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Barlaam And Ioasaph by St. John Of Damascus

‘WHEREFORE a practician of virtue once spake to me on this wise: “After I had made divine meditation my constant habit, and through the practice of it my soul had received her right quality, I once resolved to make trial of her, and put a check upon her, not allowing her to devote herself to her wonted exercises. I felt that she was chafing and fretting, and yearning for meditation with an ungovernable desire, and was utterly unable to incline to any contrary thought. No sooner had I given her the reins than immediately she ran in hot haste to her own task, as saith the Prophet, ‘Like as the hart desireth the water brooks, so longeth my soul after the strong, the living God.’ ” Wherefore from all these proofs it is evident that the acquirement of virtue is within our reach, and that we are lords over it, with power to embrace it, or else the rather to choose sin. They then, that are in the thraldom of wickedness, can hardly be torn away therefrom, as I have already said.

‘But thou, who hast been delivered therefrom, through the tender mercy of our God, and hast put on Christ by the grace of the Holy Ghost, now transfer thyself wholly to the Lord’s side, and never open a door to thy passions, but adorn thy soul with the sweet savour and splendour of virtue, and make her a temple of the Holy Trinity, and to his contemplation see thou devote all the powers of thy mind. He that liveth and converseth with an earthly king is pointed out by all as a right happy man: what happiness then must be his who is privileged to converse and be in spirit with God! Behold thou then his likeness alway, and converse with him. How shalt thou converse with God? By drawing near him in prayer and supplication. He that prayeth with exceeding fervent desire and pure heart, his mind estranged from all that is earthly and grovelling, and standeth before God, eye to eye, and presenteth his prayers to him in fear and trembling, such an one hath converse and speaketh with him face to face.

‘Our good Master is present everywhere, hearkening to them that approach him in purity and truth, as saith the Prophet, “The eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their cry.” For this reason the Fathers define Prayer as “the union of man with God,” and call it “Angels’ work,” and “the prelude of gladness to come.” For since they lay down before all things that “the kingdom of heaven” consisteth in nearness to and contemplation of the Holy Trinity, and since all the importunity of prayer leadeth the mind thither, Prayer is rightly called “the prelude” and, as it were, the “fore-glimpse” of that blessedness. But not all prayer is of this nature, but only such prayer as is worthy of the name, which hath God for its teacher, who giveth prayer to him that prayeth; prayer which soareth above all things on earth and entreateth directly with God.

This acquire thou for thyself, and strive to advance thereto, for it is able to exalt thee from earth to heaven. But without preparation and at hap-hazard thou shalt not advance therein. But first purify thy soul from all passion, and cleanse it like a bright and newly cleansed mirrour from every evil thought, and banish far all remembrance of injury and anger, which most of all hindereth our prayers from ascending to God-ward: and from the heart forgive all those that have trespassed against thee, and with alms and charities to the poor lend wings to thy prayer, and so bring it before God with fervent tears. Thus praying thou shalt be able to say with blessed David, who, for all that he was king, and distraught with ten thousand cares, yet cleansed his soul from all passions, and could say unto God, “As for iniquity, I hate and abhor it, but thy law do I love. Seven times a day do I praise thee, because of thy righteous judgements. My soul hath kept thy testimonies, and loved them exceedingly. Let my complaint come before thee, O Lord: give me understanding according to thy word.”

‘While thou art calling thus, the Lord shall hear thee: while thou art yet speaking, he shall say, “Behold I am here.” If then thou attain to such prayer, blessed shalt thou be; for it is impossible for a man praying and calling upon God with such purpose not to advance daily in that which is good, and soar over all the snares of the enemy. For, as saith one of the Saints, “He that hath made fervent his understanding, and hath lift up his soul and migrated to heaven, and hath thus called upon his Master, and remembered his own sins, and spoken concerning the forgiveness of the same, and with hot tears hath besought the Lover of mankind to be merciful to him: such an one, I say, by his continuance in such words and considerations, layeth aside every care of this life, and waxeth superior to human passions, and meriteth to be called an associate of God.” Than which state what can be more blessed and higher? May the Lord vouchsafe thee to attain to this blessedness!

‘Lo I have shown thee the way of the commandments of the Lord, and have not shunned to declare unto thee all the counsel of God. And now I have fulfilled my ministry unto thee. It remaineth that thou gird up the loins of thy mind, obedient to the Holy One that hath called thee, and be thou thyself holy in all manner of conversation: for, “Be ye holy: for I am holy,” saith the Lord. And the chief prince of the Apostles also writeth, saying, “If ye call on the Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man’s work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear; knowing that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.”

‘All these things therefore store thou up in thine heart, and remember them unceasingly, ever keeping before thine eyes the fear of God, and his terrible judgement seat, and the splendour of the righteous which they shall receive in the world to come, and the shame of sinners in the depths of darkness, and the frailty and vanity of things present, and the eternity of things hereafter; for, “All flesh is grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away: but the word of the Lord endureth for ever.” Meditate upon these things alway and the peace of God be with thee, enlightening and informing thee, and leading thee into the way of salvation chasing afar out of thy mind every evil wish, and sealing thy soul with the sign of the Cross, that no stumbling block of the evil one come nigh thee, but that thou mayest merit, in all fulness of virtue, to obtain the kingdom that is to come, without successor or end, and be illumined with the light of the blessed life-giving Trinity, which, in the Father, and in the Son, and in the Holy Ghost, is glorified.’

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