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Barlaam And Ioasaph by St. John Of Damascus

IOASAPH said unto the elder, ‘Are there now others, too, who preach the same doctrines as thou? Or art thou to-day the only one that teacheth this hatred of the present world?’

The other answered and said, ‘In this your most unhappy country I know of none: the tyranny of thy father hath cast all such to a thousand forms of death; and he hath made it his aim that the preaching of the knowledge of God be not once heard in your midst. But in all other tongues these doctrines are sung and glorified, by some in perfect truth, but by others perversely; for the enemy of our souls hath made them decline from the straight road, and divided them by strange teachings, and taught them to interpret certain sayings of the Scriptures falsely, and not after the sense contained therein. But the truth is one, even that which was preached by the glorious Apostles and inspired Fathers, and shineth in the Catholick Church above the brightness of the sun from the one end of the world unto the other; and as an herald and teacher of that truth have I been sent to thee.’

Ioasaph said unto him, ‘Hath my father learned aught of these things?’

The elder answered, ‘Clearly and duly he hath learned naught; for he stoppeth up his senses, and will not admit that which is good, being of his own free choice inclined to evil.’

‘Would God,’ said Ioasaph, ‘that he too were instructed in these mysteries?’ The elder answered, ‘The things that are impossible with men are possible with God. For how knowest thou whether thou shalt save thy sire, and in wondrous fashion be styled the spiritual father of thy father?

‘I have heard that, once upon a time, there was a king who governed his kingdom right well, and dealt kindly and gently with his subjects, only failing in this point, that he was not rich in the light of the knowledge of God, but held fast to the errors of idolatry. Now he had a counsellor, which was a good man and endued with righteousness toward God and with all other virtuous wisdom. Grieved and vexed though he was at the error of the king, and willing to convince him thereof, he nevertheless drew back from the attempt, for fear that he might earn trouble for himself and his friends, and cut short those services which he rendered to others. Yet sought he a convenient season to draw his sovereign toward that which was good. One night the king said unto him, “Come now, let us go forth and walk about the city, if haply we may see something to edify us.” Now while they were walking about the city, they saw a ray of light shining through an aperture. Fixing their eyes thereon, they descried an underground cavernous chamber, in the forefront of which there sat a man, plunged in poverty, and clad in rags and tatters. Beside him stood his wife, mixing wine. When the man took the cup in his hands, she sung a clear sweet melody, and delighted him by dancing and cozening him with flatteries. The king’s companions observed this for a time, and marvelled that people, pinched by such poverty as not to afford house and raiment, yet passed their lives in such good cheer. The king said to his chief counsellor, “Friend, how marvellous a thing it is, that our life, though bright with such honour and luxury, hath never pleased us so well as this poor and miserable life doth delight and rejoice these fools: and that this life, which appeareth to us so cruel and abominable, is to them sweet and alluring!” The chief counsellor seized the happy moment and said, “But to thee, O king, how seemeth their life?” “Of all that I have ever seen,” quoth the king, “the most hateful and wretched, the most loathsome and abhorrent.” Then spake the chief counsellor unto him, “Such, know thou well, O king, and even more unendurable is our life reckoned by those who are initiated into the sight of the mysteries of yonder everlasting glory, and the blessings that pass all understanding. Your palaces glittering with gold, and these splendid garments, and all the delights of this life are more loathsome than filth and dung in the eyes of those that know the unspeakable beauties of the tabernacles in heaven made without hands, and the apparel woven by God, and the incorruptible diadems which God, the Creator and Lord of all, hath prepared for them that love him. For like as this couple were accounted fools by us, so much the more are we, who go astray in this world and please ourselves in this false glory and senseless pleasure, worthy of lamentation and tears in the eyes of those who have tasted of the sweets of the bliss beyond.”

‘When the king heard this, he became as one dumb. He said, “Who then are these men that live a life better than ours?” “All,” said the chief-counsellor “who prefer the eternal to the temporal.” Again, when the king desired to know what the eternal might be the other replied, “A kingdom that knoweth no succession, a life that is not subject unto death, riches that dread no poverty: joy and gladness that have no share of grief and vexation; perpetual peace free from all hatred and love of strife. Blessed, thrice blessed are they that are found worthy of these enjoyments! Free from pain and free from toil is the life that they shall live for ever, enjoying without labour all the sweets and pleasaunce of the kingdom of God, and reigning with Christ world without end.”

‘ “And who is worthy to obtain this?” asked the king. The other answered, “All they that hold on the road that leadeth thither; for none forbiddeth entrance, if a man but will.”

‘Said the king, “And what is the way that beareth thither?” That bright spirit answered, “To know the only true God, and Jesus Christ, his only-begotten Son, and the Holy and quickening Spirit.”

‘The king, endowed with understanding worthy of the purple, said unto him, “What hath hindered thee until now from doing me to wit of these things? For they appear to me too good to be put off or passed over, if they indeed be true; and, if they be doubtful, I must search diligently, until I find the truth without shadow of doubt.”

‘The chief counsellor said, “It was not from negligence or indifference that I delayed to make this known unto thee, for it is true and beyond question, but ’twas because I reverenced the excellency of thy majesty, lest thou mightest think me a meddler. If therefore thou bid thy servant put thee in mind of these things for the future, I shall obey thy behest.” “Yea,” said the king, “not every day only, but every hour, renew in me the remembrance thereof: for it behoveth us not to turn our mind inattentively to these things, but with very fervent zeal.”

‘We have heard,’ said Barlaam, ‘that this king lived, for the time to come, a godly life, and, having brought his days without tempest to an end, failed not to gain the felicity of the world to come. If then at a convenient season one shall call these things to thy father’s mind also, peradventure he shall understand and know the dire evil in which he is held, and turn therefrom and choose the good; since, for the present at least, “he is blind and cannot see afar off,” having deprived himself of the true light and being a deserter of his own accord to the darkness of ungodliness.’

Ioasaph said unto him, ‘The Lord undertake my father’s matters, as he ordereth! For, even as thou sayest, the things that are impossible with men, are possible with him. But for myself, thanks to thine unsurpassable speech, I renounce the vanity of things present, and am resolved to withdraw from them altogether, and to spend the rest of my life with thee, lest, by means of these transitory and fleeting things, I lose the enjoyment of the eternal and incorruptible.’

The elder answered him, ‘This do, and thou shalt be like unto a youth of great understanding of whom I have heard tell, that was born of rich and distinguished parents. For him his father sought in marriage the exceeding fair young daughter of a man of high rank and wealth. But when he communed with his son concerning the espousals, and informed him of his action, the son thought it strange and ill-sounding, and cast it off, and left his father and went into exile. On his journey he found entertainment in the house of a poor old man, where he rested awhile during the heat of the day.

Now this poor man’s daughter, his only child, a virgin, was sitting before the door, and while she wrought with her hands, with her lips she loudly sang the praises of God with thanksgiving from the ground of her heart. The young man heard her hymn of praise and said, “Damsel, what is thine employment? and wherefore, poor and needy as thou art, givest thou thanks as though for great blessings, singing praise to the Giver?” She answered, “Knowest thou not that, as a little medicine often times delivereth a man from great ailments, even so the giving of thanks for small mercies winneth great ones? Therefore I, the daughter of a poor old man, thank and bless God for these small mercies, knowing that the Giver thereof is able to give even greater gifts. And this applieth but to those external things that are not our own from whence there accrueth no gain to those who possess much (not to mention the loss that often ariseth), nor cometh there harm to those who have less: for both sorts journey along the same road, and hasten to the same end. But, in things most necessary and vital, many and great the blessings that I have enjoyed of my Lord, without number and beyond compare. I have been made in the image of God, and have gained the knowledge of him, and have been endowed with reason beyond all the beasts, and have been called again from death unto life, through the tender mercy of our God, and have received power to share in his mysteries; and the gate of Paradise hath been opened to me, allowing me to enter without hindrance, if I will. Wherefore for gifts so many and so fine, shared alike by rich and poor, I indeed in no wise praise him as I ought, yet if I fail to render to the Giver this little hymn of praise, what excuse shall I have?”

‘The youth, astonished at her wit, called to her father, and said unto him, “Give me thy daughter: for I love her wisdom and piety.” But the elder said, “It is not possible for thee, the son of wealthy parents, to take this a beggar’s daughter.” Again the young man said, “Yea, but I will take her, unless thou forbid: for a daughter of noble and wealthy family hath been betrothed unto me in marriage, and her I have cast off and taken to flight. But I have fallen in love with thy daughter because of her righteousness to God-ward, and her discreet wisdom, and I heartily desire to wed her.” But the old man said unto him, “I cannot give her unto thee, to carry away to thy father’s house, and depart her from mine arms, for she is mine only child.” “But,” said the youth, “I will abide here with your folk and adopt your manner of life.” Thereupon he stripped him of his own goodly raiment, and asked for the old man’s clothes and put them on. When the father had much tried his purpose, and proved him in manifold ways, and knew that his intent was fixed, and that it was no light passion that led him to ask for his daughter, but love of godliness that constrained him to embrace a life of poverty, he took him by the hand, and brought him into his treasure-house, where he showed him much riches laid up, and a vast heap of money, such as the young man had never beheld. And he said unto him, “Son, all these things give I unto thee, forasmuch as thou hast chosen to become the husband to my daughter, and also thereby the heir of all my substance.” So the young man acquired the inheritance, and surpassed all the famous and wealthy men of the land.’








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