Melkite Greek Catholic Church
 
DURING THE FIRST WEEKS of December the Byzantine Churches commemorate several important saints in Christian history:
  • The Great Martyr St Barbara (Dec. 4)
  • St John of Damascus (Dec. 4)
  • St Sabbas the Sanctified (Dec. 5)
  • St Nicholas of Myra (Dec. 6)
  • St Ambrose of Milan (Dec. 7)
  • St Spyridon of Trimythous (Dec. 12)
Their commemorations give a joyful character to these days, part of the generally calculated Nativity Fast.

The Great Martyr St Barbara

Everyone wants to claim St Barbara as their own. This is possible because she is not mentioned in any contemporary writings which have come down to us. She is first mentioned in a seventh-century Roman Martyrology, some 350 years after her death. The sources of what has been passed down about her were collected by St Simeon Metaphrastes (“the Translator”) in his tenth-century lives of the saints, the Menologion. Middle Eastern sources record that Barbara was from Heliopolis in present-day Lebanon. Some sources describe her as a native of Heliopolis in Egypt or of Nicomedia (in Turkey today). All the stories of this martyr say that she was the daughter of a rich pagan named Diocsoros who, after his wife’s death, kept her locked in a tower to keep her from the eyes of strangers. After a certain time Dioscoros relented and allowed his daughter a measure of freedom. She became acquainted with the Gospel through some young Christian women who befriended her and through a priest fleeing persecution in Alexandria who ultimately baptized her. Dioscoros had commissioned the construction of a bath house on his estate. In his absence Barbara had altered the plans to include a third window, to represent the Trinity. When Dioscoros learned the reason for her actions he flew at her in a rage. She escaped, but was later captured and severely beaten. The last great persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire was in full swing. When Barbara would not renounce her faith, Dioscoros handed her over to the prefect of the city, Martian, who subjected her to public humiliation and torture. Juliana, a Christian woman in the crowd reproached Martian for his cruelty. In return he condemned Juliana to die with Barbara. Both were beheaded, Barbara (it is said) by her own father. A pious man named Galentain recovered the bodies of Barbara and Juliana, buried their remains and, when the persecutions ended, erected a shrine in their memory. In the sixth century relics of St Barbara were brought to Constantinople. Six hundred years later a portion of them was brought to Kiev by Barbara, the daughter of the Byzantine emperor, when she married Michael, the Grand Prince of Kiev. Around the same time the Coptic church of St Cyrus in Old Cairo was rebuilt as the Church of St Barbara to house relics of this saint. She is venerated in all the Churches of East and West. Because of the lack of contemporary witnesses to her struggle, the Roman Church removed her name from their universal calendar. She is still venerated in local Western Churches, particularly in Europe. In the Middle East her feast is observed by the preparation of sweets, including the “Barbara.” This is the traditional boiled wheat dish made for memorials of a saint or of the deceased. In this case it is sweetened with pomegranate seeds, raisins, anise and sugar. It is frequently brought to homes by children singing a traditional carol about this saint. They are often costumed to recall the disguises St Barbara used to elude her father.

St John of Damascus

While St Barbara lived in the fourth century during the Roman persecutions, John of Damascus lived in the seventh century, after the Arab conquest of Syria. John was born in Damascus in c. 680, the son of Sergius ibn al-Mansour, a civil servant to the Umayyad caliphate, as was his father before him. Sergius wanted his son to “learn not only the books of the Muslims, but those of the Greeks as well,” according to one ancient source. John was tutored by a Sicilian monk who had been kidnapped by Arabs and brought to Damascus. This monk was also tutor to St Cosmas of Maiuma, John’s foster brother whom his father had taken in after he was orphaned. In 706 the caliphate increased the Islamizing of Syria. Many Christians in civil service, including John’s father, left the government administration at that time. Some think that this was when John entered the monastery of Mar Saba near Jerusalem. John was certainly a professed monk before the outbreak of iconoclasm in 717. In all John composed three Apologetic Treatises against those Decrying the Holy Images which were widely circulated and were cited as authoritative at the Second Council of Nicaea, years after his death. John also composed a number of apologetic treatises against the Monophysites, Monotheletes, Nestorians and Muslims as well as dogmatic treatises. His An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith was perhaps the first systematic presentation of Christian theology in both East and West. John of Damascus is perhaps most revered as a poet and hymnographer. He composed a number of canons which are still sung at Orthros (Matins). Some credit the beauty of his poetry with making the canon an important part of the morning service. His Paschal canon, “Today is the day of the resurrection” is most particularly loved. He also composed the canons sung in the Byzantine Churches on the Great Feasts of the Nativity, the Theophany and Pentecost. John is also credited with composing the principal parts of the Octoechos, the book of eight tones, which contains the weekly services used in Byzantine churches. John ended his life in his monastery on December 4, 749. The cave he used as a hermitage is kept today as a chapel dedicated to his memory.
From St John of Damascus

“These eight passions should be destroyed as follows: gluttony by self-control; un-chastity by desire for God and longing for the blessings held in store; avarice by compassion for the poor; anger by goodwill and love for all men; worldly dejection by spiritual joy; listlessness by patience, perseverance and offering thanks to God; self-esteem by doing good in secret and by praying constantly with a contrite heart; and pride by not judging or despising anyone in the manner of the boastful Pharisee (cf. Luke 18:11-12), and by considering oneself the least of all men. When the intellect has been freed in this way from the passions we have described and been raised up to God, it will henceforth live the life of blessedness, receiving the pledge of the Holy Spirit (cf. 2 Corinthians 1:22). And when it departs this life, dispassionate and full of true knowledge, it will stand before the light of the Holy Trinity and with the divine angels will shine in glory through all eternity.” On the Virtues and the Vices 

DURING THE FIRST WEEKS of December the Byzantine Churches commemorate several important saints in Christian history:
  • The Great Martyr St Barbara (Dec. 4)
  • St John of Damascus (Dec. 4)
  • St Sabbas the Sanctified (Dec. 5)
  • St Nicholas of Myra (Dec. 6)
  • St Ambrose of Milan (Dec. 7)
  • St Spyridon of Trimythous (Dec. 12)
Their commemorations give a joyful character to these days, part of the generally calculated Nativity Fast.

The Great Martyr St Barbara

Everyone wants to claim St Barbara as their own. This is possible because she is not mentioned in any contemporary writings which have come down to us. She is first mentioned in a seventh-century Roman Martyrology, some 350 years after her death. The sources of what has been passed down about her were collected by St Simeon Metaphrastes (“the Translator”) in his tenth-century lives of the saints, the Menologion. Middle Eastern sources record that Barbara was from Heliopolis in present-day Lebanon. Some sources describe her as a native of Heliopolis in Egypt or of Nicomedia (in Turkey today). All the stories of this martyr say that she was the daughter of a rich pagan named Diocsoros who, after his wife’s death, kept her locked in a tower to keep her from the eyes of strangers. After a certain time Dioscoros relented and allowed his daughter a measure of freedom. She became acquainted with the Gospel through some young Christian women who befriended her and through a priest fleeing persecution in Alexandria who ultimately baptized her. Dioscoros had commissioned the construction of a bath house on his estate. In his absence Barbara had altered the plans to include a third window, to represent the Trinity. When Dioscoros learned the reason for her actions he flew at her in a rage. She escaped, but was later captured and severely beaten. The last great persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire was in full swing. When Barbara would not renounce her faith, Dioscoros handed her over to the prefect of the city, Martian, who subjected her to public humiliation and torture. Juliana, a Christian woman in the crowd reproached Martian for his cruelty. In return he condemned Juliana to die with Barbara. Both were beheaded, Barbara (it is said) by her own father. A pious man named Galentain recovered the bodies of Barbara and Juliana, buried their remains and, when the persecutions ended, erected a shrine in their memory. In the sixth century relics of St Barbara were brought to Constantinople. Six hundred years later a portion of them was brought to Kiev by Barbara, the daughter of the Byzantine emperor, when she married Michael, the Grand Prince of Kiev. Around the same time the Coptic church of St Cyrus in Old Cairo was rebuilt as the Church of St Barbara to house relics of this saint. She is venerated in all the Churches of East and West. Because of the lack of contemporary witnesses to her struggle, the Roman Church removed her name from their universal calendar. She is still venerated in local Western Churches, particularly in Europe. In the Middle East her feast is observed by the preparation of sweets, including the “Barbara.” This is the traditional boiled wheat dish made for memorials of a saint or of the deceased. In this case it is sweetened with pomegranate seeds, raisins, anise and sugar. It is frequently brought to homes by children singing a traditional carol about this saint. They are often costumed to recall the disguises St Barbara used to elude her father.

St John of Damascus

While St Barbara lived in the fourth century during the Roman persecutions, John of Damascus lived in the seventh century, after the Arab conquest of Syria. John was born in Damascus in c. 680, the son of Sergius ibn al-Mansour, a civil servant to the Umayyad caliphate, as was his father before him. Sergius wanted his son to “learn not only the books of the Muslims, but those of the Greeks as well,” according to one ancient source. John was tutored by a Sicilian monk who had been kidnapped by Arabs and brought to Damascus. This monk was also tutor to St Cosmas of Maiuma, John’s foster brother whom his father had taken in after he was orphaned. In 706 the caliphate increased the Islamizing of Syria. Many Christians in civil service, including John’s father, left the government administration at that time. Some think that this was when John entered the monastery of Mar Saba near Jerusalem. John was certainly a professed monk before the outbreak of iconoclasm in 717. In all John composed three Apologetic Treatises against those Decrying the Holy Images which were widely circulated and were cited as authoritative at the Second Council of Nicaea, years after his death. John also composed a number of apologetic treatises against the Monophysites, Monotheletes, Nestorians and Muslims as well as dogmatic treatises. His An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith was perhaps the first systematic presentation of Christian theology in both East and West. John of Damascus is perhaps most revered as a poet and hymnographer. He composed a number of canons which are still sung at Orthros (Matins). Some credit the beauty of his poetry with making the canon an important part of the morning service. His Paschal canon, “Today is the day of the resurrection” is most particularly loved. He also composed the canons sung in the Byzantine Churches on the Great Feasts of the Nativity, the Theophany and Pentecost. John is also credited with composing the principal parts of the Octoechos, the book of eight tones, which contains the weekly services used in Byzantine churches. John ended his life in his monastery on December 4, 749. The cave he used as a hermitage is kept today as a chapel dedicated to his memory.
From St John of Damascus

“These eight passions should be destroyed as follows: gluttony by self-control; un-chastity by desire for God and longing for the blessings held in store; avarice by compassion for the poor; anger by goodwill and love for all men; worldly dejection by spiritual joy; listlessness by patience, perseverance and offering thanks to God; self-esteem by doing good in secret and by praying constantly with a contrite heart; and pride by not judging or despising anyone in the manner of the boastful Pharisee (cf. Luke 18:11-12), and by considering oneself the least of all men. When the intellect has been freed in this way from the passions we have described and been raised up to God, it will henceforth live the life of blessedness, receiving the pledge of the Holy Spirit (cf. 2 Corinthians 1:22). And when it departs this life, dispassionate and full of true knowledge, it will stand before the light of the Holy Trinity and with the divine angels will shine in glory through all eternity.” On the Virtues and the Vices

   

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