The Ladder of Divine Ascent by Saint John Climacus (Part IV)

Icon of the Mother of God of “the Uncut Mount”

Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,


With these blessed powers, Master and lover of mankind, we sinners also cry out and say: truly You are Holy, and All-Holy; there is no bound to the Majesty of Your Holiness. You are Holy in all Your works, for in Righteousness and True Judgment You have brought all things to pass for us. Taking clay from the earth, You shaped man, and honoring him, O God, with Your Likeness, You set him in a Paradise of delight, promising him immortality and the enjoyment of everlasting blessings in the keeping of Your Commandments.

But once he disobeyed You, the True God Who created him, and fell under the serpent's guile, becoming subject to death by his own transgression, in Your just judgment, O God, You exiled him from Paradise into this world, returning him to the earth from which he was first taken, yet planned for him salvation through rebirth in Your Christ.

For You did not turn away altogether from what You had fashioned, O Gracious God, nor did You forget the work of Your hands. But in the depth of Your love You watched over him in many ways: You sent forth Prophets; You worked mighty signs through Your Saints, who in each generation were pleasing to You. You spoke to us through the mouths of Your servants the Prophets; announcing to us beforehand the salvation that was to come. You gave the Law as guide; You set Angels as guardians. And when the fullness of time came, You spoke to us through Whom You created the ages.

For though He is the reflection of Your Glory and the very Likeness of Your Person, sustaining all things by the power of His Word, He "did not count equality with [You, God and Father] a thing to be grasped. but though He was God before all time, He was seen on earth and lived among the people. And taking flesh from the Holy Virgin, He "emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness" of "our lowly body", that He might "change [us] to be like His Glorious Body".

For since was by man that sin entered the world, and death through sin, Your Only-Begotten Son, He Who was in the bosom of God the Father, condescended to be born of woman, the Holy Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary; to be born under the Law, so as to condemn sin in His flesh, that those who die in Adam may be brought to life in Your Christ.

And having lived in this world, and having given precepts for salvation, turning us away from the delusion of idolatry, He brought us to the knowledge of You, the True God and Father, redeeming us to Himself as "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation", and, when He had cleansed us in water and sanctified us with the Holy Spirit, He gave Himself up as a ransom to death, to which we were in bondage, sold under sin. He descended into Hades by way of the Cross, "that He might fill all things" in Himself and "loosed the pangs of death."

Rising on the third day, He prepared the way for the resurrection of all flesh from the dead, "because it was not possible for Him [the Author of life] to be held by it." He thus became the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep", "the first-born from the dead, that in everything He might be preeminent". Ascending into heaven, He was enthroned at the Right hand of Your Majesty on High, whence he shall come to render to each of us according to our deeds…"



On March 24th Our Holy Orthodox Christian Church commemorates, honors, and entreats the holy intercessions of the following Saints, Forefathers, Fathers, Patriarchs, Prophets, Apostles, Preachers, Evangelists, Martyrs, Confessors, Ascetics, Teachers and every righteous spirit made perfect in faith: Forefeast of the Annunciation, Saint Artemon, Bishop of Seleucia; Saint Artemon, Presbyter of Laodicea; Saint Parthenius of Constantinople; Saint Zacharias of Scetis; Saint Zachariah, Faster of the Kiev Caves; Saint Martin of Theves; Eight Holy Martyrs of Caesarea; Saint Stefanos and Saint Peter of Kazan; Saint Savvas the New of Kalymnos (+1948); Saint Dunchad, Egoumenos (Abbot) of Iona; Miracle at the Monastery of the Caves in Kiev; "The Clouded Mount" Holy Icon of the Theotokos.


Isaiah 14:24-32; Genesis 8:21-9:7
Proverbs 11:19-12:6


"For those who believe in Him, Christ will become all this and even more, beyond enumeration, not only in the age to come but first in this life, and then in the world to come. Thou in an obscure way here below and in a perfect manner in the Kingdom, those who believe see clearly nonetheless and receive as of now the first-fruits of everything they will have in the future life. Indeed, if they do not receive on earth everything that was promised to them, they do not have any part of foretaste of the blessing to come, their higher hope being set on the hereafter. However, it is through death and the resurrection that God in His foresight has given us the Kingdom, incorruptibility, the totality o life Eternal. Given these conditions, we unquestionably become partakers of the good things to come, that is, incorruptible, immortal, son of God, son of the Light and of the day, inheritors of the Kingdom of Heaven, since we carry the Kingdom within." (Saint Symeon the New Theologian)


by Saint John Climacus (of the Ladder)

[Please note: This work falls into three main actions, of unequal extent. In the first three steps Saint John describes the break with the "world," the renunciation both outward and inward that forms the presupposition of any spiritual ascent. Then, in a far longer section (Steps 4-26), he discusses the "active life" or "practice of the virtues" (praxis, praktiki), along with the corresponding passions that must be uprooted. Finally, the last four steps are devoted to the "contemplative life" (theoria), to stillness, prayer, and union with God.]



On Unmanly Fears

"If you pursue virtue in a monastery or in gatherings of holy men, you are unlikely to be attacked by cowardice. But if you pass your time in solitary abodes, you must strive not to be mastered by cowardice, the child of vainglory, the daughter of unbelief.

Cowardice is childish behavior within a soul advanced in years and vainglory. It is a lapse from faith that comes from anticipating the unexpected.

A proud soul is the slave of cowardice. Trusting only itself, it is frightened by a sound or a shadow...The servant of the Lord will be afraid only of his Master, while the man who does not yet fear Him is often scared by his own shadow. The body is terrified by the presence of an invisible spirit. Yet when an Angel stands nearby, the soul of the humble is exultant. So if we detect an Angel by the effect he is producing, let us hasten to pray since our heavenly guardian has come to join us."


On Vainglory

"Like the sun which shines on all alike, vainglory beams on every occupation. What I mean is this: I fast, and turn vainglorious. I stop fasting so that I will draw no attention to myself, and I become vainglorious over my prudence. I dress well or badly, and am vainglorious in either case. I talk or I hold my peace, and each time I am defeated. No matter how I shed this prickly thing, a spike remains to stand up against me."

"A vainglorious man is a believer--and an idolater. Apparently honoring God, he actually is out to please not God but men. To be a showoff is to be vainglorious, and the fast of such a man is unrewarded and his prayer futile, since he is practicing both to win praise...Vainglory induces pride in the favored and resentment in those who are slighted."

"Dread vainglory urges us to pretend that we have some virtue which does not belong to us. It encourages us with the text: 'Let your light so shine before men that they will see your good deeds" (St. Matthew 5:16). The Lord often humbles the vainglorious by causing some dishonor to befall them. And indeed the first step in overcoming vainglory is to remain silent and to accept dishonor gladly."


On Pride

"Pride is a denial of God, an invention of the devil, contempt for men. It is the mother of condemnation, the offspring of praise, a sign of barrenness. It is a flight from God's help, the harbinger of madness, the author of downfall. It is the cause of diabolical possession, the source of anger, the gateway of hypocrisy. It is the fortress of demons, the custodian of sins, the source of hardheartedness. It is the denial of compassion, a bitter Pharisee, a cruel judge. It is the foe of God. It is the root of blasphemy.

Pride begins where vainglory leaves off. Its midpoint comes with the humiliation of our neighbor, the shameless parading of our achievements, complacency, and unwillingness to be found out. It ends with the spurning of God's help, the exalting of one's own efforts and a devilish disposition.


On Meekness, Simplicity, Guilelessness, and Wickedness

"Meekness is a mind consistent amid honor or dishonor. Meekness prays quietly and sincerely for a neighbor however troublesome he may be. Meekness is a rock looking out over the sea of anger which breaks the waves which come crashing on it and stays entirely unmoved. Meekness is the bulwark of patience, the door, indeed the mother of love, and the foundation of discernment. For it is said: "The Lord will teach His ways to the meek" (Psalm 24:9). And it is meekness that earns pardon for our sins, gives confidence to our prayers and makes a place for the Holy Spirit. "To whom shall I look if not the meek and the peaceful" (Isaiah 66:2)."

"Simplicity is an enduring habit within a soul that has grown impervious to evil thoughts."

"Guilelessness is the joyful condition of an uncalculating soul."

"The evil man is the namesake and companion of the devil, which is why the Lord taught us to call the devil by that name, saying, "Deliver us from the Evil One" (St. Matthew 6:13)...Let us heed the words of him who said: "The evildoers shall be destroyed" (Psalm 36:9); "like the grass they shall wither and like green herbs shall they fall away" (cf. Psalm 36:2). People of this kind are fodder for demons.


On Humility

"Humility is constant forgetfulness of one's achievements," someone says. It is the admission that in all the world one is the least important and is also the greatest sinner," another says. It is the mind's awareness that one is weak and helpless," a third says. It is to forestall one's neighbor at a contentious moment and to be the first to end a quarrel. It is the acknowledgment of divine grace and divine mercy. It is the disposition of a contrite soul and the abdication of one's own will."

"...As soon as the cluster of holy humility begins to flower within us, we come, after hard work, to hate all earthly praise and glory. We rid ourselves of rage and fury; and the more this queen of virtues spreads within our souls through spiritual growth, the more we begin to regard all our good deeds as of no consequence, in fact as loathsome."

"Repentance lifts a man up. Mourning knocks at heaven's gate. Holy Humility opens it. This I say, and I worship a Trinity in Unity and a Unity in Trinity. The sun lights up everything visible. Humility reaches across everything done according to reason. Where there is no light, all is in darkness. Where there is no humility, all is rotten."


On Discernment

"Among beginners, discernment is real self-knowledge; among those midway along the road to perfection, it is a spiritual capacity to distinguish unfailingly between what is truly good and what in nature is opposed to the good; among the perfect, it is a knowledge resulting from divine illumination, which with its lamp can light up what is dark in others. To put the matter generally, discernment is--and is recognized to be--a solid understanding of the Will of God in all times, in all places, in all things; and it is found only among those who are pure in heart, in body and in speech.

Every demonic upheaval within us arises from the following three related causes, namely, carelessness, pride or the envy of demons. The first is pitiable, the second deplorable, but the third is blessed.

The scholiast comments: "A ship is sometimes overwhelmed by storms from without, and sometimes sinks through springing a leak within. We too sometimes perish through sins committed externally, and sometimes are destroyed by evil thoughts within. We must therefore both keep watch for the external attacks of spirits, and bail out the impurity of evil thoughts within. Only more effort must be made with the understanding against evil thoughts".


On Stillness

"Stillness of the body is the accurate knowledge and management of one's feelings and perceptions. Stillness of soul is the accurate knowledge of one's thoughts and is an unassailable mind. Brave and determined thinking is a friend of stillness. It is always on the watch at the doors of the heart, killing or driving off invading notions. What I mean by this will be well understood by the man who practices stillness in the deep places of the heart, while the novice will have no experience or knowledge of it...The start of stillness is the rejection of all noisiness as something that will trouble the depths of the soul. The final point is when one has no longer a fear of noisy disturbance, when one is immune to it.

The powers of heaven join in living and worship with the man who practices stillness in his soul."

"The following are the signs, the stages, and the proofs of practicing stillness in the right way---a calm mind, a purified disposition, rapture in the Lord, the remembrance of everlasting torments, the imminence of death, an insatiable urge for prayer, constant watchfulness, the death of lust, no sense of attachment, death of worldliness, an end to gluttony, a foundation for theology, a well of discernment, a truce accompanied by tears, an end to talkativeness, and many other such things alien to most men.

The following are signs of stillness practiced wrongly--poverty of spiritual treasures, anger on the increase, a growth of resentment, love diminished, a surge of vanity..."


On Prayer

Prayer is by nature a dialogue and union of man with God. Its effect is to hold the world together. It achieves reconciliation with God.

Prayer is the mother and daughter of tears. It is an expiation of sin, a bridge across temptation, a bulwark against affliction. It wipes out conflict, is the work of Angels, and is the nourishment of all bodiless beings. Prayer is future gladness, action without end, wellspring of virtues, source of grace, hidden progress, food of the soul, enlightenment of the mind, an axe against despair, hope demonstrated, sorrow done away with..."

"In your prayers there is no need for high-flown words, for it is the simple and unsophisticated babblings of children that have more often won the heart of the Father in Heaven. Try not to talk excessively in your prayer, in case your mind is distracted by the search for words. One word from the Publican sufficed to placate God, and s single utterance saved the thief. Talkative prayer frequently distracts the mind and deludes it, whereas brevity makes for concentration. It happens that, as you pray, some word evokes delight or remorse within you, linger over it; for at that moment our Guardian Angel is praying with us."

"Faith gives wings to prayer, and without it no one can fly upward Heaven."


On Dispassion

"One man is dispassionate, another is more dispassionate than the dispassionate...The man who is dispassionate, says scholion 3, is unattached to things, the man who is more dispassionate is unattached even to the remembrance of things." "... Purity is also said to be dispassion, and this is right, for it is a foretaste of the general resurrection and of the incorruption of the corruptible. A dispassionate man was he who said that he had the mind of the Lord (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:16), and the same is true of the Egyptian who asserted that he was no longer afraid of the Lord."

"A dispassionate soul is immersed in virtues as a passionate being is in pleasure."

"Think of dispassion as a kind of celestial palace, a palace of the King of Heaven. Think of the numerous mansions (cf. St. John 14:2) as so many dwelling places within this city. Think of the forgiveness of sins as being he fortifying wall of this Jerusalem. O my brothers, we should run to enter the bridal chamber of this palace, and if some burden of past habits or the passage of time should impede us, what a disaster for us!"


On Faith, Hope, and Love

"And now at last, after all that has been said, there remains that triad, faith hope and love, binding and securing the union of all." "But the greatest of these is love" (1 Cor. 13:13), since that is the very name of God Himself (cf. 1 John 4:8). To me they appear, one as a ray, one as light, and one as a disk, and all as a single radiance and single splendor. The first can make and create all things, the mercy of God encircles the second and keeps it from confusion, while the third never falls, never halts on its way, never gives respite to the man wounded by its blessed rapture.



"Ascend, my brothers, ascend eagerly. Let your hearts' resolve be to climb. Listen to the voice of the one who says: ' Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of our God" (Isaiah 2:3), Who makes our feet to be like the feet of the deer, "Who sets us on the high places, that we may be triumphant on His road" (Hab. 3:19).

Run, I beg you, run with him who said, "Let us hurry until we all arrive at the unity of faith and of the knowledge of God, at mature manhood, at the measure of the stature of Christ's fullness" (Ephesians 4:13). Baptized in the thirtieth year of His earthly age, Christ attained the thirtieth step on the spiritual ladder, for God indeed is love, and to Him be praise, dominion, power. In Him is the cause, past, present, and future, of all that is good forever and ever. Amen.


Please note: We, as Orthodox Christians, have been blessed to belong to the only authentic Church of Christ. In our Holy Church we are lead and guided by the Holy Spirit our God. It is only through the grace of the Holy Spirit that we can live a true spiritual life in Christ Jesus. "For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit Who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. These things we also speak, not in words which man's wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual". (1 Corinthians 2:10-13).

What Saint John Climacus has revealed to us is the true Christian spirituality and not a distortion or deception.

With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George