December 4 – Barbara; Clement of Alexandria

Greatmartyr Barbara of Heliopolis in Syria (IV cent.) was the daughter of a rich pagan named Dioscorus, who locked her in a tower because of her great beauty. Just before he left on a long journey he hired a contractor to make a bathhouse for her enjoyment, despite her having rejecting one or more of his proposed suitors. After he left, she converted to Christianity, and ordered the workmen to install not two (as planned) but three windows, to symbolize the Holy Trinity. She also traced a cross with her finger on the wall, and it got scored into the stone as if it had been chiseled by a chiseler. Dioscorus got home, saw the cross and the three windows, and looked hard at Babs. “Yes,” she admitted, “I’m a Christian.” He drew his sword to behead her, when all of a sudden a hole opened up in the wall, and Barbara was miraculously transported to a mountain gorge, where she hid in a cave.

This gorge was the stomping grounds of not one but two shepherds (and their flocks of course), and when Dioscurus came looking for Barbara, one kept schtum, while the other betrayed her hiding place. He was turned into stone, his flocks were turned into locusts, and Barbara was turned in to prison back in town. There she was flogged by day and jailed by night for some number of days (details are not just not forthcoming but forthgone), but every night her cell was flooded with light, our Lord appeared, and her wounds were healed. Finally she was beheaded, and by her father no less. He was instantly struck by lightning, which seems like getting off easy to me.

Barbara is one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers*, and the patroness of, among others, architects and mathematicians. Although she is still on the Eastern calendar, she was removed from the Latin calendar in 1969, although she is still in the Roman Martyrology, go figure. Her relics are in Kiev, of all places, whither they were removed (in the twelfth century) by a Byzantine princess who married into Russian royalty. Many Orthodox believe that by singing her troparion every day, they will be saved from sudden, unexpected death. If you are interested in taking up this practice, here is the hymn: “Let us honor the holy martyr Barbara, for as a bird she escaped the snares of the enemy, and destroyed them through the help and defense of the Cross.”

Clement of Alexandria (ca. 150–ca. 211), more formally known as Titus Flavius Clemens, was born pagan but he got over it. He was well-educated in the sorts of things Greeks got well educated in in the late second century, including and especially Plato and the Stoics (opening for Benny and the Jets on their next world tour). Upon his conversion to Christianity he wandered to Alexandria (probably from Athens) looking for the right teacher, whom he found in Pantaenus, head (or not) of the Catechetical School of Alexandria. Clement taught at the school until about 203, when he left Alexandria due to the severe persecutions of Severius. Alexander of Jerusalem, his student, wrote a letter in 211 commending him to the Church of Antioch, but if he ever got there, we don’t know about it. The date and place of his death are unknown.

Clement is most famous for his attempt to reconcile Greek philosophy with Christian theology. His extant writings consist of (a) his Trilogy, comprising an apology, a guide to the right Christian response to God (in which he argues the complete equality of men and women under the theory that Christ came to save both), and an everything-else, and (b) a treatise on the salvation of the rich, in which he argues that rich people don’t have to go to Hell, if they use their riches to help the poor. For these and other reasons his saintdom is a question of some controversy, at least officially.