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Barlaam And Ioasaph by St. John Of Damascus

IOASAPH said unto him, ‘All thy words are fair and wonderful, and, while thou spakest, I believed them and still believe them; and I hate all idolatry with all my heart. And indeed, even before thy coming hither, my soul was, in uncertain fashion, doubtful of it. But now I hate it with a perfect hatred, since I have learned from thy lips the vanity thereof, and the folly of those who worship idols; and I yearn to become the servant of the true God, if haply he will not refuse me, that am unworthy by reason of my sins, and I trust that he will forgive me everything, because he is a lover of men, and compassionate, as thou tellest me, and will count me worthy to become his servant. So I am ready anon to receive baptism, and to observe all thy sayings. But what must I do after baptism? And is this alone sufficient for salvation, to believe and be baptized, or must one add other services thereto?’

Barlaam answered him, ‘Hear what thou must do after baptism. Thou must abstain from all sin, and every evil affection, and build upon the foundation of the Catholick Faith the practice of the virtues; for faith without works is dead, as also are works without faith. For, saith the Apostle, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these: Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, love of money, railing, love of pleasure, drunkenness, revelling, arrogance, and such like, of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the Kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance, sanctification of soul and body, lowliness of heart and contrition, almsgiving, forgiveness of injuries, loving-kindness, watchings, perfect repentance of all past offences, tears of compunction, sorrow for our own sins and those of our neighbours, and the like. These, even as steps and ladders that support one another and are clinched together, conduct the soul to heaven. Lo, to these we are commanded to cleave after baptism, and to abstain from their contraries.

‘But if, after receiving the knowledge of the truth, we again lay hold on dead works, and, like a dog, return to our vomit, it shall happen unto us according to the word of the Lord; “for,” saith he, “when the unclean spirit is gone out of a man” (to wit, by the grace of baptism) “he walketh through dry places, seeking rest, and finding none.” But enduring not for long to wander homeless and hearthless, he saith, “I will return to my house whence I came out.” And, when he cometh, he findeth it swept and garnished, but empty and unoccupied, not having received the operation of grace, nor having filled itself with the riches of the virtues. Then goeth he, and taketh to him seven other spirits more wicked than himself; and they enter in and dwell there: and the last state of that man becometh worse than the first.” For baptism burieth in the water and completely blotteth out the hand-writing of all former sins, and is to us for the future a sure fortress and tower of defence, and a strong weapon against the marshalled host of the enemy; but it taketh not away free will, nor alloweth the forgiving of sins after baptism, or immersion in the font a second time. For it is one baptism that we confess, and need is that we keep ourselves with all watchfulness that so we fall not into defilement a second time, but hold fast to the commandments of the Lord. For when he said to the Apostles, “Go make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost,” he did not stop there, but added, “teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.”

‘Now he commanded men to be poor in spirit, and such he calleth blessed and worthy of the kingdom of heaven. Again he chargeth us to mourn in the present life, that we may obtain comfort hereafter, and to be meek, and to be ever hungering and thirsting after righteousness: to be merciful, and ready to distribute, pitiful and compassionate, pure in heart, abstaining from all defilement of flesh and spirit, peacemakers with our neighbours and with our own souls, by bringing the worse into subjection to the better, and thus by a just decision making peace in that continual warfare betwixt the twain; also to endure persecution and tribulation and reviling, inflicted upon us for righteousness’ sake in defence of his name, that we may obtain everlasting felicity in the glorious distribution of his rewards. Ay, and in this world he exhorteth us to let our “light so shine before men, that they may see,” he saith, “your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”

‘For the law of Moses, formerly given to the Israelites, saith, “Thou shalt not kill; thou shalt not commit adultery; thou shalt not steal; thou shalt not bear false witness:” but Christ saith “Whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgement; and whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire:” and, “if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath aught against thee, leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way and first be reconciled to thy brother.” And he also saith, “Whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her, hath committed adultery with her in his heart.” And hereby he calleth the defilement and consent of the affection adultery. Furthermore, where the law forbade a man to forswear himself Christ commanded him to swear not at all beyond Yea and Nay. There we read, “Eye for eye and tooth for tooth”: here, “Whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away. Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. Judge not, that ye be not judged. Forgive, and ye shall be forgiven. Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on: for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.” He therefore that gave life and body will assuredly give food and raiment: he that feedeth the fowls of the air and arrayeth with such beauty the lilies of the field. “But, seek ye first,” saith Christ, “the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them. Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat. Strait and narrow is the way which leadeth unto life and few there be that find it. Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he that loveth son and daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And he that taketh not up his cross and followeth after me, is not worthy of me.” Lo these and the like of these be the things which the Saviour commanded his Apostles to teach the Faithful: and all these things we are bound to observe, if we desire to attain to perfection and receive the incorruptible crowns of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give at that day unto all them that love his appearing.’

Ioasaph said unto the elder, ‘Well then, as the strictness of these doctrines demandeth such chaste conversation, if, after baptism, I chance to fail in one or two of these commandments, shall I therefore utterly miss the goal, and shall all my hope be vain?’

Barlaam answered, ‘Deem not so. God, the Word, made man for the salvation of our race, aware of the exceeding frailty and misery of our nature, hath not even here suffered our sickness to be without remedy. But, like a skilful leech, he hath mixed for our unsteady and sin-loving heart the potion of repentance, prescribing this for the remission of sins. For after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, and have been sanctified by water and the Spirit, and cleansed without effort from all sin and all defilement, if we should fortune to fall into any transgression, there is, it is true, no second regeneration made within us through baptism in the water of the font, and wholly re-creating us (that gift is given once for all): but, by means of painful repentance, hot tears, toils and sweats, there is a purifying and pardoning of our offences through the tender mercy of our God. For the fount of tears is also called baptism, according to the grace of the Master, but it needeth labour and time; and many hath it saved after many a fall; because there is no sin too great for the clemency of God, if we be quick to repent, and purge the shame of our offences, and death overtake us not, and depart us not from this life still defiled; for in the grave there is no confession nor repentance. But as long as we are among the living, while the foundation of our true faith continueth unshattered, even if somewhat of the outer roof-work or inner building be disabled, it is allowed to renew by repentance the part rotted by sins. It is impossible to count the multitude of the mercies of God, or measure the greatness of his compassion: whereas sins and offences, of whatever kind, are subject to measure and may be numbered. So our offences, being subject to measure and number, cannot overcome the immeasurable compassion, and innumerable mercies of God.

‘Wherefore we are commanded not to despair for our trespasses, but to acknowledge the goodness of God, and renounce the sins whereof forgiveness is offered us by reason of the loving-kindness of Christ, who for our sins shed his precious blood. In many places of Scripture we are taught the power of repentance, and especially by the precepts and parables of our Lord Jesus Christ. For it saith, “From that time began Jesus to preach and to say, ‘Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ ” Moreover he setteth before us, in a parable, a certain son that had received his father’s substance, and taken his journey into a far country, and there spent all in riotous living. Then, when there arose a famine in that land, he went and joined himself to one of the citizens of that land of iniquity, who sent him into his fields to feed swine,—thus doth he designate the most coarse and loathsome sin. When, after much labour, he had come to the utmost misery, and might not even fill his belly with the husks that the swine did eat, at last he came to perceive his shameful plight, and, bemoaning himself, said, “How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants.’ ” And he arose, and came to his father. But, when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and embraced him, and kissed him tenderly, and, restoring him to his former rank, made a feast of joyaunce because his son was found again, and killed the fatted calf. Lo, this parable, that Jesus spake to us, concerneth such as turn again from sin, and fall at his feet in repentance. Again, he representeth a certain good shepherd that had an hundred sheep, and, when one was lost, left the ninety and nine, and went forth to seek that which was gone astray, until he found it: and he laid it on his shoulders, and folded it with those that had not gone astray, and called together his friends and neighbours to a banquet, because that it was found. “Likewise,” saith the Saviour, “joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons which need no repentance.”

‘And, in sooth, even the chief of the disciples, Peter, the Rock of the Faith, in the very season of the Saviour’s Passion, failing for a little while in his stewardship, that he might understand the worthlessness and misery of human frailty, fell under the guilt of denial. Then he straightway remembered the Lord’s words, and went out and wept bitterly, and with those hot tears made good his defeat, and transferred the victory to his own side. Like a skilful man of war, though fallen, he was not undone, nor did he despair, but, springing to his feet, he brought up, as a reserve, bitter tears from the agony of his soul; and straightway, when the enemy saw that sight, like a man whose eyes are scorched with a fierce flame, he leaped off and fled afar, howling horribly. So the chief became chief again, as he had before been chosen teacher of the whole world, being now become its pattern of penitence. And after his holy resurrection Christ made good this three-fold denial with the three-fold question, “Peter, lovest thou me?”, the Apostle answering, “Yea, Lord, thou knowest that I love thee.”

‘So from all these and many other examples beyond count we learn the virtue of tears and repentance. Only the manner thereof must be worthy, arising from a heart that abominateth sin and weepeth, as saith the prophet David, “I am weary of my groaning: every night will I wash my bed and water my couch with my tears.” Again the cleansing of sins will be wrought by the blood of Christ, in the greatness of his compassion and the multitude of the mercies of that God who saith, “Though your sins be as scarlet, I will make them white as snow,” and so forth.

‘Thus therefore it is, and thus we believe. But after receiving the knowledge of the truth and winning regeneration and adoption as sons, and tasting of the divine mysteries, we must strive hard to keep our feet lest we fall. For to fall becometh not the athlete, since many have fallen and been unable to rise. Some, opening a door to sinful lusts, and clinging obstinately to them, have no more had strength to hasten back to repentance; and others, being untimely snatched by death, and having not made speed enough to wash them from the pollution of their sin, have been damned. And for this cause it is parlous to fall into any kind of sinful affection whatsoever. But if any man fall, he must at once leap up, and stand again to fight the good fight: and, as often as there cometh a fall, so often must there at once ensue this rising and standing, unto the end. For, “Turn ye unto me, and I will turn unto you,” saith the Lord God.’

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