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Barlaam And Ioasaph by St. John Of Damascus

THE country of the Indians, as it is called, is vast and populous, lying far beyond Egypt. On the side of Egypt it is washed by seas and navigable gulphs, but on the mainland it marcheth with the borders of Persia, a land formerly darkened with the gloom of idolatry, barbarous to the last degree, and wholly given up to unlawful practices. But when ‘the only-begotten Son of God, which is in the bosom of the Father,’ being grieved to see his own handiwork in bondage unto sin, was moved with compassion for the same, and shewed himself amongst us without sin, and, without leaving his Father’s throne, dwelt for a season in the Virgin’s womb for our sakes, that we might dwell in heaven, and be re-claimed from the ancient fall, and freed from sin by receiving again the adoption of sons; when he had fulfilled every stage of his life in the flesh for our sake, and endured the death of the Cross, and marvellously united earth and heaven; when he had risen again from the dead, and had been received up into heaven, and was seated at the right hand of the majesty of the Father, whence, according to his promise, he sent down the Comforter, the Holy Ghost, unto his eyewitnesses and disciples, in the shape of fiery tongues, and despatched them unto all nations, for to give light to them that sat in the darkness of ignorance, and to baptize in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost—whereby it fell to the lot of some of the Apostles to travel to the far-off East and to some to journey to the West-ward, while others traversed the regions North and South, fulfilling their appointed tasks—then it was, I say, that one of the company of Christ’s Twelve Apostles, most holy Thomas, was sent out to the land of the Indians, to preach the Gospel of Salvation. ‘The Lord working with him and confirming the word with signs following,’ the darkness of superstition was banished; and men were delivered from idolatrous sacrifices and abominations, and added to the true Faith, and being thus transformed by the hands of the Apostle, were made members of Christ’s, household by Baptism, and, waxing ever with fresh increase, made advancement in the blameless Faith and built churches in all their lands.

Now when monasteries began to be formed in Egypt, and numbers of monks banded themselves together, and when the fame of their virtues and Angelic conversation ‘was gone out into all the ends of the world’ and came to the Indians, it stirred them up also to the like zeal, insomuch that many of them forsook everything and withdrew to the deserts; and, though but men in mortal bodies, adopted the spiritual life of Angels. While matters were thus prospering and many were soaring upward to heaven on wings of gold, as the saying is, there arose in that country a king named Abenner, mighty in riches and power, victorious over his enemies, brave in warfare, vain of his splendid stature and comeliness of face, and boastful of worldly honours, that pass so soon away. But his soul was utterly crushed by poverty, and choked with many vices, for he was of the Greek way, and sore distraught by the superstitious error of his idol-worship. But, although he lived in luxury, and in the enjoyment of the sweet and pleasant things of life, and was never baulked of any of his wishes and desires, yet one thing there was that marred his happiness, and pierced his soul with care, the curse of childlessness. For being without issue, he took ceaseless thought how he might be rid of this hobble, and be called the father of children, a name greatly coveted by most people. Such was the king, and such his condition.

Meanwhile the glorious band of Christians and the companies of monks, paying no regard to the king’s majesty, and in no wise terrified by his threats, advanced in the grace of Christ, and grew in number beyond measure, making short account of the king’s words, but cleaving closely to everything that led to the service of God. For this reason many, who had adopted the monastic rule, abhorred alike all the sweets of this world, and were enamoured of one thing only, namely godliness, thirsting to lay down their lives for Christ his sake, and yearning for the happiness beyond. Wherefore they preached, not with fear and trembling, but rather even with excess of boldness, the saving Name of God, and naught but Christ was on their lips, as they plainly proclaimed to all men the transitory and fading nature of this present time, and the fixedness and incorruptibility of the life to come, and sowed in men the first seeds, as it were, towards their becoming of the household of God, and winning that life which is hid in Christ. Wherefore many, profiting by this most pleasant teaching, turned away from the bitterness of the error of darkness, and approached the sweet light of Truth; insomuch that certain of their noblemen and senators laid aside all the burthens of life, and thenceforth became monks.

But when the king heard thereof, he was filled with wrath, and, boiling over with indignation, passed a decree forthwith, compelling all Christians to renounce their religion. Thereupon he planned and practised new kinds of torture against them, and threatened new forms of death. So throughout all his dominions he sent letters to his rulers and governors ordering penalties against the righteous, and unlawful massacres. But chiefly was his displeasure turned against the ranks of the monastic orders, and against them he waged a truceless and unrelenting warfare. Hence, of a truth, many of the Faithful were shaken in spirit, and others, unable to endure torture, yielded to his ungodly decrees. But of the chiefs and rulers of the monastic order some in rebuking his wickedness ended their lives by suffering martyrdom, and thus attained to everlasting felicity; while others hid themselves in deserts and mountains, not from dread of the threatened tortures, but by a more divine dispensation.

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