On December 17th (the 4th by the old calendar) the Church commemorates the Great-martyr Saint Barbara.
Saint Barbara was born in the 3rd century A.D. in the city of Heliopolis in Phoenicia, which was then under the rule of the Roman Emperor Maximian – a vicious persecutor of Christians. St. Barbara’s father was a wealthy and powerful pagan named Dioscorus. Her mother died early, and after his wife’s death Dioscorus began to guard his only daughter, who was a rare beauty. He said: “People are unworthy to look upon my daughter’s face,” and so, in order to separate her from the surrounding world, he built a high tower and settled her there, attended by a multitude of servants and slaves.
St. Barbara had a tender and fragrant soul. Even before she knew God, she sought Him avidly. At night, when she could not sleep, she opened the high windows of her tower and gazed at the stars and the moon. Often she would query them: “O stars, O moon, who created you?” But they were silent. “O sun, O beautiful sun, who created you?” – she would ask, but the sun only shone radiantly in response. The birds sang in a multitude of voices, glorifying their Creator, and St. Barbara marveled at the orchards, the mountains, the quiet streams… Above all she loved God’s wondrous sky. “Whose hand created the beauty of the earth – the fields, the mountain peaks, the blue seas, the tranquil lakes?” – she asked her servants. The servants answered: “Everything that you see has been created by our gods.” The saint laughed and said: “Our gold and silver gods have been created by our craftsmen. These gods cannot walk on their feet and move their arms.”
Once, gazing at the sky on a starry night, St. Barbara asked again: “Who are You, Who have created the mysterious sky?” All of a sudden, miraculously, the grace of God descended upon her, illuminating her heart and mind, and immediately she understood that it was the One and only God Who created everything.
At that time St. Barbara was a young girl of about 13 years of age. Many rich and noble youths began to seek her hand in marriage. Then Dioscorus came to his daughter and told her that it was time for her to get married. But the maiden trembled with fear and refused. Dioscorus decided that it was her seclusion which had such an ill effect on his daughter, and allowed her to go out of her tower and talk with people.
Soon afterwards Dioscorus went away on a long business trip. Before his departure he ordered his builders to build a new bathhouse in his garden, decorate it and cut out two windows on the south side. Meanwhile, St. Barbara began to go out of her tower and meet with Christian maidens, who told her about our Lord Jesus Christ and acquainted her with the Christian faith. St. Barbara came to love the Son of God with all her heart and became secretly baptized, vowing never to marry.
Once, as she entered the new bathhouse that was being built in the garden and saw its two windows, St. Barbara ordered the builders to cut out a third window in honor of the Holy Trinity, and afterwards, on the east side of the building, she drew the sign of a cross. When Dioscorus returned and saw the three windows and the cross on the bathhouse, he realized that his daughter had become a Christian and was filled with great wrath. Angrily he whipped out his sword and wanted to strike her, but she fled from him, trying to hide in some nearby mountains. As St. Barbara ran, a high cliff suddenly loomed in her path; there was nowhere else to go. The saint then prayed to God and the mountain opened up, and St. Barbara disappeared into a rocky cave. Dioscorus could not understand where his daughter had vanished, and asked two shepherds standing nearby. One of the shepherds was kind and wanted to conceal the maiden, but the other one silently pointed Dioscorus to the cave. The Lord punished the unkind shepherd: he was immediately turned into a stone pillar. Dioscorus burst into the cave and mercilessly beat his daughter, then dragged her home by her hair over a sharp rocky path. At home he locked her up in a small dark room and proceeded to starve her. Later he handed her over to the ruler of the land, the evil Martianus, to torture her if she did not agree to worship the idols.
At first Martianus quietly attempted to talk St. Barbara into kneeling before the idols, but the saint said: “I worship the One God Who created heaven and earth, while your gods did not create anything. Your gods are themselves created by people out of gold and silver.” Then Martianus ordered St. Barbara to be cruelly tortured. Throughout her long and painful torture the young maiden did not utter a single sound, but joyfully bore her martyrdom for Christ. Afterwards, barely alive, she was thrown into prison, where she prayed: “O Lord, my God, do not leave me!” At midnight a bright light illuminated the prison and the voice of God was heard, saying: “Fear not, I am with you!” The Lord then healed Saint Barbara of all her wounds and became invisible.
The following morning St. Barbara was once again brought before Martianus, and everyone saw her completely healed, with her face shining radiantly like the sun. “It is our gods who have healed you, offer them thanks,” – said the ruler. “I have been healed by my Lord Jesus Christ,” – replied the saint. Martianus became enraged and once more ordered the saint to be cruelly tortured. The surrounding crowd of people looked upon all of this with indifference and did not say a word in her defense.
However, amid the crowd there was a certain pious woman named Juliana, who saw St. Barbara being tortured, and cried bitterly. Then she fearlessly came up to the ruler and began accusing him of madness and cruelty. The angry Martianus asked her about her faith. “I am a Christian,” – courageously answered St. Juliana. Then Martinius ordered her to be tortured together with St. Barbara. The merciful Lord gave strength to both the holy women in their martyrdom. Seeing their courage and patience, Martianus became even more enraged and ordered St. Juliana to be thrown into prison, and St. Barbara to be led naked through the city. But the Lord did not allow His holy bride to be desecrated and sent a bright Angel to cover up the holy maiden’s nakedness.