Together with incense, Barlaam, you bear the fire,
And are perceived as fragrant incense to the Lord.
The Holy Martyr Barlaam was from Antioch in Syria.* Though elderly in age, he openly confessed Christ and was arrested and brought before the governor of Antioch. Because he could not be persuaded to sacrifice to the idols, he was flogged with a cowhide then he had his nails torn out.** Then he was brought to an altar for the idols, and it was ordered that he be forced to spread forth his right hand. On this hand was put burning coals and incense.*** By this the governor thought that he would not be able to endure the heat of the coals, and therefore would drop the coals and the incense onto the altar, and in this way it would appear that he sacrificed to the idols.
The athlete of Christ stood there with great bravery, unmoved and unshaken, giving his right hand no movement whatsoever. By this he showed himself to be stronger than brass and iron. This went on until the coals made a hole in his consumed flesh, and he fell to the ground. The noble one preferred to struggle with bravery and a firm mind for truth, by having his hand consumed in the flames, rather than to be shaken, and by this showing unbelievers that he did not offer incense and sacrifice to the demons. By enduring this torment, he delivered his soul into the hands of God, and received from Him a crown of martyrdom.****
This noble athlete was also honored with rhetorical encomium's by both Basil the Great and the divine Chrysostom. Basil the Great said of Barlaam: "He had a right hand more powerful than fire: although the coal burned his hand, his hand still held the fire as if it were ash." And Chrysostom said: "The angels looked from the heights. The archangels beheld. The scene was majestic, in truth transcending human nature. Behold, who would not wish to see a man who made such an ascetic endeavor, yet did not feel that which is characteristic of men to feel; a man who was himself both the altar of oblation and the sacrifice and the priest?"
* Though Chrysostom says Saint Barlaam was born and martyred in Antioch, Basil the Great says that his tomb was in Caesarea of Cappadocia.
** According to Chrysostom, when these tortures did not work, the devil devised a new plan. He was kept in prison for longer than usual, then led out to a tower, which was unexpected. There he would be forced to offer incense before the idols and in front of the people.
*** Though Chrysostom and Basil give similar accounts of the life of Saint Barlaam, Basil says Barlaam held a libation jar, while Chrysostom says it was coals and incense.
**** It should be noted that according to Chrysostom, even if Barlaam had flinched and dropped the burning coals and incense onto the pagan altar, it would not have been counted as a sin against him, since it would have been done against his will, and merely the natural reaction of nerves.
Apolytikion in the Fourth Tone
Armed with youthful manliness, thou didst endure martyrdom in old age and glorify Christ. Thou didst offer Him thy right hand as a whole burnt offering, and thy holy soul as a blameless sacrifice. Intercede that all may be granted forgiveness, O Great Martyr Barlaam.
Kontakion in the Third Tone
Though aged in body thou didst vanquish the evil one by thy mighty contest, O Barlaam. Thou didst endure the rack like one without a body, and manfully bear the burning of thy hand. Wherefore God the Word has crowned thee with a crown of glory