This calendar of saints is drawn from several denominations, sects, and traditions. Although it will no longer be updated daily, the index on the right will guide visitors to a saint celebrated on any day they choose. Additional saints will be added as they present themselves to Major.

Monday, November 19, 2012

November 19 -- Feast of Saint Barlaam of Antioch

Hey Gordon, got a light?
The career vicissitudes of G. Gordon Liddy are a fascinating subject.  From attorney and FBI agent to general counsel for the President's re-election campaign and then all the way down to convicted felon.  His resurrection as a novelist, television actor, corporate security consultant (ending in bankruptcy), and coast-to-coast radio commentator belies Scott Fitzgerald's too-oft-quoted line.  But the man who has the license plate H2OGATE on his 1937 Rolls Royce is not our subject today, nor even on November 30, his birthday.  [You still have time to send a card.]  We are only concerned with the candle and the hand. 

To quote All the President's Men, I was at a party once and (G. Gordon) Liddy put his hand over a candle, and he kept it there.  He kept it right in the flame until his flesh was burned.  Somebody said, “What’s the trick?”  And Liddy said, “The trick is not minding.”
O'Toole as Lawrence: "The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts."

If Mr. Liddy said that, he was of course quoting T. E. Lawrence, or at least the character played by Peter O'Toole in Lawrence of Arabia. [Academy, you owe the man an Oscar and the clock is ticking.] Nonetheless, the hand in the flame is a time-honored demonstration of commitment.  Some see it as evidence of insanity, too, including William Mark Felt, Sr., more famously known as Deep Throat, the mole in Nixon's White House.

It takes a big fig leaf to cover those colei.
No one saw it as crazy when Mucius Scaevola (Lefty) held his hand in a fire until it was charred beyond healing.  When the Clusian king Lars Porsena was laying siege to Rome, Mucius entered the Clusian camp to assassinate the him.  He killed the King's secretary (it was dark, okay?) and was captured.  Knowing he would be killed, he warned the King that 300 more Roman youths had volunteered for the mission; an assassin a night for as long as the siege was laid.  He then put his right hand (all Romans were right-handed -- you can look it up) into the brazier to show the commitment of a Roman.  Duly impressed, Lars Porsena sent Mucius back to Rome with ambassadors of peace.

Barlaam fits in after Mucius but before Lawrence and Liddy.  Arrested during the Great Persecution of Diocletian (when the whole Who's Who in Christianity was rounded up and put to fire, sword, or wild beast), Barlaam was put to the usual tortures to force apostasy.  He was shown the bloody instruments which had taken his brothers and sisters in Christ.  He was scourged, and then racked.  Praefects can be proud sometimes, and resistance can piss them off.  Somehow, Barlaam's rustic speech and humble demeanor got under this guy's skin.  He resolved that he would force Barlaam to put incense into the fire rather than just kill him. 

Barlaam: fist full of incense
He strapped Barlaam's arm in position so that his hand was poised just above a brazier.  He dedicated a little incense and put it in Barlaam's hand.  If Barlaam flinched, the incense would fall and the sacrifice would have been made. When Barlaam did not move, they dropped a live coal onto the palm of his hand.  They figured as long as he flung the burning incense, the sacrifice would be complete.  He preferred to let the coal burn through his palm. 

Even praefects have enough sense to know when they've been beaten.  The more of a stage you give to a guy like Barlaam, the more glory accrues to the God of the Trinity rather than to Jupiter and the Capitoline Pantheon (or Zeus and the Olympians, since they were out in Antioch).  Barlaam got the sword, the palm, and the crown of martyrdom. 

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