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Barlaam And Ioasaph by St. John Of Damascus

WITH such moral words did the reverend elder exhort the king’s son, and then withdrew to his own hospice. But the young prince’s servants and tutors marvelled to see the frequency of Barlaam’s visits to the palace; and one of the chiefest among them, whom, for his fidelity and prudence, the king had set over his son’s palace, named Zardan, said to the prince, ‘Thou knowest well, sir, how much I dread thy father, and how great is my faith toward him: wherefore he ordered me, for my faithfulness, to wait upon thee. Now, when I see this stranger constantly conversing with thee, I fear he may be of the Christian religion, toward which thy father hath a deadly hate; and I shall be found subject to the penalty of death. Either then make known to thy father this man’s business, or in future cease to converse with him. Else cast me forth from thy presence, that I be not blameable, and ask thy father to appoint another in my room.’

The king’s son said unto him, ‘This do, Zardan, first of all. Sit thou down behind the curtain, and hear his communication with me: and then thus will I tell thee what thou oughtest to do.’

So when Barlaam was about to enter into his presence, Ioasaph hid Zardan within the curtain, and said to the elder, ‘Sum me up the matter of thy divine teaching, that it may the more firmly be implanted in my heart.’ Barlaam took up his parable and uttered many sayings touching God, and righteousness toward him, and how we must love him alone with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our mind, and keep his commandments with fear and love: and how he is the Maker of all things visible and invisible. Thereon he called to remembrance the creation of the first man, the command given unto him, and his transgression thereof, and the sentence pronounced by the Creator for this transgression. Then he reckoned up in order the good things wherefrom we excluded ourselves by the disannulling of his commandment. Again he made mention of the many grievous misfortunes that unhappily overtook man, after the loss of the blessings. Besides this he brought forward God’s love toward mankind; how our Maker, heedful of our salvation, sent forth teachers and prophets proclaiming the Incarnation of the Only-begotten. Then he spake of the Son, his dwelling among men, his deeds of kindness, his miracles, his sufferings for us thankless creatures, his Cross, his spear, his voluntary death; finally, of our recovery and recall, our return to our first good estate; after this, of the kingdom of heaven awaiting such as are worthy thereof; of the torment in store for the wicked; the fire that is not quenched, the never ending darkness, the undying worm, and all the other tortures which the slaves of sin have laid up in store for themselves. When he had fully related these matters, he ended his speech with moral instruction, and dwelt much upon purity of life, and utterly condemned the vanity of things present, and proved the utter misery of such as cleave thereto, and finally made an end with prayer. And therewith he prayed for the prince, that he might hold fast the profession of the Catholick Faith without turning and without wavering, and keep his life blameless and his conversation pure, and so ending with prayer again withdrew to his hospice.

But the king’s son called Zardan forth, and, to try his disposition, said unto him, ‘Thou hast heard what sort of discourses this babbler maketh me endeavouring to be-jape me with his specious follies, and rob me of this pleasing happiness and enjoyment, to worship a strange God.’ Zardan answered, ‘Why hath it pleased thee, O prince, to prove me that am thy servant? I wot that the words of that man have sunk deep into thine heart; for, otherwise, thou hadst not listened gladly and unceasingly to his words. Yea, and we also are not ignorant of this preaching. But from the time when thy father stirred up truceless warfare against the Christians, the men have been banished hence, and their teaching is silenced. But if now their doctrine commend itself unto thee, and if thou have the strength to accept its austerity, may thy wishes be guided straight toward the good! But for myself, what shall I do, that am unable to bear the very sight of such austerity, and through fear of the King am divided in soul with pain and anguish? What excuse shall I make, for neglecting his orders, and giving this fellow access unto thee?’

The King’s son said unto him, ‘I knew full well that in none other wise could I requite thee worthily for thy much kindness: and therefore have I tasked myself to make known unto thee this more than human good, which doth even exceed the worth of thy good service, that thou mightest know to what end thou wast born, and acknowledge thy Creator, and, leaving darkness, run to the light. And I hoped that when thou heardest thereof thou wouldst follow it with irresistible desire. But, as I perceive, I am disappointed of my hope, seeing that thou art listless to that which hath been spoken. But if thou reveal these secrets to the king my father, thou shalt but distress his mind with sorrows and griefs. If thou be well disposed to him, on no account reveal this matter to him until a convenient season.’ Speaking thus, he seemed to be only casting seed upon the water; for wisdom shall not enter into a soul void of understanding.

Upon the morrow came Barlaam and spake of his departure: but Ioasaph, unable to bear the separation, was distressed at heart, and his eyes filled with tears. The elder made a long discourse, and adjured him to continue unshaken in good works, and with words of exhortation established his heart, and begged him to send him cheerfully on his way; and at the same time he foretold that they should shortly be at one, never to be parted more. But Ioasaph, unable to impose fresh labours on the elder, and to restrain his desire to be on his way, and suspecting moreover that the man Zardan might make known his case to the King and subject him to punishment, said unto Barlaam, ‘Since it seemeth thee good, my spiritual father, best of teachers and minister of all good to me, to leave me to live in the vanity of the world, while thou journeyest to thy place of spiritual rest, I dare no longer let and hinder thee. Depart therefore, with the peace of God for thy guardian, and ever in thy worthy prayers, for the Lord’s sake, think upon my misery, that I may be enabled to overtake thee, and behold thine honoured face for ever. But fulfil this my one request; since thou couldest not receive aught for thy fellow monks, yet for thyself accept a little money for sustenance, and a cloak to cover thee.’ But Barlaam answered and said unto him, ‘Seeing that I would not receive aught for my brethren (for they need not grasp at the world’s chattels which they have chosen to forsake), how shall I acquire for myself that which I have denied them? If the possession of money were a good thing, I should have let them share it before me. But, as I understand that the possession thereof is deadly, I will hazard neither them nor myself in such snares.’

But when Ioasaph had failed once again to persuade Barlaam, ’twas but a sign for a second petition, and he made yet another request, that Barlaam should not altogether overlook his prayer, nor plunge him in utter despair, but should leave him that stiff shirt and rough mantle, both to remind him of his teacher’s austerities and to safe-guard him from all the workings of Satan, and should take from him another cloak instead, in order that ‘When thou seest my gift,’ said he, ‘thou mayest bear my lowliness in remembrance.’

But the elder said, ‘It is not lawful for me to give thee my old and worn out vestment, and take one that is new, lest I be condemned to receive here the recompense of my slight labour. But, not to thwart thy willing mind, let the garments given me by thee be old ones, nothing different from mine own.’ So the king’s son sought for old shirts of hair, which he gave the aged man, rejoicing to receive his in exchange, deeming them beyond compare more precious than any regal purple.

Now saintly Barlaam, all but ready for to start, spake concerning his journey, and delivered Ioasaph his last lesson, saying, ‘Brother beloved, and dearest son, whom I have begotten through the Gospel, thou knowest of what King thou art the soldier, and with whom thou hast made thy covenant. This thou must keep steadfastly, and readily perform the duties of thy service, even as thou didst promise the Lord in the script of thy covenant, with the whole heavenly host present to attest it, and record the terms; which if thou keep, thou shalt be blessed. Esteem therefore nought in the present world above God and his blessings. For what terror of this life can be so terrible as the Gehenna of eternal fire, that burneth and yet hath no light, that punisheth and never ceaseth? And which of the goodly things of this world can give such gladness as that which the great God giveth to those that love him? Whose beauty is unspeakable, and power invincible, and glory everlasting; whose good things, prepared for his friends, exceed beyond comparison all that is seen; which eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man: whereof mayest thou be shown an inheritor, preserved by the mighty hand of God!’

Here the king’s son burst into tears of pain and vexation, unable to bear the parting from a loving father and excellent teacher. ‘And who,’ quoth he, ‘shall fill thy place, O my father? And whom like unto thee shall I find to be shepherd and guide of my soul’s salvation? What consolation may I find in my loss of thee? Behold thou hast brought me, the wicked and rebellious servant, back to God, and set me in the place of son and heir! Thou hast sought me that was lost and astray on the mountain, a prey for every evil beast, and folded me amongst the sheep that had never wandered. Thou hast shown me the direct road to truth, bringing me out of darkness and the shadow of death, and, changing the course of my feet from the slippery, deadly, crooked and winding pathway, hast ministered to me great and marvellous blessings, whereof speech would fail to recount the exceeding excellence. Great be the gifts that thou receivest at God’s hand, on account of me who am small! And may the Lord, who in the rewards of his gifts alone overpasseth them that love him, supply that which is lacking to my gratitude!’

Here Barlaam cut short his lamentation, and rose and stood up to pray, lifting up his either hand, and saying, ‘O God and Father of our Lord Jesu Christ, which didst illuminate the things that once were darkened, and bring this visible and invisible creation out of nothing, and didst turn again this thine handiwork, and sufferedst us not to walk after our foolishness, we give thanks to thee and to thy Wisdom and Might, our Lord Jesu Christ, by whom thou didst make the worlds, didst raise us from our fall, didst forgive us our trespasses, didst restore us from wandering, didst ransom us from captivity, didst quicken us from death by the precious blood of thy Son our Lord. Upon thee I call, and upon thine only begotten Son, and upon the Holy Ghost. Look upon this thy spiritual sheep that hath come to be a sacrifice unto thee through me thine unworthy servant, and do thou sanctify his soul with thy might and grace. Visit this vine, which was planted by thy Holy Spirit, and grant it to bear fruit, the fruit of righteousness. Strengthen him, and confirm in him thy covenant, and rescue him from the deceit of the devil. With the wisdom of thy good Spirit teach him to do thy will, and take not thy succour from him, but grant unto him, with me thine unprofitable servant, to become an inheritor of thine everlasting bliss, because thou art blessed and glorified for ever, Amen.’

When that he had ended his prayer, he turned him round and embraced Ioasaph, now a son of his heavenly father, wishing him eternal peace and salvation, and he departed out of the palace, and went his way, rejoicing and giving thanks to God, who had well ordered his steps for good.

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