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Barlaam And Ioasaph by St. John Of Damascus

BUT Ioasaph was filled hereby with deep compunction, and was melted into tears; and he said to the elder, ‘Thou hast told me everything plainly, and hast completed unerringly thy terrible and marvellous tale. With such truths set before us, what must we do to escape the punishments in store for sinners, and to gain the joy of the righteous?’

Barlaam answered: ‘It is written of Peter, who was also called chief of the Apostles, that once when he was preaching the people were pricked in their heart, like thyself to-day: and when they asked, “What shall we do?”, Peter said unto them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For to you is the promise, and to your children, and to all that are afar off even as many as the Lord our God shall call.” Behold therefore upon thee also hath he poured forth the riches of his mercy, and hath called thee that wert afar off from him in heart, and didst serve others, not Gods, but pernicious devils and dumb and senseless wooden images. Wherefore before all things approach thou him who hath called thee, and from him shalt thou receive the true knowledge of things visible and invisible. But if, after thy calling, thou be loth or slack, thou shalt be disherited by the just judgement of God, and by thy rejection of him thou shalt be rejected. For thus too spake the same Apostle Peter to a certain disciple. But I believe that thou hast heard the call, and that, when thou hast heard it more plainly, thou wilt take up thy Cross, and follow that God and Master that calleth thee, calleth thee to himself from death unto life, and from darkness unto light. For, soothly, ignorance of God is darkness and death of the soul; and to serve idols, to the destruction of nature, is to my thinking the extreme of all senselessness.

‘But idolaters—to whom shall I compare them, and to what likeness shall I liken their silliness? Well, I will set before thee an example which I heard from the lips of one most wise.

‘ “Idol worshippers,” said he, “are like a fowler who caught a tiny bird, called nightingale. He took a knife, for to kill and eat her; but the nightingale, being given the power of articulate speech, said to the fowler, ‘Man, what advantageth it thee to slay me? for thou shalt not be able by my means to fill thy belly. Now free me of my fetters, and I will give thee three precepts, by the keeping of which thou shalt be greatly benefited all thy life long.’ He, astonied at her speech, promised that, if he heard anything new from her, he would quickly free her from her captivity. The nightingale turned towards our friend and said, ‘Never try to attain to the unattainable: never regret the thing past and gone: and never believe the word that passeth belief. Keep these three precepts, and may it be well with thee.’ The man, admiring the lucidity and sense of her words, freed the bird from her captivity, and sent her forth aloft. She, therefore, desirous to know whether the man had understood the force of her words, and whether he had gleaned any profit therefrom, said, as she flew aloft, ‘Shame, sir, on thy fecklessness! What a treasure that hast lost to-day! For I have inside me a pearl larger than an ostrich egg’ When the fowler heard thereof, he was distraught with grief, regretting that the bird had escaped out of his hands. And he would fain have taken her again. ‘Come hither,’ said he, ‘into my house: I will make thee right welcome, and send thee forth with honour.’ But the nightingale said unto him, ‘Now I know thee to be a mighty fool. Though thou didst receive my words readily and gladly, thou hast gained no profit thereby. I bade thee never regret the thing past and gone; and behold thou art distraught with grief because I have escaped out of thy hands—there thou regrettest a thing past and gone. I charged thee not to try to attain to the unattainable, and thou triest to catch me, though thou canst not attain to my path. Besides which, I bade thee never believe a word past belief, and behold thou hast believed that I had inside me a pearl exceeding the measure of my size, and hadst not the sense to see that my whole body doth not attain to the bulk of ostrich eggs. How then could I contain such a pearl?’ ”

‘Thus senseless, then, are also they that trust in idols: for these be their handiwork, and they worship that which their fingers made, saying, “These be our creators.” How then deem they their creators those which have been formed and fashioned by themselves? Nay more, they safeguard their gods, lest they be stolen by thieves, and yet they call them guardians of their safety. And yet what folly not to know that they, which be unable to guard and aid themselves, can in no wise guard and save others! “For” saith he, “why, on behalf of the living, should they seek unto the dead?” They expend wealth, for to raise statues and images to devils, and vainly boast that these give them good gifts, and crave to receive of their hands things which those idols never possessed, nor ever shall possess. Wherefore it is written, “May they that make them be like unto them, and so be all such as put their trust in them, who,” he saith, “hire a goldsmith, and make them gods, and they fall down, yea, they worship them. They bear them upon the shoulders, and go forward. And if they set them in their place, they stand therein: they shall not remove. Yea, one shall cry unto them, yet can they not answer him, nor save him out of his trouble.” “Wherefore be ye ashamed with everlasting shame, ye that trust in graven images, that say to the molten images, Ye are our gods.” “For they sacrificed,” he saith, “unto devils, and not to God; to gods whom their fathers knew not. There came new and fresh gods; because it is a forward generation, and there is no faith in them.”

‘Wherefore out of this wicked and faithless generation the Lord calleth thee to him, saying, “Come out from among them, and be thou separate, and touch no unclean thing,” but “save thyself from this untoward generation.” “Arise thou, and depart, for this is not thy rest;” for that divided lordship, which your gods hold, is a thing of confusion and strife and hath no real being whatsoever. But with us it is not so, neither have we many gods and lords, but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we unto him: and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things and we by him, “who is the image of the invisible God, the first born of every creature” and of all ages, “for in him were all things created that are in the heavens and that are upon the earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers.” “All things were made by him, and without him was not anything made that was made:” and one Holy Ghost, in whom are all things, “the Lord and Giver of life,” God and making God, the good Spirit, the right Spirit, “the Spirit the Comforter,” “the Spirit of adoption.” Of these each person, severally, is God. As the Father is, so also is the Son, and as the Son, so also the Holy Ghost. And there is one God in three, one nature, one kingdom, one power, one glory, one substance, distinct in persons, and so only distinct. One is the Father, whose property it is not to have been begotten; one is the only-begotten Son, and his property it is to have been begotten; and one is the Holy Ghost, and his property it is that he proceedeth. Thus illuminated by that light, which is the Father, with that light, which is the Son, in that light, which is the Holy Ghost, we glorify one Godhead in three persons. And he is one very and only God, known in the Trinity: for of him and through him, and unto him are all things.

‘By his grace also, I came to know thy case, and was sent to teach thee the lessons that I have learned and observed from my youth even to these grey hairs. If then thou shalt believe and be baptized, thou shalt be saved; but if thou believe not, thou shalt be damned. All the things that thou seest to-day, wherein thou gloriest,—pomp, luxury,—riches, and all the deceitfulness of life,—quickly pass away; and they shall cast thee hence whether thou wilt or no. And thy body will be imprisoned in a tiny grave, left in utter loneliness, and bereft of all company of kith and kin. And all the pleasant things of the world shall perish; and instead of the beauty and fragrance of to-day, thou shalt be encompassed with horror and the stink of corruption. But thy soul shall they hurl into the nether-regions of the earth, into the condemnation of Hades, until the final resurrection, when re-united to her body, she shall be cast forth from the presence of the Lord and be delivered to hell fire, which burneth everlastingly. These, and far worse haps than these, shall be thy destiny, if thou continue in unbelief.

‘But and if thou readily obey him that calleth thee to salvation, and if thou run unto him with desire and joy, and be signed with his light, and follow him without turn, renouncing every thing, and cleaving only unto him, hear what manner of security and happiness shall be thine. “When thou sittest down, thou shalt not be afraid of sudden fear. When thou liest down, sweet shall be thy sleep.” And thou shalt not be afraid of the assaults of evil spirits, but shalt go thy way bold as any lion, and shalt live in bliss and everlasting joyaunce. For “joy and praise shall crown thy head, and gladness shall befall thee there, where pain and sorrow and wailing shall flee away.” “Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall rise speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee, and the glory of the Lord shall be thy reward.” Then shalt thou call, and the Lord shall answer; while thou art yet speaking, he shall say, “Here am I.” “I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions, and will not remember them. Put me in remembrance: let us plead together: declare thou thy sins that thou mayst be justified.” “Though thy sins be as scarlet, I will make them white as snow: though they be red as crimson I will make them white as wool, for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.” ’

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