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Barlaam And Ioasaph by St. John Of Damascus

NOW two full years spent Ioasaph wandering about the ocean of that desert, without finding Barlaam; for here also God was proving the steadfastness of his purpose, and the nobility of his soul. He lived thus in the open air, scorched with heat or frozen with cold, and, as one in search of precious treasure, continually looking everywhere for his treasured friend, the aged Barlaam. Frequent were the temptations and assaults of the evil spirits that he encountered, and many the hardships that he endured through the lack of herbs that he needed for meat, because the desert, being dry, yielded even these in but scant supply. But, being kindled by love of her Master, this adamantine and indomitable soul bore these annoyances more easily than other men bear their pleasures. Wherefore he failed not of the succour that is from above, but, many as were the sorrows and toils that he endured, comfort came to him from Christ, and, asleep or awake, refreshed his soul. By the space of those two years Ioasaph went about continually, seeking him for whom he yearned, and rivers of waters ran from his eyes, as he implored God, crying aloud and saying, ‘Show me, O Lord, show me the man that was the means of my knowledge of thee, and the cause of my many blessings. Because of the multitude of mine offences, deprive me not of this good thing; but grant me to see him, and fight with him the ascetic fight.’

By the grace of God, he found a cave, by following footsteps that led thither. There he met a monk pursuing a hermit life. Him he embraced and saluted tenderly. He asked where to find Barlaam’s dwelling, and told him his own tale, laying all bare. Of him then he learned the abode of the man whom he sought, and thither went foot-hot, as when a cunning hunter happeneth on the tracks of his game. And when he had met with certain signs, pointed out to him by this other old hermit, he went on rejoicing, strong in hope, like a child hoping after long absence to see his father. For when divine love hath broken into a soul, it proveth hotter and stronger than the natural.

So he stood before the door of the cave, and knocked, saying ‘Benedicite, father, benedicite!’ When Barlaam heard his voice, he came forth from the cave, and by the spirit knew him, who by outward appearance could not easily be known, because of the marvellous change and alteration that had changed and altered his face from its former bloom of youth; for Ioasaph was black with the sun’s heat, and overgrown with hair, and his cheeks were fallen in, and his eyes deep sunken, and his eyelids seared with floods of tears, and much distress of hunger. And Ioasaph recognised his spiritual father, for his features were, for the more part, the same. So the old man stood, and, facing the East, offered up to God a prayer of thanksgiving; and, after the prayer, when they had said the Amen, they embraced and kissed each other affectionately, taking their full fill of long deferred desire.

But, when they had done with embracing and greeting, they sat them down and conversed. Barlaam began, saying, ‘Welcome art thou, son well-beloved, son of God, and inheritor of the heavenly kingdom through Jesus Christ our Lord, whom thou lovest, whom thou rightly desirest above the things that are temporal and corruptible! Like a prudent and wise merchant, thou hast sold all, and bought the pearl that is beyond price, and hast found the treasure that cannot be stolen, hidden in the field of the commandments of the Lord; thou hast parted with all, and spared naught of the things that so soon pass away, that thou mightest purchase that field for thyself. The Lord give thee the eternal for the temporal, the things that are incorruptible and wax not old for the corruptible!

‘But tell me, dearly beloved, how thou camest hither? How did thy matters speed after my departure? And hath thy father learned to know God, or is he still carried away with his former foolishness, still under the bondage of devilish deceits?’

Thus questioned Barlaam, and Ioasaph answered, telling him piece by piece all that had befallen him since he went away; and in how many ways the Lord had prospered him, until they were come together again.

The old man listened with pleasure and amazement, and with hot tears said, ‘Glory to thee, our God, that ever standest by and succourest them that love thee! Glory to thee, O Christ, King of all and God all-good, that it was thy pleasure that the seed, which I sowed in the heart of Ioasaph, thy servant, should thus bring forth fruit an hundredfold worthy of the husbandman and Master of our souls! Glory to thee, good Paraclete, the all-holy Spirit, because thou didst vouchsafe unto this man to partake of that grace which thou gavest thine holy Apostles, and by his hand hast delivered multitudes of people from superstitious error, and enlightened them with the true knowledge of God!’

Thus was God blessed by both, and thus were they conversing and rejoicing in the grace of God until evenfall. Then stood they up for to pray and to perform the sacred services. Then also remembered they that it was meal-time, and Barlaam spread his lavish table, laden with spiritual dainties, but with little to attract the palate of sense. These were uncooked worts, and a few dates, planted and tended by Barlaam’s own hands, such as are found in the same desert, and wild herbs. So they gave thanks and partook of the victuals set before them, and drank water from the neighbour springing well, and again gave thanks to God, who openeth his hand and filleth all things living. Then they arose again, and, when they had ended their Night Hours, after prayer, they joined in spiritual converse again, discoursing wholesome words, and full of heavenly wisdom, all the night long until day-break bade them once more remember the hour of prayer.

So Ioasaph abode with Barlaam for some many years, pursuing this marvellous and more than human life, dwelling with him as with a father and tutor, in all obedience and lowliness, exercising himself in every kind of virtue, and learning well from practice how to wrestle with the invisible spirits of evil. From that time forward he mortified all his sinful passions, and made the will of the flesh as subject to the spirit as slave is to his master. He was altogether forgetful of comforts or repose, and tyrannized over sleep as over a wicked servant. And, in brief, such was his practice of the religious life, that Barlaam, who had spent many years therein, marvelled at him, and failed to equal the earnestness of his life. For he took only so much of that coarse and cheerless food as would keep him alive; else had he died afore his time, and forfeited the reward of his well doing. He disciplined himself in watchings, as though he were without flesh and body. In prayer and mental exercise his work was unceasing, and all the time of his life was spent in spiritual and heavenly contemplation, so that not an hour, nor even a single moment was wasted, from the day that he came to dwell in the desert. For this is the end of monastic lite, never to be found idle in spiritual employment: and well herein did this noble and active runner of the heavenly race order his way. And he kept his ardour unquenched from beginning to end, ever ascending in his heart, and going from strength to strength, and continually adding desire to desire, and zeal to zeal, until he arrived at the bliss that he had hoped and longed for.

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