Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ! ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.
STICHERA. TONE EIGHT
[Vespers on Saturday evening: The Fourth Sunday in Lent on which we celebrate the memory of our Holy Father Saint John Climacus (of the Ladder)]
O Holy Father John, truly has thou ever carried on thy lips the praises of the Lord, and with great wisdom hast thou studied the words of Holy Scripture that teach us how to practice the ascetic life. So has thou gained the riches of grace, and thou hast become blessed, overthrowing all the purposes of the un-godly.
Most glorious Father John, with the fountain of thy tears thou hast cleansed thy soul, and by keeping vigils through the night thou has gained God's mercy. Thou was raised on wings, O blessed one, to the love of Him and of His beauty; and as is right thou dwellest now in His unending joy, with thy fellow soldiers in the spiritual fight, O holy Saint of God.
Introduction to the book of the divine ascent.
The Ladder: Purpose and structure
Saint John's Audience
The Ladder was written, then, by one who, after living for most of his monastic life as a hermit (ερημίτης), had in old age been entrusted with the pastoral care of a large community; it is the work of a solitary writing for cenobites. The audience that Saint John has in view is monastic. He begins his book, however, with a clear affirmation of God's loving care for the entirety of mankind. Salvation is offered to all alike:
"God is the life of all free beings. He is the salvation of believers or unbelievers, of the just or the unjust...of monks or those living in the world, of the educated or the illiterate, of the healthy or the sick, of the young or the very old. He is like the outpouring of light, the glimpse of the sun, or the changes of the weather, which are the same for everyone without exception. "For God is no respecter of persons" (Romans 2:11).
To the married Christian Saint John insists that matrimony is not an obstacle to salvation:
"Do whatever good you may. Speak evil of no one. Rob no one. Tell no lie. Despise no one...Show compassion to the needy...Be satisfied with what your own wives can provide you. If you do all this, you will not be far from the Kingdom of heaven."
Later in the work, he points out that purity is by no means the monopoly of those who have never married, and he cites as proof the example of the Apostle Peter, "who had a mother-in-law and who nevertheless received the keys of the Kingdom."
THE NEED FOR PERSONAL EXPERIENCE
Saint John Climacus, like Saint Symeon the New Theologian and Saint Gregory Palamas at a later date, lays heavy emphasis upon the need for personal experience. Christianity, as he sees it, is much more than the exterior acceptance of doctrines and rules. No one can be a True Christian at second hand; there must be a personal encounter, in which each knows, sees, tasts and touches for himself. (Introduction of the book "The Ladder of Divine Ascent")
A BRIEF SUMMARY OF ALL THE PRECEDING STEPS
A strong faith is the mother or renunciation. The opposite of this is quite evident.
Unswerving hope is the gateway of detachment. The opposite of this is perfectly obvious.
Love of God is the foundation of exile. The opposite of this is quite evident.
Self-criticism begets obedience and the longing for health.
Self-control is the mother of health. The mother of self-control is the thought of death and the memory of the gall and vinegar of God our Lord.
The solitary life is the helper and the foundation of chastity.
Fasting quenches the fires of the flesh. And contrition of heart is the foe of dirty thoughts.
Faith and withdrawal from the world are the death of avarice.
Compassion and love are the betrayers of the body.
Unremitting prayer is the death of despondency.
Remembrance of the judgment is an encouragement to zeal.
Love of being dishonored is a cure for anger. And the singing of hymns, the display of compassion, and poverty are quenchers of sorrow.
Detachment from the things perceived by the senses means the vision of things spiritual.
Silence and solitude are the foes of vainglory. If you are in a crowd, seek out dishonor.
A gloomy environment will cure open pride, but only He Who is invisible from all eternity can cure the pride hidden within us.
We continue with the thirty steps:
On Placidity and Meekness
As the gradual pouring of water on a fire puts out the flames completely, so the tears of genuine mourning can extinguish every flame of anger and irascibility. Hence this comes next in our sequence.
Freedom from anger is an endless wish for dishonor, whereas among the vainglorious there is a limitless thirst for praise. Freedom from anger is a triumph over one's nature. It is the ability to be impervious to insults, and comes by hard work and the sweat of one's brow.
Meekness is a permanent condition of that soul which remains unaffected by whether or not it is spoken well of, whether or not it is honored or praised...A sign of utter meekness is to have a heart peacefully and lovingly disposed toward someone who has been offensive, and a sure proof of a hot temper is that a man, even when he is alone, should with word and gesture continue to rage and fulminate against some absent person who has given offence.
The holy virtues are like a ladder of Jacob and the unholy vices are like the chains that fell off the chief Apostle Peter. The virtues lead from one to another and carry heavenward the man who chooses them. Vices on the other hand beget and stifle one another. And because we have just heard senseless anger describe remembrance of wrongs as its offspring, we had better say something about it now.
A loving man banishes revenge, but a man brooding on his hatreds stores up troublesome labors for himself. A banquet of love does away with hatred and honest giving brings peace to a soul, but if the table is extravagant then license is brought forth and gluttony comes jumping in through the window of love.
Let your malice and your spite be turned against the devils. Treat your body always as an enemy, for the flesh is an ungrateful and treacherous friend. The more you look after it, the more it hurts you.
Malice is an exponent of Scripture which twists the words of the Spirit to suit itself. Let the prayer of Jesus put it to shame, that prayer which cannot be uttered in the company of malice.
I imagine that no one with any sense would dispute that slander is the child of hatred and remembrance of wrongs. Hence the need to discuss it next in the order after its forbears.
Slander is the offspring of hatred, a subtle and yet crass disease, a leech in hiding and escaping notice, wasting and draining away the lifeblood of love. It puts on the appearance of love and is the ambassador of an unholy and unclean heart. And it is the ruin of chastity.
If you want to overcome the spirit of slander, blame not the person who falls but the prompting demon. No one wants to sin against God, even though all of us sin without being compelled to it.
To pass judgment on another is to usurp shamelessly a prerogative of God, and to condemn is to ruin one's soul.
On Talkativeness and Silence
Talkativeness is the throne of vainglory on which it loves to preen itself and show off. Talkativeness is a sign of ignorance, a doorway to slander, a leader of jesting, a servant of lies, the ruin of compunction, a summoner of despondency, a messenger of sleep, a dissipation of recollection, the end of vigilance, the cooling of zeal, the darkening of prayer.
Intelligent silence is the mother of prayer, freedom from bondage, custodian of zeal, a guard on our thoughts, a watch on our enemies, a prison of mourning, a friend of tears, a sure recollection of death, a painter of punishment, a concern with judgment, servant of anguish, foe of license, a companion of stillness, the opponent of dogmatism, a growth of knowledge, a hand to shape contemplation, hidden progress, the secret journey upward. For the man who recognizes his sins has taken control of his tongue, while the chatter has yet to discover himself as he should.
The lover of silence draws close to God. He talks to Him in secret and God enlightens him. Jesus, by His silence, shamed Pilate; and a man, by his stillness, conquers vainglory. Peter wept bitterly for what he had said. He had forgotten the one who declared: "I said: I will guard my ways so that I may not sin with my tongue" (Psalm 18:1). He had forgotten too, the saying, "Better to fall from a height to the ground than to slip with the tongue" (Ecclus. 20:18).
Lying is the destruction of charity, and perjury the very denial of God.
Hypocrisy is the mother of lying and frequently its cause. Some would argue that hypocrisy is nothing other than a meditation on falsehood, that it is the inventor of falsehood laced with lies.
Only when we are completely free of the urge to lie may we resort to it, and then only in fear and out of necessity. A baby does not know how to lie, and neither does a soul cleansed of evil.
(To be continued)
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God