November 27, 2020

Venerable Seventeen Martyrs of India

Venerable 17 Martyrs of India (Feast Day - November 27)
These Christian monks are mentioned in The Lives of Saints Barlaam and Joasaph attributed to Saint John of Damascus, and are only commemorated in the Slavic calendar on November 27th. They suffered in the fourth century when King Abenner ruled India. He hated Christians because they were converting his people to Christ, and some of them even became monks. The King issued a decree ordering all Christians to renounce their faith at once, threatening to torture and kill them if they did not comply. He had a special hatred for the monks, and persecuted them without mercy. Some Christians, unable to endure the torments, submitted to the King's decree, but the monks rebuked him for his wickedness. Some of them fled into the deserts and mountains, while others chose martyrdom.

When his son Joasaph was born, King Abenner rejoiced and prepared a feast for his people. Among the guests were fifty-five astrologers, who were asked to predict the child's future. They spoke in general terms of great riches and power, saying that he would surpass all who had ruled before him. One of them, the wisest of all, said that the child would not succeed Abenner, but instead he would enter a better and greater kingdom. Moreover, the astrologer said that Joasaph would become a Christian.

When the King heard this he was angry and sorrowful, and took steps to prevent this from happening. He built a huge palace, and kept his son there. He would not permit anyone to approach the child, except for a few carefully chosen instructors. He charged them not to speak to the Prince about unpleasant topics such as death, old age, sickness, poverty, etc. He wanted them to speak to Joasaph only about pleasant things. Above all, he did not want his son to hear anything about Christ or His doctrines.

When the King learned that there were still some monks left, he commanded heralds to go into the city and throughout the countryside and to proclaim that after three days, no monk would be allowed to live there. If any monks were discovered after that time, they would be executed.

Some years later, the King sent his chief counsellor Araches into the wilderness to search for Saint Barlaam, who had baptized Joasaph. They searched the deserts and remote places without finding him. They did happen to encounter seventeen monks, however, walking at the foot of a mountain. They were seized by the soldiers, and Araches questioned them about Barlaam, but the monks refused to tell him where he was. Araches said that if they did not bring Barlaam to him, they would die.

The monks replied that they did not fear death, so he tortured them. When he saw that nothing would make them talk, he decided to bring them to the King. Several days afterward, they appeared before the King, who subjected them to further torments.

Seeing that nothing would induce them to betray Barlaam, the King had their eyes gouged out, and then cut off their arms and legs. All the while, the monks exhorted one another to accept death for the sake of Christ, and so they received their crowns of glory from the Lord. Saint John of Damascus compares the seventeen monastic martyrs to the seven holy Maccabees of the Old Testament.

Below is the original account from 
The Lives of Saints Barlaam and Joasaph:
Thereupon, learning that Barlaam was but lately departed, the King was zealous to take him prisoner. He therefore occupied most of the passes with troops and captains, and, himself, mounting his chariot, gave furious chase along the one road of which he was especially suspicious, being minded to surprise Barlaam at all costs. But though he toiled by the space of six full days, his labour was but spent in vain. Then he himself remained behind in one of his palaces situated in the country, but sent forward Araches, with horsemen not a few, as far as the wilderness of Senaar, in quest of Barlaam. When Araches arrived in that place, he threw all the neighbour folk into commotion: and when they constantly affirmed that they had never seen the man, he went forth into the desert places, to hunt out the faithful. When he had gone through a great tract of desert, and made the circuit of the fells around, and journeyed on foot over untrodden and pathless ravines, he and his hosts arrived at a plateau. Standing thereon, he beheld at the foot of the mountain a company of hermits walking. Straightway at their governor's word of command all his men ran upon them in breathless haste, vying one with another, who should arrive first. When they arrived, they fell upon the monks like so many dogs, or evil beasts that plague mankind. And they seized these men of reverend character and mind, that bore on their faces the hallmark of their hermit life, and brought them before the governor; but the monks showed no sign of alarm, no sign of meanness or sullenness, and spake never a word. Their leader and captain bore a wallet of hair, filled with the relics of some holy Fathers departed this life.

When Araches beheld them, but saw no Barlaam -- for he knew him by sight -- he was overwhelmed with grief, and said unto them, "Where is that deceiver who hath led the king's son astray?" The bearer of the wallet answered, "He is not amongst us, God forbid! For, driven forth by the grace of Christ, he avoideth us; but amongst you he hath his dwelling." The governor said, "Thou knowest him then?" "Yea," said the hermit, "I know him that is called the deceiver, which is the devil, who dwelleth in your midst and is worshipped and served by you." The governor said, "It is for Barlaam that I make search, and I asked thee of him, to learn where he is." The monk answered, "And wherefore then spakest thou in this ambiguous manner, asking about him that had deceived the king's son? If thou wast seeking Barlaam, thou shouldest certainly have said, 'Where is he that hath turned from error and saved the king's son?' Barlaam is our brother and fellow-monk. But now for many days past we have not seen his face." Said Araches, "Show me his abode." The monk answered, "Had he wished to see you, he would have come forth to meet you. As for us, it is not lawful to make known to you his hermitage."

Thereupon the governor waxed full of indignation, and, casting a haughty and savage glance upon him, said, "Ye shall die no ordinary death, except ye immediately bring Barlaam before me." "What," said the monk, "seest thou in our case that should by its attractions cause us to cling to life, and be afraid of death at thy hands? Whereas we should the rather feel grateful to thee for removing us from life in the close adherence to virtue. For we dread, not a little, the uncertainty of the end, knowing not in what state death shall overtake us, lest perchance a slip of the inclination, or some despiteful dealing of the devil, may alter the constancy of our choice, and mispersuade us to think or do contrary to our covenants with God. Wherefore abandon all hope of gaining the knowledge that ye desire, and shrink not to work your will. We shall neither reveal the dwelling-place of our brother, whom God loveth, although we know it, nor shall we betray any other monasteries unbeknown to ye. We will not endure to escape death by such cowardice. Nay, gladly would we die honourably, and offer unto God, after the sweats of virtue, the life-blood of courage."

That man of sin could not brook this boldness of speech, and was moved to the keenest passion against this high and noble spirit, and afflicted the monks with many stripes and tortures. Their courage and nobility won admiration even from that tyrant. But, when after many punishments he failed to persuade them, and none of them consented to discover Barlaam, he took and ordered them to be led to the king, bearing with them the wallet with the relics, and to be beaten and shamefully entreated as they went.

After many days Araches brought them to the king, and declared their case. Then he set them before the bitterly incensed king: and he, when he saw them, boiled over with fury and was like to one mad. He ordered them to be beaten without mercy, and, when he saw them cruelly mangled with scourges, could scarcely restrain his madness, and order the tormentors to cease. Then said he unto them, "Why bear ye about these dead men's bones? If ye carry these bones through affection for those men to whom they belong, this very hour I will set you in their company, that ye may meet your lost friends and be duly grateful to me." The captain and leader of that godly band, setting at naught the king's threats, showing no sign of the torment that he had undergone, with free voice and radiant countenance that signified the grace that dwelt in his soul, cried out, "We carry about these clean and holy bones, O king, because we attest in due form our love of those marvellous men to whom they belong: and because we would bring ourselves to remember their wrestlings and lovely conversation, to rouse up ourselves to the like zeal; and because we would catch some vision of the rest and felicity wherein they now live, and thus, as we call them blessed, and provoke one another to emulate them, strive to follow in their footsteps: because moreover, we find thereby that the thought of death, which is right profitable, lendeth wings of zeal to our religious exercises; and lastly, because we derive sanctification from their touch."

Again said the king, "If the thought of death be profitable, as ye say, why should ye not reach that thought of death by the bones of the bodies that are now your own, and are soon to perish, rather than by the bones of other men which have already perished?"

The monk said, "Five reasons I gave thee, why we carry about these relics; and thou, making answer to one only, art like to be mocking us. But know thou well that the bones of them, that have already departed this life, bring the thought of death more vividly before us than do the bones of the living. But since thou judgest otherwise, and since the bones of thine own body are to thee a type of death, why dost thou not recollect thy latter end so shortly to come, and set thine house in order, instead of giving up thy soul to all kinds of iniquities, and violently and unmercifully murdering the servants of God and lovers of righteousness, who have done thee no wrong, and seek not to share with thee in present goods, nor are ambitious to rob thee of them?"

Said the king, "I do well to punish you, ye clever misleaders of the folk, because ye deceive all men, counselling them to abstain from the enjoyments of life; and because, instead of the sweets of life and the allures of appetite and pleasure, ye constrain them to choose the rough, filthy and squalid way, and preach that they should render to Jesus the honour due unto the gods. Accordingly, in order that the people may not follow your deceits and leave the land desolate, and, forsaking the gods of their fathers, serve another, I think it just to subject you to punishment and death."

The monk answered, "If thou art eager that all should partake of the good things of life, why dost thou not distribute dainties and riches equally amongst all? And why is it that the common herd are pinched with poverty, while thou addest ever to thy store by seizing for thyself the goods of others? Nay, thou carest not for the weal of the many, but fattenest thine own flesh, to be meat for the worms to feed on. Wherefore also thou hast denied the God of all, and called them gods that are not, the inventors of all wickedness, in order that, by wantonness and wickedness after their example, thou mayest gain the title of imitator of the gods. For, as your gods have done, why should not also the men that follow them do? Great then is the error that thou hast erred, O king. Thou fearest that we should persuade certain of the people to join with us, and revolt from thy hand, and place themselves in that hand that holdeth all things, for thou willest the ministers of thy covetousness to be many, that they may be miserable while thou reapest profit from their toil; just as a man, who keepeth hounds or falcons tamed for hunting, before the hunt may be seen to pet them, but, when they have once seized the quarry, taketh the game with violence out of their mouths. So also thou, willing that there should be many to pay thee tribute and toll from land and water, pretendest to care for their welfare, but in truth bringest on them and above all on thyself eternal ruin; and simply to pile up gold, more worthless than dung or rottenness, thou hast been deluded into taking darkness for light. But recover thy wits from this earthly sleep: open thy sealed eyes, and behold the glory of God that shineth round about us all; and come at length to thyself. For saith the prophet, 'Take heed, ye unwise among the people, and, O ye fools, understand at last.' Understand thou that there is no God except our God, and no salvation except in him."

But the king said, "Cease this foolish babbling, and anon discover to me Barlaam: else shalt thou taste instruments of torture such as thou hast never tasted before." That noble-minded, great-hearted monk, that lover of the heavenly philosophy, was not moved by the king's threats, but stood unflinching, and said, "We are not commanded to fulfill thy hest, O king, but the orders of our Lord and God who teacheth us temperance, that we should be lords over all pleasures and passions, and practice fortitude, so as to endure all toil and all ill-treatment for righteousness' sake. The more perils that thou subjectest us to for the sake of our religion, the more shalt thou be our benefactor. Do therefore as thou wilt: for we shall not consent to do aught outside our duty, nor shall we surrender ourselves to sin. Deem not that it is a slight sin to betray a fellow-combatant and fellow-soldier into thy hands. Nay, but thou shalt not have that scoff to make at us; no, not if thou put us to ten thousand deaths. We be not such cowards as to betray our religion through dread of thy torments, or to disgrace the law divine. So then, if such be thy purpose, make ready every weapon to defend thy claim; for to us to live is Christ, and to die for him is the best gain."

Incensed with anger thereat, the monarch ordered the tongues of these Confessors to be rooted out, and their eyes digged out, and likewise their hands and feet lopped off. Sentence passed, the henchmen and guards surrounded and mutilated them, without pity and without ruth. And they plucked out their tongues from their mouths with prongs, and severed them with brutal severity, and they digged out their eyes with iron claws, and stretched their arms and legs on the rack, and lopped them off. But those blessed, modest, noble-hearted men went bravely to torture like guests to a banquet, exhorting one another to meet death for Christ his sake undaunted.

In such divers tortures did these holy monks lay down their lives for the Lord. They were in all seventeen. By common consent, the pious mind is superior to sufferings, as hath been said by one, but not of us, when narrating the martydom of the aged priest, and of the seven sons with their equally brave mother when contending for the law of their fathers: whose bravery and lofty spirit, however, was equalled by these marvellous fathers and citizens and heirs of the Jerusalem that is above.