Orthodox America


  Saint Barlaam of the Kiev Caves


Commemorated November 19

This took place during that grace-filled time, when Orthodoxy was blossoming luxuriantly on the Russian field. It was then that, by the grace of the Mother of God, there was planted on the hills of Kiev what came to be known as the Kiev-Caves Lavra, a large monastery founded by Saint Anthony, the great elder, and his fellow monastic laborer and ascetic struggler, Saint Theodosius.

How pure was the zeal of these first monks! Living in the darkness of the caves, they shone with a spiritual light that gave needed inspiration for the newly baptized Orthodox nation.

Among others, there often came to the caves to visit the holy monks a youth by the name of Barlaam. He was the son of wealthy and eminent parents: his father, John, was the chief boyar of Prince Iziaslav.  Tall, strong, practiced from a young age in the martial arts, decisive, and bold, he led a pure life. The Gospel made an indelible impression on his heart; everywhere he saw the image of the crucified Christ, Who had suffered for our sakes.

Barlaam had no desire to acquire glory on that earth which had brought Christ only thorns. In the example of the Kiev-Caves monks, he saw before him the crown of Christian life, and he decided to join them.

When he heard the words of the Lord, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of God (Matt. 19:24), his destiny was sealed. He could no longer remain in the world. Coming to Saint Anthony, he told him of his intent, "I want to become a monk and to live with you."

"Yours is a worthy and blessed desire," replied the Saint, "but see that the riches and honors of this world do not cause you to turn back." The elder spoke at length with the youth, and Barlaam returned home with fixed resolve.

The sacrifice he was making was considerable: he had wealth, he had esteem, he had a beautiful fiancée who loved him. And all this he determined to abandon.

The next day, donning fine and costly apparel, he mounted his horse and, accompanied by a score of servants leading other horses laden with expensive goods, he rode up to the monastery gates in great glory. The monks came out to greet him and bowed down to him. Barlaam jumped from his horse and fell at their feet. He took off his boyar's garments and laid them before Saint Anthony. He pointed at the laden horses and said, "All these worldly goods I am giving to you. Do with them what you will. I am giving up all in order to acquire Christ. I want to live with you in these caves. I shall not go home again."

The Saint urged him to think well upon such a serious decision. "Believe me, father, even if my father should decide to beat me, I will in no wise return to the world. Therefore, make haste to tonsure me."

The Saint had spent enough time with the youth to know his deep faith and his readiness for spiritual struggle. He did not want to be responsible for his soul and push him back into that world which he had left with such firm resolve. And so, that same day Barlaam was granted the monastic tonsure. Indeed, his father, on learning what had become of his son, became very irate and decided to act with force. Summoning a crowd of servants, he arrived at the caves, chased off the monks, dragged out his son, tore from him his monastic attire, and ordered the servants to clothe him in the rich clothes of a boyar. Barlaam threw these on the floor, and he did this not once but several times until his father put them on by force and, tying his son's hands, took him home.

There Barlaam was forcibly made to sit at the table. Then his father sent him to his quarters, ordering the servants to keep a sharp eye on him, that he not run away. He sent his fiancee to him, hoping she could persuade him to remain in the world. But after three days of such treatment, Barlaam still had not succumbed to any temptations. To all their threats and cajoling he answered nothing, just as he refused the tasty dishes that were offered. At last his father relented and allowed Barlaam to return to the caves monastery.

Saint Barlaam belongs to the choir of illustrious ascetics of the Kiev-Caves Lavra. Abandoning worldly happiness, he was glorified by God with incorruption and now shines with eternal radiance.

Translated from Svyataya Yunost', reprinted Moscow 1994.


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