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Barlaam And Ioasaph by St. John Of Damascus

AFTER the monks had made this godly end, the king bade Araches, his chief councillor, now that they had failed of their first plan, to look to the second and summon the man Nachor. At dead of night Araches repaired to his cave (he dwelt in the desert practising the arts of divination), and told him of their plans, and returned to the king at day-break. Again he demanded horsemen, and made as though he went in quest of Barlaam. When he was gone forth, and was walking the desert, a man was seen to issue from a ravine. Araches gave command to his men to pursue him. They took and brought him before their master. When asked who he was, what his religion and what his name, the man declared himself a Christian and gave his name as Barlaam, even as he had been instructed. Araches made great show of joy, apprehended him and returned quickly to the king, and told his tale and produced his man. Then said the king in the hearing of all present, ‘Art thou the devil’s workman, Barlaam?’ But he denied it, saying, ‘I am God’s workman, not the devil’s. Revile me not; for I am thy debtor to render me much thanks, because I have taught thy son to serve God, and have turned him from error to the true God, and have schooled him in all manner of virtue.’ Feigning anger, again spake the king, ‘Though I ought to allow thee never a word, and give thee no room for defence, but rather do thee to death without question, yet such is my humanity that I will bear with thine effrontery until I set a day to try thy cause. If thou be persuaded by me, thou shalt receive pardon: if not, thou shalt die the death.’ With these words he delivered him to Araches, commanding that he should be most strictly guarded.

On the morrow the king removed thence, and came back to his own palace, and it was blazoned abroad that Barlaam was captured, so that the king’s son heard thereof and was exceeding sad at heart, and could in no wise refrain from weeping. With groans and lamentations he importuned God, and called upon him to succour the aged man. Nor did the good God despise his complaint, for he is loving with them that abide him in the day of trouble, and knoweth them that fear him. Wherefore in a night vision he made known the whole plot to the young prince, and strengthened and cheered him for the trial of his righteousness. So, when the prince awoke from sleep, he found that his heart, erstwhile so sore and heavy, was now full of joyaunce, courage and pleasant light. But the king rejoiced at that which he had done and planned, imagining that he was well advised, and showering thanks on Araches. But wickedness lied to itself, to use the words of holy David, and righteousness overcame iniquity, completely overthrowing it, and causing the memorial thereof to perish with sound, as shall be proven by our tale.

After two days the king visited his son’s palace. When his son came forth for to meet him, instead of kissing him, as was his wont, the father put on a show of distress and anger, and entered the royal chamber, and there sat down frowning. Then calling to his son, he said, ‘Child, what is this report that soundeth in mine ears, and weareth away my soul with despondency? Never, I ween, was man more filled with gladness of heart at the birth of a son than was I at thine; and, I trow, never was man so distressed and cruelly treated by child as I have been by thee. Thou hast dishonoured my grey hairs, and taken away the light of mine eyes, and loosed the strength of my sinews; “for the thing which I greatly feared concerning thee is come upon me, and that which I was afraid of hath come unto me.” Thou art become a joy to mine enemies, and a laughing-stock to mine adversaries. With untutored mind and childish judgement thou hast followed the teaching of the deceivers and esteemed the counsel of the malicious above mine; thou hast forsaken the worship of our gods and become the servant of a strange God. Child, wherefore hast thou done this? I hoped to bring thee up in all safety, and have thee for the staff and support of mine old age, and leave thee, as is most meet, to succeed me in my kingdom, but thou wast not ashamed to play against me the part of a relentless foe. And shouldst thou not rather have listened to me, and followed my injunctions, than have obeyed the idle and foolish pratings of that crafty old knave, who taught thee to choose a sour life instead of a sweet, and abandon the charms of dalliance, to tread the hard and rough road, which the Son of Mary ordereth men to go? Dost thou not fear the displeasure of the most puissant gods, lest they strike thee with lightning, or quell thee with thunderbolt, or overwhelm thee in the yawning earth, because thou hast rejected and scorned those deities that have so richly blessed us, and adorned our brow with the kingly diadem, and made populous nations to be our servants, that, beyond my hope, in answer to my prayer and supplication, allowed thee to be born, and see the sweet life of day, and hast joined thyself unto the Crucified, duped by the hopes of his servants who tell thee fables of worlds to come, and drivel about the resurrection of dead bodies, and bring in a thousand more absurdities to catch fools? But now, dearest son, if thou hast any regard for me thy father, bid a long farewell to these long-winded follies, and come sacrifice to the gracious gods, and let us propitiate them with hecatombs and drink-offerings, that they may grant thee pardon for thy fall; for they be able and strong to bless and to punish. And wouldst thou have an example of that which I say? Behold us, who by them have been advanced to this honour, repaying them for their kindness by honouring their worshippers and chastising the runagates.’

Now when the king had ended all this idle parleying, gainsaying and slandering of our religion, and belauding and praising of his idolatry, the saintly young prince saw that the matter needed no further to be hid in a corner, but to be lighted and made plain to the eyes of all; and, full of boldness and courage, he said.

‘That which I have done, sir, I will not deny. I have fled from darkness and run to the light: I have left error and joined the household of truth: I have deserted the service of devils, and joined the service of Christ, the Son and Word of God the Father, at whose decree the world was brought out of nothing; who, after forming man out of clay, breathed into him the breath of life, and set him to live in a paradise of delight, and, when he had broken his commandment and was become subject unto death, and had fallen into the power of the dread ruler of this world, did not fail him, but wrought diligently to bring him back to his former honour. Wherefore he, the framer of all Creation and maker of our race, became man for our sake, and, coming from a holy Virgin’s womb, on earth conversed with men: for us ungrateful servants did the master endure death, even the death of the Cross, that the tyranny of sin might be destroyed, that the former condemnation might be abolished, that the gates of heaven might be open to us again. Thither he hath exalted our nature, and set it on the throne of glory, and granted to them that love him an everlasting kingdom and joys beyond all that tongue can tell, or ear can hear. He is the mighty and only potentate, King of kings and Lord of lords, whose might is invincible, and whose lordship is beyond compare, who only is holy and dwelleth in holiness, who with the Father and with the Holy Ghost is glorified; into this faith I have been baptized. And I acknowledge and glorify and worship One God in Three persons, of one substance, and not to be confounded, uncreate and immortal, eternal, infinite, boundless, without body, without passions, immutable, unchangeable, undefinable, the fountain of goodness, righteousness and everlasting light, maker of all things visible and invisible, containing and sustaining all things, provident for all, ruler and King of all. Without him was there nothing made, nor without his providence can aught subsist. He is the life of all, the support of all, the light of all, being wholly sweetness and insatiable desire, the summit of aspiration. To leave God, then, who is so good, so wise, so mighty, and to serve impure devils, makers of all sinful lusts, and to assign worship to deaf and dumb images, that are not, and never shall be, were not that the extreme of folly and madness? When was there ever heard utterance or language from their lips? When have they given even the smallest answer to their bedesmen? When have they walked, or received any impression of sense? Those of them that stand have never thought of sitting down; and those that sit have never been seen to rise. An holy man hath taught me the ugliness, ill savour and insensibility of these idols, and, moreover, the rottenness and weakness of the devils that operate in them and by them deceive you; and I loathe their wickednesses and, hating them with a perfect hatred, have joined myself to the living and true God, and him will I serve until my latest breath, that my spirit also may return into his hands. When these unspeakable blessings came in my path, I rejoiced to be freed from the bondage of evil devils, and to be reclaimed from dire captivity and to be illumined with the light of the countenance of the Lord. But my soul was distressed and divided asunder, that thou, my lord and father, didst not share in my blessings. Yet I feared the stubbornness of thy mind, and kept my grief to myself, not wishing to anger thee; but, without ceasing, I prayed God to draw thee to himself, and call thee back from the long exile that thou hast imposed upon thyself, a runagate alas! from righteousness, and a servant of all sin and wickedness. But sith thou thyself, O my father, hast brought mine affairs to light, hear the sum of my resolve: I will not be false to my covenant with Christ; no, I swear it by him that bought me out of slavery with his own precious blood; even if I must needs die a thousand deaths for his sake, die I will. Knowing then how matters now stand with me, prithee, no longer trouble thyself in endeavouring to persuade me to change my good confession. For as it were a thankless and never ending task for thee to try to grasp the heavens with thy hand, or to dry up the waters of the sea, so hard were it for thee to change me. Either then now listen to my counsel, and join the household of Christ, and so thou shalt gain blessings past man’s understanding, and we shall be fellows with one another by faith, even as by nature; or else, be well assured, I shall depart thy sonship, and serve my God with a clear conscience.’

Now when the king heard all these words, he was furiously enraged: and, seized with ungovernable anger, he cried out wrathfully against him, and gnashed his teeth fiercely, like any madman. ‘And who,’ said he, ‘is blameable for all my misfortunes but myself, who have dealt with thee so kindly, and cared for thee as no father before? Hence the perversity and contrariness of thy mind, gathering strength by the licence that I gave thee, hath made thy madness to fall upon mine own pate. Rightly prophesied the astrologers in thy nativity that thou shouldest prove a knave and villain, an impostor and rebellious son. But now, if thou wilt make void my counsel, and cease to be my son, I will become thine enemy, and entreat thee worse than ever man yet entreated his foes.’

Again said Ioasaph, ‘Why, O king, hast thou been kindled to wrath? Art thou grieved that I have gained such bliss? Why, what father was ever seen to be sorrowful in the prosperity of his son? Would not such an one be called an enemy rather than a father? Therefore will I no more call thee my father, but will withdraw from thee, as a man fleeth from a snake, if I know that thou grudgest me my salvation, and with violent hand forcest me to destruction. If thou wilt force me, and play the tyrant, as thou hast threatened, be assured that thou shalt gain nought thereby save to exchange the name of father for that of tyrant and murderer. It were easier for thee to attain to the ways of the eagle, and, like him, cleave the air, than to alter my loyalty to Christ, and that good confession that I have confessed in him. But be wise, O my father, and shake off the rheum and mist from the eyes of thy mind, lift them aloft and look upward to view the light of my God that enlighteneth all around, and be thyself, at last, enlightened with this light most sweet. Why art thou wholly given up to the passions and desires of the flesh, and why is there no looking upward? Know thou that 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 my Lord, which by the gospel is preached unto all, shall endure for ever. Why then dost thou thus madly cling to and embrace that glory, which, like spring flowers, fadeth and perisheth, and to beastly unsavoury wantonness, and to the abominable passions of the belly and the members thereunder, which for a season please the senses of fools, but afterwards make returns more bitter than gall, when the shadows and dreams of this vain life are passed away, and the lovers thereof, and workers of iniquity are imprisoned in the perpetual pain of dark and unquenchable fire, where the worm that sleepeth not gnaweth for ever, and where the fire that ceaseth not and is not quenched burneth through endless ages? And with these sinners alas! thou too shalt be imprisoned and grievously tormented, and shalt bitterly rue thy wicked counsels, and bitterly regret thy days that now are, and think upon my words, but there shall be no advantage in repentance; for in death there is no confession and repentance. But the present is the set time for work: the future for reward. Even if the pleasures of the present world were not evanescent and fleeting, but were to endure for ever with their owners not even thus should any man choose them before the gifts of Christ, and the good things that pass man’s understanding. Soothly, as the sun surpasseth in radiance and brightness the dead of night, even so, and much more so, doth the happiness promised to those that love God excel in glory and magnificence all earthly kinship and glory; and there is utter need for a man to choose the more excellent before the more worthless. And forasmuch as everything here is fleeting and subject to decay, and passeth and vanisheth as a dream, and as a shadow and vision of sleep; and as one may sooner trust the unstable breezes, or the tracks of a ship passing over the waves, than the prosperity of men, what simplicity, nay, what folly and madness it is to choose the corruptible and perishable, the weak things of no worth, rather than the incorruptible and everlasting, the imperishable and endless, and, by the temporal enjoyment of these things, to forfeit the eternal fruition of the happiness to come! Wilt thou not understand this, my father? Wilt thou not haste past the things which haste pass thee, and attach thyself to that which endureth? Wilt thou not prefer a home land to a foreign land, light to darkness, the spirit to the flesh, eternal life to the shadow of death, the indestructible to the fleeting? Wilt thou not escape from the grievous bondage of the cruel prince of this world, I mean the devil, and become the servant of the good, tender hearted and all merciful Lord? Wilt thou not break away from serving thy many gods, falsely so called, and serve the one, true and living God? Though thou hast sinned against him often times by blaspheming him, and often times by slaying his servants with dread torments, yet, I know well, that if thou turn again, he shall in his kindness receive thee, and no more remember thine offences: because he willeth not the death of a sinner but rather that he may turn and live—he, who came down from the unspeakable heights, to seek us that had gone astray: who endured for us Cross, scourge and death; who bought with his precious blood us who had been sold in bondage under sin. Unto him be glory and praise for ever and ever! Amen.’

The king was overwhelmed with astonishment and anger; with astonishment, at his son’s wisdom and unanswerable words; with anger, at the persistence with which he denounced his father’s gods, and mocked and ridiculed the whole tenour of his life. He could not admit the glory of his discourse because of the grossness of the darkness within, but natural affection forbad him to punish his son, or evilly to entreat him, and he utterly despaired of moving him by threats. Fearing then that, if he argued further with him, his son’s boldness and bitter satire might kindle him to hotter anger, and lead him to do him a mischief, he arose in wrath and withdrew. ‘Would that thou hadst never been born,’ he cried, ‘nor hadst come to the light of day, destined as thou wert to be such an one, a blasphemer of the gods, and a renegade from thy father’s love and admonition! But thou shalt not alway mock the invincible gods, nor shall their enemies rejoice for long, nor shall these knavish sorceries prevail. For except thou become obedient unto me, and right minded toward the gods, I will first deliver thee to sundry tortures, and then put thee to the cruellest death, dealing with thee not as with a son, but as with an enemy and rebel.’

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