4 December – St Barbara of Nicomedia (235)

Saint Barbara[1]

Saint Barbara is celebrated on 4 December.  She is known in Greek as Αγία Βαρβάρα, and in Spanish as Santa Barbara.  She was martyred for her faith on 4 December 235.

Saint Barbara is widely celebrated and considered the patron saint of artillerymen, military engineers, miners and others who work with explosives and also the patron saint of mathematicians.  However, as is the case with the lives of the saints it is not clear how much of her story is based on fact.  For this reason Saint Barbara was removed from the Roman Catholic liturgical calendar in 1969 by Pope Paul VI’s motu proprio Mysterii Paschalis.   But Saint Barbara is still celebrated in the Eastern Church and as recently as 4 December 2018[2] The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in Fener, Istanbul sent Bodrum Metropoliton Alikarnasos Andrianos to Izmit to lead a service to celebrate the life of St Barabara.

It is not clear where Saint Barbara comes from – it is variously suggested that she lived in Phonecian Heliopolis (Baalbek, Lebanon) or Nicomedia, present day Izmit, Turkey.   Her story is included in this collection of Christian women because she is a Christian woman who is celebrated and known about[3].

The extent documentation suggests that Saint Barbara was brought up by her father Dioscorus after her mother died.  Dioscorus wanted to protect his daughter so he locked her in a high tower[4].  Only her father and her pagan teachers came to visit her.  Barbara spent a lot of time looking out of the tower on the surrounding hills and admiring God’s creation.  She doubted that the beautiful world she saw was created by the pagan gods that her father and her teachers worshipped and believed in.  Eventually Dioscorus allowed Barbara to leave her tower, he hoped that having some freedom would change her and that she would agree to marry one of the suitors he had found for her.  She used her new found freedom to meet with Christians and become a Christian.

Her father,Dioscorus, had a bath house built for Barbara.  The original architectural plans was for 2 windows but when her father was absent Barbara had the plans altered and asked the builders to put in three windows so that there would be a Trinity of light in the bath house.  When Dioscorus returned from his travels Barbara told him that she had become a Christian.  Full of rage he grabbed his sword ready to kill her, but she ran off.  Dioscorus followed her but was prevented from reaching her when a hill blocked his way.

The hill opened up and Barbara was hidden in a crevice.  Her father asked two local shepherds if they had seen his daughter.  The first denied he had seen her but the second betrayed her hiding place.

Dioscorus beat his daughter, locked her up, starved her then handed her over to Martianus, the prefect of the city.  Despite continued ill treatment by both Dioscorus and Martianus Barbara stood firm in her faith.  She was joined by another woman, Juliana.  They were both subject to various tortures and Barbara was condemned to death by beheading by her father.

Barbara was beheaded on 4 December.  Legend has it that both Dioscorus and Martianus, the prefect, were then struck dead by lightning.

In the 6th century relics of St Barbara were taken to Constantinople.  Six hundred years later, they were taken to Kiev  by the daughter of the Byzantine Emperor Alexius Comnenos[5] where they remain.

The Order of Saint Barbara is an honorary society within the United States Army Field Artillery Associated and the United States Army Air Defense Artillery Association.

Cities such as Santa Barbara, California are named after this saint.  There are in total 45 cities that are named after Saint Barbara of Nicomedia[6].

The service to celebrate Saint Barbara’s life was held in an ancient building in İzmit Şehitler Korusu[7].  This place is associated with Saint Barbara maybe where she was imprisoned before her martyrdom.

Izmit was known in ancient times as Nicomedia[8].  There has been a settlement in the Izmit area since 1200-800 BC.  The city took the name of Nicomedia during the reign of King Nicomedes (279-250BC).  During the reign of King Nicomedes III (94-74BC) the province of Bithynia became part of the Roman Empire.  Nicomedia was the major city in the province of Bithynia.  Bithynia is immortalised in the writings of Pliny the Younger (AD 61-113) who was governor of Bithynia and died in Birthynia.

During Emperor Diocletian’s reign (284-305) Nicomedia became the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire.  Because the Roman Empire had become so large Diocletian introduced the Tetrachy system of ruling with two Agustus and two Ceasars.  Emperor Diocletian and Caesar Galerius ruled the East from Nicomedia while Emperor Maximian and Caesar Constantius ruled the west.  After 284 Diocletian rebuilt Nicomedia as his new capital.   During this time a hippodrome, palace, temple, bathhouse, mint, a shipyard and various official buildings were built.  Nicomedia became the fourth city in the Roman Empire after Rome, Antioch (Antakya) and Alexandria.

Saint Barbara is portrayed as determined woman who while imprisoned in the tower had begun to question pagan belief because of her observations of natural beauty that she was able to observe from the tower within which her father imprisoned her.  We don’t know for sure whether St Barbara was locked up in a tower.  But Jungian psychologists believe that being locked in a tower can symbolise living too much in one’s head and not being grounded in everyday reality.  The person who is locked in the tower is set free through love, through learning to feel, to be in touch with their feelings (some would see this as exercising the right brain function rather than the more cerebral left brain functions).  Being let out of the tower can also symbolize the Jungian process of individuation[9].

The story seems to suggest that St Barbara exercised her personal choice by becoming a Christian, by symbolising her new found faith with three windows in her bath house.  Three windows, representing the Christian concept of a Trinitarian God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  She suffered greatly for her choices and ended life as a martyr beheaded[10] by her own father.


[1] http://www.visitizmit.org/santa-barbara-tower





[2] https://www.haberturk.com/kocaeli-haberleri/17065045-azize-santa-barbara-izmitte-anildi

[3] DS one of my former students attended a service in Izmit on 4 December 2015 and told me about her experience.  It is that account that has led me to research and add Saint Barbara’s story to this collection.

[4] Locking up in a tower to protect a daughter is also known about in Istanbul.  In that case the daughter was locked up in Leander’s tower, a well known landmark in the Bosphorus between Uskudar and Sirkeci.

[5] Also known as Komnene.  Barbara, daughter of Isaac (or Alexius) Comnenos and Irene of Alnia was born in about 1070.

[6] Present day Izmit.

[7] Martyr’s Park, Izmit.


[9] To develop the ability to act independently, to be an individual rather than controlled by another.

[10] Losing one’s head is not always a bad thing, if one is too much of a thinking type! The beheading may also be a symbol of that. 

Copyright©2019 Rev Ros Wilkinson

26 September – St Natalia of Nicomedia (4th Century)


26 September – St Natalia of Nicomedia (4thCentury).
St Natalia[1]was married to St Adrian, the head of the Praetorium.  He was a pagan and one of his duties was to record the names and responses of Christians who were being tortured in Nicomedia.  This was probably in the time of Emperor Galerius Maximian (305-311). 
Twenty-three believers hid in a cave near Nicomedia, they were caught, tortured and urged to offer sacrifices to the gods.   As their names were being recorded Adrian asked them how they expected to be rewarded by their God.  They answered Adrian
What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
nor the human heart conceived,
what God has prepared for those who love him”[2]
 Upon hearing their testimony and seeing the way they bore their sufferings he decided to become a Christian and he told the scribe to add his name also.   Upon this Adrian was imprisoned but Natalia, his wife who was also a secret believer was able to visit him and encourage him as he faced death for his new found faith. 
Adrian and the other Christians were sentenced to having their arms and legs placed on an anvil then broken with a heavy hammer.  Somehow St Natalia managed to take one of the hands of her husband and secrete it amongst the folds of her robe. 
The executioners tried to burn the bodies but a storm arose and blew the fire out and struck and killed some of the executioners. 
Natalia was afraid that she would be pressured into re-marrying once Adrian was dead, before her husband’s martyrdom she asked him to pray that this wouldn’t happen.  When after Adrian’s martyrdom an army commander wanted to marry Natalia, she left Nicomedia and went to Argyroupolis, which was near to the city of Byzantium.  Later Adrian appeared to his wife in a dream and warned her of her impending death, thought to have been brought on by her sufferings.  Shortly after St Natalia fell asleep in the Lord. 
In the pre-Constantine era Christians in Asia Minor, suffered persecution under Emperor Diocletian (284-305) and Gaius Galerius Valerius Maximianus (305-11).  Persecution came to an end after Constantine became the Emperor of both the Eastern and Western Empire.  In 312, just before the battle of Milvian Bridge, he had a vision of the Chi(X) Rho(P), the first two letters of Christ[3]which influenced his decision to allow Christian worship in the Empire.
Nicomedia was a major city in the Eastern Empire, particularly in Diocletian’s time when it became ‘the adorned Eastern capital of the Empire’[4].  During the turbulent years of Diocletian’s reign there were several persecutions and many martyrs from Nicomedia.  Nicomedia is now the Turkish city of Izmit. 
The hymns about Saint Adrian and Natalia emphasize the cooperation of husband and wife and exalt them as a model married couple. In one hymn, the third Sticheron of Vespers, Natalia is contrasted favourably with Eve, as exhorting her husband to godliness rather than tempting him to sin. In the fourth Sticheron of Lauds she is also likened to the wise pilot of a storm-tossed ship (her husband), bringing him safely into the heavenly harbour. 
Troparion (Tone 4) [1]
Your holy martyrs Adrian and Natalia, O Lord,
Through their sufferings have received incorruptible crowns from You, our God.
For having Your strength, they laid low their adversaries,
And shattered the powerless boldness of demons.
Through their intercessions, save our souls!
Kontakion – (Tone 4)
Martyr of Christ, Adrian,
You kept the words of your godly and devoted wife Natalia in your heart.
With her you accepted every kind of suffering and obtained the crown of victory![5]
Both Natalia and Adrian are referred to as martyrs but in practice it seems as if only Adrian was killed for his faith. 

[1] One of my daughters is named Natalia which has drawn me to this saint.  Although I would have preferred the Russian spelling – Natalya – used by the wife of a famous 20th century writer.  Picture from:  https://orthodoxwiki.org/Adrian_and_Natalia
[2] 1 Cor 2:9
[3] John Julia Norwich, Byzantium: The Early Centuries (London: Penguin Books, 1990) p. 10
[4] Lectant. De mort. Pers. 17.2-9 quoted in http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.04.0006:entry=nicomedia
[5] https://orthodoxwiki.org/Adrian_and_Natalia


Copyright © 2018 Rev Ros Wilkinson

10 September – Saints Menodora, Metrodora and Nymphodora – 4th Century


Saints Menodora, Nymphodora and Metrodora were three sisters who were martyred during the reign of Emperor Galerius (305-11).  They lived in Bythinia.  They are celebrated on 10 or 23 September in the liturgical calendar[1].

The three sisters decided that they wanted to renounce life in the world, live as virgins in a solitary place and live a life of prayer and fasting.   They decided to live near Pythia Thermae (modern day Termal, Yalova – a hot springs resort)   People would visit to receive healing from the waters.  After some time reports began to spread of people being healed through their prayers.  These reports eventually reached the ears of the governor of Bithynia, named Frontonus, who ordered that the women be arrested and brought to him. 
Governor Frontonus tried to persuade the women to renounce their faith but they steadfastly confessed their faith before him, rejecting all his offers and suggestions.  They made it clear that they were prepared to die for Christ, their heavenly Bridegroom knowing that death would be their entrance to eternal life, to life in the presence of their Lord and Saviour.   
Frontonus became enraged and took out his anger on St Menodora, the eldest sister.  She was stripped of her clothing and beaten while at the same time being urged to offer sacrifice to the gods that her suffering might stop.  She bravely endured the beating and cried out, “Sacrifice?  Can’t you see that I am offering myself as a sacrifice to my God?”  At this they apparently renewed their attacks and Mendora cried out again, “Lord Jesus Christ, joy of my heart, my hope, receive my soul in peace.”  With these words she committed herself to the Lord and went to be with her Heavenly Bridegroom. 
Later they showed Metrodora and Nymphodora, the two younger sisters the body of their elder sister.  The younger sisters wept over their sister but still remained steadfast in their faith. 
Then Metrodora was tortured.  She died, calling out to her beloved Lord Jesus Christ with her last breath.  The torturers then turned to the third sister, Nymphodora.  They hoped that she might have been intimidated by the death of her sisters and would renounce her faith.  Govenor Frontonus urged her to sacrifice to the pagan gods.  He tried to encourage her by offering rewards and honours but Nymphodora scoffed at his suggestions and she too was beaten to death. 
Tradition suggests that the three martyrs were to be burnt but a heavy rain extinguished the blaze and lightning struck down Frontonus and his servant.  Christians were allowed to take the bodies of the three sisters and bury them at the Hot Springs at Pythias[2]  Their suffering and faith are commemorated by a panel that tells their story.  The photo above shows this panel and the written statement is transcribed in the footnote.
Some of the relics of these three martyrs are preserved on Mt. Athos in St Panteleimon Monastery, and the hand of St Metrodora is in the Monastery of the Pantocrator.”[3]
The following hymns are in honour of St Menodora, St Nyphodora and St Metrodora who bravely continued to hold to their faith even when threatened, beaten and killed. 
Troparion – Tone 4
O Holy Martyrs,
you wisely exchanged horrible torture and bitter death for Eternal Life!
Three virgins, you confessed the unoriginate[4]Trinity at an evil council,
And for this reason were slain by the sword,
Following the way of the Lamb who was slain!
Now ever pray for us who commemorate your holy memory!
Troparion – Tone 1
Let all who rejoice at their triumph, honour these three virgin martyrs,
who are united to God as sisters and who pour forth fair streams of grace:
Menodora, Metrodora, and Nymphodora,
who were in all things courageous;
they ever pray to the Trinity for us.
Kontakion – Tone 4
Invincible in your struggles for the Holy Trinity,
And through your love for each other as sisters,
you defeated the foe of your spiritual life,
And with the five virgins, entered victoriously into the Heavenly Mansions
Where you ever rejoice with the angels in the presence of the King of All!
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen![5]
These women are part of that “great… cloud of witnesses”[6]  I believe women like Menodora, Metrodora and Nymphodora and all those who have gone before us into the presence of God are watching and waiting as we live out our faith in Christ in this world.  They are part of the ‘Church Triumphant’ that lives in heaven. 
In Revelation, the last book in the bible, the author is shown those who have been slaughtered because of their faith in Christ:
“I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slaughtered for the word of God and for the testimony they had given;  they cried out with a loud voice, “Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long will it be before you judge and avenge our blood on the inhabitants of the earth?”  They were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number would be complete both of their fellow servants and of their brothers and sisters, who were soon to be killed as they themselves had been killed. [7]
Surely the souls of martyrs like Menodora, Metrodora and Nymphodora are there in heaven awaiting the end of the world and that time when they would be avenged. 
These women remained steadfast in their faith even when tortured, threatened and killed.   They are an example to all Christians today.    


[1] The icon is copied from: http://christopherklitou.com/icon_10_sept_metrodora_menodora_nymphodora.htm.  Nymphodora is also spelt Nymphadora.  
[2]This is the Hot Spring resort of Termal near Yalova.There is a notice stating this fact there to this day.  The notice says:

An event occurred occurred in Yalova is told in the book known as ACTA SANOTORUM in which there are so many sacred religious story involving Christians.

According to common belief, 3 sisters whose names are Menodor, Metrodor and Nymphadora lived in Bitinia (the territory including YALOVA), they accepted Christianity when they became young girls.  They begun to engage in worship at one of the hills around the Pythia thermal baths (today this place is Yalova bath).

Afterward, it believed they had healed patients those came to t Termal baths by making making miracles.

This situation increased their prestige and made them more known at that time. A dark pagan Roman emperor was Galerius Maximus (AD305-311).

The emperor who had learned the situation, appointed the district Governor Fronto.  The district governor offered the sisters leaving Christianity and coming back to idolatry moreover he had offered them providing to get married with noble society by sending an assessor (Judge).

The sisters refused that offer.  they stated that they were on the way of Holy Jesus and all the gifts and awards were unworthy for themselves.

Assessor (Judge) threatened them to torture

Nymphodor stated that even though all the torture instruments all over the world came together it wouldn’t scare them and added that the death were the gate for immortal life.

Whereupon the eldest sister Menodor (was) murdered by beating with an iron bar and the all bones had become broken and the other sister murdered by burning with the candles until all her body became jet-black.

Nymphadora murdered by beating with sticks and split in to pieces the body with iron claws.

At the time the Assessor ordered to burn their bodies, a flame come from the sky, destroy all people those murdered the sisters by taking them in it.  And then rain begun and extinguish the fire.

The believers buried the sisters respectful.  And respect of the local people for the sisters increased.  Shortly after the burial of the sister(s) takes the form of pilgrimage.

[3] http://ocafs.oca.org/FeastSaintsViewer.asp?SID=4&ID=1&FSID=102557
[4]Eternal, ever existent
[6] Hebrews 12:1
[7] Revelation 6:9-11.
See also: “I also saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their testimony to Jesus and for the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years.” Revelation 20:4


Copyright © 2019 Rev Ros Wilkinson