SAINT BARBARA THE MARTYR
By: The Right Reverend Father Michael D. Jordan
Saint Barbara lived in the city of Heliopolis at the beginning of the third century. She was the lovely and intelligent daughter of Dioscorus, a wealthy nobleman and pagan. Dioscorus built a magnificent tower for his daughter, Barbara to live in to keep her safe. He provided her with every material luxury, the best food, clothing, servants and teachers, but would not allow her to have friends or even speak to anyone without his permission. Barbara was obedient to her father's wishes and remained in the tower, without complaining, even though he was often away on business trips.Dioscorus wanted to surround his daughter with the greatest comforts and a lot of attendants focused on teaching her how to worship the pagan gods. He felt that by keeping her secluded from the world, she would surely grow up to follow his footsteps and be a pagan worshipper.
Yet, his plans failed. Barbara had no "human" teacher to bring her to the knowledge of God's existence; however, Barbara's mind, heart and soul were receptive to the grace of God and she felt His presence. Secretly, she met with some Christians who told her about Christ and His teachings. Convinced of the Truth concerning Jesus, she became a Christian whose love for God inspired all who heard of her.
Her father became suspicious that his daughter, despite his extreme efforts, had become a Christian. Blinded by rage, her father delivered her to the Roman Prefect, to be tortured until she denied Christ. Barbara was stripped and struck with whips and clubs until she was standing in a pool of her own blood. The soldiers that whipped Barbara rubbed vinegar into her wounds to increase her pain. Through all this, Barbara stood firm in her faith and refused to deny Christ.
She was then thrown into prison and ordered to return the following day. While in her cell Barbara knelt in prayer to ask God to continue to grant her the strength that she needed to remain faithful. As she prayed her heart filled with heavenly joy and her wounds were completely healed. When she was brought in front of Roman Prefect the following day he was amazed to see that her wounds had healed and demanded that she deny Christ. Her refusal angered the Prefect who ordered her body to be hung on a stake and ripped with iron claws, they burned her wounds with hot irons and beat her head with spiked clubs. Through all these sufferings, Barbara found consolation in prayer. Frustrated at not being able to break Barbara's faith the Prefect ordered her to be taken out of the city and killed.
Dioscorus, Barbara's father, who watched his daughter being tortured, was so angry that he offered to execute Barbara himself. He led his daughter out of the city and killed her with his own sword. He was quickly punished for his actions, because on his way home the brutal heathen was struck by a lightning bolt and died immediately. Saint Barbara gained her crown of martyrdom on December 4, 306 and joined her true Father in Heaven. Because of her faithfulness and her association with the avenging lightning bolt, Barbara has become the traditional patroness of those who would seek protection from dangerous storms and lightning, explosions, and sudden death.
Every Sunday in the Eastern Orthodox Divine Liturgy we sing the Beatitudes one of which says: "Blessed are you when men shall persecute you for My Name's Sake, Rejoice and be glad, for great is your reward in Heaven". This is why St. Barbara is often depicted on icons wearing a crown. She received the crown of martyrdom by being put to death because she was a Christian, and refused to deny the Lord.
Many of the Orthodox Saints of the Church that I have taught you about in other sermons were raised as pagans, or converted from paganism to Christianity. So great and complete was their conversion that these Saints were willing to suffer agonizing deaths rather than renounce Jesus Christ.
Today, with conversions to Christianity almost commonplace, it would appear to some people to be a matter as simple as deciding to shop at a different supermarket. Personally, the thought of becoming a Christian being commonplace worries me. Christianity should not be something that we take for granted, or be considered a simple, mundane choice. In the example of St. Barbara, obviously, her conversion was not a simple matter, nor did she take her spiritual responsibilities lightly. St. Barbara was willing to put her faith into action by trusting in the Lord when He said: "He that saves his life shall lose it; and he that loses his life for My sake shall find it." Matthew 10:22.
In the days of St. Barbara, suffering meant torture and death! The persecution that St. Barbara had to endure was more open and honest persecution. It was immediately recognizable, and the spiritual choice was quite clear. Maintain your faith and gain eternal life, or deny it and die spiritually.
Today, suffering for Christianity means small personal sacrifices for our spiritual good, like fasting, and refraining from sinful behaviors. The persecution is still there, and I believe it is even more spiritually dangerous than the persecution that St. Barbara faced.
We're persecuted by temptations in so many subtle ways today. Often, we are totally unaware that we've been victimized by demons far worse than those that St. Barbara dealt with. The demons we deal with are crafty, they disguise themselves as our bodily needs, our desires, our self esteem and need for material wealth. The seven deadly sins are: Pride, Greed, Lust, Anger, Gluttony, Envy, and Laziness.
The seven deadly sins are those that separate us from God, just like the pagans tried to separate St. Barbara from God by trying to have her renounce her faith. Today, the same demons are still at work; however, they have learned to attack us in ways that we can't easily recognize.
When we attain goals, or accomplish something, instead of being thankful to God, we tend to be puffed up with pride. The opposite virtue is humility. When we enjoy success, we should immediately offer prayers of thanksgiving to God, and ask Him to protect us from the sin of pride.
When we are successfully employed, and we have made for ourselves a comfortable living, we are often not content with what we have, but demons whisper craftily in our ears that we should want more things, and acquire more and more money. They make the whole thing seem practical by convincing us that we are doing this for financial security. "Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon the earth, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." Matthew 6:22 So goes the sin of greed. Its opposite virtue is liberality. Again, be thankful for what God has blessed you with. Give alms in proportion to your blessings.
Lust takes many forms, but is usually associated with the desire for things that are impure or unworthy of pursuit. Everyone has impure thoughts from time to time; however, dwelling on these thoughts, and making them the most important thing in your mind makes them sinful. The opposite virtue to lust is chastity, which is to not give attention to the impure thoughts, and to refrain from sinful actions associated with them.
Anger is one of the most common of the deadly sins, because it is one of the stronger human emotions. This particular sin can lead people to kill others, to harm people emotionally, and alienate people from one another. Demons provoke us to anger, making us feel puffed up and angry with others when we feel they have done us wrong. Nothing puts the demons to flight quicker than immediately forgiving the trespasser for their transgression. The opposite virtue to anger is mildness. One of God's characteristics is that He is slow to anger. We should do likewise.
Gluttony is one of the deadly sins that runs rampant through our society today. We all tend to consume much more food than is required for our bodies. This is one of the deadly sins that can lead us both to spiritual harm, but also to physical death. By consuming too much food, we shorten our lives by causing all kinds of health problems. The opposite virtue of gluttony is temperance, which means that it is better to consume food and drink in moderation. If we can control gluttony, it becomes easier for us to control the other deadly sins. This is why the Church has periods of fasting, to help teach us to control our passions.
Envy, or jealousy has caused countless people to alienate themselves from friends, families and loved ones. When you see someone with more material blessings than you have, and resent them for their success, that's envy. When you're possessive of your friends or spouse, that's jealousy. Jealousy can kill love, and cause you to commit the other deadly sins of anger and greed. The opposite virtue of envy is happiness. Be satisfied with what you have, know that when you need something, God will bless you with it. Love unconditionally, and accept the unconditional love of others.
Finally laziness, the last of the deadly sins, is common among all people. We've all tried to get out of work that we find is unpleasant. Today, everyone is trying to find the easy way to the top, when actually, the easy way may not be the best way. In the experience of life, most often, the journey that requires more effort affords us the most rewards. The opposite virtue to laziness is diligence.
The reason I chose to cover the seven deadly sins and virtues while commemorating St. Barbara is because this wonderful Saint embodied the seven capital virtues in her life. She was wealthy beyond belief, yet pride did not prevent her from becoming a model Christian.
Although she was materially rich, and lived in a family of prominence, greed did not keep her away from sacrificing it all for Jesus Christ. Though being secluded in a tower, and constantly taught about the pagan gods and their rituals, her thoughts remained pure and centered on God until her last breath.
While many would be certainly be provoked to anger by the horrible treatment she received, her response was prayers for strength from God. St. Barbara's life was an example of unselfishness, and displayed a zeal for her duty to the Christian faith.
May St. Barbara pray for us that we may be strengthened by the same faith that helped her through the tortures she had to endure. May her martyrdom inspire us to fight with zeal the more subtle and sinister battle that we face against the demons in the world today.
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