St. Barbara - December 4 Impressions of a Saint


Sermon preached by Marilyn Robbat on Sunday, March 20, 2022 at St. Mary Orthodox Church in Cambridge, MA

I will be sharing this morning the story of my patron saint, the Holy Great Martyr Barbara, who lived during the reign of emperor Maximian (305 - 311). Her father, the pagan Dioscorus, was rich and powerful in the Syrian city of Heliopolis. When widowed, he concentrated on his beautiful and only daughter, Barbara, hiding her away from strangers, for some time, in a tower he built. Only per pagaen teachers were allowed to see her. Barbara’s view from the tower by day was of hills, rivers and meadows covered with flowers. By night, she saw the twinkling heavens and marveled and wondered about the creator of such magnificence.

Barbara desired to know God and devote her life to this goal and to virginity. So after she threatened her father, he decided to allow her to leave the tower and gave her freedom to choose her own friends.

Barbara met Christian maidens in the city, who taught her about the Creator. A visiting priest disguised at a merchant instructed her in the Christian Faith and baptized her, before leaving.

In the meantime, Barbara’s father, Dioscorus was building a luxurious bathhouse, with two windows on the south side. In his absence, Barbara asked the workmen to make a third window referring to the Trinity. On one of the marble walls, she traced a cross with her finger. This became deeply etched into the marble. Later, her footprints were etched into the stone steps of the bathhouse. Its waters had great healing powers and they were compared to the Jordan and the Pool of Siloam. Many miracles took place there. But upon her father’s return, Barbara declared her faith and he became enraged and attacked her. Barbara fled and hid; but he found and beat her. She was tortured and subsequently was beheaded by her own father.

The impressions St. Barbara left of the cross on the marble wall and of her footprints on the bathhouse steps give us insight into being a Christian. As Christians, we can leave our own imprints on those in need. Every face we see is the face of God. This is what we are encouraged to see. The Gospel of St. Matthew Chapter 25: verses 31 - 46, which was read a few weeks ago, talks about the King referring to being hungry and thirsty, being a stranger, being naked, sick and imprisoned and we may not have responded. But the King reminded us, “as you did it to the least of these, my brethren, you did it to me. During this Lenten period, let us endeavor to make our own impressions as Christians, by feeding the hungry and thirsty, acknowledging strangers and those in need of our assistance and caring. We are admonished: “Let us love one another.”

As a child, the commemoration of my name day of St. Barbara on December 4 each year included the making of memorial wheat, or Koliva (in Greek), or Ameh, in Arabic. My grandmother continued this wonderful tradition throughout my childhood, which was and is similar to its use in the observation a 40-day memorial of today. The fragrance of the cooking of wheat, sweet raisins, nuts, cinnamon and sugars filled our home and was a favorite.

Its significance of the wheat then and now: is the symbolization of everlasting life and is based on the Bible verse , John Chapter 12 verse 24, which reads, “unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain.”

The martyred St. Barbara’s death, commemorated by the memorial wheat or koliva of my childhood, honored the memory of this saint’s passing, which at the time inspired many to seek and follow Christ's teachings. Today, it is important we remember these teachings and incorporate them in our everyday lives.