November 19, 2022

Holy Martyr Barlaam of Antioch: Summaries of the Encomiums of Basil the Great and John Chrysostom

Encomium on the Martyr Barlaam By Basil the Great

Once the deaths of holy men were adorned with lamentations and tears: Joseph wept bitterly for Jacob when he died; the Jews greatly lamented Moses’ death; they honoured Samuel with many tears. But now we rejoice in the deaths of the hallowed ones. The nature of distressing things has been transformed after the cross. We no more accompany the deaths of the saints with lamentations, but dance at their tombs in godly companies. For death is just sleep for the righteous. It is rather departure for a better life. For that reason, the martyrs rejoice when they are slain. The desire for a happier life mortifies the distress of slaughter. The martyr does not look at the perils, but at the crowns of victory. He is not distressed by the beatings, but counts the prizes. He does not see the torturers flogging him down here, but envisions the angels acclaiming from above. He does not consider the temporary state of danger, but the eternal natue of his reward. Even among us, he already enjoys a splendid repayment, as he is applauded by everyone’s pious acclamations, and captivates from his tomb myriads of crowds. This is then what was done today by the brave Barlaam....

Barlaam is a barbarian in descent and tongue, but, nonetheless, wise in the spirit and the faith, who bravely and joyfully defies torture, flogging, imprisonment, insults and the wrath of the judge. Seeing that they cannot bend his determination, his torturers make him stretch his right hand over an altar, and place a burning piece of frankincense into his palm, in order to make him drop it unwillingly onto the altar. Barlaam stands without moving till his hand burns complete....

But why am I belittling the victor with my childish mumbling? Let us then cede his praise to grander tongues! Let us call for him trumpets which are louder than teachers! Arise now, brilliant painters of heroic achievements! Glorify by your art the mutilated image of the general! Brighten by the colours of your skill this victor who has been described in less bright tones by me! Let me depart defeated by you in outlining the triumphs of the martyr! I am glad to be defeated by such a victory of your might today! Let me see the struggle against the fire being depicted by you with greater precision! Let me see the combatant being depicted even more joyful on your image! Let the demons weep also now, being afflicted by the feats of the martyr in your work! Let once again the burning hand be shown defeating them! And let also Christ, the master of the fighting contest, be depicted on the panel! Glory be to Him forever and ever. Amen.

Text: PG 31, 484-489. Summary and translation: Efthymios Rizos.

Encomium on the Martyr Barlaam By John Chrysostom

1. This day is the feast of Barlaam. The true honour to the martyrs is to imitate them. Although it is not a persecution, martyrdom is still possible. Christians can still resist demons and passions. Barlaam kept his right hand firm over the fire, as if he had been a statue.

2. A great persecution takes place, and martyrs are killed in manifold ways. Barlaam is taken out of prison, after a long time of incarceration, and he is made to stretch his hand over an altar. They place into his hand burning coals and frankincense, so that he may be forced to drop them onto the altar, and thus appear to be offering a sacrifice. The martyr stands still, as if made of iron.

3. His hand was eventually turned, but this was not a sign of defeat, because it was caused by the burning of his flesh, and not by the breaking of his determination. Barlaam became at the same time an altar, a victim, and a priest offering his own body as sacrifice. We should not claim that he offered just his hand, because there is no way of measuring the magnitude of a martyr's torments.

4. We should imitate the martyrs, and this is why this assembly is taking place by their tombs. The tombs of the martyrs are like a military tent, and their warlike activity can be seen when possessed people are brought to their shrine. There is a war against the devil, and the saints are like heroes buried with their weapons. The Christians should admire the martyrs and avoid luxury.

Text: CPG 4361; BGH 222. Summary: Efthymios Rizos.