Saints Nicholas & Barbara
by Fr. Stephen J. Callos, Dean, Saints Constantine & Helen Greek Orthodox Cathedral, Cleveland Heights, Ohio
December 4, 2005
Last week we heard the Lord tell a young man, "Sell all that you have and distribute it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven" (Luke 18:22). I spoke to you about how easy it is to dismiss these words as unrealistic, but said that there were people who did exactly what the Lord commanded, i.e. they sold their possessions and gave the proceeds to the poor. St. Nicholas, whose memory we celebrate this coming Tuesday, was one such person. He was an only child who gave away his inheritance in order to help the poor.
His icon now stands behind the Holy Altar, in a traditional position for bishops, beside God's throne, we might say. St. Nicholas differs from the other bishops depicted in our church building in particular aspect, which is that all the others are known for their writings as well their deeds, while St. Nicholas, who is probably more famous and more popular, is known for his deeds alone. There are no known writings of St. Nicholas, but his fame spreads over the entire Christian world.
I will mention today some of St. Nicholas' lesser known works.
"On pilgrimage to the Holy Places he twice by his prayer calmed the winds that imperiled the ship he was sailing in . . . . During the last great persecution under Diocletian and Maximian (c. 305), Saint Nicholas was thrown into prison . . . He saved the city of Myra from famine by appearing to the master of a vessel laden with corn, and telling him to discharge his cargo at the harbor there. Later the man of God saved the lives of three Roman officers unjustly accused of conspiracy, by appearing in a dream to the Emperor Constantine and to the perfidious Prefect Avlavius . . . .
On many other occasions after his death as well as during his lifetime, Saint Nicholas has miraculously assisted ships in distress and people making voyages, and so is venerated as the protector of all who sail the seas. Thus, one day during a gale, he appeared at the helm of a ship in distress and brought it safely to port; and on another occasion, he rescued a passenger who fell overboard crying, "Saint Nicholas, help me!" and at once found himself at home surrounded by his astounded family.
For many years the holy Bishop was, as the presence of Christ, a friend of man and good shepherd to his faithful; there was no misfortune that would not move him to compassion, no injustice that he would not redress, no discord that he would not allay. Wherever he happened to be, his illumined countenance and the atmosphere of radiant peace surrounding him were instantly recognizable . . . .1
Now let us turn our attention to St. Barbara, whose memory is honored today.
Saint Barbara was from Heliopolis of Phoenicia and lived during the reign of Maximian.
She was the daughter of a certain idolater named Dioscorus. When Barbara came of age, she was enlightened in her pure heart and secretly believed in the Holy Trinity. About this time Dioscorus began building a bath-house; before it was finished he was required to go away to attend to certain matters, and in his absence Barbara directed the workmen to build a third window in addition to the two her Father had commanded. She also inscribed the sign of the Cross with her finger upon the marble of the bath-house, leaving the saving sign cut as deeply into the marble as if it had been done with an iron tool . . . . When Dioscorus returned, he asked why the third window had been added; Barbara began to declare to him the mystery of the Trinity. Because she refused to renounce her faith, Dioscorus tortured Barbara inhumanely, and after subjecting her to many sufferings he beheaded her with his own hands, in the year 290.2
"Sell all that you have and distribute it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven." The Lord once said, "You are the light of the world . . . you are the salt of the earth." This is our calling as Christians. St. Barbara expressed this one way; St. Nicholas another. What St. Barbara and St. Nicholas have in common is faith in a God who lives and works in this world, here and now, and the courage to do what God asks of them, here and now.
St. Paul once wrote about the saints he knew, calling them a "cloud of witnesses" around the Church. "Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God . . . . Therefore strengthen the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated, but rather be healed. Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God . . . ." (Hebrews 12:1-2, 12- 15)
We honor saints such as Nicholas and Barbara by praising their lives and miracles; we must honor them, too, by imitating their zeal and devotion. May their prayers be with us! Amen.
BRETHREN, before faith came, we were confined under the law, kept under restraint until faith should be revealed. So that the law was our custodian until Christ came, that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a custodian; for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise. I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no better than a slave, though he is the owner of all the estate; but he is under guardians and trustees until the date set by the father. So with us; when we were children, we were slaves to the elemental spirits of the universe. But when the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.
Galatians 3:23-29; 4:1-5
- "Feast of our Father Among the Saints, Nicholas, the Wonderworker and Archbishop of Myra," the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America
- "Barbara the Great Martyr," the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America
By Fr. Stephen J. Callos, Dean, Saints Constantine & Helen Greek Orthodox Cathedral, Cleveland Heights, Ohio. Used by permission.