The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament showeth His the work of His hand (Ps. 18:2).
O Lord , our Lord, how excellent is Thy Name in all the earth! who hast set Thy glory above the heavens. When I consider Thy heavens, the work of Thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which Thou hast ordained; What is man, that Thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that Thou visitest him? (Ps. 8:2,4-5). My beloved brothers and sisters in Christ, this is how the Holy King and Psalmist David praised God, while contemplating the beauty of the universe. Likewise, the Holy, Most Laudable, and Much-suffering Great-Martyr Barbara, who is commemorated by the Holy Church today, came to know God through examining the beauty of nature created by Him.
St. Barbara was martyred in the fourth century under the impious Emperor Maximian (285-305). She was born and brought up in a noble, wealthy pagan family in Heliopolis, Phoenicia. Her mother died when Barbara was an infant, so her father Dioscorus, a notorious idolater, took his daughter’s upbringing upon himself. He tried to implant the faith in pagan gods in little Barbara’s heart. The maiden was exceptionally beautiful and her beauty amazed many. In order to keep his daughter away from negative influences and bad company, Dioscorus built a tower with all conveniences and numerous rooms for her to live in so that his offspring could know no temptations. Living in seclusion, far from the entertainments of this world, she would closely observe nature around her, and liked to reflect on its wonderful manifestations. Living high up in the tower, at night St. Barbara would look at the innumerable twinkling stars, resplendent in the firmament; and in the daytime she would gaze at remote blue mountains, at dark untrodden forests, green meadows, and swift-flowing rivers and streams. Thus she would stare in the distance, deep in thought.
She was particularly enchanted by the beauty of spring, when she saw trees and gardens stunningly cloaked in green, meadows covered with greenery and flowers, and heard the songs of the birds of heaven resounding in the air. “It is impossible that our beautiful world created itself, came into being accidentally, without the participation of an intellect. Likewise, the gods that we worship couldn’t have created it as they are made of gold and silver by human hands,” she thought. Thinking in this manner, she gradually came to believe in an omnipotent intelligent being that created our beautiful, intelligent world; in an invisible God.
And one day, when St. Barbara was meditating on the origins of the universe, Divine grace touched her pure heart, and the Lord illuminated her inquisitive mind with His light. Thus she came to know the True, Living God, and thenceforth the maiden was not interested in anything else. Meanwhile, the fame of her beauty spread far and wide, many rich suitors vied with each other in seeking her in marriage, and her father Dioscorus was happy that his daughter would marry soon. However, when he told her about this, the girl steadfastly refused to marry and declared that she wanted to remain a virgin for the rest of her life. The father was perplexed by his daughter’s answer and blamed himself for this because he had hidden her in the solitary tower alone. Thus, as he thought, the girl had been affected by her way of life and didn’t want to leave her seclusion. Therefore, he allowed St. Barbara to leave her home and gave her full freedom in the choice of male friends, hoping that she would finally change her mind. However, this freedom was for the benefit of St. Barbara’s soul: Divine providence led her to eternal salvation. Soon the saint met many maidens who were secret Christians. They told her about Christ the Savior, about His Death and Resurrection through which the whole world was saved. When she heard the good tidings of the True God, her innocent heart was filled with indescribable joy.
She expressed a desire to be baptized, which soon was fulfilled according to the will of God. While the saint’s father was away in a faraway country, a priest in the guise of a merchant came to Heliopolis from Alexandria, instructed the holy maiden in the mysteries of Christian faith, and baptized her. Having received abundant grace in Baptism, St. Barbara was filled with a greater love for the Lord Jesus Christ and couldn’t think about anything or anybody but Him. When her father came back, he was infuriated to find that his daughter worshipped the Crucified and believed in Him; enraged, he was on the point of killing her with his own sword, though this time the Lord saved her life and the girl managed to escape. Soon Dioscorus in his rage handed over St. Barbara to the judge, accusing her of worshipping Christ. At that time Christians were brutally persecuted and subjected to cruel torture for the name of Christ alone.
After repeated admonitions and threats and seeing how boldly and steadfastly St. Barbara confessed Christian faith, the judge subjected her to fierce tortures. They stripped her naked and scourged her so mercilessly that the ground was stained with the maiden’s blood. Then the executioners rubbed her fresh wounds with a hair cloth to increase the sufferer’s pain. Next the great-martyr was thrown into prison, where she, worn out and tortured, fervently prayed to the Savior, seeking His help and consolation. And it was there that Jesus Christ Himself appeared to her, healed all her wounds, and gave her strength and patience for the sake of the Heavenly Kingdom.
Thereupon the glorious great-martyr’s torments continued: She was suspended from a tree, scraped with iron hooks, and beaten with iron hammers on the head; then her nipples were cut off and she was led naked through the city. The last punishment was unbearable for the holy and chaste virgin. She asked the Lord to protect her from the sight of a crowd of curious onlookers, and Christ immediately sent an angel who covered her nakedness with his radiant robes. After all these tortures the holy virgin was condemned to death by beheading. Her father Dioscorus the murderer himself carried out the death-sentence, executing his own daughter. Thus the Holy Great-Martyr Barbara, having endured much suffering, was martyred for Christ.
Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ, one event in this great saint’s spiritual life is especially edifying to us—namely that she came to know God through examining nature. St. Barbara was raised in paganism and nobody instructed her in the true faith from her childhood, yet she found God herself through observing nature. Any of us can get to know God through investigating the Creation just as St. Barbara found Him in nature.
We can see manifestations of God’s omnipotence, His infinite power, in all things around us. The whole universe bears clear signs of God’s presence just as the snow always bears imprints of human footsteps. Every field flower, every blade of grass bears witness to the omnipotence, wisdom, and goodness of the Creator. Look at any blade of grass, and you will see the wisdom of God in it. Every blade of grass grows from the ground and cannot move; but it finds all that it needs in the soil which feeds its roots; it breathes the clean air with its leaves and thus it lives and is nurtured. Who created it? Who gives it God-sent rain to drink? Who feeds it with a breath of fresh air? Who gives flowers their fragrance and colors? How can a rose get its bright color from black earth? Where does a lily get its shining whiteness? No artist, no scientist regardless of his talent can ever create such a sweet-smelling flower! God the Almighty is its Creator.
And what about animals? Their babies are born small, helpless and unable to care for themselves; the Lord inspired their mothers to nurse and raise their young, so they know no rest until the young have developed sufficiently. So God’s care for His Creation is seen everywhere.
Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, let us closely observe the beautiful world around us more often and come to know God and all good things. Nature—Creation—is God’s unwritten book, and every human being, whether he is literate or illiterate, can “read” it and worship the Creator of the universe with awe and reverence. Whenever you see the rising sun or the star-filled sky, whenever it thunders or rains, bow down before the Almighty and praise His greatness. Do the same every time you contemplate the beauty of the world around you.
Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ, the Holy Great-Martyr Barbara prayed to God just before her martyrdom so that all those remembering her martyrdom and invoking her name would be delivered from sudden death and their maladies. Let us offer our earnest prayers to the Great-Martyr Barbara today so that she may look down on those gathered in this church on her feast-day and protect us from sudden death, so that we, walking in the path of repentance and self-improvement, may be found worthy of eternal salvation in the future.
Archimandrite Kirill (Pavlov), Seek Ye First the Kingdom of God (Moscow: St. Sergius Lavra Podvorye, 2002), 211-216.