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Brief History Of Asaad Esh Shidiak From The Time Of His Being Betrayed Into The Hands Of The Maronite Patriarch In The Spring Of 1826








=Translated from the Arabic of Naami Latoof.=

When the relatives of Asaad brought him to the convent of Alma in the
district of Kesroan, and gave him up to the patriarch, the latter began
by way of flattery to promise him all the worldly advantages he could
bestow; but withal demanding that he should put away all the heretical
notions, and all the corrupt knowledge, which the Bible-men, those
enemies of the pope, had taught him. He replied, "These things which you
hold out to me, are to me of no value. I no longer trouble myself about
them, for they are vain and of short duration. Every christian is bound
to think, and labour, and strive to be accounted worthy to hear that
blessed welcome, 'Come ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom
prepared for you from the foundation of the world.' As to rejecting from
my mind those things which I have learned from the Bible-men, I have to
say, that, for many years, I had read, occasionally, the holy
scriptures, which are able to make us wise unto salvation, but could not
live according to them; for I was given to the indulgence of all wicked
passions: but since my acquaintance with these men, I see myself,
through the merits of my Saviour, possessed of a new heart, though it is
not yet, I confess, in all respects such as I could wish it to be."

During the few days they remained in the Kesroan, the patriarch shewed
him every attention, and suffered no one to oppose his opinions saying,
"The protestants, by the great sums they have given him, have blinded
his eyes, and inclined him to join them, and diffuse their poisonous
sentiments, so that he cannot, at once, be brought to leave them. Let
him alone for the present, do nothing to oppose or to offend him, until
we shall arrive at Cannobeen, where we may examine into his faith and
state at our leisure, and if we find that he still clings to his heresy,
we then can do with him as circumstances may require." After a short
time they proceeded with him to Cannobeen, and there began to use
arguments to convince him of his errors, and persuade him to confess and
forsake them, and embrace whatever the councils and the church had
enacted;--requiring that he should surrender his conscience to the holy
catholic church, and bless all whom she blessed, and curse all whom she
cursed; and this they did in the most stern and threatening manner. He
replied, "It has been said, by the mouth of the Holy One, Bless and
curse not." They still pressed him to yield his opinions, but he said,
"I can give up nothing, nor can I believe any thing but as it is written
in the holy scriptures; for in these is contained all doctrines
necessary to salvation."--"But," said they, "is every thing then,
worthless, that has been ordained by the councils and the fathers?" He
answered, "The councils may have enacted laws good for themselves, but
we are not bound to follow them."

After urging him, day after day, to no purpose, they finally asked in
despair, "Are you then still of the same sentiment?" "Of the same
sentiment," said he; "I still believe and hold whatever is written in
the holy scriptures, and neither more nor less." "Will every one, then,
who reads the gospel, be saved?" "By no means;--but as it is written,
'he that hath my commands and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me.'"
"It is the duty of every person to possess the gospel, and read it?"
"Yes, it is the duty of every one. 'For,' said Paul, 'if our gospel be
hid, it is hid to them that are lost, in whom the god of this world hath
blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the
glorious gospel should shine unto them.'" They then reviled him, and
spurned him away from their sight, and began to meditate measures of
violence against him. He was separated from all around him, and
compelled to take his meals by himself; and lest he should attempt to
escape, a person was set over him to keep him under a constant watch. He
was made to feel himself in the lowest state of disgrace, all taking the
fullest liberty to reproach and ridicule him.

From this state of debasement he soon began to meditate his escape.
Accordingly, one evening, just as the sun had set, and while his
keeper's eye was off him, he fled. An immediate and diligent search was
made for him, but he could not be found until the second day, when he
was discovered still hiding in a grove near by, for he was totally
ignorant of the way he ought to take. They brought him immediately to
the patriarch. When he arrived, he was met by reproaches and revilings,
and the servants, by order of the patriarch beat him, and put him into
confinement. This was at Diman, a pleasant, airy situation belonging to
Cannobeen, and about an hour's distance from it. Soon after this, he was
taken up to the latter place, when he was left a little more at large,
but was always under the watch of a keeper.

One evening, when all had gone in the chapel for prayers, he lay as if
he had been asleep, and the monk, his keeper, thinking him really so,
went in with the rest, but took with him, as a precaution, Asaad's
silver inkhorn, supposing that if he should wake, and think of escaping,
he would not be willing to leave behind him so valuable an article. When
Asaad saw that all were gone, knowing the length of their prayers, he at
once left the convent, and ran about an hour's distance. People were
despatched in search of him with all diligence, but they returned
without finding him. On account of his ignorance of the way, he remained
secreted near the road till the day broke, when he continued his flight
until he had reached the distance of three hours or more from his
prison, when a couple of men in the service of the patriarch, having
been apprized of his escape by the pursuers during the night, discovered
him, and called out, "Who are you? Are you Asaad?" He replied, "I am
Asaad." They at once took him into custody, and brought him back, but
without any violence or indignity, to the patriarch. A different
treatment, however, awaited him at the convent. He had no sooner reached
it, than they covered him with insult, beating him, and mocking him, and
saying, "fool that you are, why did you answer to your name?" He
replied, "God has laid a curse upon the lying mouth, and therefore I
cannot use it." They said, "If you do not return to your faith, and hold
to all that has been ordained by the church and the fathers, you are
ruined. You will die under your tortures, and go to perdition." He
replied, "Whoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved. I
am willing to expose myself to every indignity and suffering for the
sake of Him who loved us, and shed his precious blood for our salvation.
These things I am bound to say and do, and I am bound to exhort you
also, as beloved friends." When he had said this, they all laughed him
to scorn, called him a madman, and were about to beat him for
attempting, as they pretended, to make heretics of them also. When he
saw their anger, he cried out, "Why are you enraged at me, and what are
you about to do to me? I am a dying man like yourselves, and preach unto
you that you should turn from your vanities unto the living God, who
made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all that are therein." They
then renewed their cries that he was mad, and thrust him into his prison
room, and locked the door upon him, and strict orders were given that no
one should say any thing to him more or less. In this state he remained
for some days. The patriarch then sent to him to inquire after his
faith, especially respecting his trust in the images of the church,
declaring to him that without faith in these, he could not be saved. He
replied, "Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility
and worshipping of angels." They brought him proofs from the councils,
that images were used by the fathers, and ought to be set up and
worshipped in the churches, in honour of the saints, and to obtain their
intercession. He answered, "I will also bring you proof from the
councils, that the worship of images, and all use of them in the
churches, was forbidden and reprobated by the fathers." Here they
contradicted him. "Be it as it may," said he, "it is impossible for me
to follow the opinions of any man or set of men., and leave the word of
God behind me. This word tells me, that 'forasmuch as we are the
offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto
gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art or man's device.'" The
messengers then quit him, and made their report to the patriarch, who
left him in his prison for a considerable time, in the most abject and
suffering state.

In process of time, certain individuals, possessed of a little humanity,
became interested in his situation, sympathized in his sufferings,
interceded for him, and procured liberty to open the prison door, so
that any one who chose could go in and see him without restraint. Again
he began to meditate an attempt to escape, and on a certain evening, set
off from the convent. But, as before, his ignorance of the proper path
to escape in, prevented the accomplishment of his purpose. He soon saw
the lighted torches streaming off in every direction in search of him,
and to avoid his pursuers, turned aside a short distance, and climbed
into a tree. From this situation he did not dare to come down till the
night was fairly gone, when he shifted the position of his clothes,
turning his cloak inside out, using his turban for a girdle and his
girdle for a turban, and took his way. He had, however, not proceeded
far, when one of the patriarch's men discovered him, and called out,
"Asaad is it you?" He answered, "it is I." The man immediately caught
him, like a greedy wolf, bound him, beat him, and drove him before him,
as a slave, or a brute, to Cannobeen. On their way they were met by many
others who had been sent off in quest of him, who all united with the
captor in his brutal treatment. On his arrival, the patriarch gave
immediate orders for his punishment, and they fell upon him with
reproaches, caning him and smiting him with their hands; and so it was,
that as often as they struck him on one cheek, he turned to them the
other also. "This," said he, "is a joyful day to me. My blessed Lord and
Master has said, 'Bless them that curse you, and if they strike you on
the right cheek turn to them the left also.' This I have been enabled to
do, and I am ready to suffer even more than this for him, who was
beaten, and spit upon, and led as a sheep to the slaughter, on our
account." When they heard this, they fell to beating him anew saying,
"Have we need of your preaching, thou deceiver? Of what avail are such
pretensions in one who is in the broad way to perdition?" He replied,
"he that believeth that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, hath eternal
life." "Ah," said they, "this is what blinds you. Your salvation is by
faith alone in Christ; thus you cast contempt on his mother, and his
saints; you deny the presence of his holy body on earth;"--and they
threw him on the ground, overwhelmed with the multitude of their blows.
For three successive days, he was subjected to the bastinado, by order
of the patriarch, who, after that, summoned him to his presence, and
demanded of him his faith. "I am a Christian, a follower of Jesus of
Nazareth." Those present exhorted him to acknowledge the intercession of
the saints, and to repair to them for help in this hour of trial. But he
refused, saying, "My help is in him who shed his blood for sinners."
"But have the saints," said they, "no intercession, and is it vain to
worship them, and pray to them?" He said, "We are not taught to seek
help or protection from any, but from him who is the Great Shepherd, who
has said with his own blessed mouth, 'Come unto me, all ye that labour
and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.' To any other than God,
we are not commanded to pray or seek for refuge."

They then returned him to his prison as before. Those who sympathized
with him, went and begged him to confess that the canons of the councils
were binding on all Christians, and that the images were very properly
made use of in the churches. He answered, "Professing themselves to be
wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God
into an image made like unto corruptible man." At this they turned away
from him in despair and disgust, and reported to the patriarch that he
was in the most settled state of obstinacy, and was doubtless possessed
of a devil.

Upon this, the patriarch ordered him to be put in chains, and the door
to be barred upon him, as formerly, and his food to be given him in
short allowance. In this condition he remained till he was much reduced,
and began to entreat them to have pity on him and take off the irons
from his feet, and open the door of his prison. Some were moved by his
supplications, interceded for him, unbarred the door, took off his
chains, and left him. He arose, walked out, and sat down with one of
them and conversed. He then begged the patriarch to give him some books
to copy, to rid himself of the tedium of his idleness. But he refused,
nor would he suffer any to hold conversation with him.

After some days, there came into the convent two men, in the character
of beggars, and wished to pass the night, but were turned away. That
same night Asaad made another attempt to escape. As soon as it was
discovered that he was gone, a vigorous search was made to find him, but
all to no purpose. The universal cry now was, that the two men already
mentioned had been sent by the protestants to steal him away for a large
reward. Immediately his holiness, the patriarch, sent letters to the
emeer Abdallah informing him of Asaad's escape, and requesting him to
guard the roads of the Kesroan, and search the neighbourhood, if
possibly Asaad might still be found lurking in that district.
Accordingly search was made, Asaad was discovered among his relatives by
a couple of soldiers, was bound, and taken off to the emeer, who sent
him direct to the patriarch.

On his arrival, he was loaded with chains, cast into a dark, filthy
room, and bastinadoed, every day, for eight days, sometimes fainting
under the operation, until he was near death. He was then left in his
misery, his bed a thin flag mat, his covering his common clothes. The
door of his prison was filled up with stone and mortar, and his food was
six thin cakes of bread a day, and a scanty cup of water. In this
loathsome dungeon, from which there was no access but a small loop hole,
through which they passed his food, he lay for several days; and he
would lift up his voice, and cry, "Love ye the Lord Jesus Christ
according as he hath loved us, and given himself to die for us. Think of
me, O ye that pass by, have pity upon me, and deliver me from these
sufferings."

Now when his groans and cries were thus heard, a certain priest, who had
been a former friend of Asaad, was touched with compassion. His former
friendship revived, his bowels yearned over his suffering brother, and
he besought every one who could speak with the patriarch, that they
would intercede and endeavour to soften his feelings towards his
prisoner. By dint of perseverance, the priest at length succeeded, and
obtained permission to open the prison door of his friend and take off
his irons. The first request he made of the priest on his entering, was,
that he would give him a little food, for he was famishing with hunger.
The priest immediately brought him a little bread and cooked victuals,
which he ate, and said, "The name of the Lord be blessed."

Those present began to exhort him to turn to the mother of God, if,
peradventure, she would have mercy upon him, and bring him back to the
way of salvation. He answered, "If she has the power of intercession,
let her intercede for us with her beloved Son." The priest was very
assiduous in supplying him with every thing necessary for his comfort;
in particular he obtained the return of his clothes, of which he had
been partly stripped; for the snow was upon the ground, and the cold
filled him with pains.

Now when the others saw the care and attention of the priest, they said,
"You have become a convert to his heretical opinions." But he replied,
"God has said, 'Blessed are the merciful;'" and continued firm in his
purpose. His assiduity was such, that whenever he left the convent for
any time, he would give money to the cook to prevail on him to supply
Asaad with proper food, and to attend upon him in whatever he might
need. The enemies of the priest accused him to the patriarch, but they
could not succeed in their object, for the priest is of blameless
morals, and has a good name among all.

The priest now passed much of his time in company with Asaad, and
conversed with him freely. On a certain occasion they began to converse
on the subject of the cross, the priest saying it ought to be
worshipped. Asaad replied, "For what reason? and where is the use of
it?" The priest said, "In memory of the Saviour." Asaad,--"Why do you
kiss the cross, and who has commanded it?" Priest,--"We kiss it in
honour of him who hung upon it." Asaad.--"But why then do you not paint
the ass also, and pay it all obeisance, and all honours, for our
Saviour, when he rode upon the ass, was in all honour, and all paid him
obeisance; but when he was on the cross, he was in sorrow and disgrace."
The priest reproved him gently for returning such an answer, and when he
saw that the priest was displeased, he said, "On account of your love to
me, and the favour you have done me, I wish to prove to you this point,
that all religious reverence and worship and service to any but God, is
vain; for it is said, 'He that heareth my word, and believeth on him
that sent me, hath everlasting life,' and I have to beg of you, that you
will continually search the holy scriptures, and pray as David prayed,
'Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within
me.'" During this time, one of their enemies was standing without the
door, and listened to the whole conversation. This man went immediately,
to the patriarch, and told him all that he had heard, and that the
priest was conversing with Asaad in so gentle a manner, that he was
likely soon to be won over to heresy. His holiness was startled at the
intelligence, and hastening down inquired the truth of the report. Asaad
concealed nothing. The patriarch, however, at first, repressed his own
feelings, and exhorted him in the most winning manner he could assume,
promising that if he would but return to the holy church and fathers and
councils, worship the images, and saints, and the mother of God, he
would again immediately make him his secretary. He replied, "With regard
to the opinions which I hold, I assure you I wish to hold none which are
opposed to the word of God; and as to resorting to the virgin Mary, I
say, as I have before said, that if she has any power of intercession,
let her intercede for us. As to giving up my opinions to the church and
councils, how can I do it, so long as I am possessed of satisfactory
evidence that these councils are opposed to one another? We are in no
need of the councils, but have sufficient light without them to guide us
in the way of salvation. Moreover I can say, that I do surrender my
opinions to the holy catholic church, for I profess the faith of the
church of Christ, and unite my conscience with it."

The patriarch could no longer restrain his feelings, but broke out in
the language of reproach, saying, "You are a worthless fellow,
obstinately bent on maintaining your folly. I give you to understand
that I am clear of your guilt. You will not be taught, but love to shew
your contempt of the cross, and of the worship of the images, whose
worship is only in honour of those to whose memory they are set up, and
who laboured and died in the service of Christ." Asaad replied, "With
regard to worshipping such things as these, it is said, 'Thou shalt
worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve;' and as to
those who laboured and shed their blood for the Saviour, they are above
our honours, for they have gone to inherit unspeakable glory in their
master's presence." The patriarch was more angry than ever, and taking
off his slipper, beat both him and the priest, and drove the latter from
the room, and locked the door.

After six days of additional confinement, the friendly priest again
procured his release from his prison, and obtained the favour of taking
the entire oversight of him. In this condition the persecuted man
remains. May the Most High grant him speedy deliverance.

Feb. 15th, 1827.

* * * * *

The latest accounts from Palestine state that Asaad is still in
confinement, but remains firm to the principles he has embraced. In a
letter from Mr. Goodell, dated April, 1830, we find the following
sentence.--"Asaad Shidiak is still alive, and there is every reason to
believe that he loves and obeys the truth, that he is sanctified by it,
rooted and grounded in it, and ready to suffer for it." We take our
leave of this interesting narrative, commending the suffering subject of
it to God, and the word of his grace, accounting him more blessed if he
perseveres steadfast unto the end, than if his brows were endowed with
an imperial diadem.





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