Venerable Barlaam the Desert-Dweller, Ioasaph, Prince Of India, and King Abenner, His Father

November 19 / December 2


India, which received the Christian Faith through the Apostle Thomas’ preaching of the Word, was ruled by King Abenner, a worshipper of idols and a fierce persecutor of Christians. For a long time, he did not have any children. Finally, his son was born, and was named Ioasaph. At the birth of the prince, the wisest court astrologer predicted that the prince would adopt the Christian Faith being persecuted by his father. Wanting to prevent the fulfillment of that prophecy, he ordered that a separate palace be erected for the prince, and that the prince never hear a single word about Christ and His teachings.

As a youth, the prince asked and was given his father’s permission to go outside the borders of the court, and as a result first saw that there exist suffering, disease, old age, and death. This brought the prince to ponder the vanity and pointlessness of life, and he spent increasingly more time in serious meditation.

Photo: Wikipedia Photo: Wikipedia

At that time, a wise hermit, the Venerable Barlaam, had taken up his ascetic struggle in a far-off desert. Through a divine revelation, he learned of the youth’s painful suffering in searching for the truth. Venerable Barlaam left the desert, and in the guise of a merchant, went to India. Upon entering the city in which the prince’s palace stood, he announced that he had brought with him an especially precious gemstone which had the miraculous capacity to heal diseases. Brought before the prince Ioasaph, he began to lay out to him the teachings of the Christian Faith, first employing parables, and then teaching directly “from the [books of] the Holy Gospels and the [Epistles of] the Holy Apostles…” From Barlaam’s instructions, the youth realized that the precious stone was faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. He came to believe in Him, and asked to receive Holy Baptism. After baptizing the prince and directing him to fast and pray, Venerable Barlaam departed to the desert.

Upon learning that his son had become a Christian, the king was filled with anger and grief. At the advice of one of his nobles, he directed that a debate between Christians and pagans be held. In that debate, a magician and sorcerer named Nakhor was to appear in the guise of Barlaam. In the debate, Nakhor was supposed to admit defeat, and thus turn the prince away from Christianity. In a vision in his sleep, Ioasaph learned of the planned trick, and threatened Nakhor with grievous punishment should he be defeated. The terrified Nakhor not only defeated the pagans, but he himself believed on Christ, repented, received Holy Baptism, and went off into seclusion in the desert. The king tried by other means to sway his son from Christianity, but the prince overcame all temptations. Then, upon the advice of his nobles, Abenner gave his son half his kingdom. As ruler, St. Ioasaph established Christianity in his realm, rebuilt churches, and ultimately converted his father King Abenner to the Christian Faith. Soon after his Baptism, King Abenner reposed. St. Ioasaph left the kingdom and departed to the desert in search of his teacher, Elder Barlaam. For two years, enduring attacks and temptations, he wandered the desert, until he reached the cave of Venerable Barlaam, who was pursuing salvation by engaging in ascetic silence. The elder and the youth took up their ascetic struggles in common. As the time for Venerable Barlaam’s repose approached, he served the Divine Liturgy, communed of the Holy Gifts of Christ, and communed St. Ioasaph. Then, having spent seventy of his one hundred years in the desert, he departed to the Lord. After committing the Elder to the earth, St. Ioasaph remained in that same cave, continuing the ascetic podvig of a desert-dweller. He spent thirty-five years in the desert, and at the age of sixty, departed to the Lord.

At the instructions of a certain hermit, Barakhia, St Ioasaph’s royal successor, went to his cave, and discovered the incorrupt and fragrant relics of both ascetics. He brought them to his homeland and had them interred in a church erected by Venerable Prince Ioasaph.

Used with permission.

Parish Life
​A Monthly Publication of the Russian Orthodox Cathedral of St. John the Baptist Washington, DC


See also
Who is the True Inheritor of the Apostle Thomas? Who is the True Inheritor of the Apostle Thomas?
Polycarp Nehamaiyah
Who is the True Inheritor of the Apostle Thomas? Who is the True Inheritor of the Apostle Thomas?
The correspondence of two Indians: an Orthodox and a non-Chalcedonian
Polycarp (Dr. Rohan Nehamaiyah)
In early 2015, posted in both Russian and English an article by Clement Nehamaiyah on his path to the Orthodox Church. To our pleasant surprise, we learned that the article was read in India and prompted an Indian non-Chalcedonian Christian to write a letter to Clement in which he attempts to prove that the “Indian Orthodox Church” is the true Church of Christ as it was brought to India by the Apostle Thomas. We asked Clement to answer this very interesting letter, and his brother Polycarp, who became Orthodox together with his brother, responded.
“The Indian mission will be the most fruitful mission in the world! “The Indian mission will be the most fruitful mission in the world!"
Clement Nehamaiyah
“The Indian mission will be the most fruitful mission in the world! “The Indian mission will be the most fruitful mission in the world!"
Clement Nehamaiyah (Nehemiah)
When we decided to embark upon the Ark of Salvation—the Holy Church—many times we were told by our Anglican friends that we were making a mistake, but by the mercy of God we were happy and willing to make this mistake.
In the Steps of the Apostle Thomas In the Steps of the Apostle Thomas
Priest Paul Martin
In the Steps of the Apostle Thomas In the Steps of the Apostle Thomas
Priest Paul Martin
It takes real courage to become a Christian in India — and it takes courage to remain Christian. Converts are often rejected by family and friends, but they know that to be rejected for love of Christ is cause for rejoicing. One man told me that, when he converted and his home became a center of Christian worship, the villagers threatened him and his family with bodily harm. He remained firm, however, and now years later many in his village are Orthodox. Unfortunately, this does not always happen. And even when it does, acceptance and peace come gradually and often with pain.
m vicary12/23/2018 9:43 am
I like reading your articles. Some or many might want to also. How come you do not have a SHARE to FACEBOOK or Twitter.

Reader Andrew12/3/2018 6:17 am
Jacob, check out 'St. John Damascene: Tradition and Originality in Byzantine Theology' by Andrew Louth, specifically starting on page 21.
Jacob12/2/2018 9:50 pm
Has an Orthodox writer ever commented on the fact that the early life of the right-believing Prince Joasaph is depicted as being basically identical to the early life of the founder of Buddhism, Siddhartha Gautama?
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