Engaging Faith | Sat, Nov 27, 2010
I had heard St. Josaphat's name, but it never roused my interest.
Was he Polish? Probably Eastern European anyway. Not my world or
spirituality, I felt sure.
But looking through Robert Ellsberg's wonderful book All Saints: Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses For Our Time, I had to marvel at God's mysterious ways.
to the legend, Josaphat was the son of an Indian king who persecuted
Christians. A seer warned the king that his son was going to become a
Christian, so the king had his son secluded. St Barlaam, monk in disguise, got
through to Josaphat in his place of seclusion, taught him about "the pearl of great price,"
converted him, and baptized him. Josaphat renounced the throne and his
wealth and went off to the desert with the monk to seek holiness.
traveled through both the Christian East and West and was influential
in the MiddleAges, translated into Greek, Latin, Slavonic and other
vernacular languages. Scholars found an Islamic version - and
eventually traced it back: Josaphat (Latin) which came from Joasaph
(Greek) which came from Lodasaph (Georgian) which came from Yudasaf
(Arabic) which came from Bodisaf (Manichee) which referred to the
Bodhisattva or Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, "the Hindu prince who
renounced his family, wealth and worldly power to seek the path of
It's a wonderful story, but wait, that isn't all. Tolstoy came across the story and wrote that it was influential in his own conversion. Gandhi read Tolstoy, was converted to non-violence and rediscovered his spiritual traditions. Martin Luther King, Jr., read Gandhi and discovered the methods of nonviolence that he employed here in the civil rights struggle.
Ellsberg concludes this way: "So by this curious route, the Buddha
became a Christian saint who inspired later generations of Christians to
pursue the path of enlightment. Rather than disavow Sts. Barlaam and
Josaphat as figures of legend, it might be better to celebrate them as
patron saints for an age of interreligious dialogue."