(Welcome to our Saint of the Day series! Each weekday, we present you with an excerpt from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints series, published by Holy Cross Orthodox Press.Today's saint, Barbara, comes from Volume 4 of the series.)
The Church has honored with sainthood a number of virtuous young women, all of whom symbolize the purity of faith in Jesus Christ and some of whom exceed their male counterparts in veneration, but none of whom reached the level of popularity of St. Barbara, who like so many others has suffered from the excesses of over-zealous biographers. This sweet saint was all but toppled from the dizzying heights of her enormous acclaim, particularly in the seventh century, by cynics who went so far as to say that she never existed because she was just too good to be true. While the original Greek account of her pious life and ultimate martyrdom has been lost, there remain enough documents translated from the Greek to substantiate her claim to the fame so shrouded in the legends which have surrounded her, the mists of myth through which the discerning Christian can see her true radiance.
Born in the early third century, Barbara was shielded from the world by her father, a man named Dioskoros who prized his lovely daughter and carefully screened those he permitted to see her. An avowed pagan, Dioskoros practiced idolatry with a fanaticism which had him convinced that Christianity was his worst enemy, and he was committed to a frenetic determination that his daughter never convert, an act he considered a fate worse than death. Some accounts place Barbara in Heliopolis, while others have her a native of Nikomedia. Irrespective of the exact locale, it is recognized by all accounts that despite her insular early life, Barbara managed to find the truth of Jesus Christ. After being surreptitiously baptized by a local monk, she took to her restricted quarters to meditate and pray in spiritual happiness heretofore denied by her ignorance of the Messiah.
Having concealed her faith out of respect for her parents and nothing more, Barbara told her father that her rapture came from her acceptance of the Messiah, to whom she had pledged her life and in whom lay the only hope of salvation, even for her father. Dioskoros looked at her in disbelief which soon changed to rage, and whatever love he had for his daughter was turned into hatred.
In the reign of Maximianus the idolatrous pagans persecuted the Christians with a cruel vengeance, and now Dioskoros, screaming for the blood of his own daughter, reported her to the prefect of the province. This sorry situation is made more abhorrent by some accounts which relate that Barbara was taken to the prefect by her father himself, a man possessed to have so shabbily treated his own child. As if this were not shocking enough, one account has it that the infuriated father saved the executioner the trouble and beheaded his own daughter in an act of savagery unsurpassed for brutality. Whatever the means, this sweet girl could have saved herself and appeased her wrathful father with a disavowal of Christ, with her lips alone if not with her heart, but she chose to die rather than deny the Savior.
All accounts agree that on his way back from the execution of his daughter, Dioskoros was killed by a bolt of lightning, the thunder of which rumbled from heaven in God’s answer to the perpetrator of such a vile deed. A virgin martyr of early Christianity, Barbara’s brutal end, as well as her pure life, resulted in the subsequent outpouring of tributes which generations passed on to generations in ever-expanding glorification until she became one of the most popular of all saints in the Middle Ages. Countless Christians down through the centuries have found inspiration in hearing her story told and retold in the after-dinner conversations that have become a lost art in the welter of technological substitutes.
A saint in the highest tradition of purity and piety, Barbara is listed in some church branches as one of the fourteen auxiliary saints who are sometimes referred to as holy “Helpers,” but she held out so much hope for so many of the faithful in all walks of life that she was adopted by various segments of society as their special patroness. Officially she is recognized as the patroness of artillerymen and firemen and just about everyone engaged in hazardous occupations. She is regarded by some as the safeguard against sudden death.
The purity of St. Barbara is such that her name can be invoked on any occasion with the assurance that her virtue is an answer to evil in any form. She is venerated on December 4.