May 5 – Irene of Thessalonica; Hilary of Arles

Irene the Great Martyr of Thessalonica (IV cent.) was born in Persia to Licinius, a governor. One day, a dove flew through her window and dropped an olive branch on the table, an eagle brought in a wreath of flowers, and a raven dropped a snake. Her tutor Appelianos laid out the following chart by way of explanation: Dove=education; olive branch=baptism; flowers=success; snake=suffering and sorrow. He said the Lord wished to betroth her to himself, so she told her father she was done with the suitor thing. Dad tried to entice her to renounce Christ by tying her behind horses to be dragged a little, but one of the horses turned on him, and he lost an arm. As the horse was dancing the Persian Rhumba on his guts, the horrified witnesses untied the saint. She rushed to her father’s side, shooed (not “shoed”) (or “shod”) the horses, reattached his arm, and healed the rest of him.

Amazed, Licinius, Mrs. Licinius, and 300 witnesses turned to Christ right then and there. Lucinius resigned, and his successor Secidius tossed Irene into a pit of snakes for being a sorceress (does it never occur to these guys that a real sorceress could easily take care of things like snakes? don’t answer that), but she got away. Secidius was deposed by his son Savorus, who was struck and killed by lightning when he refused Irene’s invitation to stop persecuting Christians.

She then became an itinerant evangelist, converting thousands to Christ. In Callinicus she was placed (sequentially) into not one, not two, but three ox-shaped bronze furnaces (that’s a lot of bull—er, bulls), emerging each time unscathed. With the help of an executioner she lost her head in Constantina, but managed to find it again and resume preaching. Finally she found the tomb she wanted to be buried in, walked inside, and asked her followers to close the door. When it was opened again two days later, it was empty.

But why Thessalonica, I hear you cry? I can’t help you there. As near as I can tell Irene never left Asia. It’s also not clear, from this version of the story, how she’s a martyr. She is nevertheless the patron saint of Greek policemen, and of people who want to get happily married in a hurry.

Hilary of Arles (ca. 400–449) was a pagan in Gaul. His relative (St.) Honoratus, abbot of Lérins, sought to convert him to the faith and drag him back to the monastery. Hilary dithered for a good while, but finally accepted the twin offers of vocation and salvation (presumably not in that order). When Honoratus became bishop of Arles, he invited Hilary to come and be his secretary. When Hilary demurred, Honoratus went to Lérins and hauled him back by the ear. When Honoratus was promoted to glory (as they say in the Salvation Army), Hilary became the bishop of Arles, and almost immediately started getting into trouble. He deposed a certain Cheledonius—the bishop of an area that may or may not have been under his (Hilary’s) jurisdiction—for having married a widow, and for condemning someone to death. Cheledonius appealed to Rome, and the two of them argued before the Pope ((St.) Leo the Great). Cheledonius was reinstated.

Hilary later replaced a bishop who appeared to be at death’s door, but who then found his way back down the walkway and into the street of life. Now the see had two bishops, and Hilary had one angry pope. His authority to appoint bishops was taken away, and the archbishopric was moved from Arles to Fréjus. Through all of this, however, he lived with monastic self-denial and strict hours of prayer. After his death many called him saint, including Leo who referred to him as “Hilary of sacred memory.” I want to say he’s the patron saint of people who get in trouble with their boss, but alas.