The history of our Church is full of examples of individuals who dedicated their lives to God. Their stories are different and vary, yet the one thread that links them all is their Love for God. They endured whipping, stoning and other forms of torture because of their belief. Some, where even fed to lions and beheaded, yet, even when faced with this enormous pressure to deny Christ they stood firm and fearless even to death.
One such heroine, named Barbara, lived in the city of Heliopolis in the beginning of the third century. She was a lovely and intelligent girl and the daughter of Dioscorus, who was a wealthy nobleman and a pagan. In his zeal to protect his young daughter, Dioscorus built a magnificent tower for her to live in and to keep her safe. He spared no expense, providing her with every material luxury, the best food, clothing, servants and teachers, but forbade her to have friends and even speak to anyone without his permission. Dioscorus’s intentions were simple – he wanted to surround his daughter with the greatest comforts and attendants focused on teaching her how to worship the pagan gods. He felt that by keeping her secluded from the world, she was sure to remain a pagan worshipper. Barbara was a bright and intelligent girl who was obedient to her father’s wishes and remained in the tower, without complaint, even during his frequent business trips.
One day, before leaving on one of his many business trip, Dioscorus decided to build a bathhouse for Barbara next to her tower. He drew up plans and left strict instructions for the builders to follow. Dioscorus’ business however kept him away for an unusually long time, so that the workers were over half finished with the bathhouse and still there was no word on his return. It was around this time that Barbara came down from her tower to inspect the new structure. She noticed that it only had two windows, and thought to herself that the pool would have more light if there were three windows in the bathhouse and she instructed the workers to create a third window.
Remembering Dioscorus’s stern instructions, the workers were afraid to deviate from the plans, but Barbara assured them that she would assume full responsibility for the change in plans. The workers, aware of the love that Dioscorus had for his only daughter, agreed and placed a third window in the bathhouse. One day, as Barbara stood by the pool facing the east she said, “In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit,” and she miraculously drew the sign of the cross in the marble wall of the bathhouse with her finger. She then returned to her tower and spent her days praying and fasting.
When Dioscorus finally arrived home he immediately noticed the additional (third) window in the bathhouse and became very angry. He entered the bathhouse, to inspect it further, and then noticed the large cross, carved on the marble wall. He became furious. He quickly went to the workers and demanded to know who gave them permission to make changes to the bathhouse? The workers, cowering in the face of such anger, replied that Barbara instructed them to add the third window and then drew the cross herself, on the marble wall with her finger.
Dioscorus immediately sought out his daughter and demanded to know why she had deviated from his strict instructions and if the inclusion of this third window had an additional meaning. Barbara responded in a very loving way to her father stating that indeed the three windows represented the three Lights which guide everyone who comes into the world (the Holy Trinity). Barbara then proceeded to explain and confess her faith in the Holy Trinity.
Upon hearing Barbara’s confession of faith, Dioscorus became furious! His plan of keeping his daughter in darkness had failed! Even though she had no ‘human’ teacher to bring her to the knowledge of God’s existence, Barbara’s mind, heart and soul were opened by the grace of God to feel His presence. Secretly, she was able to meet 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.
Blinded by his fury, Dioscorus delivered Barbara to Marcian, the Roman prefect, to torture her until she denied Christ. Young Barbara was stripped and struck with whips and clubs until she was standing in a pool of her own blood. To increase the pain and suffering, the soldiers rubbed vinegar into her wounds. Through all this however, Barbara stood firm in her faith and would not 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, and as she prayed her heart was filled with heavenly joy and her wounds were completely and miraculously healed.
In a nearby cell, was another pious young lady named Juliana, who was also imprisoned because of her belief in Christ. Upon witnessing the miraculous healing of Barbara, Juliana praised God and promised to endure what ever terrible tortures that were facing her because of her faith.
The next day, Barbara was brought in front of Marcian. He was amazed to see that her wounds had healed, and demanded that she deny her faith in Christ. Her refusal angered the prefect who ordered her body to be hung on a stake and ripped with iron claws. The soldiers then burned her wounds with hot irons and beat her head with spiked clubs. Yet through it all, Barbara found consolation in prayer.
Juliana witnessed Barbara’s tortures and wept bitterly over her inability to assist her. When Marcian saw this, he ordered that Juliana be brought forward and tortured in an effort to have her renounce her faith in Christ. The horrible beatings resumed and continued for several hours while the young ladies stood praying and chanting hymns. Their refusal to renounce their faith only further frustrated Marcian and he ordered that the two girls be taken out of the city and killed!
When Dioscorus, who was watching his daughter’s torture, heard Marcian pronounce the sentence, he offered to execute Barbara himself with his own sword. Saint Barbara and Saint Juliana were then led out of the city to a mountainside were they were beheaded – Saint Barbara, by her father and Saint Juliana by an executioner. As the two men hurried down the mountainside, a great bolt of lightning came from heaven striking Dioscorus and killing him, another lightning bolt killed Juliana’s executioner. When the cowardly Marcian heard of these events, he became so paralyzed by fear that he died of fright.
Saint Barbara gained her crown of martyrdom on December 4, 306 and joined her true Father in Heaven. Through her intercessions, O Lord, Have Mercy on Us.