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Barlaam And Ioasaph by St. John Of Damascus

IOASAPH said unto him, ‘If thou hadst for a long time considered, most wise Sir, how thou mightest best declare to me the explanation of the questions that I propounded, methinks thou couldest not have done it better than by uttering such words as thou hast now spoken unto me. Thou hast taught me that God is the Maker and preserver of all things; and in unanswerable language thou hast shown me that the glory of his majesty is incomprehensible to human reasonings, and that no man is able to attain thereto, except those to whom, by his behest, he revealeth it. Wherefore am I lost in amaze at thine eloquent wisdom.

‘But tell me, good Sir, of what age thou art, and in what manner of place is thy dwelling, and who are thy fellow philosophers; for my soul hangeth fast on thine, and fain would I never be parted from thee all the days of my life.’

The elder said, ‘Mine age is, as I reckon, forty and five years, and in the deserts of the land of Senaar do I dwell. For my fellow combatants I have those who labour and contend together with me on the course of the heavenly journey.’

‘What sayest thou?’ quoth Ioasaph. ‘Thou seemest to me upwards of seventy years old. How speakest thou of forty and five? Herein methinks thou tellest not the truth.’

Barlaam said unto him, ‘If it be the number of years from my birth that thou askest, thou hast well reckoned them at upwards of seventy. But, for myself, I count not amongst the number of my days the years that I wasted in the vanity of the world. When I lived to the flesh in the bondage of sin, I was dead in the inner man; and those years of deadness I can never call years of life. But now the world hath been crucified to me, and I to the world, and I have put off the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and live no longer to the flesh, but Christ liveth in me; and the life that I live, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. And the years, that have passed since then, I may rightly call years of life, and days of salvation. And in numbering these at about forty and five, I reckoned by the true tale, and not off the mark. So do thou also alway hold by this reckoning; and be sure that there is no true life for them that are dead to all good works, and live in sin, and serve the world-ruler of them that are dragged downward, and waste their time in pleasures and lusts: but rather be well assured that these are dead and defunct in the activity of life. For a wise man hath fitly called sin the death of the immortal soul. And the Apostle also saith, “When ye were the servants of sin, ye were free from righteousness. What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? for the end of those things is death. But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life.” ’

Ioasaph said unto him, ‘Since thou reckonest not the life in the flesh in the measure of life, neither canst thou reckon that death, which all men undergo, as death.’

The elder answered, ‘Without doubt thus think I of these matters also, and fear this temporal death never a whit, nor do I call it death at all, if only it overtake me walking in the way of the commandments of God, but rather a passage from death to the better and more perfect life, which is hid in Christ, in desire to obtain which the Saints were impatient of the present. Wherefore saith the Apostle, “We know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle be dissolved, we have a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven: if so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked. For we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life.” And again, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” And once more, “I desire to depart and be with Christ.” And the prophet saith, “When shall I come to appear before the presence of God?” Now that I, the least of all men, choose not to fear bodily death, thou mayest learn by this, that I have set at nought thy father’s threat, and come boldly unto thee, and have preached to thee the tidings of salvation, though I knew for sure that, if this came to his knowledge, he would, were that possible, put me to a thousand deaths. But I, honouring the word of God afore all things, and longing to win it, dread not temporal death, nor reckon it at all worthy of such an appellation, in obedience to my Lord’s command, which saith, “Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” ’

‘These then,’ said Ioasaph, ‘are the good deeds of that true philosophy, that far surpass the nature of these earthly men who cleave fast to the present life. Blessed are ye that hold to so noble a purpose! But tell me truly what is thy manner of life and that of thy companions in the desert, and from whence cometh your raiment and of what sort may it be? Tell me as thou lovest truth.’

Said Barlaam, ‘Our sustenance consisteth of acorns and herbs that we find in the desert, watered by the dew of heaven, and in obedience to the Creator’s command; and for this there is none to fight and quarrel with us, seeking by the rule and law of covetousness to snatch more than his share, but in abundance for all is food provided from unploughed lands, and a ready table spread. But, should any of the faithful brethren in the neighbourhood bring a blessed dole of bread, we receive it as sent by providence, and bless the faith that brought it. Our raiment is of hair, sheepskins or shirts of palm fibre, all thread-bare and much patched, to mortify the frailty of the flesh. We wear the same clothing winter and summer, which, once put on, we may on no account put off until it be old and threadbare. For by thus afflicting our bodies with the constraints of cold and heat we purvey for ourselves the vesture of our future robes of immortality.’

Ioasaph said, ‘But whence cometh this garment that thou wearest?’ The elder answered, ‘I received it as a loan from one of our faithful brethren, when about to make my journey unto thee; for it behoved me not to arrive in mine ordinary dress. If one had a beloved kinsman carried captive into a foreign land, and wished to recover him thence, one would lay aside one’s own clothing, and put on the guise of the enemy, and pass into their country and by divers crafts deliver one’s friend from that cruel tyranny. Even so I also, having been made aware of thine estate, clad myself in this dress, and came to sow the seed of the divine message in thine heart, and ransom thee from the slavery of the dread ruler of this world. And now behold by the power of God, as far as in me lay, I have accomplished my ministry, announcing to thee the knowledge of him, and making known unto thee the preaching of the Prophets and Apostles, and teaching thee unerringly and soothly the vanity of the present life, and the evils that teem in this world, which cruelly deceiveth them that trust therein, and taketh them in many a gin. Now must I return thither whence I came, and thereupon doff this robe belonging to another, and don mine own again.’

Ioasaph therefore begged the elder to shew himself in his wonted apparel. Then did Barlaam strip off the mantle that he wore, and lo, a terrible sight met Ioasaph’s eyes: for all the fashion of his flesh was wasted away, and his skin blackened by the scorching sun, and drawn tight over his bones like an hide stretched over thin canes. And he wore an hair shirt, stiff and rough, from his loins to his knees, and over his shoulders there hung a coat of like sort.

But Ioasaph, being sore amazed at the hardship of his austere life, and astonished at his excess of endurance, burst into tears, and said to the elder, ‘Since thou art come to deliver me from the slavery of the devil, crown thy good service to me, and “bring my soul out of prison,” and take me with thee, and let us go hence, that I may be fully ransomed from this deceitful world and then receive the seal of saving Baptism, and share with thee this thy marvellous philosophy, and this more than human discipline.’

But Barlaam said unto him, ‘A certain rich man once reared the fawn of a gazelle; which, when grown up, was impelled by natural desire to long for the desert. So on a day she went out and found an herd of gazelles browsing; and, after that, she would roam through the glades of the forest, returning at evenfall, but issuing forth at dawn, through the heedlessness of her keepers, to herd with her wild companions. When these removed, to graze further afield, she followed them. But the rich man’s servants, when they learned thereof, mounted on horseback, and gave chase, and caught the pet fawn, and brought her home again, and set her in captivity for the time to come. But of the residue of the herd, some they killed, and roughly handled others. Even so I fear that it may happen unto us also if thou follow me; that I may be deprived of thy fellowship, and bring many ills to my comrades, and everlasting damnation to thy father. But this is the will of the Lord concerning thee; thou now indeed must be signed with the seal of holy Baptism, and abide in this country, cleaving to all righteousness, and the fulfilling of the commandments of Christ; but when the Giver of all good things shall give thee opportunity, then shalt thou come to us, and for the remainder of this present life we shall dwell together; and I trust in the Lord also that in the world to come we shall not be parted asunder.’

Again Ioasaph, in tears, said unto him, ‘If this be the Lord’s pleasure, his will be done! For the rest, perfect me in holy Baptism. Then receive at my hands money and garments for the support and clothing both of thyself and thy companions, and depart to the place of thy monastic life, and the peace of God be thy guard! But cease not to make supplications on my behalf, that I may not fall away from my hope, but may soon be able to reach thee, and in peace profound may enjoy thy ministration.’

Barlaam answered, ‘Nought forbiddeth thee to receive the seal of Christ. Make thee ready now; and, the Lord working with thee, thou shalt be perfected. But as concerning the money that thou didst promise to bestow on my companions, how shall this be, that thou, a poor man, shouldest give alms to the rich? The rich always help the poor, not the needy the wealthy. And the least of all my comrades is incomparably richer than thou. But I trust in the mercies of God that thou too shalt soon be passing rich as never afore: and then thou wilt not be ready to distribute.’

Ioasaph said unto him, ‘Make plain to me this saying; how the least of all thy companions surpasseth me in riches—thou saidest but now that they lived in utter penury, and were pinched by extreme poverty—and why thou callest me a poor man, but sayest that, when I shall be passing rich, I, who am ready to distribute, shall be ready to distribute no more.’

Barlaam answered, ‘I said not that these men were pinched by poverty, but that they plume themselves on their inexhaustible wealth. For to be ever adding money to money, and never to curb the passion for it, but insatiably to covet more and more, betokeneth the extreme of poverty. But those who despise the present for love of the eternal and count it but dung, if only they win Christ, who have laid aside all care for meat and raiment and cast that care on the Lord, and rejoice in penury as no lover of the world could rejoice, were he rolling in riches, who have laid up for themselves plenteously the riches of virtue, and are fed by the hope of good things without end, may more fitly be termed rich than thou, or any other earthly kingdom. But, God working with thee, thou shalt lay hold on such spiritual abundance that, if thou keep it in safety and ever rightfully desire more, thou shalt never wish to dispend any part of it. This is true abundance: but the mass of material riches will damage rather than benefit its friends. Meetly therefore called I it the extreme of poverty, which the lovers of heavenly blessings utterly renounce and eschew, and flee from it, as a man fleeth from an adder. But if I take from thee and so bring back to life that foe, whom my comrades in discipline and battle have slain and trampled under foot, and carry him back to them, and so be the occasion of wars and lusts, then shall I verily be unto them an evil angel, which heaven forfend!

‘Let the same, I pray thee, be thy thoughts about raiment. As for them that have put off the corruption of the old man, and, as far as possible, cast away the robe of disobedience, and put on Christ as a coat of salvation and garment of gladness, how shall I again clothe these in their coats of hide, and gird them about with the covering of shame? But be assured that my companions have no need of such things, but are content with their hard life in the desert, and reckon it the truest luxury; and bestow thou on the poor the money and garments which thou promisedst to give unto our monks, and lay up for thyself, for the time to come, treasure that cannot be stolen, and by the orisons of these poor folk make God thine ally; for thus shalt thou employ thy riches as an help toward noble things. Then also put on the whole armour of the Spirit, having thy loins girt about with truth, and having on the breast plate of righteousness, and wearing the helmet of salvation, and having thy feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace, and taking in thine hands the shield of faith, and the sword of the spirit, which is the word of God. And, being thus excellently armed and guarded on every side, in this confidence go forth to the warfare against ungodliness, until, this put to flight, and its prince, the devil, dashed headlong to the earth, thou be adorned with the crowns of victory from the right hand of thy master, the Lord of life.’

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