Keep Site Running

Barlaam And Ioasaph by St. John Of Damascus

AFTER Barlaam was gone forth, Ioasaph gave himself unto prayer and bitter tears, and said, ‘O God, haste thee to help me: O Lord, make speed to help me, because the poor hath committed himself unto thee; thou art the helper of the orphan. Look upon me, and have mercy upon me; thou who willest have all men to be saved and to come unto the knowledge of the truth, save me, and strengthen me, unworthy though I be, to walk the way of thy holy commandments, for I am weak and miserable, and not able to do the thing that is good. But thou art mighty to save me, who sustainest and holdest together all things visible and invisible. Suffer me not to walk after the evil will of the flesh, but teach me to do thy will, and preserve me unto thine eternal and blissful life. O Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, the consubstantial and undivided Godhead, I call upon thee and glorify thee. Thou art praised by all creation; thou art glorified by the intelligent powers of the Angels for ever and ever. Amen.’

From that time forth he kept himself with all vigilance, seeking to attain purity of soul and body, and living in continency and prayers and intercessions all night long. In the day-time he was often interrupted by the company of his fellows, and at times by a visit from the king, or a call to the king’s presence, but at night he would make good the shortcomings of the day, whilst he stood, in prayer and weeping until daybreak, calling upon God. Whence in him was fulfilled the saying of the prophet, ‘In nights raise your hands into holy things; and bless ye the Lord.’

But Zardan observed Ioasaph’s way of life, and was full of sorrow, and his soul was pierced with grievous anxieties; and he knew not what to do. At the last, worn down with pain, he withdrew to his own home, feigning sickness. When this had come to the knowledge of the king he appointed in his place another of his trusty men to minister unto his son, while he himself, being concerned for Zardan’s health, sent a physician of reputation, and charged him to take pains to ensure his recovery.

The physician, seeing that Zardan was in favour with the king, attended him diligently, and, having right well judged his case, soon made this report to the king; ‘I have been unable to discover any root of disease in the man: wherefore I suppose that this weakness is to be ascribed to distress of spirit.’ But, on hearing his words, the king suspected that his son had been wroth with Zardan, and that this slight had caused his retirement. So, wishing to search the matter, he sent Zardan word, saying ‘To-morrow I shall come to see thee, and judge of the malady that hath befallen thee.’

But Zardan, on hearing this message, at daybreak wrapt his cloak around him and went to the king, and entered and fell in obeisance on the ground. The king spake unto him, ‘Why hast thou forced thyself to appear? I was minded to visit thee myself, and so make known to all my friendship for thee.’ He answered, ‘My sickness, O king, is no malady common to man; but pain of heart, arising from an anxious and careful mind, hath caused my body to suffer in sympathy. It had been folly in me, being as I am, not to attend as a slave before thy might, but to wait for thy Majesty to be troubled to come to me thy servant.’ Then the king enquired after the cause of his despondency; Zardan answered and said, ‘Mighty is my peril, and mighty are the penalties that I deserve, and many deaths do I merit, for that I have been guilty of neglect of thy behests, and have brought on thee such sorrow as ne’er before.’

Again said the king, ‘And of what neglect hast thou been guilty? And what is the dread that encompasseth thee?’ ‘I have been guilty,’ said he, ‘of negligence in my close care of my lord thy son. There came an evil man and a sorcerer, and communicated to him the precepts of the Christian religion.’ Then he related to the king, point by point, the words which the old man spake with his son, and how gladly Ioasaph received his word, and how he had altogether become Christ’s. Moreover he gave the old man’s name, saying that it was Barlaam. Even before then the king had heard tell of Barlaam’s ways and his extreme severity of life; but, when this came to the ears of the king, he was straightway astonied by the dismay that fell on him, and was filled with anger, and his blood well-nigh curdled at the tidings. Immediately he bade call one Araches, who held the second rank after the king, and was the chief in all his private councils: besides which the man was learned in star-lore. When he was come, with much despondency and dejection the king told him of that which had happened. He, seeing the king’s trouble and confusion of mind, said, ‘O king, trouble and distress thyself no more. We are not without hope that the prince will yet change for the better: nay, I know for very certain that he will speedily renounce the teaching of this deceiver, and conform to thy will.’

By these words then did Araches set the king in happier frame of mind; and they turned their thoughts to the thorough sifting of the matter. ‘This, O king,’ said Araches, ‘do we first of all. Make we haste to apprehend that infamous Barlaam. If we take him, I am assured that we shall not miss the mark, nor be cheated of our hope. Barlaam himself shall be persuaded, either by persuasion or by divers engines of torture, against his will to confess that he hath been talking falsely and at random. But if we fail to take Barlaam, I know of an eremite, Nachor by name, in every way like unto him; it is impossible to distinguish the one from the other. He is of our opinion, and was my teacher in studies. I will give him the hint, and go by night, and tell him the full tale. Then will we blazon it abroad that Barlaam hath been caught; but we shall exhibit Nachor, who, calling himself Barlaam, shall feign that he is pleading the cause of the Christians and standing forth as their champion. Then, after much disputation, he shall be worsted and utterly discomfited. The prince, seeing Barlaam worsted, and our side victorious, will doubtless join the victors; the more so that he counteth it a great duty to reverence thy majesty, and do thy pleasure. Also the man who hath played the part of Barlaam shall be converted, and stoutly proclaim that he hath been in error.’

The king was delighted with his words, and rocked himself on idle hopes, and thought it excellent counsel. Thereupon, learning that Barlaam was but lately departed, he was zealous to take him prisoner. He therefore occupied most of the passes with troops and captains, and, himself, mounting his chariot, gave furious chase along the one road of which he was especially suspicious, being minded to surprise Barlaam at all costs. But though he toiled by the space of six full days, his labour was but spent in vain. Then he himself remained behind in one of his palaces situate in the country, but sent forward Araches, with horsemen not a few, as far as the wilderness of Senaar, in quest of Barlaam. When Araches arrived in that place, he threw all the neighbour folk into commotion: and when they constantly affirmed that they had nowhere seen the man, he went forth into the desert places, for to hunt out the Faithful. When he had gone through a great tract of desert, and made the circuit of the fells around, and journeyed a-foot over untrodden and pathless ravines, he and his hosts arrived at a plateau. Standing thereon, he descried at the foot of the mountain a company of hermits a-walking. Straightway at their governor’s word of command all his men ran upon them in breathless haste, vying one with another, who should arrive first. When they arrived, they came about the monks like so many dogs, or evil beasts that plague mankind. And they seized these men of reverend mien and mind, that bore on their faces the hall-mark of their hermit life, and haled them before the governor; but the monks showed no sign of alarm, no sign of meanness or sullenness, and spake never a word. Their leader and captain bore a wallet of hair, charged with the relics of some holy Fathers departed this life.

When Araches beheld them, but saw no Barlaam—for he knew him by sight—he was overwhelmed with grief, and said unto them, ‘Where is that deceiver who hath led the king’s son astray?’ The bearer of the wallet answered, ‘He is not amongst us, God forbid! For, driven forth by the grace of Christ, he avoideth us; but amongst you he hath his dwelling.’ The governor said, ‘Thou knowest him then?’ ‘Yea,’ said the hermit, ‘I know him that is called the deceiver, which is the devil, who dwelleth in your midst and is worshipped and served by you.’ The governor said, ‘It is for Barlaam that I make search, and I asked thee of him, to learn where he is.’ The monk answered, ‘And wherefore then speakest thou in this ambiguous manner, asking about him that had deceived the king’s son? If thou wast seeking Barlaam, thou shouldest certainly have said, “Where is he that hath turned from error and saved the king’s son?” Barlaam is our brother and fellow-monk. But now for many days past we have not seen his face.’ Said Araches, ‘Show me his abode.’ The monk answered, ‘Had he wished to see you, he would have come forth to meet you. As for us, it is not lawful to make known to you his hermitage.’

Thereupon the governor waxed full of indignation, and, casting a haughty and savage glance upon him, said, ‘Ye shall die no ordinary death, except ye immediately bring Barlaam before me.’ ‘What,’ said the monk, ‘seest thou in our case that should by its attractions cause us to cling to life, and be afraid of death at thy hands? Whereas we should the rather feel grateful to thee for removing us from life in the close adherence to virtue. For we dread, not a little, the uncertainty of the end, knowing not in what state death shall overtake us, lest perchance a slip of the inclination, or some despiteful dealing of the devil, may alter the constancy of our choice, and mis-persuade us to think or do contrary to our covenants with God. Wherefore abandon all hope of gaining the knowledge that ye desire, and shrink not to work your will. We shall neither reveal the dwelling-place of our brother, whom God loveth, although we know it, nor shall we betray any other monasteries unbeknown to ye. We will not endure to escape death by such cowardice. Nay, liefer would we die honourably, and offer unto God, after the sweats of virtue, the life-blood of courage.’

That man of sin could not brook this boldness of speech, and was moved to the keenest passion against this high and noble spirit, and afflicted the monks with many stripes and tortures. Their courage and nobility won admiration even from that tyrant. But, when after many punishments he failed to persuade them, and none of them consented to discover Barlaam, he took and ordered them to be led to the king, and to bear with them the wallet with the relics, and to be beaten and shamefully entreated as they went.

Copyright ©1999-2023 Wildfire Fellowship, Inc all rights reserved