At the historic commercial center of Athens, in the middle of the picturesque square that nowadays constitutes a point of reference for the city, one can see the impressive church of Agia Eirini. In the same spot there was a small church of the Byzantine Period, which in the beginning of the 18th c. was the Metohi of the Monastery of Penteli. During the Greek Revolution in 1821 it suffered serious damages; it was repaired in 1834-1835 and became the most important church of the new capital, which hosted official religious ceremonies.
Despite the damage of time and those suffered during the 1821 uprising, the medieval church of Agia Eirini remained the most important church of Athens at the time of the liberation and when Athens became the capital of the then free Greece. This is where all official ceremonies would take place, in the presence of King Othon. The icons were made by Spyridonas Hatzigiannopoulos, the most important representative of ecclesiastical painting in the second half of the 19th century. As a matter of fact, this is considered as his most important work. The church continued to be used as the Metropolitan Cathedral until 1862 and during this period it was related to significant events of modern Greek history. Here they made the celebration of the first national anniversary in 1838, the funeral of war hero Theodoros Kolokotronis in 1843, and the doxology for the establishment of the autonomy of the Church of Greece in 1850. As the plans for a new cathedral were being delayed, the church officials ordered architect Lyssandros Kaftantzoglou (1811-1885) to draw a renovation and restoration plan so that it would cope with the increasing demands. The church was built incorporating elements from older ruined churches but also from the Acropolis and was inaugurated in 1850, while decoration was concluded in 1892.
The church is a three-aisle basilicawith a dome and two steeples of neoclassical style, an original building that combines western renaissance with Byzantine influences. Another architectural characteristic is the presence of two side conchs, which refer to the catholicons of Mount Athos. The range of the subject matter of its wall paintings is limited, with very few figures of saints, while in several of the walls there are passages from the Holy Bible. Its impressive gold-plated screen was donated by the Russian Tsar Nikolaos in 1850.
The Holy Great-Martyress Irene The Holy Great-Martyress Irene had the name Penelope. until her baptism. She was daughter of Licinius, governor of the city of Migdonia. Licinius built for his daughter a luxurious palace, where she lived with her governess, surrounded by her peers and servants. A tutor by the name of Apelian, taught her the sciences. He was a Christian, and he introduced her to Christianity. Penelope accepted Baptism from the hands of Timothy, a disciple of the holy Apostle Paul, and she was named Irene. She urged her own parents to accept the Christian faith. Licinius with his wife and about 3000 people, believed in Christ and refrained from the pagan gods. Resigning the governance of the city, Licinius settled into the palace of his daughter, intending to devote himself to the service of the Jesus Christ. Saint Irene however began to preach the teaching of Christ among the pagans and she converted them to the path of salvation. She lived in the house of her teacher Apelian.
Sedecius, the new governor, summoned the saint to him and urged her to cease preaching about Christ and to offer sacrifice to the gods. Saint Irene staunchly confessed her faith before the governor, and she was tortured repeatedly as a result until the people rebelled having to look upon the sufferings of the innocent virgin, and they rose up against Sedecius and expelled him from the city. Over 10,000 pagans were converted by Saint Irene. The saint went from her native city Migdonia to Kallipolis, and there she continued to preach about Christ. The governor of the city by the name of Babadonos subjected her to new punishments, but seeing that the saint remained unharmed, he came to his senses and believed in Christ. A large number of pagans believed together with him, all whom received holy Baptism from the Disciple Timothy. After this Saint Irene settled in other cities of Thrace preaching and working miracles, healing the sick and undergoing suffering for Christ. In the city of Ephesus the Lord revealed to her, that the time of her end was approaching. Then Saint Irene in the company of her teacher the elder Apelian and other Christians went out from the city to an hilly cave and, having signed herself with the sign of the cross, she went into it, having directed her companions to close the entrance to the cave with a large stone, which they did. Four days after this, when Christians visited the cave, they did not find the body of the saint in it. Thus reposed the holy Great-Martyress Irene.