Varvara Gulina on St. Barbara

Byzantine St Barbara with chalice

God gave Saint Barbara authority to serve communion.

When I speak these words in the U.S., they are often met with bewilderment and even anger, especially in convert-heavy Orthodox circles. Yet, where I come from, and in many other Slavic Orthodox countries, depicting Saint Barbara with a chalice in her hand is standard, as she is widely known for serving communion. Saint Barbara miraculously appears to women and men, to this day, serving communion to those who are dying or who find themselves in life-threatening situations.

It’s not unusual to find icons of her in the many parishes and monasteries I visit. But I no longer see her depicted with a chalice outside of my traditionally Russian home parish of Saint Barbara. I can say the same for our other female saints: I long to see the icon of Saint Phoebe, for example, in at least one parish, depicted rightfully - holding a censor. Saint Phoebe is a deaconess within our church, along with Saint Macrina, Olympia, Irene, and Nonna, just to name a few.  

When I speak on behalf of my beautiful saint, I sense her invisibly standing next to me defending me also. She is with me as I continue to commit to God’s will entirely and walk in His assigned purpose for me to serve abused women. And as I prepare for the higher calling that Christ has destined for my own life, she strengthens me in ways that I cannot even explain. 

Our church believes that the saints are present with us; that they are here, in our current reality. If we believe this – if we TRULY believe this – then we can confidently say that we already have ordained women in our church: Saint Barbara and other ordained female saints. We can say that they are currently present with us and serve us under God’s assigned purposes.

I wonder why, then, in our human smallness and susceptibility towards fear, we often diminish the vocations God has assigned to women. I wonder why we shield our eyes from truths that make us feel uncomfortable. 

May we never erase the various roles God chose for women - both from our church history and in our present-day reality. May we not be guilty of minimizing and deeming unimportant what God Himself has assigned. For we, His humble servants, have no right to suppress or put into question whom He chooses to ordain.

My beloved Holy Martyr Barbara, pray to God for us. 


Many pious Orthodox Christians are in the habit of chanting the Troparion of Saint Barbara each day, recalling the Savior’s promise to her that those who remembered her and her sufferings would be preserved from a sudden, unexpected death, and would not depart this life without benefit of the Holy Mysteries of Christ. Saint Barbara is celebrated on December 4th and December 17.

Source: OCA website

Varvara Gulina is a daughter of a Russian-Ukrainian Orthodox priest. Ever since she was a small child, Varvara has assisted her father in house blessings, baptisms, funerals, and visiting those who are sick and dying (both in the U.S. and Russia). Varvara also sings, chants, and reads within the Orthodox Church and has recently been receiving blessings to hold a censor for some of her ministry. She is currently completing her MPH in Leadership and Public Health Practice, with a focus on gender-based violence. She will begin her Ph.D. within the School of Social Work at UCSD in the Fall of 2023, continuing to serve abused women. Varvara deeply loves the Orthodox Church and is passionate about helping girls and women to encounter who they are in Christ, encouraging and inspiring them to pursue their God-given purposes.

Varvara Gulina headshot