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Barlaam And Ioasaph by St. John Of Damascus

IN a few days, after he had ended this ministry, and emptied all his coffers, in order that the burden of his money might not hinder him from entering in at the narrow gate, on the fortieth day after his father’s decease, and in remembrance of him, he called together all his officers, and those who wore soldiers’ attire, and of the citizens not a few. Sitting in the front, according to custom, in the audience of all he said, ‘Lo, as ye see, Abenner, my father the king, hath died like any beggar. Neither wealth, nor kingly glory, nor I his loving son, nor any of his kith and kindred, have availed to help him, or to save him from the sentence without reprieve. But he is gone to yonder judgement seat, to give account of his life in this world, carrying with him no advocate whatsoever, except his deeds, good or bad. And the same law is ordained by nature for every man born of woman, and there is no escape. Now, therefore, hearken unto me, friends and brethren, people and holy heritage of the Lord, whom Christ our God hath purchased with his own precious blood, and delivered from the ancient error, and bondage of the adversary. Ye yourselves know my manner of life among you; that ever since I knew Christ, and was counted worthy to become his servant, I have hated all things, and loved him only, and how this was my desire, to escape from the tempest and vain tumult of the world, and commune alone with him, and in undisturbed peace of soul serve my God and Master. But my father’s opposition held me back, and the command that biddeth us to honour our fathers. So, by the grace and help of God, I have not laboured in vain, nor spent these days for naught, I have brought my father nigh to Christ, and have taught you all to know the one true God, the Lord of all; and yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me, which rescued me also from superstitious error, and from the worship of idols, and freed you, O my people, from cruel captivity. So now it is high time to fulfil the service that I promised to God; high time to depart thitherward, where he himself shall lead me, where I may perform my vows which I made unto him. Now, therefore, look you out a man whom ye will, to be your leader and king; for by this time ye have been conformed to the will of the Lord, and of his commandments nothing hath been hidden from you. Walk ye therein; turn not aside, neither to the right hand, nor to the left, and the God of peace be with you all!’

When all that company and the common people heard thereof, anon there arose a clamour, an uproar, and a mighty cry and confusion, all weeping like orphans and bewailing their loss. Lamenting bitterly, they protested with oaths and with their tears, that they would never let him go, but would restrain him and not suffer in any wise his departure. While the common people, and they in authority, were thus crying aloud, the king broke in, and beckoned with his hand to the multitude and charged them to keep silence. He declared that he gave in to their instancy, and dismissed them still grieving, and bearing on their cheeks the signs of sorrow. And Ioasaph did thus. There was one of the senators first in favour with Ioasaph, a man honoured for his godliness and dignity, Barachias by name, who, as hath been already told, when Nachor, feigning to be Barlaam, was disputing with the philosophers, alone was ready to stand by Nachor and fight for him, for his heart was fired with heavenly love. Him the king took apart, and spake gently with him, and earnestly besought him to receive the kingdom, and, in the fear of God, to shepherd his people; in order that he himself might take the journey that he desired.

But Barachias would put aside and reject his offer, saying, ‘O king, how wrongful is thy judgement, and thy word contrary to divine command! If thou hast learned to love thy neighbour as thyself, with what right art thou eager to shift the burden off thy back and lay it upon mine? If it be good to be king, keep the good to thy self: but, if it be a stone of stumbling and rock of offence to thy soul, why put it in my pathway and seek to trip me up?’ When Ioasaph perceived that he spake thus, and that his purpose was fixed, he ceased from communing with him. And now, at about the dead of night, he wrote his people a letter, full of much wisdom, expounding to them all godliness; telling them what they should think concerning God, what life, what hymns and what thanksgiving they should offer unto him. Next, he charged them to receive none other than Barachias to be ruler of the kingdom. Then left he in his bed-chamber the roll containing his letter, and, unobserved of all, went forth from his palace. But he might not win through undetected: for, early on the morrow, the tidings, that he was departed, anon made commotion and mourning among the people, and, in much haste, forth went every man for to seek him; they being minded by all means to cut off his flight. And their zeal was not spent in vain; for, when they had occupied all the high-ways, and encompassed all the mountains, and surrounded the pathless ravines, they discovered him in a water course, his hands uplifted to heaven, saying the prayer proper of the Sixth Hour.

When they beheld him, they surrounded him, and besought him with tears, upbraiding him for departing from them. ‘But,’ said he, ‘why labour ye in vain? No longer hope to have me to your king.’ Yet gave he way to their much opposition, and turned again to his palace. And, when he had assembled all the folk, he signified his will. Then with oath he confirmed his word, that he would dwell there not one day more. ‘For’, said he ‘I have fulfilled my ministry toward you, and have omitted naught, neither have I kept back anything that was profitable unto you, but have shewed you and taught you, testifying to all the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, and pointing out the paths of repentance. And now behold I go the road that I have long time desired, and all ye shall see my face no more. Wherefore I take you to record this day, as saith the holy Apostle, that I am pure from the blood of you all, for I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God.’

When they heard this, and perceived the steadfastness of his purpose, that nothing could hinder him from his resolve, they wept like orphans over their bereavement, but could in no wise over-persuade him. Then did the king take that Barachias, of whom we have already spoken, saying, ‘This is he, brethren, whom I appoint to be your king.’ And though Barachias stoutly resisted, yet he established him, unwilling and reluctant, upon the royal throne, and placed the diadem on his head, and gave the kingly ring into his hand. Then he stood facing the East and made prayer for King Barachias, that his faith toward God might be preserved unwavering, and that he might keep without faltering the path of Christ’s commandments. Therewith he prayed for the clergy and all the flock, asking of God succour for them and salvation, and all that might fitly be asked for their welfare.

Thus he prayed, and then turning said unto Barachias, ‘Behold, brother, I charge thee, as the Apostle once adjured his people, “Take heed unto thyself, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made thee king, to feed the Lord’s people, whom he hath purchased with his own blood.” And even as thou wast before me in the knowledge of God, and didst serve him with a pure conscience, so now also show the more zeal in pleasing him. For, as thou hast received of God a mighty sovereignty, thou owest him the greater repayment. Render therefore to thy Benefactor the debt of thanksgiving, by the keeping of his holy commandments and by turning aside from every path whose end is destruction. For it is with kingdoms as with ships. If one of the sailors blunder it bringeth but small damage to the crew. But if the steersman err, he causeth the whole ship to perish. Even so it is with sovranty: if a subject err, he harmeth himself more than the state. But if the king err, he causeth injury to the whole realm. Therefore, as one that shall render strict account, if thou neglect aught of thy duty, guard thyself with all diligence in that which is good. Hate all pleasure that draweth into sin: for, saith the Apostle, “Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.” Consider the wheel of men’s affairs, how it runneth round and round, turning and whirling them now up, now down: and amid all its sudden changes, keep thou unchanged a pious mind. To change with every change of affairs betokeneth an unstable heart. But be thou steadfast, wholly established upon that which is good. Be not lifted and vainly puffed up because of temporal honour; but, with purified reason, understand the nothingness of thine own nature, and the span-length and swift flight of life here, and death the yoke-fellow of the flesh. If thou consider these things, thou shalt not be cast into the pit of arrogance, but shalt fear God, the true and heavenly King, and verily thou shalt be blessed. For he saith, “Blessed are all they that fear the Lord, and walk in his ways,” and “Blessed is the man that feareth the Lord: he shall have great delight in his commandments.” And which commandments above all shouldest thou observe? “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy,” and “Be ye merciful, as your heavenly Father is merciful.” For the fulfilment of this commandment, above all, is required of them that are in high authority. And, soothly, the holder of great authority ought to imitate the giver of that authority, to the best of his ability. And herein shall he best imitate God, by considering that nothing is to be preferred before showing mercy. Nay, further, nothing so surely draweth the subject to loyalty toward his Sovereign as the grace of charity bestowed on such as need it. For the service that cometh from fear is flattery in disguise, with the pretence of respect cozening them that pay heed to it; and it maketh the unwilling subject to rebel when occasion serveth. Whereas he that is held by the ties of loyalty is steadfast in his obedience to the ruling power. Wherefore be thou easy of access to all, and open thine ears unto the poor, that thou mayest find the ear of God open unto thee. For as we are to our fellow-servants, such shall we find our Master to us-ward. And, like as we do hear others, so shall we be heard ourselves; and, as we see, so shall we be seen by the divine all-seeing eye. Therefore pay we mercy for mercy, that we may obtain like for like.

‘But hear yet another commandment, the fellow of the former; “Forgive, and it shall be forgiven unto you;” and “If ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your heavenly father forgive you your trespasses.” Wherefore bear no malice against them that offend against thee; but, when thou askest forgiveness of thy sins, forgive thyself also them that injure thee, because forgiveness is repaid by forgiveness, and by making peace with our fellow-servants we are ourselves delivered from the wrath of our Master. Again, a lack of compassion towards them that trespass against us maketh our own trespasses unpardonable, even as thou hast heard what befell the man that owed ten thousand talents, how, through his want of pity on his fellow-servant, he was again required to pay all that mighty debt. So we must take good heed lest a like fate betide us. But let us forgive every debt, and cast all anger out of our hearts, in order that our many debts, too, may be forgiven. Beside this, and before all things, keep thou that good thing which is committed to thy trust, the holy Word of faith wherein thou has been taught and instructed. And let no tare of heresy grow up amongst you, but preserve the heavenly seed pure and sincere, that it may yield a manifold harvest to the master, when he cometh to demand account of our lives, and to reward us according to our deeds, when the righteous shall shine forth as the sun, but darkness and everlasting shame shall cover the sinners. And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified.’

And when he had thus spoken, he kneeled down, as it is written, and prayed again in tears. And he turned him round, and kissed Barachias, whom he had chosen to their king, and all the officers. Then came a scene fit, belike, to make one weep. They all crowded around him, as though his presence meant life to them, and his departure would reave them of their very souls; and what piteous pleading, what extravagance of grief did they omit? They kissed him; they hung about him; they were beside themselves for anguish of heart. ‘Wo is us,’ cried they, ‘for this grievous calamity!’ They called him, Master, Father, Saviour, Benefactor. ‘Through thee,’ said they, ‘we learned to know God, and were redeemed from error, and found rest from every ill. What remaineth us after thou art gone? What evils shall not befall us?’ Thus saying, they smote upon their breasts, and bewailed the misfortune that had overtaken them. But he with words of comfort hushed their sobs, and promised to be with them still in the spirit though he might no longer abide with them in the body. And when he had thus spoken, in the sight of all he went forth from the palace. And immediately all the people followed him. They despaired of his return; they ran from the city, as from a sight that they could no longer endure. But when they were outside the city, Ioasaph addressed them with sharp words, and chode with them harshly; and so they were parted from him, and unwillingly went home, often turning round to look on him, and stumbling on their road. And some of the hotter spirits also followed afar off weeping, until the shades of night parted them one from another.

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