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Barlaam And Ioasaph by St. John Of Damascus

WHEN Nachor had fully delivered this oration, the king changed countenance for very anger, and his orators and temple-keepers stood speechless, having nothing but a few weak and rotten shreds of argument in reply. But the king’s son rejoiced in spirit and with glad countenance magnified the Lord, who had made a path, where no path was, for them that trusted in him, who by the mouth of a foeman and enemy was establishing the truth; and the leader of error had proved a defender of the right cause.

But the king, although furiously enraged with Nachor, was nevertheless unable to do him any mischief, because of the proclamation already read before all, wherein he urged him to plead without fear in behalf of the Christians. So he himself made answer in many words, and by dark speeches hinted that Nachor should relax his resistance, and be worsted by the argument of the orators. But Nachor the more mightily prevailed, tearing to pieces all their propositions and conclusions and exposing the fallacy of their error. After the debate had been prolonged till well-nigh eventide, the king dismissed the assembly, making as though he would renew the discussion on the morrow.

Then said Ioasaph to the king his father, ‘As at the beginning, Sir, thou commandedst that the trial should be just, so too crown the end thereof with justice, by doing one or other of these two things. Either allow my teacher to tarry with me to-night, that we may take counsel together as touching those things which we must say unto our adversaries tomorrow: and do thou in turn take thine advisers unto thee, and duly practise yourselves as ye will. Or else deliver thy counsellors to me this night, and take mine to thyself. But if both sides be with thee, mine advocate in tribulation and fear, but thine in joy and refreshment, me thinketh it is not a fair trial, but a tyrannical misuse of power, and a breaking of the covenants.’ The king, compelled to yield by the gracefulness of this speech took his wisemen and priests to himself, and delivered Nachor to his son, still having hopes of him and thinking fit to keep his agreement.

The king’s son, therefore, departed unto his own palace, like a conqueror in the Olympic games, and with him went Nachor. When alone, the prince called him and said, ‘Think not that I am ignorant of thy tale, for I wot, of a surety, that thou art not saintly Barlaam, but Nachor the astrologer; and I marvel how it seemed thee good to act this play, and to think that thou couldest so dull my sight at mid-day, that I should mistake a wolf for a sheep. But well chaunteth the proverb, “The heart of a fool will conceive folly.” So this your device and counsel was stale and utterly senseless; but the work that thou hast accomplished is full of wisdom. Wherefore, rejoice, Nachor, and be exceeding glad. I render thee many thanks, that thou hast been to-day advocate of the truth, and hast not polluted thy lips with foul words and crafty simulation, but hast rather cleansed them from many defilements, and thoroughly proven the error of the gods, as they be wrongly called, and hast established the truth of the Christian faith. I have been zealous to bring thee hither to me for two reasons; that the king might not privily seize and punish thee, because thou spakest not after his heart, and next that I might recompense thee for the favour that thou hast done me to-day. And what is my recompense for thee? To show thee how to turn from the evil and slippery road which thou hast trodden until now, and to journey along the straight and saving pathway which thou hast avoided, not in ignorance, but by wilful wrongdoing, throwing thyself into depths and precipices of iniquity. Understand then, Nachor, man of understanding as thou art, and be thou zealous to gain Christ only, and the life that is hid with him, and despise this fleeting and corruptible world. Thou shalt not live for ever, but, being mortal, shalt depart hence ere long, even as all that have been before thee. And we betide thee, if, with the heavy load of sin on thy shoulders, thou depart thither where there is righteous judgement and recompense for thy works, and cast it not off, while it is easy to rid thyself thereof!’

Pricked at heart by these words, spake Nachor, ‘Well said! Sir prince, well said! I do know the true and very God, by whom all things were made, and I wot of the judgement to come, having heard thereof from many texts of the Scriptures. But evil habit and the insolence of the ancient supplanter hath blinded the eyes of my heart, and shed a thick darkness over my reason. But now, at thy word, I will cast away the veil of gloom, and run unto the light of the countenance of the Lord. May be, he will have mercy on me, and will open a door of repentance to his wicked and rebellious servant, even if it seem impossible to me that my sins, which are heavier than the sand, be forgiven; sins, which, wittingly or unwittingly, I have sinned from childhood upwards to this my hoary age.’

When the king’s son heard these words, immediately he arose, and his heart waxed warm, and he began to try to raise Nachor’s courage which was drooping to despair, and to confirm it in the faith of Christ. ‘Let no doubt about this, Nachor, find place in thy mind. For it is written, God is able of these very stones to raise up children unto Abraham. What meaneth this (as father Barlaam said) except that men beyond hope, stained with all manner of wickedness, can be saved, and become servants of Christ, who, in the exceeding greatness of his love toward mankind, hath opened the gates of heaven to all that turn, barring the way of salvation to none, and receiving with compassion them that repent? Wherefore to all that have entered the vineyard at the first, third, sixth, ninth or eleventh hour there is apportioned equal pay, as saith the holy Gospel: so that even if, until this present time, thou hast waxen old in thy sins, yet if thou draw nigh with a fervent heart, thou shalt gain the same rewards as they who have laboured from their youth upwards.’

With these and many other words did that saintly youth speak of repentance to that aged sinner Nachor, promising him that Christ was merciful, and pledging him forgiveness, and satisfying him that the good God is alway ready to receive the penitent, and with these words, as it were with ointments, did he mollify that ailing soul and give it perfect health. Nachor at once said unto him, ‘O prince, more noble in soul even than in outward show, well instructed in these marvellous mysteries, mayst thou continue in thy good confession until the end, and may neither time nor tide ever pluck it out of thine heart! For myself, I will depart straightway in search of my salvation, and will by penance pacify that God whom I have angered: for, except thou will it, I shall see the king’s face no more.’ Then was the prince exceeding glad, and joyfully heard his saying. And he embraced and kissed him affectionately; and, when he had prayed earnestly to God, he sent him forth from the palace.

So Nachor stepped forth with a contrite heart, and went bounding over the broad desert, like as doth an hart, and came to a den belonging to a monk that had attained to the dignity of the priesthood, and was hiding there for fear of the pressing danger. With a right warm heart knelt Nachor down before him, and washed his feet with his tears, like the harlot of old, and craved holy Baptism. The priest, full of heavenly grace, was passing glad, and did at once begin to instruct him, as the custom is, and after many days, perfected him with baptism in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. And Nachor abode with him, always repentant of his sins, and blessing that God who never willeth that any should perish, but receiveth all that turn again unto him, and lovingly accepteth the penitent.

Now on the morrow when the king heard what had befallen Nachor, he despaired of the hopes that he once had in him: and, seeing those wise and foolish orators of his mightily discomfited, he was at his wits’ end. Them he visited with terrible outrage and dishonour, scourging some severely with whips of oxhide, besmearing their eyes with soot, and casting them away from his presence. He himself began to condemn the impotence of the gods falsely so called, although as yet he refused to look fully at the light of Christ, for the dense cloud of darkness, that enveloped him, still bound the eyes of his heart. Howbeit he no longer honoured his temple-keepers, nor would he keep feasts, nor make drink-offerings to his idols, but his mind was tossed between two opinions. On the one hand, he poured scorn on the impotence of his gods; on the other, he dreaded the strictness of the profession of the Gospel, and was hardly to be torn from his evil ways, being completely in slavery to the pleasures of the body, and, like a captive drawn towards sinful lusts, and being drunken, as saith Esay, but not with wine, and led as it were with the bridle of evil habit.

While the king was thus wrestling with two opinions, his noble and truly royal-hearted son dwelt at peace in his palace, proving to all men by his deeds the nobility, order and steadfastness of his nature. Theatres, horse-races, riding to hounds, and all the vain pleasures of youth, the baits that take foolish souls, were reckoned by him as nothing worth. But he hung wholly on the commands of Christ for whom he yearned, his heart being wounded with love divine. For him he longed, who alone is to be longed for, who is all sweetness and desire and aspiration insatiable.

Now, when he came to think upon his teacher Barlaam, and as in a mirror saw his life, his soul was enchanted with love, and he much occupied himself a-thinking how he might see him; and ever carrying his sayings in his heart, he was like the tree in the Psalms planted by the river side, unceasingly watered, and bringing forth unto the Lords his fruits in due season. Many were the souls that he delivered from the snares of the devil, and brought safely unto Christ; for many resorted unto him, and profited by his wholesome words. And not a few left the way of error, and ran toward the word of salvation; while others bade a long farewell to the concerns of the world, and came to the wrestling-school of the monastic life. He himself spent his time in prayers and fastings, and would often offer up this prayer, ‘O Lord, my Lord and King, in whom I have trusted, to whom I have fled and been delivered from my error, render thou due recompense to Barlaam thy servant, because when I was in error, he pointed me to thee, who art the way of truth and life. Forbid me not to behold once more that angel in bodily shape, of whom the world is not worthy, but grant me in his company to finish the residue of my life, that, treading in the footsteps of his conversation, I may be well-pleasing to thee my God and Lord.’

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