Preparing the burbara porridge in the village of Aboud. (WAFA Images)
By Khalil Fawadleh
RAMALLAH, Wednesday, December 18, 2019 (WAFA) – Remaining faithful to a 2000-year tradition, Iman Khoury decorated a porridge of boiled wheat with ground chickpeas and sprinkles to mark the Feast of Saint Barbara, ushering in the Christmas season in the village of Aboud, northwest of Ramallah.
According to Khoury, 15 kilos of wheat kernels were boiled until they were soft, and were mixed with almonds, walnut, cinnamon, sugar, raisins and anise to make the burbara porridge, which was served to hundreds of faithful and pilgrims who flocked to Aboud to celebrate the Day of the St. Barbara, which is celebrated three weeks before the Greek Orthodox Christmas holiday, which coincides on January 7.
Barbara, venerated as a Great-Martyr in the Orthodox Church, was born in Heliopolis, the modern-day Baalbek in Lebanon, during the reign of Emperor Maximian (305-311). Inflamed by her questions about God and Jesus Christ, she embraced Christianity. Once her father, Dioscorus, found out about her religion, he tortured her and tradition says she escaped to Palestine and Aboud specifically before her father caught and beheaded her. Her father was later struck by lightning and killed.
Orthodox parishioners gathered at Church of the Virgin Mary, known as al-Aboudiya, built in the fourth century in the days of the Roman Emperor Constantine, to venerate their patron saint and ask her continued intercession in this remote picturesque village that boasts a continuous Christian presence since the earliest days of Christianity. The ruins of nine ancient churches and monasteries scattered around Aboud testify to the richness of this history.
Archbishop Theodosius (Atallah) Hanna of the Greek Orthodox Church of Jerusalem presided over the vespers service in the early afternoon in the attendance of the faithful and a host of officials, including presidential advisor Nabil Shaath and Deputy British Consul General Alison Hall.
Following the vespers service, the attendees journeyed to the tiny hilltop monastery of St. Barbara, which was established in the Byzantine period and dates back to the 6th century, as bagpipe-playing local scout group paraded along the way to the hilltop monastery. Upon entering a tiny cave, Orthodox faithful light candles on the stones and offered their prayers.
The monastery was established close to the ancient Roman road that traversed Aboud- the same road trodden by Jesus himself, according to local traditions, on his journeys from the Galilee. It encloses the very ancient cave which according to local tradition was used as a place of habitation by St. Barbara after her escape from her father.
Khoury recounts the story that Barbara fled from her father, Dioscorus, on the ancient Roman road that traversed her village. On the way, Barbara ran through a field of wheat, it miraculously grew around her to conceal her, according to tradition. She then hid in a local cave, before she was eventually imprisoned and killed by her father.
Local Greek Orthodox priest Father Emmanuel Awwad traced the burbara dessert to the ancient tradition of Kollyva, an offering of boiled wheat that is blessed liturgically in church in memory of the patron saint. He said that the wheat commemorates the freshly-planted sheaves of wheat that miraculously rose up around Barbara, concealing her path.
After chanting their prayer at the hilltop chapel, all attendees descended to the Greek Orthodox events hall to enjoy the mouth-watering burbara and light the Christmas tree.
Speaking during the celebration, Shaath said that St. Barbara sacrificed her life and fearlessly confessed her faith in the face of Roman persecution. He extolled her a model for the Palestinian people’s enduring steadfastness to end “the worst ever racist colonial-settler occupation,” in reference to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.
Archbishop Hanna praised Barbara for her commitment faith and proclaimed Christmas’ message of hope and consolation for the Palestinian people in time of suffering. “Despite our grief and suffering, we will continue to love life and struggle for freedom,” he said.
He urged the world to show solidarity with the Palestinian people and help them fulfil their right to live in peace and freedom. “There can be no peace without justice and without fulfilling the Palestinian people’s aspirations,” he stressed in a village were Jewish colonial settlements were built in recent years that today suffocate the ancient village of Aboud and all Palestinian cities, towns and villages.
St. Barbara cave was blown up by the Israeli military on May 31, 2002 in what residents believe was to take the land and build the segregation barrier that runs through the occupied territories and runs alongside the “green line” with Israel. The cave, nevertheless, has been rebuilt afterwards when Israel realized its religious significance and moved the barrier elsewhere.