. Heads up to Irene for a compelling, likely part mythological story. But hands down (vote) to Dionysus for his rewarding tenacity for reconciliation. Very difficult choice today.

  13. A difficult choice as both were peace-makers - but healing dissension among believers seems to me to be the most needful! I vote for Dionysius!

  14. I wonder what would happen if we collectively prayed the prayer written by Dionysus for the rest of Lent . . . (?)

    1. Patrice, I think it would be "Great!" Dionysius is one of my heroes for being inclusive in the Church. It seems to me that Church History shows us that inclusiveness wins over exclusiveness.

  15. This is my first year voting in the contest for the Golden Halo. The brackets fascinate. The competition is getting intense. Like others have posted, I have to vote for Dionysius the reconciler. That is a tough job. (Not that surviving a pit of vipers isn't!) Still, reconciliation fits our times.

  16. Is no one else troubled by Dionysius' insistence on rebaptism?! Irene gets my vote today.

  17. Who took Friday's battle......Balthazaar or Cecilia? Did not receive the results. Thanks!

    1. Actually, the SEC won, by prevailing over a server that said, "This is not my table" to find transglobal-snowdrift-proof solutions enabling extended voting that in the end led to Cecelia breaking Balthazaar's heart (Golden Halo-wise), though she did not really shake his confidence.

  18. Robyn hit a home run: we need more reconciliation in a world, not just a church, that is being divided in so many unnecessary ways.

  19. I guess I have a bias toward real people over people might have been partly real. And a bias toward people who make it easy, rather than hard, to come to church or to come back to church.