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

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


+In the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

O Christ our God, Who at all times and at every hour, both in heaven and on earth, are worshipped and glorified, long-suffering and plenteous in mercy and compassion; Who love the just and show mercy to the sinner; Who call all men to salvation through the promise of the blessings to come: Do You, the same Lord, receive also our supplications at this present time, and direct our lives according to You Commandments.  Sanctify our souls; purify our bodies; set our minds right; clear up our thoughts, and deliver us from every sorrow, evil and distress. Surround us with Your Holy Angels so that being guarded and guided by their presence, we may arrive at the unity of the faith and the knowledge of Your ineffable glory; for Blessed are You unto the age of ages. Amen.



Please note: As we continue the study of The Ladder of Divine Ascent, we hear the words, "Ascend, my brother, ascend eagerly." The Ladder of Saint John Climacus grew out of its author's living experience, and it requires from each reader a living, personal response. Read hastily, in a spirit of detached curiosity and the book is likely to prove a disappointment. But Saint John never meant it to be read in that manner. He expected it to be pondered slowly, in a spirit of compunction, and with a sincere intention on the reader's part change his way of life; and if the book has proved deeply influential, that is because so many have read it in precisely such a way, applying the words personally to their own situation. This is a ladder that we must each ascend for ourselves.


Step 11: 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 door-way 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 silence, a companion of stillness, the opponent of dogmatism, a growth of knowledge, a hand to shape contemplation, hidden progress, the secret journey upward. For a man who recognizes his sins has taken control of his tongue, while the chatterer has yet to discover himself as he should...

Step 12: On Falsehood

From flint and steel comes fire; from chatter and joking comes lying. Lying is the destruction of charity, and perjury the very denial of God.

No sensible man imagines that lying is a minor failing. Indeed the All-Holy Spirit pronounced the most dreadful sentence on this sin above all others; and if, as David says to God, "You will destroy everyone speaking a lie" (Psalm 5:7), what will happen to those who swear to their lies on earth?

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.

The man gifted with fear of the Lord has given up lying, for within him he has conscience, that incorruptible judge...A baby does not know how to lie, and neither does a soul cleansed of evil...

Step 13: On Despondency

Despondency or tedium of the spirit, as I have often said, is frequently an aspect of talkativeness and indeed is its first child. For this reason I have given it an appropriate place in the chain of vices.

Tedium is a paralysis of the soul, a slackness of the mind, a neglect of religious exercises, a hostility to vows taken. It is an approval of worldly things. It's a voice claiming that God has no mercy and no love for men. It is a laziness in the singing of psalms, a weakness in prayer, a stubborn urge for service, a dedication to the work of the hands, an indifference to the requirement of obedience. An obedient person does not know such tedium, for he has used the things of the senses to reach the level of the spirit...

Step 14: On Gluttony

In our self-criticism we must refer particularly to the stomach, and indeed I wonder if anyone breaks free of this mistress before he dies.

Gluttony is hypocrisy of the stomach. Filled, it moans about scarcity; stuffed, and crammed, it wails about its hunger. Gluttony thinks us seasoning, creates sweet recipes. Stop up one urge and another bursts out; stop that one and you unleash yet another. Gluttony has deceptive appearance: it eats moderately but wants to gobble everything at the same time. A stuffed belly produces fornication, while a mortified stomach leads to purity. The man who pets a lion may tame it but the man who coddles the body makes it ravenous...

Step 15: On Chastity

To be chaste is to put on the nature of an incorporeal being. Chastity is a supernatural denial of what one is by nature, so that a mortal and corruptible body is competing in a truly marvelous way with incorporeal spirits. A chaste man is someone who has driven our bodily love by means of divine love, who has used heavenly fire to quench the fires of the flesh. The beginning of chastity is refusal to consent to evil thoughts...

Step 16: On Avarice

Avarice is a worship of idols and is the offspring of unbelief. It makes excuses for infirmity and is the mouthpiece of old age. It is the prophet of hunger, and the herald of drought.

The miser sneers at the gospel and is a deliberate transgressor. The man of charity spreads his money about him, but the man who claims to possess both charity and money is a self-deceived fool. The man who mourns for himself has renounced even his body and does not spare it in due season....

Step 17: On Poverty

The poverty of a monk is resignation from care. It is life without anxiety and travels light, far from sorrow and faithful to the commandments. The poor monk is lord of the world. He has handed all his cares over to God, and by his faith has obtained all men as his servants. If he lacks something he does not complain to his fellows and he accepts what comes his way as if from the hand of the Lord. In his poverty he turns into a son of detachment and he sets no value on what he has. Having withdrawn from the world, he comes to regard everything as refuse. Indeed he is not genuinely poor if he starts to worry about something.

A man who has embraced poverty offers up prayer that is pure, while a man who loves possessions prays to material images.

Step 18: On Insensitivity

Insensitivity is deadened feeling in body and spirit, and comes from long sickness and carelessness. Lack of awareness is negligence that has become a habit. It is though gone numb, an offspring of predisposition, a trap for zeal, a noose for courage, an ignorance of compunction, the gateway to despair, the mother of forgetfulness giving birth to loss of fear of God, and, in turn to a deadened spirit, like daughter bearing her own mother.

The insensitive man is a foolish philosopher, an exegete condemned by his own words, a scholar who contradicts himself, a blind man teaching sight to others...

Step 19: On Sleep, Prayer and the Singing in Church of Psalms

Just as too much drinking comes from habit, so too from habit comes overindulgence in sleep. For this reason one has to struggle against it especially at the start of one's religious life, because of longstanding habit is very difficult to correct...Others get those at prayer to fall asleep. Still others cause bad and unusual stomachache, while others encourage prattle in the church.

Everyone can pray in a crowd. For some it is a good thing to pray with a single kindred soul. But solitary prayer is only for the very few...

Step 20: On Alertness

Alertness keeps the mind clean. Somnolence binds the soul. The alert monk does battle with fornication, but the sleepy one goes to live with it. Alertness is a quenching of lust, deliverance from fantasies in dreams, a tearful eye, a heart made soft and gentle, thoughts restrained, food digested, passions tamed, spirits subdued, tongue controlled, idle imaginings banished.

The vigilant monk is a fisher of thoughts, and in the quiet of the night he can easily observe and catch them.

(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. Amen.



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

+Father George