University of Oxford

File(s) not publicly available

E02572: John Chrysostom, in his homily On *Barlaam (martyr of Antioch, S00417), delivered during a festival of the saint at a shrine of martyrs in Antioch (Syria), recounts the story of the martyr. Written in Greek, probably at Antioch, 386/397.

online resource
posted on 2017-03-15, 00:00 authored by erizos
John Chrysostom, On Barlaam (CPG 4361; BGH 222)


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.

Summary: Efthymios Rizos.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Barlaam/Barlāhā, martyr in Antioch : S00417

Saint Name in Source


Type of Evidence

Literary - Hagiographical - Accounts of martyrdom Literary - Sermons/Homilies


  • Greek

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Syria with Phoenicia

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc

Antioch on the Orontes

Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

Antioch on the Orontes Thabbora Thabbora

Major author/Major anonymous work

John Chrysostom

Cult activities - Liturgical Activity

  • Service for the Saint

Cult activities - Festivals

  • Saint’s feast

Cult activities - Places

Burial site of a saint - unspecified

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs


Cult activities - Rejection, Condemnation, Scepticism

Uncertainty/scepticism/rejection of a saint

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle after death Exorcism

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - unspecified


John of Antioch, bishop of Constantinople, who came to be known as Chrysostom (the Golden Mouth), was born in 344/354 in Antioch on the Orontes where he studied under Libanius. He joined the Nicene Christian community of Antioch, led by bishop Meletios of Antioch, and was ordained priest by Meletios’ successor, Flavianos in 386. Acquiring a great reputation as a preacher, John was appointed as bishop of Constantinople in 397. Clashing with the bishop of Alexandria Theophilos and the empress Eudoxia in 403/404, Chrysostom was deposed and banished to Cucusus in Cappadocia and died in Comana of Pontus in 407. This homily is known from 28 manuscripts, on which see Rambault 2018 and:


Although this homily provides little internal evidence about its date and venue, it can be ascribed to Chryostom’s Antiochene period. The subject is a martyr whose feast and story are placed at Antioch by the martyrologies and by an independent martyrdom account (E02573). The same story, enhanced with a few more details, is also recorded by another homily, misattributed to Basil of Caesarea (E00673). It is worth noticing two aspects of the narrative which, in the times of Chrysostom, stirred doubts about the merit of this martyr: the fact that Barlaam eventually did drop the frankincense onto the altar, as a result of the burning of his hand, and the fact that this was the only form of torture he suffered. Our author dedicates some of his homily to arguing against such judgements of the martyrs and their torments. It is worth comparing the version known to Chrysostom with the one found in the saint’s martyrdom account, where both of these aspects are conspicuously removed: Barlaam is tortured twice before the trial over the burning altar, and he does not drop the incense till the very end. Our text makes no hint to the date of the feast. In another homily, Chrysostom indicates that the feast of Barlaam was after winter, in the warmer part of the year (E00). This could fit with the testimony of the Syriac Martyrology which records the feast on 14 August or with a feast on 31 May recorded in Slavonic synaxaria. Another major feast of the saint seems to have been in mid-November: the Martyrologium Hieronymianum records it in an ambiguous way on 18 November, while the Greek martyrdom account and the synaxaria place it on 16 November. The November feast seems to have been associated with that of *Romanos. Both of these saints are likely to have been buried at the ancient Christian cemetery of Antioch, the Koimeterion.


Text: Migne, J.-P., Patrologia Graeca 50 (Paris: Imprimerie Catholique, 1862), 675-682. Rambault, N., and Allen, P., Jean Chrysostome. Panégyriques de Martyrs I (Sources Chrétiennes 595; Paris: Éditions du Cerf, 2018) (critical edition, French translation, introduction, notes). Translation: Mayer, W., St John Chrysostom, The Cult of the Saints: Select Homilies and Letters Introduced, Translated, and Annotated (Popular Patristics Series; New York: St Vladimir's Seminary Press, 2006), 177-189. Further reading: Delehaye, H. "Saint Barlaam, Martyr a Antioche," Analecta Bollandiana 22 (1903), 129-45. Downey, G., Ancient Antioch (Princeton, 1961). Drobner, H.R., The Fathers of the Church: A Comprehensive Introduction (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007), 327-337. Kelly, J.N.D., Golden Mouth: The Story of John Chrysostom. Ascetic, Preacher, Bishop (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1995).

Usage metrics

    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



    Ref. manager