Saint Barlaam says in one of his parables, “One man had three friends. He loved the first two especially, and was ready to sacrifice everything for them even to death, while he treated the third one with negligence and had little disposition for him. But as it happens, warriors come to this man from the king, and threaten him, and command him to come to the king as soon as possible, to give an account of his debt of ten thousand pieces of silver. Without having anything to pay such a large debt, he went to seek help from his friends. He comes to the first one, describes his misfortune and asks for help. The friend he loved so much says, “I am not your friend and I do not know who you are; I have many friends now, and I go out with them and have fun; and when they are gone, others will appear. Here you are, take these two sackcloths, put them on, and expect nothing more from me”. Seeing that there was nothing he could get here, the man went to his other friend, whom he also loved very much, and said: “Friend, remember how I have always cherished your friendship, and the honor you received from me; now I am in mourning and in great trouble, help me.” This one replied: “Today I am busy, and I am in grief myself. I think I will walk you a little to the king, but do not expect anything else from me.” The man returned empty-handed from both of his closest friends. He went to his third friend, whom he had almost neglected up to that point. He came to him with a sad and ashamed face and said, “I dare not open my mouth to speak to you, for I have done you no good, and have never shown you any respect; but a great woe has beleaguered me, and no one to turn to for help but you. I had two friends, and they refused me; if you can, help me and forget my neglect of you.” This friend said to him: “Well, I truly honor you as a person close to me and, remembering your little goodness done to me, now I will gladly repay you. Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed; I will intercede for you with the king, and he will not put you in the hands of your enemies; be courageous, my dear, and do not be troubled.” Then the man cried out with tears: “Woe to me! What shall I weep for? Is it that I showed respect and love to my ungrateful friends, or that I showed carelessness to this true and unfeigned friend?”
What does this parable mean? The first friend is the pernicious greed for profit and the perishable richness that leaves a man when he dies and gives him only two sackcloths for burial – a winding-sheet and a shroud. The second friend is our family and friends, whom we often love so much that we may forget God; but they are of little use to us in death, for they lead man only to the grave, and then they will also forget him amidst their worries and cares. The third friend, however, is our good deeds, which will surely become, so to speak, intercessors for us before God when the soul is separated from the body, begging God for us, and helping us to walk freely through the aerial toll houses. Therefore, they are our true friends, who remember even little goodness, and reward us more than enough for it.
Let us not forget, therefore, that all earthly things must remain on this side of the grave, and that only our deeds will follow us, and that our good works will make up our true treasure in heaven. Therefore, let us not cling to what we will have to leave behind sooner or later; let us seek to enrich ourselves with the things that we will live with for eternity. St. Demetrius of Rostov says, “Blessed is the man who lays all his trust in God, whose treasure is in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also, the Lord says (Matthew 6:20-21). Thou shalt not apply thy heart,” continues the saint, “to the present things; for they shall not be found before long. Despise the earthly things and work hard to get rich in the celestial things. Despise those things that pass by, so that you could receive eternal favors, and that you may rejoice in Christ Jesus our Lord” (St. Demetrius, part I, p. 389). Amen.
Translated by The Catalogue of Good Deeds