An Orthodox Christian Father's Letters to his Children

Monday, December 4, December 17 2001

St Barbara and St John the Damascene

Christina, Tim and Natalie, my dear Children:

I saw something on the net today that made me think of you. I love you all very much, and feel guilty because our life is so stressful, partly because of my ministry, and also the changes in our family dynamics because of the adoptions.

The web site I saw had letters from a protestant Doctor to his daughter, and were "devotions" about the Scripture. I am a priest, and read the Scripture often, and yet, we as a family have lapsed into severe inconsistency in our family devotions.

Remember how we would always say "Let's read" after dinner? The Lives of the Saints and the Scriptures were our nightly "television". Perhaps we cannot get back to nightly devotions, and perhaps you are getting to be the wrong age to sit in rapt attention, but I want to try something. I thought I would try to write you a little something each day, as God gives me strength, and talk about the Saints of the Day, or the scriptures read that day, or some other topics. A lot of things touch me, and I want to transmit these things to you.

Here goes.

Today is Monday, December 4, December 17

We remember St Barbara and St John the Damascene.

Because St Barbara is so greatly loved by the Russian Church, her day is a "fish" day. In the "Save O God", which I chant after the Gospel at Matins or in the Litya service, she is mentioned by name, and here name is also mentioned in the Proskomidie. A great many other Great Martyrs are not so singled out, so we can know that she is truly greatly loved in the Russian Church.

I love her story. She was a pagan, born of pagan parents, and had no access to Christian teachings, because her father, Dioscoros shut her up in a tower, in their home in Heliopolis, Egypt. St Barbara must have been a very thoughtful girl, and in her forced isolation, she had many hours free to gaze out of her window at the stars. By God's grace, she came to a knowledge of the Holy Trinity, just by gazing at the stars.

The night sky does seem holy in some mystical way. Sometimes, late at night, when I cannot sleep, I go outside, and lay in the grass or on our sidewalk, and look at the night sky. I feel comforted somehow, gazing up to the heavens. there are more stars than we are able to count, and the little pinpricks of light that we see twinkling downs at us are such an unfathomable distance away! A yet, God knows each star, and each atom of each star. Truly, in creation, the glory of the Lord is proclaimed.

The Night sky is silent, and deep, and so serene. You all know that I love silence, too much perhaps! The fathers consider silence indispensable for attaining the knowledge of God, and when I look at the night sky, I think I understand a little bit why. How could a description of the stars improve our love of them? Looking up at them, we are overwhelmed. There are no words that can describe their spectacle.

When I stare at the night sky, and leave my eyes in one spot, it seems that stars begin to jump out of the sky, the longer I look. In the silence, all one, or perhaps with Sasha laying at my side, I always start to think of God. I never talk in those times, but silently pray, often about you children.

I suppose St Barbara also felt the beauty of the night sky, and God, seeing her purity and honesty, touched her heart.

When her father was away, she was once able to come out of her tower for a while, and by God's providence, met some Christians, who told her about the true faith. Just as the vastness of the night sky is an impenetrable mystery to us, so is the grace of God. We meet so many in this life that seem to be good people, honorable and just, and yet, they either do not believe in God, or believe false things about Him, and His church. And we meet others, who professing to be Orthodox Christians, lead dissolute lives. Truly, how a soul is ultimately touched by God, is a mystery as impenetrable as the night sky.

After St Barbara was enlightened, she decided to give honor to the Holy Trinity by cutting a third window in her apartment. This is not a silly thing. Have you noticed how we Orthodox tend to do things in threes? Every time we say "Lord have mercy" three times, we proclaim our heartfelt love for the Holy Trinity. I hope that you are often reminded of the Holy Trinity in your daily lives, and do small things to try to give honor to God.

St Barbara was eventually found out by her father, and his fathers love was turned into demonic hatred. Since Dioscoros was rich, he must have had an honored standing in pagan society, and it just would not do for such an honorable man to have a Christian daughter! she was tortured in inhuman ways, but would not recant.

St Barbara was just a girl, since she was still unmarried, and in her fathers' house. She must have been very courageous. She had heard very little about God, but the night sky, and a meeting with Christians, arranged by providence, was enough for her.

You have much more than St Barbara, even though she was rich. You have been taught the faith from the time your were an infant. My prayer for you is that you would be consumed with love for the All Holy Trinity, as St Barbara was.

Today we also remember St John of Damascus. He was a great Theologian, and hymn writer. He wrote the Octoechos, the book of the Eight Tones, and other hymns. He also was the recipient of a great miracle, and there is an icon of the Theotokos (of the Three Hands) that figures in the story.

His Great Work The Exact Exposition" (which I have had on our church website for a very long time) shows his great faith and theological understanding. He was a great lover of icons, and defended them. Those who hated him slandered him, and the Caliph, under whom he was a courtier, cut off his right hand. Most likely, he was accused of being a thief. The Moslems, to this day, have various barbaric punishments for certain crimes, such as theft.

I suppose I would have fallen into a deep depression because of my faintheartedness, but John fell to prayers before an icon of the Mother of God, and his severed hand was reattached to his arm, with only a thin red line remaining, to bear witness of the miracle. The Caliph, upon hearing of the miracle, was very sorry, but John desired to retire from worldly politics, and became a monk.

I hope that if you ever have a great disappointment, or even a tragedy, you will turn to God and His Most Pure Mother in prayer, and believe that you will be helped.

I hope you enjoyed your fish today. I hope even more that you will have the faith of Great Martyr Barbara and St John the Damascene.

I love you.


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St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas