Today is the feast day of St. Barbara, an early Christian virgin martyr. An extremely popular and greatly beloved saint since ancient times, on icons she is often depicted witha chalice, because she is especially venerated as the saint one prays to so as not to die an unexpected or violent death, and not to leave this life without receiving Holy Communion. In Imperial Russia soldiers would pray to her before going into battle, and there are accounts from as late as World War I of visions of St. Barbara walking the battlefields with her chalice, administering the Sacrament to the wounded and dying. It’s easy to write off these visions as hallucinations and/or wishful thinking, but they speak to us of a time when it was much more common to think seriously of how to prepare to leave this life and cross over to the next one. The remembrance of death is not something morbid or depressing, it is a Christian virtue. Do we not recite daily and often several times a day: “…I look for theResurrection of the dead. And the life of the age to come…” when we say theCreed, our Symbol of Faith? The Ladder of Divine Ascent, St. John’s classic of Orthodox spiritual life, devotes an entire chapter to it. Many of our elderly nuns read the akathist to St. Barbara weekly or even daily as part of their preparation, something I still need to teach myself to do, but at least today I join them in honoring St. Barbara:
“…Grace has been given thee by God to preserve and protect from sudden illness and unexpected death everyone who with faith, love and reverence calls to mind and honors thine honored sufferings; deprive us not also of that grace, O good virgin Barbara, that, healthy of body andspirit, we may in this life and the life to come chant to God in thee: Alleluia!
Rejoice, our mighty helper against enemies visible and invisible;
Rejoice, mediatress of joy, grace and eternal glory for us!
Rejoice, healer of our spiritual and bodily ailments;
Rejoice, bestower of earthly and heavenly blessings of salvation!
Rejoice, for through thee do we right hopefully expect to acquire everlasting life!
Rejoice, O Barbara, most comely bride of Christ!”