Saint John Climacus: The Ladder of Divine Ascent (Part II)

The Ladder of Divine Ascent

The Ladder of Divine Ascent

My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,


Lord and Master of my life, cast away from me the spirit of laziness, idle curiosity, love of power and vain talk. (Prostration)

But grant me, Your servant, the spirit of moderation, humility, patience and love. (Prostration)

Yes, Lord and King, grant me to see my own faults and not to judge my brothers and sisters. (Prostration)

For You are Blessed now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.



Step 1: On Renunciation of Life

When writing to the servants of God, one should begin with our God and King Himself, the good, the supremely good, the all-good. Of all created and rational beings, endowed with the dignity of free will, some are friends of God, some are His true servants, some are useless servants (cf. St. Luke 17:10), some are entirely estranged, and there are some who, for all their weakness, take their stand against Him. We simple people assume that His friends, O Holy Father, are properly speaking those intelligent and bodiless beings who surround Him. His true servants are all those who have done and are doing His will without hesitation or pause. His useless servants are those who think of themselves as having been worthy of the gift of baptism, but have not at all guarded their covenant with Him; while, it seems to us, the strangers from God, His opponents, are the unbelievers or heretics. His enemies are those who not only contravene and repudiated the commands of the Lord, but make stern war against all who obey Him…

God is the life of all free beings. He is the salvation of all, of believers or unbelievers, of the just or the unjust, of the pious or the impious, of those freed from the passions or caught up in them, of monks or those living in the world, of the educated or the illiterate, of the health 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). An impious man is a rational being, one that must die, who willingly runs away from life, and refuses to believe in the existence of his own everlasting Creator. A transgressor is someone who observes the divine law only in his own depraved fashion and holds on to heretical belief in opposition to God. A Christian is an imitator of Christ in thought, word, and deed, as far as this is humanly possible, and he believes rightly and blamelessly in the Holy Trinity. A friend of God is the one who lives in communion with all that is natural and free from sin and who does not neglect to do what good he can. The self-controlled man strives with all his might amidst the trials, the snares, and the noise of the world, to be like someone who rises above them. The monk clings only to the commandments and words of God in every season and place and matter. The monk is ever embattled with what he is, and he is the unfailing warder of his senses...

Step 2: On Detachment

If you truly love God and long to reach the Kingdom that is to come, if you are truly pained by your failings and are mindful of punishment and of the eternal judgment, if you are truly afraid to die, then it will not be possible to have an attachment, or anxiety, or concern for money, for possessions, for family relationships, for worldly glory, for love and brotherhood, indeed for anything of earth. All worry about one's condition, even for one's body, will be pushed aside as hateful. Stripped of all thought of these, caring nothing about them, one will turn freely to Christ. One will look to heaven and to the help coming from there, as in the Scriptural sayings: "I will cling close to You" (Psalm 62:9) and "I have not grown tire of following You nor have I longed for the day or the rest that man gives" (Jeremiah 17:16)...

Mortification of the appetite, nightlong toil, a ration of water, a short measure of bread, the bitter cup of dishonor--these will show you the narrow way. Derided, mocked, jeered, you must accept the denial of your will. You must patiently endure opposition suffer neglect without complaint, put up with violent arrogance. You must be ready for injustice, and not grieve when you are slandered; you must not be angered by contempt and your must show humility when you have been condemned. Happy are those who follow this road and avoid other highways. Theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.

No one can enter crowned into the heavenly bridechamber without first making the three renunciations. He has to turn away from worldly concerns, from men, from family: he must cut selfishness away; and thirdly, he must rebuff the vanity that follows obedience. "Go out from among them," says the Lord. "Go apart from them. Do not touch the uncleanness of the age" (2 Corinthians 6:17).

Step 3: On Exile

There is such a thing as exile, an irrevocable renunciation of everything in one's familiar surroundings that hinders one from attaining the ideal of holiness. Exile is a disciplined heart, unheralded wisdom, an unpublicized understanding, a hidden life, masked ideals. It is unseen meditation, the striving to be humble, a wish for poverty, the longing for what is divine. It is an outpouring of love, a denial of vainglory, a depth of silence...

Step 4: On Obedience

As flower comes before every fruit, so exile of body or will precedes all obedience...Obedience is a total renunciation of our own life, and it shows up clearly in the way we act. Or, again, obedience is the mortification of the members while the mind remains alive. Obedience is unquestioned movement, death freely accepted, a simple life, danger faced without worry, an unprepared defense before God, fearlessness before death, a safe voyage, a sleeper's journey. Obedience is the burial place of the will and the resurrection of lowliness. A corpse does not contradict or debate the good or whatever seems bad, and the spiritual father who has devoutly put the disciple's soul to death will answer for everything. Indeed, to obey is, with all deliberateness, to put aside the capacity to make one's own judgment...He who strives for dispassion and for God considers lost any day on which he was not criticized. Like trees swayed by the wind and driving their roots deeper into the ground, those who live in obedience become strong and unshakable souls...

Step 5: On Penitance

Once John outran Peter, and now obedience is place before repentance. For the one who arrived first represents obedience, the other repentance.

Repentance is the renewal of baptism and is a contract with God for a fresh start in life. Repentance goes shopping for humility and is ever distrustful of bodily comfort. Repentance is the daughter of hope and the refusal to despair. The penitent stands guilty--but undisgraced. Repentance is reconciliation with the Lord by the performance of good deeds which are the opposites of the sins. It is the purification of conscience and the voluntary endurance of affliction. The penitent deals out his own punishment, for repentance is the fierce persecution of the stomach and the flogging of the soul into intense awareness...

Step 6: On Remembrance of Death

As thought comes before speech, so the remembrance of death and of sin comes before weeping and mourning. It is therefore appropriate to deal now with this theme.

To be reminded of death each day is to die each day; to remember one's departure from life is to provoke tears by the hour. Fear of death is property of nature due to obedience, but terror of death is a sign of unrepented sins. Christ is frightened of dying but not terrified, thereby clearly revealing the properties of His two natures.

Just as bread is the most necessary of all foods, so the thought of death is the most essential of all works...If your remembrance of death is clear and specific, you will cut down on your eating; and if, in your humility, you reduce the amount you eat, your passions will be corresponding reduced.

...We may be sure that remembrance of death, like every other blessing, is a gift from God. How else can you explain the fact that often we can be dry-eyed and hard at a cemetery, yet full of compunction when we are nowhere near such a place?

Step 7: On Mourning

Mourning which is according to God is a melancholy of the soul, a disposition of an anguished heart that passionately seeks what it thirsts for, and when it fails to attain it, pursues it diligently and follows behind it lamenting bitterly.

Alternatively, mourning is a golden spur within a soul that has been stripped of all bonds and tries, set by holy sorrows to keep watch over the heart.

Compunction is an eternal torment of the conscience which brings about the cooling of the fire of the heart through silent confession.

Confession is a forgetfulness of nature, since because of this a man forgot to eat his bread (cf. Psalm 101:5).

Repentance is a cheerful renunciation of every creature comfort...

...The tears that come after baptism are greater than baptism itself, though it may seem rash to say so. Baptism washes off those evils that were previously within us, whereas the sins committed after baptism are washed away by tears. The baptism received by us as children we have all defiled, but we cleanse it anew with our tears. If God in His love for the human race had not given us tears, those being saved would be few indeed and hard to find...

Step 8: 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.

The first step toward freedom from anger is to keep the lips silent when the heart is stirred; the next, to keep thoughts silent when the soul is upset; the last, to be totally calm when unclean winds are blowing.

Anger is an indication of concealed hatred, of grievance nursed. Anger is the wish to harm someone who has provoked you.

Step 9: On Malice

The holy virtues are like the 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.

Remembrance of wrongs comes as the final point of anger. It is a keeper of sins. It hates a just way of life. It is the ruin of virtues, the poison of the soul, a worm in the mind. It is the shame of prayer, a cutting off of supplication, a turning away from love, a nail piercing the soul. It is a pleasureless feeling cherished in the sweetness of bitterness. It is a never-ending sin, an unsleeping wrong, rancor by the hour. A dark and loathsome passion, it comes to be but has not offspring, so that one need not say too much about it.

The remembrance of what Jesus suffered is a cure for remembrance of wrongs, shaming it powerfully with His patient endurance. Worms thrive in a rotten tree; malice thrives in the deceptively meek and silent. He who has expelled malice has found forgiveness, but he who hangs it is deprived of mercy...

Step 10: On Slander

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.

I knew a man who sinned openly but repented in secret. I denounced him for being lecherous but he was chaste in the eyes of God, having propitiated Him by a genuine conversion (metanoia).

Do not allow human respect to get in your way when you hear someone slandering his neighbor. Instead, say this to him: "Brother, stop it! I do worse things every day, so how can I criticize him?" You accomplish two things when you say this. You heal yourself and you heal your neighbor with the one bandage.

(To be continued)



The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. 




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

+Father George