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

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

By John Climacus

A Reminder: The Ladder of Divine Ascent is an ascetical treatise on avoiding vice and practicing virtue so that at the end salvation can be obtained. Written by Saint John Climacus initially for monastics, it has become one of the most highly influential and important works used by the Orthodox Christian Church as far as guiding the faithful Orthodox Christian believers to a Christ-centered life, second only to Holy Scripture.

The icon of the Ladder of Divine Ascent depicts many Christians climbing a ladder; at the top is Jesus Christ, prepared to receive the climbers into Heaven. Also shown are Angels helping the climbers, and demons attempting to shoot with arrows of temptation or pull down the climbers, no matter how high up on the spiritual ladder they are.

If the Orthodox Christian has a spiritual father, it is encouraged, that he/she seeks his spiritual guidance with to understand this magnificent spiritual work.]

The aim of the work is to be a guide for practicing a virtuous life completely and wholly devoted to God.


We continue with the final steps:

Step 21: 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.

...So as you go where fright will lay hold of you, put on the armor of prayer, and when you reach the spot, stretch out your hands and flog your enemies with the name of Jesus, since there is no stronger weapon in heaven or on earth. And when you drive the fear away, give praise to the God who has delivered you, and He will protect you for all eternity, provided you remain grateful...

...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.

Step 22: On Vainglory

...From the point of view of form, vainglory is a change of nature, a perversion of character, a taking note of criticism. As for its quality, it is a waste of work and sweat, a betrayal of treasure, an offspring of unbelief, a harbinger of pride, shipwreck in port, the ant on the threshing floor, small and yet with designs on all the fruit of one's labor. The ant waits until the wheat is in, vainglory until the riches of excellence are gathered; the one a thief, the other a wastrel...

Watch vainglory. Notice how, until the very day of the burial it rejoices in clothes, oils, servants, perfumes, and such like.

Step 23: On Pride

Pride is the 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.

...I have seen people who speak aloud their thanks to God but who in their hearts are glorifying themselves, something demonstrated by that Pharisee with his "O God, I thank You" (St. Luke 18:11)

STEP 24: On Meekness, Simplicity, Guilelessness and Wickedness

The light of dawn comes before the sun, and meekness is the precursor of all humility. So let us listen to the order in which Christ, our Light, places these virtues. He says: "Learn from Me, because I am meek and humble of heart" (St. Matthew 11:29). Therefore before gazing at the sun of humility we must let the light of meekness flow over us. If we do, we will then be able to look steadily at the sun. The true order of these virtues teaches us that we are totally unable to turn our eyes to the sun before we have first become accustomed to the light.

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."

Unadorned simplicity is the first characteristic of childhood...Good and blessed is that simplicity which some have by nature, but better is that which has been goaded out of wickedness by hard work. The former is protected from much complexity and the passions, while the latter is the gateway to the greatest humility and meekness.

STEP 25: 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."

Step 26: 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 to 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…discernment is an uncorrupted conscience. It is pure perception.

STEP 27: 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...

The art 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.

He who has achieved stillness has arrived at the very center of the mysteries, but he would never have reached these depths if he had not first seen and heard the sound of the waves and of the evil spirits, if he had not even been splashed by those waters. Saint Paul confirms this. If he had not been caught up into Paradise as into stillness, he would never have heard the unspeakable words (cf. 2 Corinthians 12:4). The ear of the solitary will hear wonders from God...

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.

STEP 28: On Prayer

Prayer is by nature a dialog and a union of man with God. Its effect is to hold the world together. It achieves a 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. It is wealth for monks, treasure of hermits, anger diminished...

Those of us wishing to stand before our King and God and to speak with Him should not rush into this without some preparation, lest it should happen that--seeing us from afar without arms and without the dress appropriate to those who appear before the King--He should command His servants and His slaves to lay hold of us, to drive us out of His sight, to tear up our petitions and to throw them in our faces...

Pray with simplicity. The publican and the prodigal son were reconciled to God by a single utterance.

The attitude of prayer is the same for all, but there are many kinds of prayer and many different prayers. Some talk and deal with God as with a friend and Master, lifting their praises and their requests to Him not for themselves but for others. Some look for greater spiritual treasures and glory and for greater assurance in their prayers. Some beg to be freed entirely from their adversary. Some look for rank and others for relief from all their debts. Some seek freedom or for charges against them to be dropped.

But heartfelt thanksgiving should have first place in our book of prayer. Next should be confession and genuine contrition of soul. After that should come our request to the universal King. This method of prayer is best, as one of the brothers was told by an Angel of the Lord.

STEP 29: On Dispassion

Stars adorn the skies and dispassion has the virtues to make it beautiful. By dispassion I mean a heaven of the mind within the heart, which regards the artifice of demons as a contemptible joke. A man is truly dispassionate--and is known to be such--when he has cleansed his flesh of all corruption: when he has lifted his mind above everything created, and has made it master of all the senses, when he keeps his soul continually in the presence of the Lord and reaches out beyond the borderline of strength to him.

Dispassion is an uncompleted perfection of the perfect.. A dispassionate soul is immersed in virtues as a passionate being is in pleasure.

STEP 30: 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 Corinthians 13:13), since that is the very name of God Himself (cf. 1 John 4:8)...

The man who wants to talk about love is undertaking to speak about God. But it is risky to talk about God and could even be dangerous for the unwary. Angels know how to speak about love, but even they do so only in proportion to the light within them.

Love, by its nature, is a resemblance to God, insofar as this is humanly possible. In its activity is inebriation of the soul. Its distinctive character is to be a fountain of faith, an abyss of patience, a sea of humility.


Please note: Those of you who thirst to learn of our Orthodox Christian spirituality must turn the holy writings of the Holy Fathers and Mothers of the Church. Also, dear friends, turn to the Holy Scripture of our Church. You will find salvation and spiritual treasures beyond your imagination. Saint John Chrysostom writes that no one can be saved who does not study the Holy Scripture. The Divinely inspired word of God is the answer to your questions, your problems, your needs, your nourishment, your inspiration, your reconciliation, your hope, your faith, your love, your adoption, your spiritual guide, your illumination, your comfort, etc. etc. Begin the study of the Holy Bible today. The Holy Scripture is the revealed wisdom of God.



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