Thursday, April 21, 2016

Barlaam the Monk: An Ancient Preacher Who Enlightens An Indian Prince Ioasaph

I'm now making excerpts from a beautiful tale of a young Indian prince who converts to Christianity by a monk called Barlaam. The legend of Barlaam and Ioasaph is recorded in a 10th centurt A.D. hagiographic novel of the same name. The story tells of a young Indian prince who is overcome by the suffering and misery that permeates all of existence, leaves his royal palace of debauched lifestyle, and seeks for eternal answers. Along the way, there was one amongst his courtiers who had the key of knowledge for the thirsting prince. Upon discovering Barlaam, the prince Ioasaph begins learning about the mysteries of the Kingdom of God as he heard him preach. Here is an excerpt on what the nature of the Kingdom is:

Joasaph said unto him, 'And what is this good hope whereto thou sayest it is impossible without baptism to attain? And what this kingdom which thou callest the Kingdom of Heaven? And how cometh it that thou hast heard the words of God incarnate? And what is the uncertain day of death? For on this account much anxiety hath fallen on my heart, and consumeth my flesh in pain and grief, and fasteneth on my very bones. And shall we men, appointed to die, return to nothing, or is there some other life after our departure hence? These and kindred questions I have been longing to resolve.'

Typical to the narratives from the far orient, a royalty encounters evanescence of life, discovered through the reality of humanity's eventual demise, and thus opening to the inevitable transience of life. The monarch begins to spurn the riches, honour, and opulence of his royal palace, and embarks on the quest to discover the real meaning of life and death.

Thus questioned he; and Barlaam answered thus: 'The good hope, whereof I spake, is that of the Kingdom of Heaven. But that Kingdom is far beyond the utterance of mortal tongue; for the Scripture saith, "Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man the things which God hath prepared for them that love him." But when we have shuffled off this gross flesh, and attained to that blessedness, then will that Master, which hath granted to us not to fail of this hope, teach and make known unto us the glory of those good things, whose glory passeth all understanding: - that light ineffable, that life that hath no ending, that converse with Angels. For if it be granted us to hold communion with God, so far as is attainable to human nature, then shall we know all things from his lips which now we know not. This doth my initiation into the teaching of the divine Scriptures teach me to be the real meaning of the Kingdom of Heaven; to approach the vision of the blessed and life-giving Trinity, and to be illumined with his unapproachable light, and with clearer and purer sight, and with unveiled face, to behold as in a glass his unspeakable glory. But, if it be impossible to express in language that glory, that light, and those mysterious blessings, what marvel? For they had not been mighty and singular, if they had been comprehended by reason and expressed in words by us who are earthly, and corruptible, and clothed in this heavy garment of sinful flesh. Holding then such knowledge in simple faith, believe thou undoubtingly, that these are no fictions; but by good works be urgent to lay hold on that immortal kingdom, to which when thou hast attained, thou shalt have perfect knowledge. (VIII, 65-62).

Barlaam the monk refers to the knowledge of God as "theognosias photismon": an enlightenment of the knowledge of God, which is, Barlaam continues like a "ray of light shining through an aperture" (XVI, 133-136). This is an enigmatic phraseology that is first found in Paul's 2nd Corinthians 4:6: "For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge (Greek photismon gnoseos) of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." The word photismos is literally translated as "enlightenment" and it comes about by beholding the beatific vision of God as Paul himself describes.

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."  (XVI, 136-139).

The knowledge of the Gospel of the Kingdom was brought over to India by Apostle Thomas and by his fellow disciple Thaddaeus, or Addae. After few generations following the deaths of the original disciples of Christ, the original, apostolic faith in India has degenerated and many have totally apostatized from the truth until the monk Barlaam rekindles the dying embers of faith in India, and made faith grow and prosper once again in the land.

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