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Barlaam And Ioasaph by St. John Of Damascus

WHEN the king’s son had heard these words, there flashed a light upon his soul. Rising from his seat in the fulness of his joy, he embraced Barlaam, saying: ‘Most honoured sir, methinks this might be that priceless stone which thou dost rightly keep secret, not displaying it to all that would see it, but only to those whose spiritual sense is strong. For lo, as these words dropped upon mine ear, sweetest light entered into my heart, and the heavy veil of sorrow, that hath now this long time enveloped my heart, was in an instant removed. Tell me if my guess be true: or if thou knowest aught better than that which thou hast spoken, delay not to declare it to me.’

Again, therefore, Barlaam answered, ‘Yea, my lord and prince, this is the mighty mystery which hath been hid from ages and generations, but in these last days hath been made known unto mankind; the manifestation whereof, by the grace of the Holy Ghost, was foretold by many prophets and righteous men, instructed at sundry times and in divers manners. In trumpet tones they proclaimed it, and all looked forward to the salvation that should be: this they desired to see, but saw it not. But this latest generation was counted worthy to receive salvation. Wherefore he that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.’

Said Ioasaph, ‘All that thou hast told me I believe without question, and him whom thou declarest I glorify as God. Only make all plain to me, and teach me clearly what I must do. But especially go on to tell me what is that Baptism which thou sayest that the Faithful receive.’

The other answered him thus, ‘The root and sure foundation of this holy and perfect Christian Faith is the grace of heavenly Baptism, fraught with the cleansing from all original sins, and complete purification of all defilements of evil that come after. For thus the Saviour commanded a man to be born again of water and of the spirit, and be restored to his first dignity, to wit, by supplication and by calling on the Saving Name, the Holy Spirit brooding on the water. We are baptized, then, according to the word of the Lord, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: and thus the grace of the Holy Ghost dwelleth in the soul of the baptized, illuminating and making it God-like and renewing that which was made after his own image and likeness. And for the time to come we cast away all the old works of wickedness, we make covenant with God of a second life and begin a purer conversation, that we may also become fellow-heirs with them that are born again to incorruption and lay hold of everlasting salvation. But without Baptism it is impossible to attain to that good hope, even though a man be more pious than piety itself. For thus spake God, the Word, who was incarnate for the salvation of our race, “Verily I say unto you, except ye be born of water and of the Spirit, ye shall in no wise enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.” Wherefore before all things I require thee to receive faith within thy soul, and to draw near to Baptism anon with hearty desire, and on no account to delay herein, for delay is parlous, because of the uncertainty of the appointed day of death.’

Ioasaph said unto him, ‘And what is this good hope whereto thou sayest it is impossible without baptism to attain? And what this kingdom which thou callest the kingdom of Heaven? And how cometh it that thou hast heard the words of God incarnate? And what is the uncertain day of death? For on this account much anxiety hath fallen on my heart, and consumeth my flesh in pain and grief, and fasteneth on my very bones. And shall we men, appointed to die, return to nothing, or is there some other life after our departure hence? These and kindred questions I have been longing to resolve.’

Thus questioned he; and Barlaam answered thus: ‘The good hope, whereof I spake, is that of the kingdom of Heaven. But that kingdom is far beyond the utterance of mortal tongue; for the Scripture saith, “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” But when we have shuffled off this gross flesh, and attained to that blessedness, then will that Master, which hath granted to us not to fail of this hope, teach and make known unto us the glory of those good things, whose glory passeth all understanding:—that light ineffable, that life that hath no ending, that converse with Angels. For if it be granted us to hold communion with God, so far as is attainable to human nature, then shall we know all things from his lips which now we know not. This doth my initiation into the teaching of the divine Scriptures teach me to be the real meaning of the kingdom of Heaven; to approach the vision of the blessed and life-giving Trinity, and to be illumined with his unapproachable light, and with clearer and purer sight, and with unveiled face, to behold as in a glass his unspeakable glory. But, if it be impossible to express in language that glory, that light, and those mysterious blessings, what marvel? For they had not been mighty and singular, if they had been comprehended by reason and expressed in words by us who are earthly, and corruptible, and clothed in this heavy garment of sinful flesh. Holding then such knowledge, believe thou in simple faith undoubtingly, that these are no fictions; but by good works be urgent to lay hold on that immortal kingdom, to which, when thou hast attained, thou shalt have perfect knowledge.

‘As touching thy question, How it is that we have heard the words of the Incarnate God, know thou that we have been taught all that appertaineth to the divine Incarnation by the Holy Gospels, for thus that holy book is called, because it telleth us, who are corruptible and earthly, the “good spell” of immortality and incorruption, of life eternal, of the remission of sins, and of the kingdom of heaven. This book was written by the eyewitnesses and ministers of the Word, and of these I have already said that our Lord Jesus Christ chose them for disciples and apostles; and they delivered it unto us in writing, after the glorious Ascension of our Master into Heaven, a record of his life on earth, his teachings and miracles, so far as it was possible to commit them to writing. For thus, toward the end of his volume, saith he that is the flower of the holy Evangelists, “And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written.”

‘So in this heavenly Gospel, written by the Spirit of God, is recorded the history of his Incarnation, his manifestation, his miracles and acts. Afterward, it telleth of the innocent suffering which the Lord endured for our sake, of his holy Resurrection on the third day, his Ascent into the heavens, and of his glorious and dreadful second coming; for the Son of God shall come again on earth, with unspeakable glory, and with a multitude of the heavenly host to judge our race, and to reward every man according to his works. For, at the beginning, God created man out of earth, as I have already told thee, and breathed into him breath, which is called a reasonable and understanding soul. But since we were sentenced to death, we die all: and it is not possible for any man to pass this cup by. Now death is the separation of the soul from the body. And that body which was formed out of earth, when severed from the soul, returneth to earth from whence also it was taken, and, decaying, perisheth; but the soul, being immortal, fareth whither her Maker calleth, or rather to the place where she, while still in the body, hath prepared for herself lodgement. For as a man hath lived here, so shall he receive reward there.

‘Then, after long seasons, Christ our God shall come to judge the world in awful glory, beyond words to tell; and for fear of him the powers of heaven shall be shaken, and all the angel hosts shall stand beside him in dread. Then, at the voice of the archangel, and at the trump of God, shall the dead arise and stand before his awful throne. Now the Resurrection is the re-uniting of soul and body. So that very body, which decayeth and perisheth, shall arise incorruptible. And concerning this, beware lest the reasoning of unbelief overtake thee; for it is not impossible for him, who at the beginning formed the body out of earth, when according to its Maker’s doom it hath returned to earth whence it was taken, to raise the same again. If thou wilt but consider how many things God hath made, this proof shall suffice thee. He took earth and made man, though earth was not man before. How then did earth become man? And how was earth, that did not exist, produced? And what foundation hath it? And how were countless kinds of things without reason, of animals and plants, produced out of it! Nay, now also consider the manner of our birth. Is not a little seed thrown into the womb that receiveth it? Whence then cometh such a marvellous fashioning of a living creature?

‘So for him, who hath made everything out of nothing, and still doth make, it is not impossible to raise deadened and corrupt bodies from the earth, that every man may be rewarded according to his works; for he saith, “The present is the time for work, the future for recompense.” Else, where were the justice of God, if there were no Resurrection? Many righteous men in this present life have suffered much ill-usage and torment, and have died violent deaths; and the impious and the law-breaker hath spent his days here in luxury and prosperity. But God, who is good and just, hath appointed a day of resurrection and inquisition, that each soul may receive her own body, and that the wicked, who received his good things here, may there be punished for his misdeeds, and that the good, who was here chastised for his misdeeds, may there inherit his bliss. For, saith the Lord, “They that are in the graves shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and shall come forth; they that have done good unto the resurrection of life, and they that have done evil unto the resurrection of doom.” Then also shall thrones be set, and the Ancient of days and Maker of all things shall sit as Judge, and there shall be opened books with records of the deeds and words and thoughts of all of us, and a fiery stream shall issue, and all hidden things shall be revealed. There shall no advocate, no persuasive words, no false excuse, no mightiness of riches, no pomp of rank, no lavishment of bribes, avail to pervert righteous judgement. For he, the uncorrupt and truthful Judge, shall weigh everything in the balance of justice, every act, word and thought. And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting, into light unspeakable, rejoicing in the fellowship of the Angels, to enjoy bliss ineffable, standing in purity before the Holy Trinity. But they that have done evil, and all the ungodly and sinners, shall go into everlasting punishment, which is called Gehenna, and outer darkness, and the worm that dieth not, and the gnashing of teeth, and a thousand other names of punishment; which meaneth rather—bitterest of all,—alienation from God, the being cast away from the sweetness of his presence, the being deprived of that glory which baffleth description, the being made a spectacle unto the whole creation, and the being put to shame, and shame that hath no ending. For, after the passing of that terrible sentence, all things shall abide immutable and unchangeable. The blissful life of the righteous shall have no close, neither shall the misery and punishment of sinners find an end: because, after him, there is no higher Judge, and no defence by after-works, no time for amendment, no other way for them that are punished, their vengeance being co-eternal with them.

‘Seeing that this is so, what manner of persons ought we to be in all holy conversation and godliness, that we may be counted worthy to escape the wrath to come, and to be ranged on the right hand of the Son of God? For this is the station of the righteous: but to sinners is allotted the station of misery on the left. Then shall the Lord call the righteous “Blessed,” and shall lead them into his everlasting kingdom. But, as for sinners, with anger and curse he will banish from his serene and gentle countenance—the bitterest and hardest lot of all—and will send them away into everlasting punishment.’

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