Holy Great Martyr Barbara (290)
‘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 the Synaxarion of Saint Barbara was written, the marble of the bath-house and the cross inscribed by Saint Barbara were still preserved, and many healings were worked there. 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 inhumanly, and after subjecting her to many sufferings he beheaded her with his own hands, in the year 290.’ (Great Horologion)
Our Righteous Father John of Damascus (760)
This divinely-enlightened Harp of the Spirit was at the same time one of the Church’s greatest hymnographers and one of Her greatest theologians and defenders of the Faith.
The city of Damascus in Syria fell to the Muslims in 635. At the time of the Caliph Abdul-Malik, responsibility for government of the Christian population was given to Sergius Mansur, a prominent Christian of the city. This Sergius strove to govern in a godly way under the many disabilities imposed by the Caliph, and devoted his wealth to almsgiving and to ransoming Christian prisoners. His son John was born in 675, and along with his adoptive brother Cosmas (October 14) was brought up to love and serve Christ.
John, whose exceptional education included a perfect knowledge of both Greek and Arabic, entered the civil administration and eventually succeeded to his father’s position under the Caliph. When the Emperor Leo the Isaurian began to attack the holy icons, Saint John undertook a spirited defense of the Faith through letters to correspondents throughout the Empire. Normally the Emperor would have killed or exiled the Saint directly, but since he lived in Muslim lands the Emperor could not touch him (an interesting example of Islam unwittingly contributing to the defense of the Christian faith). So the wicked Emperor circulated a forged letter which made it appear that John was plotting against the Caliph. When this letter fell (as planned) into the Caliph’s hands, he was furious, and ordered that the Saint’s right hand be cut off. That evening John placed his severed hand before the icon of the Mother of God and prayed with tears that it might be restored. On awaking he found that his hand had been miraculously restored to him. The miracle convinced the Caliph of his counselor’s innocence, and John was restored to favor; but now John wanted nothing more of worldly honor and wished only to be a monk. Giving up his position, he distributed his fortune among the poor and left for Jerusalem to become a monk at the Monastery of St Sabas.
The Abbot of the monastery put John under an Elder who ordered him to have nothing to do with philosophy, science, poetry, chanting or reading, but to give himself uncomplainingly to menial tasks so as to advance in humility. This the Saint did. Some time later, however, a monk grieving over his brother’s death persuaded John to write a funeral hymn for his consolation. Out of compassion, John wrote the hymn which is used to this day in the Funeral Service. For his disobedience, John was given the job of cleaning all the latrines of the monastery by hand, which, again, he did without complaint. A few days later the Theotokos appeared to the Elder and told him to allow John to compose hymns and poems, which, she told, him, would surpass the Psalms of David in beauty and grace.
Thus the monk John began to write the large body of inspired hymns which grace the Church’s services. Among these are the Canon chanted at the Pascha Service, as well as most of the Resurrectional hymns of the Octoechos.
Saint John’s poetical gifts were matched by his gifts for expressing the Church’s theology: he composed a powerful defense of the icons (in print under the title On the Holy Images), a complete exposition of the Orthodox Faith (On the Orthodox Faith), and the first written refutation of Islam, which he had come to understand well while serving in the Caliph’s court.
In old age, John was ordained a priest by the Patriarch of Jerusalem. He reposed in peace in 760 at the age of eighty-four.
Saint Gennadius, Archbishop of Novgorod (1505)
He was of noble birth, but entered monastic life at Valaam. He lived as a hermit on the island of Solovki from 1430 until 1447, when he was appointed abbot of the Chudov Monastery in Moscow. In 1484 he became Bishop of Novgorod. He found that the Tatar invasions had so disrupted the Church that a complete text of the Holy Scriptures could hardly be found in all of Russia. He ordered and oversaw the publication of the first printed Slavonic edition of the Holy Scriptures, set up schools for the instruction of the clergy, re-established order in the divine services, and fought various heresies. His devotion earned him enemies, and he resigned his episcopate to withdraw once again to a monastery. He reposed in peace in 1505.