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Barlaam And Ioasaph by St. John Of Damascus

AFTER many days Araches brought them to the king, and declared their case. Then he set them before the bitterly incensed king: and he, when he saw them, boiled over with fury and was like to one mad. He ordered them to be beaten without mercy, and, when he saw them cruelly mangled with scourges, could scarcely restrain his madness, and order the tormentors to cease. Then said he unto them, ‘Why bear ye about these dead men’s bones? If ye carry these bones through affection for those men to whom they belong, this very hour I will set you in their company, that ye may meet your lost friends and be duly grateful to me.’ The captain and leader of that godly band, setting at naught the king’s threats, showing no sign of the torment that he had undergone, with free voice and radiant countenance that signified the grace that dwelt in his soul, cried out, ‘We carry about these clean and holy bones, O king, because we attest in due form our love of those marvellous men to whom they belong: and because we would bring ourselves to remember their wrestlings and lovely conversation, to rouse up ourselves to the like zeal; and because we would catch some vision of the rest and felicity wherein they now live, and thus, as we call them blessed, and provoke one another to emulate them, strive to follow in their footsteps: because moreover, we find thereby that the thought of death, which is right profitable, lendeth wings of zeal to our religious exercises; and lastly, because we derive sanctification from their touch.’

Again said the king, ‘If the thought of death be profitable, as ye say, why should ye not reach that thought of death by the bones of the bodies that are now your own, and are soon to perish, rather than by the bones of other men which have already perished?’

The monk said, ‘Five reasons I gave thee, why we carry about these relics; and thou, making answer to one only, art like to be mocking us. But know thou well that the bones of them, that have already departed this life, bring the thought of death more vividly before us than do the bones of the living. But since thou judgest otherwise, and since the bones of thine own body are to thee a type of death, why dost thou not recollect thy latter end so shortly to come, and set thine house in order, instead of giving up thy soul to all kinds of iniquities, and violently and unmercifully murdering the servants of God and lovers of righteousness, who have done thee no wrong, and seek not to share with thee in present goods, nor are ambitious to rob thee of them?’

Said the king, ‘I do well to punish you, ye clever misleaders of the folk, because ye deceive all men, counselling them to abstain from the enjoyments of life; and because, instead of the sweets of life and the allures of appetite and pleasure, ye constrain them to choose the rough, filthy and squalid way, and preach that they should render to Jesus the honour due unto the gods. Accordingly, in order that the people may not follow your deceits and leave the land desolate, and, forsaking the gods of their fathers, serve another, I think it just to subject you to punishment and death.’

The monk answered, ‘If thou art eager that all should partake of the good things of life, why dost thou not distribute dainties and riches equally amongst all? And why is it that the common herd are pinched with poverty, while thou addest ever to thy store by seizing for thyself the goods of others? Nay, thou carest not for the weal of the many, but fattenest thine own flesh, to be meat for the worms to feed on. Wherefore also thou hast denied the God of all, and called them gods that are not, the inventors of all wickedness, in order that, by wantonness and wickedness after their example, thou mayest gain the title of imitator of the gods. For, as your gods have done, why should not ye do, and they that follow them do? Great then is the error that thou hast erred, O king. Thou fearest that we should persuade certain of the people to join with us, and revolt from thy hand, and place themselves in that hand that holdeth all things, for thou willest the ministers of thy covetousness to be many, that they may be miserable while thou reapest profit from their toil; just as a man, who keepeth hounds or falcons tamed for hunting, before the hunt may be seen to pet them, but, when they have once seized the quarry, taketh the game with violence out of their mouths. So also thou, willing that there should be many to pay thee tribute and toll from land and water, pretendest to care for their welfare, but in truth bringest on them and above all on thyself eternal ruin; and simply to pile up gold, more worthless than dung or rottenness, thou hast been deluded into taking darkness for light. But recover thy wits from this earthly sleep: open thy sealed eyes, and behold the glory of God that shineth round about us all; and come at length to thyself. For saith the prophet, “Take heed, ye unwise among the people, and, O ye fools, understand at last.” Understand thou that there is no God except our God, and no salvation except in him.’

But the king said, ‘Cease this foolish babbling, and anon discover to me Barlaam: else shalt thou taste instruments of torture such as thou hast never tasted before.’ That noble-minded, great-hearted monk, that lover of the heavenly philosophy, was not ‘moved by the king’s threats, but stood unflinching, and said, ‘We are not commanded to fulfil thy hest, O king, but the orders of our Lord and God who teacheth us temperance, that we should be lords over all pleasures and passions, and practise fortitude, so as to endure all toil and all ill-treatment for righteousness’ sake. The more perils that thou subjectest us to for the sake of our religion, the more shalt thou be our benefactor. Do therefore as thou wilt: for we shall not consent to do aught outside our duty, nor shall we surrender ourselves to sin. Deem not that it is a slight sin to betray a fellow combatant and fellow-soldier into thy hands. Nay, but thou shalt not have that scoff to make at us; no, not if thou put us to ten thousand deaths. We be not such cowards as to betray our religion through dread of thy torments, or to disgrace the law divine. So then, if such be thy purpose, make ready every weapon to defend thy claim; for to us to live is Christ, and to die for him is the best gain.’

Incensed with anger thereat, the monarch ordered the tongues of these Confessors to be rooted out, and their eyes digged out, and likewise their hands and feet lopped off. Sentence passed, the henchmen and guards surrounded and mutilated them, without pity and without ruth. And they plucked out their tongues from their mouths with prongs, and severed them with brutal severity, and they digged out their eyes with iron claws, and stretched their arms and legs on the rack, and lopped them off. But those blessed, shamefast, noble-hearted men went bravely to torture like guests to a banquet, exhorting one another to meet death for Christ his sake undaunted.

In such divers tortures did these holy monks lay down their lives for the Lord. They were in all seventeen. By common consent, the pious mind is superior to sufferings, as hath been said by one, but not of us, when narrating the martydom of the aged priest, and of the seven sons with their equally brave mother when contending for the law of their fathers: whose bravery and lofty spirit, however, was equalled by these marvellous fathers and citizens and heirs of Hierusalem that is above.

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