Keep Site Running

Barlaam And Ioasaph by St. John Of Damascus

THERE was at court a man pre-eminent among the rulers, of virtuous life and devout in religion. But while working out his own salvation, as best he might, he kept it secret for fear of the king. Wherefore certain men, looking enviously on his free converse with the king, studied how they might slander him; and this was all their thought. On a day, when the king went forth a-hunting with his bodyguard, as was his wont, this good man was of the hunting party. While he was walking alone, by divine providence, as I believe, he found a man in a covert, lying on the ground, his foot grievously crushed by a wild-beast. Seeing him passing by, the wounded man importuned him not to go his way, but to pity his misfortune, and take him to his own home, adding thereto: ‘I hope that I shall not be found unprofitable, nor altogether useless unto thee.’ Our noble man said unto him, ‘For very charity I will take thee up, and render thee such service as I may. But what is this profit which thou saidest that I should receive of thee?’ The poor sick man answered, ‘I am a physician of words. If ever in speech or converse any wound or damage be found, I heal it with befitting medicines, that so the evil spread no further.’ The devout man gave no heed to his word, but on account of the commandment, ordered him to be carried home, and grudged him not that tending which he required. But the aforesaid envious and malignant persons, bringing forth to light that ungodliness with which they had long been in travail, slandered this good man to the king; that not only did he forget his friendship with the king, and neglect the worship of the gods, and incline to Christianity, but more, that he was grievously intriguing against the kingly power, and was turning aside the common people, and stealing all hearts for himself. ‘But,’ said they, ‘if thou wilt prove that our charge is not ungrounded, call him to thee privately; and, to try him, say that thou desirest to leave thy fathers’ religion, and the glory of thy kingship, and to become a Christian, and to put on the monkish habit which formerly thou didst persecute, having, thou shalt tell him, found thine old course evil.’ The authors of this villainous charge against the Christian knew the tenderness of his heart, how that, if he heard such speech from the king, he would advise him, who had made this better choice, not to put off his good determinations, and so they would be found just accusers.

But the king, not forgetful of his friend’s great kindness toward him, thought these accusations incredible and false; and because he might not accept them without proof, he resolved to try the fact and the charge. So he called the man apart and said, to prove him, ‘Friend, thou knowest of all my past dealings with them that are called monks and with all the Christians. But now, I have repented in this matter, and, lightly esteeming the present world, I would fain become partaker of those hopes whereof I have heard them speak, of the immortal kingdom in the life to come; for the present is of a surety cut short by death. And in none other way, methinks, can I succeed herein and not miss the mark except I become a Christian, and, bidding farewell to the glory of my kingdom and all the pleasures and joys of life, go seek those hermits and monks, wheresoever they be, whom I have banished, and join myself to their number. Now what sayest thou thereto, and what is thine advice? Say on; I adjure thee in the name of truth; for I know thee to be true and wise above all men.’

The worthy man, hearing this, but never guessing the hidden pitfall, was pricked in spirit, and, melting into tears, answered in his simplicity, ‘O king, live for ever! Good and sound is the determination that thou hast determined; for though the kingdom of heaven be difficult to find, yet must a man seek it with all his might, for it is written, “He that seeketh shall find it.” The enjoyment of the present life, though in seeming it give delight and sweetness, is well thrust from us. At the very moment of its being it ceaseth to be, and for our joy repayeth us with sorrow sevenfold. Its happiness and its sorrow are more frail than a shadow, and, like the traces of a ship passing over the sea, or of a bird flying through the air, quickly disappear. But the hope of the life to come which the Christians preach is certain, and as surety sure; howbeit in this world it hath tribulation, whereas our pleasures now are short-lived, and in the beyond they only win us correction and everlasting punishment without release. For the pleasures of such life are temporary, but its pains eternal; while the Christians’ labours are temporary, but their pleasure and gain immortal. Therefore well befall this good determination of the king! for right good it is to exchange the corruptible for the eternal.’

The king heard these words and waxed exceeding wroth: nevertheless he restrained his anger, and for the season let no word fall. But the other, being shrewd and quick of wit, perceived that the king took his word ill, and was craftily sounding him. So, on his coming home, he fell into much grief and distress in his perplexity how to conciliate the king and to escape the peril hanging over his own head. But as he lay awake all the night long, there came to his remembrance the man with the crushed foot; so he had him brought before him, and said, ‘I remember thy saying that thou wert an healer of injured speech.’ ‘Yea,’ quoth he, ‘and if thou wilt I will give thee proof of my skill.’ The senator answered and told him of his aforetime friendship with the king, and of the confidence which he had enjoyed, and of the snare laid for him in his late converse with the king; how he had given a true answer, but the king had taken his words amiss, and by his change of countenance betrayed the anger lurking within his heart.

The sick beggar-man considered and said, ‘Be it known unto thee, most noble sir, that the king harboureth against thee the suspicion, that thou couldest usurp his kingdom, and he spake, as he spake, to sound thee. Arise therefore, and crop thy hair. Doff these thy fine garments, and don an hair-shirt, and at daybreak present thyself before the king. And when he asketh thee, What meaneth this apparel? answer him, “It hath to do with thy communing with me yesterday, O king. Behold, I am ready to follow thee along the road that thou art eager to travel; for though luxury be desirable and passing sweet, God forbid that I embrace it after thou art gone! Though the path of virtue, which thou art about to tread, be difficult and rough, yet in thy company I shall find it easy and pleasant, for as I have shared with thee this thy prosperity so now will I share thy distresses, that in the future, as in the past, I may be thy fellow.” ’ Our noble man, approving of the sick man’s saying, did as he said. When the king saw and heard him, he was delighted, and beyond measure gratified by his devotion towards him. He saw that the accusations against his senator were false, and promoted him to more honour and to a greater enjoyment of his confidence. But against the monks he again raged above measure, declaring that this was of their teaching, that men should abstain from the pleasures of life, and rock themselves in visionary hopes.

Another day, when he was gone a-hunting, he espied two monks crossing the desert. These he ordered to be apprehended and brought to his chariot. Looking angrily upon them, and breathing fire, as they say, ‘Ye vagabonds and deceivers,’ he cried, ‘have ye not heard the plain proclamation of the heralds, that if any of your execrable religion were found, after three days, in any city or country within my realm, he should be burned with fire?’ The monks answered, ‘Lo! obedient to thine order, we be coming out of thy cities and coasts. But as the journey before us is long, to get us away to our brethren, being in want of victuals, we were making provision for the way, that we perish not with hunger.’ Said the king, ‘He that dreadeth menace of death busieth not himself with the purveyance of victuals.’ ‘Well spoken, O king,’ cried the monks. ‘They that dread death have concern how to escape it. And who are these but such as cling to things temporary and are enamoured of them, who, having no good hopes yonder, find it hard to be wrenched from this present world, and therefore dread death? But we, who have long since hated the world and the things of the world, and are walking along the narrow and straight road, for Christ his sake, neither dread death, nor desire the present world, but only long for the world to come. Therefore, forasmuch the death that thou art bringing upon us proveth but the passage to that everlasting and better life, it is rather to be desired of us than feared.’

Hereupon the king, wishing to entrap the monks, as I ween, shrewdly said, ‘How now? Said ye not but this instant, that ye were withdrawing even as I commanded you? And, if ye fear not death, how came ye to be fleeing? Lo! this is but another of your idle boasts and lies.’ The monks answered, ‘’Tis not because we dread the death wherewith thou dost threaten us that we flee, but because we pity thee. ’Twas in order that we might not bring on thee greater condemnation, that we were eager to escape. Else for ourselves we are never a whit terrified by thy threats.’ At this the king waxed wroth and bade burn them with fire. So by fire were these servants of God made perfect, and received the Martyr’s crown. And the king published a decree that, should any be found leading a monk’s life, he should be put to death without trial. Thus was there left in that country none of the monastic order, save those that had hid them in mountains and caverns and holes of the earth. So much then concerning this matter.

Copyright ©1999-2023 Wildfire Fellowship, Inc all rights reserved