The emperor Decius, whom we have already met, was a particularly fierce enemy of the church all across the Roman world, and his anger burned even against the simplest of Christians. Such was Barlaam, who was a farmer in a village of Asia Minor near Antioch. During the Decian persecution, he was imprisoned for his confession of Christ and mocked for his simple defense of the gospel.
But, due to his rural upbringing – which was itself a trial of will – this good Christian exemplified humble bravery before all the ingenuities of an evil accuser. He was tortured with a myriad of devices: whips and flogs, the rack, beatings, and all other means of Roman cruelty. Yet steadfast he remained, without so much as a word, thus imitating his Savior who “opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth” (Is. 53:7). When threatened with death, dear Barlaam endured undaunted; his calmness and contentedness very nearly defeated his persecutors. But the Lord was not yet finished.
The judge – no doubt a Roman of “noble” birth – was too proud to allow a peasant to have the victory; so he sent Barlaam to prison again and studied the art of torment, intending to devise some new and devious artifice of evil. He eventually invented a torture so deceitful that, in his mind, not even the Christians could defeat. He summoned Barlaam and brought him before an altar upon which the coals were already burning. The Christian’s hand was held above the coals, and the incense of sacrifice was placed upon his palm. ”Now,” said the judge, with a frenzied face of predatory pleasure, “either you will voluntarily drop the incense upon the flame and sacrifice to Caesar, or you shall do so involuntarily when you shake the fiery coals from your hand!” The poor man silently refused to sacrifice. The pagans dropped the coals onto his hand. But the Lord gave the victory to Barlaam.
The good man kept his hand steady, while the reek of burning flesh permeated the air. Though no reasonable man would have accused the saint of actually sacrificing had he removed his hand, the saint endured the pain in a manner worthy of the gospel of Jesus. Finally, the coals burned their way through his hand and, along with the incense, fell upon the altar. The pagans, surrounding the victor with baffled glances, admired his otherworldly fortitude; and soon after this routing of the enemy, God called His soldier home, crowning him with glory.
How has this encouraged your walk in faith, and how can you imitate the bravery of Barlaam in your own life?