St. Barsaumo was born in 380 AD in the village of Autan near Samosata (in Syriac: Shmeeshat) on the Euphrates. In his childhood he was once attacked and bitten by some dogs in his village, but he was not injured. His contemporaries interpreted the event as follows: In his life he will be attacked by many heretics, but he will defeat them and they cannot harm him.
As a child St. Barsaumo went with his relatives to Samosata, for he wanted to go to the desert to live in solitude, having a monastic life. A holy hermit named Abrohom (+406) prevented him from doing this with the reason that he was still too young. After that, Abrohom became his spiritual father. St. Barsaumo joined other young people for six years as a monk and student of this holy hermit Abrohom.
When he was still a child, St. Barsaumo made his first pilgrimage to Jerusalem barefoot and without provisions. There, he was persecuted by the pagans, as happened to all other Christians. After his return from Jerusalem, he settled on a barren hill on the border of Armenia. Since it snowed there often, he lived in great distress. The grace of God and his providence showed him a crevice where he could live. One day he saw an angel of God and a pillar of fire protecting his cave. Then, many people came to him and became his disciples. When his disciples were sitting to have their meal, the saint interpreted the words of the Holy Scriptures and wept.
St. Barsaumo was very strict with himself. He considered this: "If a servant does not dare to lie down in front of his secular lord, how shall I then lie down in front of the Lord of heaven and earth?" From that hour, he tortured himself before God day and night, he wanted not to lie down until his death. He did it for fifty-four years. All his life he lived on plants and other greenery that grew on the mountains. Although he was not very eloquent, in the word of God, he was very wise and learned. He was praying and fasting very much, thus he was rightly called “Bar Saumo”, which means “son of fasting”. Under his robe he wore a dress made of metal; in the winter his body was tortured by the cold, in summer, he was burning with heat. In prayer, he collected his thoughts and sighed from the bottom of his heart. Once, when he was praying, fire came down to him like a flash and became like a tongue, entering his mouth. The prayer he performed was from dawn to dusk in a bowed position. He wept during his prayer until the earth beneath his feet was muddy. He performed many miracles: he drove out demons from people, and blessed the fruit of their fields and vineyards. Whoever mentioned his name was released from suffering and cured of any illness. Through his prayer, St. Barsaumo healed people who were bitten by rabid dogs or snakes. Infertile women, who asked the saint for offspring, gave birth to children. One day he even stopped the sun in the sky, until he and his disciples reached their cave in the mountains. He commanded his disciples not to tell anyone about it.
Bishop Gamalin of Farin (or Birin) had heard about St. Barsaumo. Bishop Gamalin went to see him, examine him and ask him tough questions which he answered wonderfully. Then he consecrated him and his friend Zacharias, who was named among the brethren "Zuto Turoyo," as deacon and priest. Wherever St. Barsaumo celebrated the Holy Mass, the plague stopped and all praised God for his sake. One day, one of his disciples saw how the saint was surrounded by a great light, a large community standing with him in prayer and a Seraph receiving the tears of the saint.
On his second trip to Jerusalem St. Barsaumo was accompanied by his disciples, and they came to the border of Phoenicia, Arabia, and Palestine into a pagan city. The townspeople came out armed and wanted to wage a battle on the saint and his disciples. But he told them he wanted peace and no war, that they were merely on their way to Jerusalem. Then they were allowed to enter the city. But since at that time there was a drought in the city, the pagans demanded of the saint to pray to his God for rain. If it happened to rain, all of them would be ready to convert to the God of the Christians. St. Barsaumo went with his disciples in a big yard and began to pray. Suddenly, it rained so hard that the whole city was overflowing from the water. This rain lasted for four days and four nights. Afterwards the pagans turned away from their idols, and converted to the Christian God. Then the saint went with his disciples to the holy places and the Sinai Mountain. On his way back he visited St. Simeon Stylites (+459) in Antioch.
Later, St. Barsaumo set out with a hundred men for the third time to Jerusalem. As they were sailing in two ships on the sea, the waves towered up. The saint began to pray and the waves lay down until they arrived. When St. Barsaumo was still in Jerusalem, the Empress Eudoxia, the wife of Emperor Theodosius II (408-450), was in the sacred city as well. She delivered to the saint a lot of gold. He, however, did not accept as usual, because he just wanted to see the Empress. When she saw him and he spoke to her, she was so overwhelmed and impressed that she fell at his feet and started asking for the way that leads to heaven. He showed her how great the love to one’s fellow men is and said to her: "Give alms to the poor and have mercy for the weak, then your sins will be blotted out." From that day, the Empress began to give alms to the poor. She persuaded the saint, to take her imperial mantle from her hands in order to use it as cover to the altar. When she handed him her cloak, she also took the cowl of the saint as a blessing. On his way back, the saint taught many Samaritans and made them Christians. He was driving out evil spirits from many fortune tellers and seers.
When St. Barsaumo visited Emperor Theodosius in Constantinople one day, the emperor was very glad to receive the saint. The emperor wanted to give him gifts in plenty, the saint, however, wanted to take only a meagre cloth so that the offer of the emperor would be accepted. The emperor asked the saint to become patriarch and for his disciples to become bishops. But the saint replied that it was hard for him to give up his life in the desert. Then the emperor gave him his ring, which had his seal, a sign of power, which the saint received humbly. Later, the emperor invited him in writing for the Second Council of Ephesus (in 449). In his letter to the bishops the emperor praised the faith and the deeds of Saint Barsaumo, for the saint had won the sympathy of the emperor. The saint took part at the Council as the representative of all abbots of the East. He was the only member who was not a bishop but had the right to vote. After the Second Council of Ephesus concluded, the emperor invited the saint to Constantinople. St. Barsaumo got there and then went by ship to Antioch. The emperor wrote another letter in which he warned the people to honour St. Barsaumo, the servant of God. St. Barsaumo arrived in Antioch. Some hostile clerics were trying to harm the saint by intrigue, he, however, would escape.
At that time jealous opponents of St. Barsaumo wrote mendacious letters to the emperor. Afterwards, Emperor Theodosius called him to come quickly to Constantinople. When the emperor saw him, he was very happy, and realized that everything that had been written about him was a lie.
In 450, Emperor Theodosius died; his successor was Marcian (450-457), who followed the doctrine of Nestorius (after +451), which is concerned with the person of Jesus Christ. This changing of the emperor was for St. Barsaumo not without effect, as the new emperor was disposed to being hostile towards him. In 451 the council was held at Chalcedon in the province of Bithynia. Even St. Barsaumo was invited to the council, but a group of the council did not allow him to participate. The 636 bishops who attended the council, along with Emperor Marcian and his wife Pulcheria accepted the doctrine of two natures in Christ which the Oriental Churches reject to this day. Marcian the emperor gave order to kill more than 30 thousand Orthodox Christians in Alexandria and perpetrated cruel deeds in Jerusalem. In Palestine, around 30,500 men were killed. St. Barsaumo supported the right faith and encouraged many people in that difficult time in their hope in God.
But there were some chalcedonian bishops, who were prone to hostility towards St. Barsaumo and therefore told lies about him before Emperor Marcian and his wife, because they wanted him dead. Then the emperor gave the order to arrest the saint and bring him to Constantinople. The saint was brought to Constantinople and was judged. Because his judge had been unjust and impertinent, and was proved to be malicious, the judge suddenly became deathly ill and died after a few days time. Then the emperor sent a governor to the saint, and told him to go and leave Constantinople, for they were afraid of him. The saint did not want to leave the city. The emperor then sent another man to St. Barsaumo to tell him that he should return to his monastery. Before leaving the city, the saint sent this message for Empress Pulcheria: "Before I'll reach my monastery, you will no longer be queen," for it was she who wanted to emphatically expel the saint from the city. When he left the city, the news reached St. Barsaumo that the empress died. Furthermore, a flame of fire came from heaven and burned many houses in the city. St. Barsaumo came to Nicomedia, where he spread the creed of the Council of Nicaea (325). Once he reached the monastery, he performed countless miracles and healed many sick people, and even raised someone from the dead.
Once again, chalcedonian bishops wrote in a letter to the emperor that St. Barsaumo was a rebel who performed miracles by magic and conjuring tricks, and collected gold and people in order to revolt against the emperor. Then Marcian the Emperor was filled with anger and wanted to send troops to the monastery in order to kill St. Barsaumo and all his disciples. When the saint heard about it, he said, unconcerned: "Marcian will have no power over me. My death will kill him." Marcian the Emperor died three years after the death of St. Barsaumo and his monastery and his disciples were spared.
St. Barsaumo saw in a vision that he would be taken ill and suffer severe pain. After he told this vision to his disciples, he became ill. He blessed one of his disciples, and sent him to Persia and Armenia to preach the faith there. When the passing of the saint approached, an angel of the Lord came to him and brought him the news: "After four days Christ will bring you to him. Give your last instructions!" Then he brought his monks together, and spoke four days and four nights without a break with them and blessed them each individually. During the night of February 1, 458 the saint lay down and glorified Christ. At that hour, a pillar of fire was seen, which came upon the head of the saint. Before the saint passed away, the earth trembled several times and was saddened by his decease. He was buried on the 3rd of February, in 458, in Syria.
Even after his decease, he performed many miracles. There are miracle reports from the 12th century, which he has performed through the relic of his right hand in his monastery in Malatya.