THE FOURTH DAY
OF THE MONTH OF DECEMBER
The Life and Passion of the
Holy Great-martyr Barbara
From The Great Collection of the Lives of the Saints, Volume 4: December,
compiled by St. Demetrius of Rostov
During the reign of the impious Roman Emperor Maximian, there lived in the East, near Heliopolis, a wealthy, renowned nobleman named Dioscorus, by ancestry and faith a Hellene. He had a daughter named Barbara, his only child, over whom he kept watch as the apple of his eye. The maiden was exceedingly beautiful, and no girl or woman in the country could compare with her. Thinking baseborn, common folk unworthy to behold his daughter’s fair countenance, Dioscorus built a lofty tower in which were lovely rooms. There Barbara remained, with well-bred governesses and maidservants. By that time her mother was already dead. While living in the tower, the maiden found consolation in looking out over the hills and valleys created by God, at the splendor of the heavens, and the majesty of the earth. One day, while gazing into the sky, she began to reflect on the brilliance of the sun, the moon in its course, and the luster of the stars. Suddenly she asked the governesses and servants living with her, "Who made these things?" Then, regarding the beauty of the earth, its green fields, gardens, and vineyards, the hills and streams, she asked again, "Whose hand created all this?"
"All things were made by the gods," the women replied.
"Which gods?" asked the maiden.
The servants answered, "The gold, silver, and wooden gods that your father keeps in his palace and worships. These are the gods that made everything you see."
Doubting the truth of this, Barbara said to herself, "The gods my father reveres were made by the hands of men: those of gold and silver by smiths, those of stone by sculptors, and the ones of wood by carvers. How can gods which have themselves been fashioned, that can neither walk nor move their hands, have created the luminous expanse of the sky and this beautiful earth?"
As she pondered on this, she gazed up into the sky by day and night, hoping to come to know the Creator through His creation. Then one night, after staring into the heavens for a long time, her soul filled with longing to know who created its wondrous beauty, expanse, and splendor, the divine light of grace suddenly shone within her, opening the eyes of her mind to know the one invisible, unfathomable God, Who made heaven and earth in His wisdom. She said to herself, "He alone is God Who was not formed by the hands of man, but is self-existent, and made all things by His hand. He alone is God Who stretched out the expanse of the heavens and sends down from on high the rays of the sun, the light of the moon, and the glow of the stars to illumine the whole world; while below He adorns the earth with various trees and flowers, and waters it with streams and springs. He alone is God Who upholds, orders, and gives life to all things, caring for everything that exists!"
In this way Barbara came to know the Creator by His creation, and in her the words of David were fulfilled: I meditated on all Thy works, I pondered on the creations of Thy hands. Such meditations kindled the fire of divine love in her heart, and the flame of desire for God burned fiercely in her soul by day and night. Her one thought, her one desire was to come to know as fully as possible the Creator of all things. She had no human teacher to reveal to her the mysteries of the holy faith and guide her to the path of salvation, for her father Dioscorus kept close watch to ensure that only the servants had access to her; but she had as a wise teacher and guide the Holy Spirit Himself, Who invisibly instructed her by the secret inspiration of His grace, communicating to her mind the knowledge of the truth. Like a sparrow sitting alone upon a house-top, the maiden remained in her tower, her thoughts ever turned toward heaven. Her heart was attached to nothing earthly: neither gold, nor costly pearls or jewels, nor fine apparel, nor any other sort of feminine adornment. She never considered marriage, since her mind was fixed upon the one God and she was held fast by love for Him.
Eventually Barbara reached a marriageable age, and many wealthy, distinguished young noblemen, having heard of the maiden’s marvelous beauty, came to ask Dioscorus for her hand. Dioscorus frequently visited Barbara in the tower and told her of their offers, asking which of them she would have, but the virgin blushed when she heard him speak. She was ashamed not only to hear, but even to think of wedlock. Unwilling to see the flower of purity wither or to lose the priceless pearl of virginity, she utterly refused to marry. Dioscorus, however, continued to press her, in spite of the many reasons she gave for her refusal, and finally she was forced to declare, "Father, if you compel me to marry or even speak of this matter again, I shall kill myself, and you will lose your only child."
Horrified, Dioscorus desisted for the while, hoping that time would bring her to reconsider and that he would not need to compel her to obey him. Then the notion came to him of taking a long journey to attend to some business. He believed that Barbara would miss him, and that when he returned it would be easier to persuade her to do as he wished. Before going away, Dioscorus gave orders for a splendid bathhouse to be built by the pool in his garden. Two windows were to be set in the south wall of the building. Dioscorus also left instructions with his daughter’s attendants to permit her to come down from the tower and go wherever she wished, for he imagined that if Barbara began to converse with many people and see that other maidens willingly agreed to marriage, she would herself desire to be joined to a husband.
Free to come and go, and speak with whomever she wished, Barbara made the acquaintance of several Christian maidens. From them she first heard of Jesus Christ. The name of Christ caused her to rejoice in spirit, and she asked them to tell her more concerning the Saviour. They told her all they could of the Lord’s ineffable divinity, His Incarnation from the most pure Virgin Mary, His voluntary Passion and Resurrection, the judgment to come, eternal torments prepared for idolaters, and the endless joy that awaits faithful Christians in the heavenly kingdom. Barbara’s heart was filled with delight as they spoke, and afire with love for Christ, she longed to be baptized.
About that time a priest came to Heliopolis from Alexandria, disguised as a merchant. Learning of this, Barbara sent for him. He secretly instructed her in the knowledge of the one almighty God, the Creator of all things, and in the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ. Thus Barbara attained what her heart had ardently desired for so long. After teaching her the mysteries of the holy faith, the priest baptized her in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, then departed for his own country. Saint Barbara’s heart burned even hotter with love for God after she was enlightened by Baptism. She exercised herself continually in prayer and fasting, laboring for her Lord, to Whom she betrothed herself, vowing to preserve her virginity undefiled.
By that time construction had begun on the bathhouse. One day the holy virgin came down from the tower to examine it. Seeing that the structure had only two windows, she said to the builders, "Why have you installed just two windows? Would the building not be more beautiful and better lit with three?"
"Your father ordered us to install two windows, on the south side," answered the laborers.
But Barbara insisted that a third window be added, to represent the Holy Trinity. When the builders objected, fearing difficulties with her father, she insisted, "I shall answer for you to my father. Only do as I say." So a third window was added to the bathhouse in accordance with her instructions.
Now the bath was built, as was said, beside a pool, which was surrounded by a wall of marble. One memorable day, Saint Barbara traced the holy cross upon the east side of the wall, and her finger left a mark in the stone, as if the marble had been engraved with a chisel. Her virginal footprints remained imprinted in the stone floor of the bath; from them water began to flow, which later became a source of healing for the faithful. The bathhouse, the marble wall on which the cross was traced, the pool, and the footsteps of the saint all survived intact until the time of the blessed Symeon Metaphrastes, who revised the account of the passion of Saint Barbara written by John of Damascus. He writes the following: "The pool exists today and heals every disease for those who love Christ. If someone were to compare it with the streams of Jordan or the Pool of Siloam or the Sheep’s Pool, he would not sin against truth, for numerous miracles are wrought at Saint Barbara’s pool by the power of Christ."
Once, Saint Barbara was walking through her father’s palace and saw the lifeless idols standing in a place of honor. She sighed deeply, thought for a moment about how idolatry was the cause of the perdition of so many souls, and then spat on the faces of the statues, exclaiming, "Let all who worship you become like you, and all who hope to receive help from you, who are bereft of life!"
With this she returned to her tower and to her usual prayers and fasts, immersing her mind completely in meditation on the Divinity. Presently Dioscorus returned from his journey. After inspecting everything in his house, he went to the newly completed bath. He became very angry with the builders and servants, demanding to know why they had disobeyed his orders and installed a third window. They protested, "It was not our notion, but your daughter’s. She forced us to disobey you!"
Dioscorus called for Barbara at once and asked her why she had a third window installed in the bathhouse. The saint replied, "Three windows are better than two. I believe, father, that you wanted the bath lit by two windows to symbolize the sun and the moon, which lighten the heavens. But I prefer three, because the unapproachable, ineffable, unwaning Light that illumines every man that comes into the world shines forever from a triple source."
Barbara’s father was amazed by her strange, novel words, which he failed to comprehend. Then father and daughter moved closer to the pool, near the place in the wall where the saint had inscribed the cross with her finger. Dioscorus asked, "How can the light of three windows illumine every man, as you said?"
"Hear me, father," said the saint, "and try to understand my words. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are the three hypostases of the God Who is one in Trinity. They abide in unapproachable light and illumine and give life to all creation. I had the workers install the three windows in the bathhouse so that one might represent the Father, another the Son, and the third the Holy Spirit. Now even the walls of our bath glorify the name of the Most Holy Trinity." Then she pointed to the cross inscribed in the marble, and said, "I have traced here the emblem of the Son of God, Who by the gracious will of the Father and the operation of the Holy Spirit became incarnate of the pure Virgin for our salvation. He voluntarily suffered upon a cross such as the one you see. By depicting the cross here I have driven away all the power of the demons."
The virgin continued speaking to her hardhearted father about the Holy Trinity, the Incarnation and Passion of Christ, the might of the Cross, and the other mysteries of the holy faith, but only succeeded in arousing his anger. Burning with rage, Dioscorus forgot the love for his child implanted in his heart by nature, and drew his sword, intending to run it through her. Barbara took flight, and he pursued her with weapon in hand. The wolf had almost caught up to Christ’s spotless lamb when suddenly Barbara found her way blocked by a cliff, as though by a wall. Not knowing how else to escape her father, or rather her persecutor, she turned to her only refuge, God, lifting up the eyes of her soul and body and begging His help. The Lord did not tarry in sending His handmaiden assistance: He commanded the cliff to part, as once the mountain had done for the protomartyr Thecla when she was fleeing the shameless youths. The face of the cliff opened, and the holy virgin Barbara entered the cleft, after which the rock closed behind her, permitting her to ascend unharmed to the top of the mountain. There the saint found a cave, in which she hid.
The pitiless father was astounded by his daughter’s disappearance. Unable to understand how she had vanished before his eyes, he continued for many hours to look for her. While searching the mountain, he caught sight of two shepherds tending their sheep. He approached them and asked whether they had seen his daughter fleeing. They had indeed seen Barbara seek refuge in the cave. One of them, a kind man, did not wish to betray the maiden, for he saw that Dioscorus was in a furious state. He said that he had not seen her. The other shepherd remained silent, but treacherously pointed toward the place where the saint had hid. Dioscorus hurried off in that direction. Meanwhile the wrath of God overtook the evil shepherd, turning him into a pillar of stone and his sheep into locusts.
Dioscorus soon found the cave where his daughter had taken refuge. He seized her and threw her to the ground, then beat and kicked her mercilessly. Taking hold of her hair, he dragged her home along a stony trail. Barbara was locked in a very small, dark hut. Seals were placed upon the windows and doors, and a watch was set. The guards were ordered to afflict the saint with hunger and thirst. Thereupon Dioscorus went to the Governor, Martianus, and told him that his daughter had rejected the gods and now believed in the Crucified One. He requested the Governor to threaten Barbara with tortures so that she would return to her ancestral faith. Martianus agreed, and Dioscorus handed her over to him, declaring, "I disown her, for she has renounced my gods! If she refuses to return to them and worship them with me, she will never again be my daughter, nor I her father. O mighty Governor, torture her as you wish!"
The Governor marveled at the maiden’s loveliness and was amazed by her noble bearing. He began by speaking to her kindly, praising her dignity and beauty, and exhorting her not to reject the ancient customs of her forefathers. He besought her to do as Dioscorus wished and to worship the gods so that she might inherit his wealth; but the holy Barbara, who in her longing for the things of heaven had renounced wealth and every earthly vanity and consolation, confessed and glorified the name of Jesus Christ, and reviled the false, lifeless gods. She spoke long and wisely, but the Governor was not to be dissuaded. He entreated her not to disgrace her family or to ruin the blossom of her youth, and ended with this warning: "Have pity on yourself, fair maiden, and be quick to offer sacrifice with us to the gods. I feel compassion for you and wish to spare you. I do not want to destroy such beauty with wounds and torments, but if you do not obey me, I shall be compelled to put you to torture."
"I constantly offer to my God a sacrifice of praise," answered the holy virgin Barbara, "and myself hope to become a sacrifice to Him. He alone is the true God, for He created heaven and earth and all things therein, but your gods are nothing. They are lifeless, the work of the hands of men, as the prophet says, The idols of the nations are of silver and gold, the works of the hands of men, and, All the gods of the heathen are demons, but the Lord made the heavens. Heeding the prophet’s words, I believe in the one God, the Creator of all things. As for your deities, I proclaim that they are vain, like the hope you place in them."
At this the Governor became enraged and commanded that Barbara be stripped naked. This the holy virgin found as grievous as the most severe wounds, for she was compelled to stand exposed to the eyes of numerous men, who gazed without shame on her pure body. Then the persecutor ordered that she be stretched out upon the ground and lashed with leather straps until the earth was dyed red with her blood. After the flogging, the saint’s wounds were rubbed with sackcloth and scraped with shards to increase her pain. But all these tortures, which buffeted the temple of the martyr’s delicate young flesh more severely than any tempest, failed to shake her faith, grounded on the rock which is Christ the Lord, for Whom she was prepared to endure gladly the most bitter of torments.
The Governor then had the saint confined in a dungeon until he could devise some crueler torture. Covered with stripes and scarcely alive, Barbara called out in her prison cell to her beloved Bridegroom, Christ the Lord, beseeching Him not to abandon her. She cried with David, Forsake me not, O Lord my God, depart not from me; be attentive unto my help! At midnight, while she was praying thus, a brilliant light shone upon her, filling her heart with fear and joy. Then suddenly the King of glory, Barbara’s incorruptible Bridegroom, appeared in unspeakable majesty, drawing nigh to visit His bride. Oh, how the saint rejoiced in spirit when she beheld Him! What sweetness she felt in her heart! Gazing on her with eyes filled with love, the sweet Lord said, "Take courage, My bride, and fear not, for I am with you. I stand watch over you, looking down on your contest, and will ease your pain. I have prepared an everlasting reward for you in the bridal chamber of heaven. Endure till the end, that you may enjoy the eternal blessings of My kingdom!"
Hearing Christ the Lord address her, Saint Barbara felt her heart melt like wax in the flames of desire for God and spill over like a river in flood with love for Him. Having thus comforted and delighted the heart of His beloved bride, the sweetest Jesus healed her wounds, permitting no trace of them to remain on her body. Then He disappeared, leaving her filled with a sense of ineffable spiritual gladness. Barbara remained in the prison, but it seemed to her that she was in heaven, so ardently did her heart burn with seraphic love for God. Glorifying Him in her heart and with her lips, she offered thanksgiving unto her Lord, Who did not disdain His handmaiden’s sufferings for His sake, but deigned to visit her.
There lived nearby a Christian woman named Juliana who feared God and had seen the torturers lay hold of Saint Barbara. She watched from afar as Barbara was tormented, and after the saint was taken to the prison, looked in at her through the dungeon window. She marveled at how a young maiden, in the very bloom of youth and beauty, could forsake her father, kindred, wealth, and the good and beautiful things of this world, and be so eager to lay down her life for Christ. When she saw that the Lord had healed Saint Barbara’s wounds, she was herself filled with longing to suffer for Him. She began to prepare herself for the struggle, praying to Christ Jesus, the Judge of the contest, to grant her the strength to endure torture.
At daybreak Barbara was brought out of the prison to suffer fresh torments. Juliana followed her at a distance. Barbara was led before the Governor, and he and the others present saw that the maiden had been healed. Her face was bright, and she was even more beautiful than before. Seeing that she bore no trace of her wounds, everyone was astonished, and the Governor exulted, "You see, maiden, how our gods care for you? Yesterday you were covered with wounds, but now you are completely healed. You were feeble with pain, but your health has been restored. Give thanks to the gods for the kindness they have shown you, and offer them sacrifice and worship!"
"Why do you say, O Governor, that your gods healed me?" asked the saint. "They are themselves blind, dumb, and devoid of feeling, and can neither grant sight to the blind, speech to the dumb, nor hearing to the deaf. They cannot enable the lame to walk, heal the sick, or raise the dead. How then could they have healed me? And why should I worship them? It was Jesus Christ, my Lord and God, Who heals every infirmity and quickens the dead, that made me whole. It is Him that I thank and worship, and to Him I offer myself as an oblation. But you are unworthy to behold Him, for your eyes are blind and your mind diseased with impiety."
The holy martyr’s words moved the Governor to anger, and he commanded that she be suspended from a tree and her flesh raked with iron claws. Then he had her sides burned with candles. All these things Saint Barbara endured courageously. After this her head was beaten with a hammer, a torment scarcely to be endured even by the strongest men; nevertheless, the power of God preserved Christ’s lamb as she suffered.
Among the people watching the saint’s passion stood Juliana, who could not restrain herself from weeping when she saw Barbara bravely endure torture. Filled with zeal, Juliana cried out amidst the crowd and began to revile the pagan gods and accuse the merciless Governor of inhuman cruelty. She was at once seized and asked what faith she professed. Since she confessed herself to be a Christian, the Governor commanded that she be put to torture with Barbara. Juliana was suspended alongside Barbara and scraped with iron hooks. Meanwhile, the holy great-martyr Barbara lifted up her eyes and prayed, "O God, Who dost try the hearts of men, Thou knowest that I long for Thee and love Thy sacred commandments. I have surrendered myself into Thine almighty right hand. Forsake me not, O Lord, but mercifully look down upon me and my fellow-sufferer Juliana. Strengthen us both and enable us to complete the present contest well, for the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak."
As the saint prayed, invisible succor descended from heaven upon the two martyrs, enabling them to endure their torment courageously. Then the persecutor ordered that their breasts be cut off, leaving them in the utmost pain. Again Barbara turned to her Physician and Healer, lifting up her eyes and crying, "Cast us not away from Thy face, O Christ, and take not Thy Holy Spirit from us. Grant us, O Lord, the joy of salvation, and by Thy governing Spirit confirm us in Thy love!"
After these tortures, the Governor had Saint Juliana taken to prison, while to expose Saint Barbara to even greater shame, he had her led naked through the city to be jeered at, pawed, and buffeted. With shame as her only garment, the holy virgin Barbara cried unto her beloved Bridegroom, Christ the Lord, saying, "O King Who dost cover the heavens with clouds and wrap the earth in mists as in a mantle, conceal Thou my nakedness and prevent the eyes of the impious from seeing my body, lest Thy handmaiden be made a laughingstock to the heathen!" Christ the Lord, Who with the holy angels was looking down upon His servant’s contest, immediately came to her assistance, sending a radiant angel bearing a garment of light to cover her body. He clothed Saint Barbara; whereupon the impious townsfolk could no longer see her nakedness.
Saint Barbara was returned to the persecutor, who then had Saint Juliana led naked through the city and made a spectacle unto angels and men. Finally, seeing that he could not separate either of the saints from the love of Christ or compel them to worship idols, the tyrant condemned both to be beheaded.
Dioscorus, Saint Barbara’s hardhearted father, not only felt no sorrow at the sight of his daughter’s sufferings, but gladly volunteered to be her executioner. Seizing Barbara with one hand and holding his bared sword with the other, he led her to the place of execution, a mountain outside the city. Behind them a soldier led Saint Juliana. As they walked, Saint Barbara prayed to God, saying, "O eternal God, Who hast stretched out the heavens like a curtain and established the earth upon the waters, Whose sun shineth upon the good and evil alike, Who sendest down rain upon the just and the unjust, do Thou now hearken unto me Thy servant, who prayeth unto Thee! Hear me, O King, and bestow Thy grace upon all who remember me and my sufferings. Do not permit illness to befall them unexpectedly, and let not death overtake them unawares; for Thou knowest, O Lord, that we are but flesh and blood, the work of Thy most pure hand."
As soon as the saint had completed her prayer, a voice was heard from heaven summoning the martyrs and promising to fulfill Barbara’s request. Barbara and Juliana hastened to their death with great joy, wishing to depart from the body quickly and go to their Lord. When they reached the appointed place, Christ’s lamb Barbara bent her neck beneath the sword and was beheaded by her merciless father. Thus the words of the Scriptures were fulfilled: And the father shall deliver up the child to death. The soldier beheaded Juliana there also, and thus the martyrs completed their contest together. As their holy souls departed unto their Bridegroom Christ singing songs of joy, they were met by angels and lovingly welcomed by the Master Himself; divine punishment, however, quickly overtook Dioscorus and Governor Martianus. Thunder began to roar, and lightning struck Dioscorus while he was descending the mountain and Martianus as he was sitting at home. Their bodies were entirely consumed, leaving behind not even a trace of ash.
There lived in Heliopolis a pious man named Valentian who removed the precious bodies of the holy martyrs and returned them to the city. He buried them with fitting honor and built a church over them. Through the grace of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and the prayers of the saints, numerous healings were worked through the relics. Unto the God Who is one in Trinity be glory forever. Amen.