Saint Barlaam was an illiterate labourer who worked in a village near Antioch in the fourth century, at a time when Christians were still being persecuted for their faith. Because of his boldness in proclaiming his faith, Barlaam was brought before a judge, but he refused to weaken in his zeal for Christ. He was whipped, and so savagely stretched on the rack that his bones were dislocated but still the Saint would not renounce his Saviour. The judge, supposing that he could easily trick this uneducated Christian ordered his officers to set up an altar to their pagan god and light a fire on it. Then Barlaam was brought out of the dungeon. Incense was placed in his hand, which was then held in the flames over the altar. The judge’s plan was to watch Barlaam pull his hand from the flames in pain, thus dropping the incense upon the altar – this would have represented a sacrifice to the pagan god. But the Saint realised what the judge was trying to achieve and so kept his hand in the flames. At no point did he weaken, but foiled his tormenters by holding his hand completely steady until it had totally burned away. This enraged the judge who then had him taken away and executed.
Such is the love that can dwell within a faithful heart; so many Christian Saints have overcome all fear of pain and death. Another example of this was St. Apollonia, who when captured did not let her captures have the pleasure of throwing her on the fire but chose to walk into the flames by herself – with God all things are possible.