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Barlaam And Ioasaph by St. John Of Damascus

IN such wise did the father threaten and wrath fully retire. But the son entered his own bedchamber, and lifted up his eyes to the proper judge of his cause, and cried out of the depth of his heart, ‘O Lord my God, my sweet hope and unerring promise, the sure refuge of them that are wholly given up to thee, with gracious and kindly eye look upon the contrition of my heart, and leave me not, neither forsake me. But, according to thine unerring pledge, be thou with me, thine unworthy and sorry servant. Thee I acknowledge and confess, the maker and provider of all creation. Therefore do thou thyself enable me to continue in this good confession, until my dying breath: look upon me, and pity me; and stand by and keep me unhurt by any working of Satan. Look upon me, O King: for my heart is enkindled with longing after thee, and is parched as with burning thirst in the desert, desiring thee, the well of immortality. Deliver not to the wild beasts my soul that confesseth thee: forget not the soul of the poor for ever; but grant me that am a sinner, throughout my length of days to suffer all things for thy name’s sake and in the confession of thee, and to sacrifice my whole self unto thee. For, with thy might working in them, even the feeble shall wax exceeding strong; for thou only art the unconquerable ally and merciful God, whom all creation blesseth, glorified for ever and ever. Amen.’

When he had thus prayed, he felt divine comfort stealing over his heart, and, fulfilled with courage, he spent the whole night in prayer. Meanwhile the king communed with Araches, his friend, as touching his son’s matters, and signified to him his son’s sheer audacity and unchangeable resolution. Araches gave counsel that he should, in his dealings with him, show the utmost kindness and courtesy, in the hope, perchance, of alluring him by flattering attentions. The day following, the king came to his son, and sat down, and called him to his side. He embraced and kissed him affectionately, coaxing him gently and tenderly, and said, ‘O my darling and well-beloved son, honour thou thy father’s grey hairs: listen to my entreaty, and come, do sacrifice to the gods; thus shalt thou win their favour, and receive at their hands length of days, and the enjoyment of all glory and of an undisputed kingdom, and happiness of every sort. Thus shalt thou be well pleasing to me thy father throughout life and be honoured and lauded of all men. It is a great count in the score of praise to be obedient to thy father, especially in a good cause, and to gain the goodwill of the gods. What thinkest thou, my son? Is it that I have willingly declined from the right, and chosen to travel on the wrong road: or that, from ignorance and inexperience of the good, I have given myself to destruction? Well, if thou thinkest that I willingly prefer the evil to the profitable, and choose death before life, thou seemest to me, son, completely to have missed the goal in judging. Dost thou not see to what discomfort and trouble I often expose myself in mine expeditions against my foes, or when I am engaged in divers other business for the public good, not sparing myself even hunger and thirst, if need be, the march on foot, or the couch on the ground? As for riches and money, such is my contempt and scorn thereof, that I have at times ungrudgingly lavished all the stores of my palace, to build mighty temples for the gods, and to adorn them with all manner of splendour, or else to distribute liberal largess to my soldiers. Possessing then, as I also do, this contempt of pleasure and this courage in danger, what zeal would I not have devoted to contemning all else, and winning my salvation, had I only found that the religion of the Galileans were better than mine own? But, if thou condemnest me for ignorance and inexperience of the good, consider how many sleepless nights I have spent, with some problem before me, oft-times no very important one, giving myself no rest until I had found the clear and most apt solution.

Seeing then that I reckon that not even the least of these temporal concerns is unworthy of thought until all be fitly completed for the advantage of all and seeing that all (I ween) bear me witness that no man under the sun can search out secrets with more diligence than I, how then could I have considered divine things, that call for worship and serious consideration, unworthy of thought, and not rather have devoted all my zeal, all my soul, and all my mind to the investigation thereof, to find out the right and the true? Aye, and I have laboriously sought thereafter. Many nights and days have I spent thus: many wise and learned men have I called to my council; and with many of them that are called Christians have I conversed. By untiring enquiry and ardent search I have discovered the pathway of truth, witnessed by wise men honoured for their intelligence and wit,—that there is none other faith than ours. This is the path that we tread to-day, worshipping the most puissant gods, and holding fast to that sweet and delightsome life, given by them to all men, fulfilled with all manner of pleasure and gladness of heart, which the leaders and priests of the Galileans have in their folly rejected; so that, in hope of some other uncertain life, they have readily cast away this sweet light, and all those pleasures which the gods have bestowed on us for enjoyment, and all the while know not what they say, nor whereof they confidently affirm.

‘But thou, dearest son, obey thy father, who, by diligent and honest search, hath found the real good. Lo, I have shown thee that, neither willingly, no, nor by way of ignorance, have I failed of the good; but rather that I have found and laid hold thereon. And I earnestly desire that thou too shouldest not wander as a fool, but shouldest follow me. Have respect then unto thy father. Dost thou not know how lovely a thing it is to obey one’s father, and please him in all ways? Contrariwise, how deadly and cursed a thing it is to provoke a father and despise his commands? As many as have done so, have come to a miserable end. But be not thou, my son, one of their number. Rather do that which is well pleasing to thy sire, and so mayest thou obtain all happiness and inherit my blessing and my kingdom!’

The high minded and noble youth listened to his father’s windy discourse and foolish opposition, and recognized therein the devices of the crooked serpent, and how standing at his right hand he had prepared a snare for his feet, and was scheming how to overthrow his righteous soul, and hinder him of the prize laid up in store. Therefore the prince set before his eyes the commandment of the Lord, which saith, ‘I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and a daughter against her mother,’ and so forth: and ‘He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me’; and ‘Whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.’ When he had considered these things, and fettered his soul with divine fear, and strengthened it with longing desire and love, right opportunely he remembered the saying of Solomon, ‘There is a time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.’ First of all he prayed in silence, and said, ‘Have mercy of me, Lord God, have mercy of me; for my soul trusteth in thee; and under the shadow of thy wings I shall hope till wickedness overpass. I shall cry to the highest God; to God that did well to me,’ and the rest of the psalm.

Then said Ioasaph to the king, ‘To honour one’s father, and to obey his commands, and to serve him with good will and affection is taught us by the Lord of us all, who hath implanted in our hearts this natural affection. But, when loving devotion to our parents bringeth our soul into peril, and separateth her from her Maker, then we are commanded, at all costs, to cut it out, and, on no account, to yield to them that would depart us from God, but to hate and avoid them, even if it be our father that issueth the abominable command, or our mother, or our king, or the master of our life. Wherefore it is impossible for me, out of devotion to my father, to forfeit God. So, prithee, trouble not thyself, nor me: but be persuaded, and let us both serve the true and living God, for the idols which thou now worshippest are the works of men’s hands, devoid of breath, and deaf, and give nought but destruction and eternal punishment to their worshippers.

‘But if this be not thy pleasure, deal with me even as thou wilt: for I am a servant of Christ, and neither flatteries nor torments shall separate me from his love, for, as I told thee yesterday, I have sworn it by my Master’s name, and confirmed the word with surest oath. But, whereas thou saidest that thou didst neither wilfully do wrong, nor didst fail of the mark through ignorance, but after much laborious enquiry hadst ascertained that it was truly a good thing to worship idols and to be riveted to the pleasures of the passions—that thou art wilfully a wrong doer, I may not say. But this I know full well, and would have thee know, O my father, that thou art surrounded with a dense mist of ignorance, and, walking in darkness that may be felt, seest not even one small glimmer of light. Wherefore thou hast lost the right pathway, and wanderest over terrible cliffs and chasms. Holding darkness for light, and clinging to death as it were life, thou deemest that thou art well advised, and hast reflected to good effect: but it is not so, not so. The objects of thy veneration are not gods but statues of devils, charged with all their filthy power; nor is the life, which thou pronouncest sweet and pleasant, and thinkest to be full of delight and gladness of heart, such in kind: but the same is abominable, according to the word of truth, and to be abhorred. For for a time it sweeteneth and tickleth the gullet, but afterwards it maketh the risings more bitter than gall (as said my teacher), and is sharper than any two edged sword.

‘How shall I describe to thee the evils of this life? I will tell them, and they shall be more in number than the sand. For such life is the fishhook of the devil, baited with beastly pleasure, whereby he deceiveth and draggeth his prey into the depth of hell. Whereas the good things, promised by my Master, which thou callest “the hope of some other uncertain life,” are true and unchangeable: they know no end, and are not subject to decay. There is no language that can declare the greatness of yonder glory and delight, of the joy unspeakable, and the everlasting gladness. As thou seest, we all die; and there is no man that shall live and not see death. But one day we shall all rise again, when our Lord Jesus Christ cometh, the Son of God, in unspeakable glory and dread power, the only King of kings, and Lord of lords; to whom every knee shall bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth. Such terror shall he then inspire that the very powers of heaven shall be shaken: and before him there shall stand in fear thousand thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand of Angels and Archangels, and fear and terror shall be on every side. For one of the Archangels shall sound with the trump of God, and immediately the heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll; and the earth shall be rent, and shall give up the dead bodies of all men that ever were since the first man Adam until that day. And then shall all men that have died since the beginning of the world, in the twinkling of an eye stand alive before the judgement seat of the immortal Lord, and every man shall give account of his own deeds. Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun; they that believed in the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, and ended this present life in good works. And how can I describe to thee the glory that shall receive them at that day? For though I compare their brightness and beauty to the light of the sun or to the brightest lightning flash, yet should I fail to do justice to their brightness. Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him, in the kingdom of heaven, in the light which no man can approach unto, in his unspeakable and unending glory.

‘Such joys and such bliss shall the righteous obtain, but they that have denied the only true God and not known their Maker and Creator, but have worshipped foul devils, and rendered homage to dumb idols, and loved the pleasures of this vain world, and, like swine, wallowed in the mire of sinful lusts, and made their lives a headquarters for all wickedness, shall stand naked and laid bare, downright ashamed and downcast, pitiable in appearance and, in fact, set forth for a reproach to all creation. All their life in word, deed and thought shall come before their faces. Then after this bitter disgrace and unbearable reproach, shall they be sentenced to the unquenchable and light-less fire of Gehenna, unto the outer darkness, the gnashing of teeth and the venomous worm. This is their portion, this their lot, in the which they shall dwell together in punishment for endless ages, because they rejected the good things offered them in promise, and, for the sake of the pleasure of sin for a season, made choice of eternal punishment. For these reasons—to obtain that unspeakable bliss, to enjoy that ineffable glory, to equal the Angels in splendour, and to stand with boldness before the good and most sweetest Lord, to escape those bitter and unending punishments—time after time, were it not worth men’s while to sacrifice their riches and bodies, nay, even their very lives? Who is so cowardly, who so foolish, as not to endure a thousand temporal deaths, to escape eternal and everlasting death, and to inherit life, blissful and unperishable, and to shine in the light of the blessed and life-giving Trinity?’

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