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Barlaam And Ioasaph by St. John Of Damascus

THUS this noble man went forth from his palace rejoicing, as when after long exile a man returneth with joy to his own country. Outwardly he wore the robes that he was wont to wear, but beneath was the hair shirt which Barlaam had given him. That night he halted at a poor man’s cabin, and stripped himself of his outer raiment, which, as his last alms, he bestowed upon his poor host, and this by the prayers of that poor man, as well as of so many others, he made God his ally, and put on his grace and help as a garment of salvation; and, clad in a coat of gladness, thus went he off to his hermit life, carrying with him neither bread, nor water, nor any necessary food, with no garment upon him save the aforesaid rough shirt. For his heart was wounded with a marvellous longing and divine love for Christ the immortal King; he was beside himself with longing, mad for God, possessed by love of him; ‘For love,’ he saith, ‘is strong as fire.’ So drunken was he with this heavenly love, so parched with thirst, according to him that saith, ‘Like as the hart desireth the water-brooks, so longeth my soul after thee, O God. My soul is athirst for the mighty and living God’; or, as the soul that is sick of love crieth in the Song of Songs, ‘Thou hast ravished us, ravished us with the desire of thee’; and, ‘Let me see thy countenance, and let me hear thy voice, for thy voice is a sweet voice, and thy countenance is comely.’

It was the desire for this unspeakable comeliness of Christ that fired the hearts of the Apostolic Quire and of the Martyr folk to despise the things that are seen, and all this temporal life, and the rather to choose ten thousand forms of death and torture, being enamoured of his heavenly beauty, and bearing in mind the charm that the divine Word used for to win our love. Such was the fire that was kindled in the soul of this fair youth also, noble in body, but most noble and kingly in soul, that led him to despise all earthly things alike, to trample on all bodily pleasures, and to contemn riches and glory and the praise of men, to lay aside diadem and purple, as of less worth than cob-webs, and to surrender himself to all the hard and irksome toils of the ascetic life, crying, ‘O my Christ, my soul is fixed upon thee, and thy right hand hath upholden me.’

Thus, without looking back, he passed into the depth of the desert; and, laying aside, like a heavy burden and clog, the stress of transitory things, he rejoiced in the Spirit, and looked steadfastly on Christ, whom he longed for, and cried aloud to him, as though he were there present to hear his voice, saying, ‘Lord, let mine eyes never again see the good things of this present world. Never, from this moment, let my soul be excited by these present vanities, but fill mine eyes with spiritual tears; direct my goings in thy way, and show me thy servant Barlaam. Show me him that was the means of my salvation, that I may learn of him the exact rule of this lonely and austere life, and may not be tripped up through ignorance of the wiles of the enemy. Grant me, O Lord, to discover the way whereby to attain unto thee, for my soul is sick of love for thee, and I am athirst for thee, the well of salvation.’

These were the thoughts of his heart continually, and he communed with God, being made one with him by prayer and sublime meditation. And thus eagerly he pursued the road, hoping to arrive at the place where Barlaam dwelt. His meat was the herbs that grow in the desert; for he carried nothing with him, as I have already said, save his own bones, and the ragged garment that was around him.

But whilst he found some food, though scanty and insufficient, from the herbs, of water he was quite destitute in that waterless and dry desert. And so at noon-tide, as he held on his way under the fierce blaze of the sun, he was parched with thirst in the hot drought of that desert place, and he suffered the extreme of anguish. But desire of Christ conquered nature, and the thirst wherewith he thirsted for God bedewed the heat of thirst for water.

Now the devil, being envious and hateful of that which is beautiful, unable to endure the sight of such steadfastness of purpose, and glowing love towards God, raised up against Ioasaph many temptations in the wilderness. He called to his remembrance his kingly glory, and his magnificent body-guard, his friends, kinsfolk and companions, and how the lives of all had depended on his life, and he minded him of the other solaces of life. Then he would confront him with the hardness of virtue, and the many sweats that she requireth, with the weakness of his flesh, with his lack of practice in such rigours, the long years to come, this present distress from thirst, his want of any comfort, and the unendingness of his toils. In a word, he raised a great dust-cloud of reasonings in his mind, exactly, I ween, as it hath been recorded of the mighty Antony.

But, when the enemy saw himself too weak to shake that purpose (for Ioasaph set Christ before his mind, and glowed with love of him, and was well strengthened by hope, and steadfast in faith, and recked nothing of the devil and his suggestions), then was the adversary ashamed of having fallen in the first assault. So he came by another road (for many are his paths of wickedness), and endeavoured to overthrow and terrify Ioasaph by means of divers apparitions. Sometimes he appeared to him in black, and such indeed he is: sometimes with a drawn sword he leapt upon him, and threatened to strike, unless he speedily turned back. At other times he assumed the shapes of all manner of beasts, roaring and making a terrible din and bellowing; or again he became a dragon, adder, or basilisk. But that fair and right noble athlete kept his soul in quietness, for he had made the Most High his refuge: and, being sober in mind, he laughed the evil one to scorn, and said, ‘I know thee, deceiver, who thou art, which stirrest up this trouble for me; which from the beginning didst devise mischief against mankind, and art ever wicked, and never stintest to do hurt. How becoming and right proper is thy habit, that thou shouldest take the shape of beasts and of creeping things, and thus display thy bestial and crooked nature, and thy venomous and hurtful purpose! Wherefore, wretch, attempt the impossible? For ever since I discovered that these be the contrivances and bug-bears of thy malice, I have now no more anxiety concerning thee. The Lord is on my side, and I shall see my desire upon mine enemies. I shall go upon the adder and basilisk, the which thou dost resemble; the lion and the dragon I shall tread thee under my feet; for I am strengthened with the might of Christ. Let mine enemies be ashamed and turned backward: let them be driven and put to shame suddenly.’

Thus speaking, and girding on that invincible weapon, the sign of the Cross, he made vain the devil’s shows. For straightway all the beasts and creeping things disappeared, like as the smoke vanisheth, and like as wax melteth at the fire. And he, strong in the might of Christ, went on his way rejoicing and giving thanks unto the Lord. But there dwelt in that desert many divers beasts, and all kinds of serpents, and dragon-shaped monsters, and these met him, not now as apparitions but in sober sooth, so that his path was beset by fear and toil. But he overcame both fear and toil by thought: fear, by the thought of love, that, as saith the Scripture, casteth out fear; and toil, by the thought of longing that maketh toil light. Thus he wrestled with many sundry misfortunes and hardships until, after many days, he arrived at that desert of the land of Senaar, wherein Barlaam dwelt. There also he found water and quenched the burning of his thirst.

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