Monday, September 2, 2013

Lesser Known Fathers V: St. John of the Ladder

We know very little specific information about St. John Climacus, or "John of the Ladder." He was probably of Syrian origin, entered the monastery of St. Catherine on Mt. Sinai as a teenager, enjoyed correspondence with St. Gregory the Great, and, in the last decade or so of his life, wrote the ascetical treatise The Ladder of Divine Ascent. The work has 30 chapters, each representing a step on the ladder to heaven, reminiscent of both Jacob's Ladder and of the 30 years of age of Our Lord at His baptism in the Jordan. The icon associated with the Ladder is shown above. Take notice of the demons attempting to dissuade climbers from looking at Jesus on the other side, instead suggesting that they look at the demons or look down and fall. In the Byzantine tradition the Fourth Sunday of Great Lent commemorates St. John and his work, part of the Eastern tradition's Lenten journey through sin and Divine illumination.
Unlike with previous posts in this series, this entry will not have a structural overview of the work or any deeper biography of the saint in question. The Ladder speaks for itself, so I will simply publish an excerpt from each of the 30 chapters, or "steps." The full text can be found here.
Step 1.4: "The irreligious man is a mortal being with a rational nature, who of his own free will turns his back on life and thinks of his own Maker, the ever-existent, as non-existent. The lawless man is one who holds the law of God after his own depraved fashion, and thinks to combine faith in God with heresy that is directly opposed to Him. The Christian is one who imitates Christ in thought, word and deed, as far as is possible for human beings, believing rightly and blamelessly in the Holy Trinity. The lover of God is he who lives in communion with all that is natural and sinless, and as far as he is able neglects nothing good. The continent man is he who in the midst of temptations, snares and turmoil, strives with all his might to imitate the ways of Him who is free from such."

2.6: "It is worth investigating why those who live in the world and spend their life in vigils, fasts, labours and hardships, when they withdraw from the world and begin the monastic life, as if at some trial or on the practising ground, no longer continue the discipline of their former spurious and sham asceticism. I have seen how in the world they planted many different plants of the virtues, which were watered by vainglory as by an underground sewage pipe, and were hoed by ostentation, and for manure were heaped with praise. But when transplanted to a desert soil, in accessible to people of the world and so not manured with the foul-smelling water of vanity, they withered at once. For water- loving plants are not such as to produce fruit in hard and arid training fields."
3.6: "If every prophet goes unhonoured in his own country,3 as the Lord says, then let us beware lest our exile should be for us an occasion of vainglory. For exile is separation from everything in order to keep the mind inseparable from God. Exile loves and produces continual weeping. An exile is a fugitive from every attachment to his own people and to strangers."
3.26: "A dream is a movement of the mind while the body is at rest. A phantasy is an illusion of the eyes when the intellect is asleep. A phantasy is an ecstasy of the mind when the body is awake. A phantasy is the appearance of something which does not exist in reality."
4.3: "Obedience is absolute renunciation of our own life, clearly expressed in our bodily actions. Or, conversely, obedience is the mortification of the limbs while the mind remains alive. Obedience is unquestioning movement, voluntary death, simple life, carefree danger, spontaneous defence by God, fearlessness of death, a safe voyage, a sleeper’s progress. Obedience is the tomb of the will and the resurrection of humility. A corpse does not argue or reason as to what is good or what seems to be bad. For he who has devoutly put the soul of the novice to death will answer for everything. Obedience is an abandonment of discernment in a wealth of discernment."
4.115: "It is impossible for those who learn a craft whole-heartedly not to make daily advance in it. But some know their progress, while others by divine providence are ignorant of it. A good banker never fails in the evening to reckon the day’s profit or loss. But he cannot know this clearly unless he enters it every hour in his notebook. For the hourly account brings to light the daily account."
5.31: "The demons say that God is merciful before our fall, but that He is inexorable after the fall."
6.7: "He who with undoubting trust daily expects death is virtuous; but he who hourly yields himself to it is a saint."
7.11: "During prayer and supplication stand with trembling like a convict standing before a judge, so that both by your outward appearance as well as by your inner disposition you may extinguish the wrath of the just Judge; for He will not despise a widow soul standing before Him burdened with sorrow and wearying the Unwearying One."
7.48: "If we watch carefully we shall often find a bitter joke played on us by the demons. For when we are full they stir us up to compunction, and when we are fasting they harden our heart so that, being deceived by spurious tears, we may give ourselves up to indulgence which is the mother of passions. We must not listen to them but rather do the opposite."
8.4: "The beginning of freedom from anger is silence of the lips when the heart is agitated; the middle is silence of the thoughts when there is a mere disturbance of soul; and the end is an imperturbable calm under the breath of unclean winds."

9.14: "The remembrance of Jesus’ sufferings cures remembrance of wrongs which is mightily shamed by His forbearance."
10.8: "Fire and water are incompatible; and so is judging others in one who wants to repent. If you see someone falling into sin at the very moment of his death, even then do not judge him, because the Divine judgment is hidden from men. Some have fallen openly into great sins, but they have done greater good deeds in secret; so their critics were tricked, getting smoke instead of the sun."
11.2: "Talkativeness is the throne of vainglory on which it loves to show itself and make a display. Talkativeness is a sign of ignorance, a door to slander, a guide to jesting, a servant of falsehood, the ruin of compunction, a creator of despondency, a precursor of sleep, the dissipation of recollection, the abolition of watchfulness, the cooling of ardour, the darkening of prayer."
12.7: "He who has obtained the fear of the Lord has forsaken lying, having within himself an incorruptible judge—his own conscience."
13.13: "Observe, and you will find that if you stand on your feet despondency will battle with you. If you sit, it will suggest that it is better for you to lean back; and it urges you to lean against the wall of the cell; then it persuades you to peep out of the window, by producing noises and footsteps."
14.2: "Gluttony is hypocrisy of the stomach; for when it is glutted it complains of scarcity, and when it is loaded and bursting it cries out that it is hungry."

15.7: "Let no one thoroughly trained in purity attribute its attainment to himself. For it is impossible for anyone to conquer his own nature. When nature is defeated, it should be recognized that this is due to the presence of Him who is above nature. For beyond all dispute, the weaker gives way to the stronger."

15.43: "Every other sin that a man may commit is outside the body, while he who commits impurity sins against his own body, and this is certainly because the very substance of the flesh is defiled by pollution, which cannot happen in the other sins."
16.7: "He who has conquered this passion has cut out care; but he who is bound by it never attains to pure prayer."
17.1: "Poverty is the resignation of cares, life without anxiety, an unencumbered traveller, alienation from sorrow, fidelity to the commandments."
18.4: "I have seen many people like this hear about death and the terrible judgment and shed tears, and with the tears still in their eyes they eagerly go to a meal. And I was amazed how this tyrant, this stinkpot of gluttony, by complete indifference, can grow so strong as to turn the tables even on mourning."
19.5: "It is possible for all to pray with a congregation; for many it is beneficial to pray with a single kindred spirit; solitary prayer is for the very few."
20.2: "Now let us see how we stand before God our King, when we stand at our prayers in the evening, or during the day and night. For some at their evening all-night vigil lift up their hands in prayer as if they were incorporeal and stripped of all care. Others stand at that time singing psalms. Others are more occupied in reading. And some out of weakness courageously resist sleep by working with their hands. Others try to feel the horror of the thought of death, hoping thus to obtain contrition. And of all these, the first and last are in all-night vigil for the love of God; the second do what befits a monk; while the third go the lowest way. Yet God accepts and values the offerings of each according to their intention and power."
21.10: "It is not darkness and loneliness of place that gives the demons power against us, but barrenness of soul. And through God’s providence this sometimes happens in order that we may learn by it."

 22.1: "Some like to distinguish vainglory from pride and to give it a special place and chapter. And so they say that there are eight capital and deadly sins
. But Gregory the Theologian and other teachers have given out that there are seven; and I am strongly inclined to agree with them. For who that has conquered vainglory has pride within him? The only difference between them is such as there is between a child and a man, between wheat and bread; for the one is the beginning and the other the end. And so now that the occasion calls for it let us speak briefly about the beginning and sum of the passions, unholy self-esteem. For if anyone were to try to philosophize at length on this subject he would be someone who fusses over the weight of the winds."
23.5: "A venerable man said to me: ‘Suppose that there are twelve shameful passions. If we deliberately love one of them (I mean, pride), it will fill the place of the remaining eleven.’"
23.39: "During the Holy Liturgy, at the very moment when the Mysteries are being accomplished, this vile enemy often blasphemes the Lord and the holy events that are being enacted. This shows clearly that it is not our soul that pronounces these unspeakable, godless and unthinkable words within us, but the God-hating fiend who fled from heaven for uttering blasphemies against the Lord there too, as it would seem. For if these shameless and disgraceful words are my own, how could I worship after receiving the gift? How can I praise and revile at one and the same time?"
24.4: "Meekness is a rock overlooking the sea of irritability, which breaks all the waves that dash against it yet remains completely unmoved."
24.30: "The thrice-blessed and most simple Paul was a clear example for us, for he was the rule and type of blessed simplicity, for no one, absolutely no one, has ever seen or heard or could see so much progress made in so short a time."
25.21: "A horse when alone often imagines that it is galloping, but when it is with others it finds out how slow it is."

26.7: "In all our actions in which we try to please God the demons dig three pits for us. In the first, they endeavour to prevent any good at all from being done. In the second, after their first defeat, they try to secure that it should not be done according to the will of God. But when these rogues fail in this too, then, standing quietly before our soul, they praise us for living a thoroughly godly life. The first is to be opposed by zeal and fear of death, the second by obedience and humiliation, and the third by unceasing self-condemnation. We shall be faced by toil of this kind until the divine fire enters into our sanctuary. And then the force of bad habit will no longer exist in us. Our God is a fire consuming
all fever (of lust) and movement (of passion), every inclination rooted in us and all blindness and darkness within and without, both visible and spiritual."

26.31: "Angels are a light for monks, and the monastic life is a light for all men. Therefore let monks strive to become a good example in everything, giving no occasion of stumbling in anything1
in all their works and words. For if the light becomes darkness, how much darker will be that darkness, that is, those living in the world."

27.2: "Angels are a light for monks, and the monastic life is a light for all men. Therefore let monks strive to become a good example in everything, giving no occasion of stumbling in anything1
in all their works and words. For if the light becomes darkness, how much darker will be that darkness, that is, those living in the world."
27.45: "Observe every hour the slaps and flicks, the inclinations and changes of your companion (i.e. the spirit of despondency) and see how and where they are directed. He who has obtained calmness through the Holy Spirit is familiar with this spectacle."
28.3: "If we wish to stand before our King and God and converse with Him we must not rush into this without preparation, lest, seeing us from afar without weapons and suitable clothing for those who stand before the King, He should order His servants and slaves to seize us and banish us from His presence and tear up our petitions and throw them in our face."
28.20: "One kind of joy occurs at the time of prayer for those living in a community, and another comes to those who pray as solitaries. The one is perhaps somewhat elated, but the other is wholly filled with humility."
29.3: "And so he is truly dispassionate, and is recognized as dispassionate, who has made his flesh incorruptible, who has raised his mind above creatures and has subdued all his senses to it, and who keeps his soul in the presence of the Lord, ever reaching out to Him even beyond his strength."
30.8: "Love is essentially the banishment of every kind of contrary thought for love thinks no evil."
30.23: "The Word of the Lord which is from God the Father is pure, and remains so eternally. But he who has not come to know God merely speculates."

Final exhortation: "Ascend, brothers, ascend eagerly, and be resolved in your hearts to ascend5and hear Him who says: Come and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord and to the house of our God, who makes our feet like hind’s feet, and sets us on high places, that we may be victorious with His song."

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