The Desert Fathers: Monks and Monasteries of the Egyptian Desert

The Desert Fathers: Monks and Monasteries of the Egyptian Desert
The Monastery of St. Paul of Thebes, Red Sea Desert, Egypt (1990)

Sunday, September 30, 2012

ST. JOHN CLIMACUS - PART VII (Steps 27-30 of the Ladder of Divine Ascent)

The Ladder of Divine Ascent: Steps 27 - 30

STEP 27: On Holy Stillness of Body and Soul

-- Stillness of the body is the knowledge and composure of the habits and feelings. And stillness of soul is the knowledge of one's thoughts and an inviolable mind.

-- The beginning of stillness is to throw off all noise as disturbing for the depth (of the soul). And the end of it is not to fear disturbances but to remain insensible to them. He, who in actually going out does not go out, is gentle and wholly a house of love. He is not easily moved to speech, and he cannot be moved to anger. The opposite of this is obvious.

-- A monk living with another monk is not like a monk living as a solitary. When a monk is alone, he has need of great vigilance and of an unwandering mind. The former is often helped by his brother; but an angel assists the latter.

-- It is not safe to swim in one's clothes, nor should a slave of passion touch theology.

-- He who is sick in soul from some passion and attempts stillness is like a man who has jumped from a ship into the sea and thinks that he will reach the shore safely on a plank.

-- The hesychast (NOTE: one who lives in solitude or stillness) who has become lazy will tell lies, urging people by hints to end his stillness for him. And having left his cell, he blames the devils. He has not discovered that he is his own devil.

-- Those whose mind has learned true prayer converse with the Lord face to face, as if speaking into the ear of the emperor. Those who make vocal prayer fall down before Him as if in the presence of the whole senate. But those who live in the world petition the emperor amidst the clamour of all the crowds. If you have learned the art of prayer scientifically, you cannot fail to know what I have said.

-- Here are the signs, courses and proofs of those who are practising stillness in the right way: an unruffled mind, purified thought, rapture towards the Lord, recollection of eternal torments, the urgency of death, constant hunger for prayer, unsleeping vigilance, wasting away of lust, ignorance of attachment, death to the world, loss of gluttony, foundation of theology, a well of discernment, a truce accompanied by tears, loss of talkativeness, and many such things which the common run of men are wont to find quite alien to themselves.

-- And here are the signs of those who are practising stillness in the wrong way: dearth of (spiritual) wealth, increase of anger, a hoard of resentment, diminution of love, growth of vanity; and I will be silent about all the rest which follow.

-- When you go forth, guard what you have gathered. When the cage is opened, the birds fly out. And then we shall find no further profit in stillness.

-- It is better to live (as a cenobite) in poverty and obedience than to be a hesychast who has no control of his mind.

-- My experience is that the demons often persuade foolish busybodies to visit true hesychasts so as to use even such as those to throw some hindrance in the way of these active men. Look out for such people, and do not be afraid of offending these idle bodies by your devout behaviour; because, as a result of this offence, they will perhaps stop their meddlesomeness. But see that you do not mistakenly offend a soul who, in his thirst, has come to draw water from you. In all things you need the light (of discretion).

-- Reading enlightens the mind considerably, and helps it concentrate. For those are the Holy Spirit's words and they attune those who attend to them. Let what you read lead you to action, for you are a doer. Putting these words into practice
makes further reading superfluous. Seek to be enlightened by the words of salvation through your labours, and not merely from books. Until you receive spiritual power, do not study works of an allegorical nature because they are dark words, and they darken the weak.

STEP 28: On Holy and Blessed Prayer, the Mother of Virtues,
and on the Attitude of Mind and Body in Prayer

-- When you are going to stand before the Lord, let the garment of your soul be woven throughout with the thread of obliviousness to wrongs. Otherwise, prayer will bring you no benefit.

-- Let your prayer be completely simple. For both the publican and the prodigal son were reconciled to God by a single phrase.

-- The work of prayer is one and the same for all, but there are many kinds of prayer and many different prayers. Some converse with God as with a friend and master, interceding with praise and petition, not for themselves but for others. Some strive for greater (spiritual) riches and glory and for confidence in prayer. Others ask for complete deliverance from their adversary. Some beg to receive some kind of rank; others for complete forgiveness of debts. Some ask to be released from prison; others for remission from offences.

-- Before all else, let us list sincere thanksgiving first on the scroll of our prayer. On the second line, we should put confession and heartfelt contrition of soul. Then let us present our petition to the King of all. This is the best way of prayer, as it was shown to one of the brethren by an angel of the Lord.

-- Do not be over-sophisticated in the words you use when praying, because the simple and unadorned lisping of children has often won the heart of their Heavenly Father.

-- Do not try to be verbose when you pray, lest your mind be distracted in searching for words. One word of the publican propitiated God, and one cry of faith saved the thief. Loquacity in prayer often distracts the mind and leads to phantasy, whereas brevity makes for concentration.

-- If you feel sweetness or compunction at some word of your prayer, dwell on it; for then our guardian angel is praying with us.

-- Though you may have climbed the whole ladder of the virtues, pray for forgiveness of sins. Listen to the cry of Paul regarding sinners: Of whom I am chief. (I Timothy 1:15)

-- Oil and salt are seasonings for food; and tears and chastity give wings to prayer.

-- Soiled prayer is one thing, its disappearance is another, robbery is another, and blemish another. Prayer is soiled when we stand before God and picture to ourselves irrelevant and inopportune thoughts. Prayer is lost when we are captured by useless cares. Prayer is stolen from us when our thoughts wander before we realize it. Prayer is blemished by any kind of attack or interruption that comes to us at the time of prayer.

-- Faith gives wings to prayer, and without it we cannot fly up to Heaven.

-- Do not say, after spending a long time in prayer, that nothing has been gained; for you have already gained something. And what higher good is there than to cling to the Lord and persevere in unceasing union with Him?

-- Psalmody in a crowded congregation is accompanied by captivity and wandering of the thoughts; but in solitude, this does not happen. However, those in solitude are liable to be assailed by despondency, whereas in congregation the brethren help each other by their zeal.

-- War proves the soldier's love for his king; but the time and discipline of prayer show the monk's love for God.

-- Your prayer will show you what condition you are in. Theologians say that prayer is the monk's mirror.

-- Do not be puffed up if you have prayed for another and been heard, for it is his faith that has been strong and effective.

-- Do not admit any sensory phantasies during prayer, lest you become subject to derangement.

-- Just as an earthly king is disgusted by a man who turns his face away and talks to his master's enemies while in his presence, so will the Lord be disgusted by a man who admits unclean thoughts during his set time of prayer.

-- Ask with tears, seek with obedience, knock with patience. For thus he who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.

-- Take care when you pray not to overdo your intercessions for those of the other sex, so as not to be despoiled from the right side.

-- Do not go into detail in confessing carnal acts, lest you become a traitor to yourself.

STEP 29: Concerning Heaven on Earth, or Godlike Dispassion
and Perfection, and the Resurrection of the Soul Before
the General Resurrection

-- That soul has dispassion which is immersed in the virtues as the passionate are in pleasures.

-- If it is the acme of gluttony to force oneself to eat even when one has no appetite, then it is certainly the acme of temperance for a hungry man to overcome nature when it is blameless (NOTE: the point is, it is the height of temperance or self-control to master hunger which betokens a real need of nature and is therefore blameless). If it is extreme sensuality to rave over irrational and even inanimate creatures, then it is extreme purity to hold all persons in the same regard as inanimate things. If it is the height of cupidity to go on collecting and never be satisfied, it is the height of non-possessiveness not to spare even one's own body. If it is the height of despondency, while living in complete peace, not to acquire patience, then it is the height of patience to think of oneself even in affliction as being at rest. If it is called a sea of wrath for a person to be savage even when no one is about, then it will be a sea of long-suffering to be as calm in the presence of your slanderer as in his absence. If it is the height of vainglory when a person, seeing no one near him to praise him, puts on affected behaviour, it is certainly a mark of its absence, not to let your thought be beguiled in the presence of those who praise you. If it is a sign of perdition (that is to say, pride) to be arrogant even in poor clothing, then it is a mark of saving humility to have humble thoughts in the midst of high undertakings and achievements. If it is a sign of complete enslavement to the passions to yield readily to everything the demons sow in us, then I take it as a mark of holy dispassion to be able to say honestly: Because the evil one turned away from me, I knew him not (Psalms 100:4); nor how he came, nor why, nor how he went; but I am completely unaware of everything of this kind, because I am wholly united with God and always will be.

STEP 30: Concerning the Linking Together of the Supreme
Trinity Among the Virtues

-- And now, finally, after all that we have said, there remain these three that bind and secure the union of all: faith, hope, love; and the greatest of these is love, for God Himself is so called. (I Corinthians 13:13 and I John 4: 8 and 16)

-- The first can make and create all things; the Divine mercy surrounds the second and makes it immune to disappointment; the third does not fall, does not stop in its course and allows no respite to him who is wounded by its blessed madness.

-- The angels know how to speak about love, and even they can only do this according to the degree of their enlightenment.

-- God is love. So he who wishes to define this tries with bleary eyes to measure the sand in the ocean.

-- Love is essentially the banishment of every kind of contrary thought, for love thinketh no evil.

-- Even a mother does not so cling to the babe at her breast as a son of love clings to the Lord at all times.

-- If the face of a loved one clearly and completely changes us, and makes us cheerful, gay and carefree, what will the Face of the Lord do when He makes His Presence felt invisibly in a pure soul?

-- Those who have reached such an angelic state often forget about bodily food. I think that often they do not even feel any desire for it. And no wonder, for frequently a contrary desire expels the thought of food.

-- I think that the body of those incorruptible men is not even subject to sickness any longer, because it has been rendered incorruptible; for by the flame of purity they have extinguished the flame. I think that even the food that is set before them they accept without any pleasure. For there is an underground stream that nourishes the root of a plant, and their souls too are sustained by a celestial fire.

-- The growth of fear is the beginning of love, but a complete state of purity is the foundation of theology.

-- He who loves the Lord has first loved his brother, because the second is a proof of the first.

-- One who loves his neighbour can never tolerate slanderers, but rather runs from them as from fire.

-- He who says that he loves the Lord but is angry with his brother is like a man who dreams that he is running.

-- Love bestows prophecy; love yields miracles; love is an abyss of illumination; love is a fountain of fire, in the measure that it wells up, it inflames the thirsty soul. Love is the state of angels. Love is the progress of eternity. END

from St. John Climacus, "The Ladder of Divine Ascent," (Boston: Holy Transfiguration Monastery, 1978), pp. 197 - 229.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

ST. ARSENIUS THE GREAT - Is Asceticism Absolute? Or Relative?

Today's thought is about Abba Arsenius the Great, one of the most famous abbots and ascetics of Scetis, near present-day Alexandria, Egypt. This illustration is very important in understanding asceticism and how it applies differently to different people.

BEGIN: They used to say that on one occasion when Abba Arsenius the Great fell ill in Scete, a priest went and brought him to the church, and he spread a palm-leaf mat for him, and placed a small pillow under his head; and one of the old men came to visit him and saw that he was lying upon a mat that he had a pillow under his head, and he was offended and said, "And this is Arsenius lying upon such things!"

Then the priest took the old man aside privately, and said unto him, "What labor did you do in your village?" And the old man said unto him, "I was a shepherd." And the priest said unto him, "What manner of life did you lead in the world?" And he said unto him, "A life of toil, and great want."

And when the old man had described all the tribulation which he had endured in the world, the priest said unto him, "And here what manner of life do you lead?" And the old man said unto him, "In my cell I have everything comfortable, and I have more than I want." And the priest said unto him, "Consider the position of Abba Arsenius when he was in the world! He was the father of kings, and a thousand slaves, girt about with gold-embroidered vests, and with chains and ornaments around their necks, and clothed in silk, stood before him; and he had the most costly couches and cushions to lie upon. But you were a shepherd, and the comforts which you never enjoyed in the world, you have here; but his man Arsenius has not here the comforts which he enjoyed in the world, and now you are at ease while he is troubled."

Then the mind of the old man was opened, and he expressed contrition and said, "Father, forgive me; I have sinned. Verily this is the way of truth. He has come to a state of humility, while I have attained to ease."

And the old man, having profited, went his way. END

from E. A. Wallis Budge, "The Paradise of the Holy Fathers, (Seattle: St. Nectarios Press, 1984), pp. 106-107

Sunday, September 23, 2012

ST. JOHN CLIMACUS - PART VI (Steps 25-26 of the Ladder of Divine Ascent)

The Ladder of Divine Ascent
Steps 25 - 26

STEP 25: On the Destroyer of the Passions, Most
Sublime Humility, Which is rooted in Spiritual Perception

-- This subject sets before us as a touchstone, a treasure preserved in earthen vessels, that is to say in our bodies, and it is of a quality that baffles all description. This treasure has an inscription, which is incomprehensible because it comes from above, and those who try to explain it with words give themselves great and endless trouble. And the inscription runs thus: Holy Humility.

-- Let all who are led by the spirit of God enter with us into this spiritual and wise assembly, holding in their spiritual hands the God-inscribed tablets of knowledge. We have come together, we have investigated, and we have probed the meaning
of this precious inscription. And one man said: “It (humility) means constant oblivion of one’s achievements.” Another: “It is the acknowledgement of oneself as the last of all and the greatest sinner of all.” And another: “The mind’s recognition of one’s weakness and impotence.” Another again: “In fits of rage, it means to forestall one’s neighbor and be first to stop the quarrel.” And again another: “Recognition of Divine grace and divine compassion.” And again another: “The feeling of a contrite soul, and the renunciation of one’s own will.” But when I had listened to all this and had attentively and soberly investigated it, I found that I had not been able to attain to the blessed perception of that virtue from what had been said. Therefore, last of all, having gathered what fell from the lips of those learned and blessed fathers as a dog gathers the crumbs that fall from the table, I too gave my definition of it and said: “Humility is a nameless grace in the soul, its name known only to those who have learned it by experience. It is unspeakable wealth, a name and gift from God, for it is said: “learn not from an angel, nor from man, nor from a book, but from Me, that is, from My indwelling, from My illumination and action in you; for I am meek and humble in heart and int hought iand in spirit, and your soul shall find rest from conflicts and relief from thoughts.” (Matthew 11:29)

-- The appearance of this holy vine is one thing during the winter of the passions, another in the spring of fruit-blossom, yet another in the actual harvest of the virtues. Yet all these different stages concur in gladness and fruit-bearing, and
therefore, they all have their own signs and sure indications of fruit to come. For as soon as the cluster of holy humility begins to blossom within us, we at once begin, though with an effort, to hate all human glory and praise, and to banish from ourselves irritation and anger. When this queen of virtues makes progress in our soul by spiritual growth, we regard all the good deeds accomplished by us as nothing, or rather as an abomination, supposing that everyday we add more and more to our burden by a dissipation that we do not comprehend. We suspect the very abundance of the Divine gifts showered upon us to be beyond our deserts and to aggravate our punishment. So our mind remains unplundered, reposing securely in the casket of modesty, only hearing the knocks and jeers of the thieves, without being subject to any of their threats; because modesty is an inviolable safe.

-- It is one thing to be humble, another to strive for humility, and another to praise the humble. The first belongs to the perfect, the second to the truly obedient, and the third to all the faithful.

-- The natural property of the lemon tree is such that it lifts its branches upwards when it has no fruit, but the more the branches bend down the more fruit they bear. Those who have the mind to understand will grasp the meaning of this.

STEP 26: On Discernment of Thoughts, Passions and Virtue

-- Discernment in beginners is true knowledge of themselves; in intermediate souls, it is a spiritual sense that faultlessly distinguishes what is truly good from what is of nature and opposed to it; and in the perfect, it is the knowledge which they have within by Divine illumination, and which can enlighten with its lamp what is dark in others. Or perhaps, generally speaking, discernment is, and is recognized as, the certain understanding of the Divine will on all occasions, in every place and in all matters; and it is only found in those who are pure in heart, and in body and in mouth.

-- Discernment is undefiled conscience and purity of feeling.

-- Let no one on seeing or hearing something supernatural in the monastic way of life fall into unbelief out of ignorance; for where the supernatural God dwells, much that is supernatural happens.

-- After God, let us have our conscience as our mentor and rule in all things, so that we may know which way the wind is blowing and set our sails accordingly.

-- 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 for stumbling in anything (II Corinthians 6:3) 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.

-- When our good and all-gracious Lord and Master sees people too lazy in their exercises, He lays their flesh low with sickness, an asceticism with less toil; and sometimes it also cleanses the soul from evil thoughts or passions.

-- We should not be distressed if, in asking the Lord for something, we remain for a time unheard. It would have pleased the Lord if all men in a single moment had become dispassionate; however, His foreknowledge told Him that this would not be for their good.

-- All who ask and do not obtain their requests from God, are denied for one of the following reasons; because they ask at the wrong time, or because they ask unworthily and vaingloriously, or because if they received they would become conceited, or finally because they would become negligent after obtaining their request.

-- A small fire often destroys a whole forest; so too a small flaw spoils all our labor.

-- As galloping horses race one another, so a good community excites mutual fervor.

NOTE: Step 26 has 254 instructions! The above excerpts are just a very small part of the enormous wisdom that St. John gives us in this step alone. I humbly apologize to all readers for having to omit so much of this wonderful passage in this newsletter.

from St. John Climacus, "The Ladder of Divine Ascent," (Boston: Holy Transfiguration Monastery, 1978), pp. 149 - 197.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

ANONYMOUS DESERT FATHER - Which is Better? The Way of Mary or the Way of Martha?

Today’s thought is from an anonymous Desert Father who was questioned about whether it is better to live the solitary life of contemplation and poverty or to devote one’s life to helping others and providing material support to the needy. His answer goes to the heart of the debate whether it is better to follow the way of Mary or that of Martha.

BEGIN TEXT: The brethren said, "There were two brothers who were the sons of a merchant and their father died and they divided their inheritance between themselves. Unto each one, there came five thousand dinars. One of the brothers divided his inheritance among the churches, and the monasteries, and the poor, and he himself became a monk, and he chose for himself a life of continual silence, and fasting, and prayer. Now the other one built a monastery for himself, and gathered brethren to him, and he took care of the strangers, and the poor, and the sick, whom he received and relieved.

"When the two brothers were dead, there was questioning among the brethren about them, and they went to Abba Pambo and asked him, ‘Which manner of life and conduct was the more excellent and exalted?’ And having learned from God, he said unto them, ‘They were both perfect, and in my sight they appear to be of equal merit.’ Explain to us now the old man’s words, for how can the man who is destitute, and the man who hath possessions be equal in merit?’ The old man said, ‘Since the whole conduct of these brethren was to God, and since whatsoever they did they did it for God, with an upright aim, and since the aim of each was the same, they appeared to be in the old man’s opinion of equal merit before God.’" END.

from "The Paradise of the Holy Fathers," trans. by E. A. Wallis Budge, (Seattle: St. Nectarios Press, 1984), p. 283

Sunday, September 16, 2012

ST. JOHN CLIMACUS - PART V (Steps 19-24 of the Ladder of Divine Ascent)

The Ladder of Divine Ascent: Steps 19 - 24

STEP 19: On Sleep, Prayer, and Psalmody
With the Brotherhood

-- Sleep is a particular state of nature, an image of death, inactivity of the senses. Sleep is one, but, like desire, its sources and occasions are many; that is to say, it comes from nature, from food, from demons, or perhaps, sometimes, from extreme and prolonged fasting, through which the flesh is weakened and at last longs for the consolation of sleep.

-- Just as over-drinking is a matter of habit, so too from habit comes over-sleeping. Therefore we must struggle with the question of sleep, especially in the early days of obedience, becaus4e a long-standing habit is difficult to cure.

-- Let us observe and we shall find that the spiritual trumpet serves as an outward signal for the gathering of the brethren, but it is also the unseen signal for the assembly of our foes. So some of them stand by our bed, and when we get up urge us to lie down again: “Wait,” they say, “till the preliminary hymns are finished; then you can go to church.” Others plunge those standing at prayer into sleep. Some produce severe, unusual pains in the stomach. Others urge us on to make conversation in church. Some entice the mind to shameful thoughts. Others make us lean against the wall as though from fatigue. Sometimes they involve us in fits of yawning. Some of them bring on waves of laughter during prayer, thereby
desiring to stir up the anger of God against us. some force us to hurry the reading or chanting merely from laziness; others suggest that we should chant more slowly for the pleasure of it; and sometimes they sit at our mouths and shut them, so that we can scarcely open them. He who reckons with feeling of heart that he stands before God in prayer shall be an unshakeable pillar, and none of the aforesaid demons will make sport of him.

-- It is possible for all to pray with a congregation; for many it is more suitable to pray with a single kindred spirit; solitary prayer is for the very few.

-- It is not proper for anyone to engage in any accessory work, or rather distraction, during the time of prayer. For the angel who attended Antony the Great taught him this clearly.

-- Just as a furnace tests gold, so the practice of prayer tests the monk’s zeal and love for God. A praiseworthy work; he who makes it his own draws near to God and routs demons.

STEP 20: On Bodily Vigil, and How to Use
It to Attain Spiritual Vigil, and How to Practise It

-- Some stand before earthly kings without weapons and without armour; but others hold staffs of office, or have shields, or swords. The former are vastly superior to the latter, for they are usually personal relations of the king and members of the royal household. So it is with earthly kings.

-- 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, being immaterial and stripped of all care.  Others stand at that time chanting psalms. Others immerse themselves in the thought of death, hoping thus to obtain contrition. And of all these, the first and last persevere 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.

-- A vigilant eye makes the mind pure; but much sleep hardens the soul.

-- A vigilant monk is a foe to fornication, but a sleepy one is its mate.

-- The farmer’s wealth is gathered on the threshing floor and in the wine-press, but the wealth and knowledge of monks is gathered during the evenings and the night hours while standing at prayer and engaged in spiritual activity.

-- The inexperienced monk is wide awake in friendly conversation; but his eyes become heavy when the hour of prayer is upon him.

STEP 21: On Unmanly and Puerile Cowardice

-- If you pursue virtue in a monastery or coenobium, you are not likely to be attacked much by cowardice. But the man who spends his time in more solitary places should make every effort to avoid being overcome by that offspring of vainglory, that daughter of unbelief, cowardice.

-- Fear is a rehearsing of danger beforehand; or again, fear is a trembling sensation of the heart, alarmed and troubled by unknown misfortunes. Fear is a loss of assurance.

-- Those who mourn and those who are insensitive are not subject to fear, but the cowardly often have become deranged. And this is natural. For the Lord rightly forsakes the proud that the rest of us may learn not to be puffed up.

-- Do not hesitate to go late at night to those places where you usually feel afraid. But if you yield only a little to such weakness, then this childish and ridiculous infirmity will grow old with you. As you go on your way, arm yourself with prayer. When you reach the place, stretch out your hands. Flog your enemies with the name of Jesus, for there is no stronger weapon in heaven or earth. When you get rid of the disease of fear, praise Him who has delivered you. If you continue to be thankful, He will protect you for ever.

-- It is not darkness and desolateness of place that give 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.

-- He who has become the servant of the Lord will fear his Master alone, but he who does not yet fear Him is often afraid of his own shadow.

-- In the presence of an invisible spirit, the body becomes afraid; but in the presence of an angel, the soul of the humble is filled with joy. Therefore, when we recognize the presence from the effect, let us quickly hasten to prayer, for our good guardian has come to pray with us.

STEP 22: On the Many Forms of Vainglory

-- The sun shines on all alike, and vainglory beams on all activities. For instance, I am vainglorious when I fast; and when I relax the fast in order to be unnoticed, I am again vainglorious over my prudence. When well-dressed I am quite overcome by vainglory, and when I put on poor clothes I am vainglorious again. When I talk I am defeated, and when I am silent I am again defeated by it. However I throw this prickly-pear, a spike stands upright.

-- A vainglorious person is a believing idolater; he apparently honours God, but he wants to please not God but men.

-- The flatterer is a servant of devils, a guide to pride, a destroyer of contrition, a ruiner of virtues, a misleader. Those who pronounce you blessed, lead you astray, says the prophet. (Isaiah 3:12)

-- When you hear that your neighbour or friend has abused you behind your back or even to your face, then show love and praise him.

-- Whenever he sees that any have acquired in some slight measure a state of peace, he immediately urges them to leave the desert for the world, saying: “Set out in order to save the souls which are perishing.”

-- Vainglory incites monks given to levity to anticipate the arrival of lay guests and to go out of the cloister to meet them. It makes them fall at their feet and, though full of pride, it feigns humility. It checks manner and voice, and keeps an eye on the hands of visitors in order to receive something from them. It calls them lords and patrons, graced with godly life. To those sitting at table it suggests abstinence, and it rebukes subordinates mercilessly. It stirs those who are slack at standing in psalmody to make an effort; those who have no voice become good chanters and the sleepy wake up. It fauns upon the precentor, and begs to be given first place in the choir; it calls him father and teacher as long as the guests are still there.

-- He who has sold himself to vainglory leads a double life. Outwardly he lives with monks, but in mid and thought he is in the world.

-- He who is without this sickness is near to salvation, but he who is not free from it is far from the glory of the Saints. This is the twenty-second step. he who is not caught by vainglory will never fall into that mad pride which is so hateful to God.

STEP 23: On Mad Pride, and, in the Same Step,
on Unclean Blasphemous Thoughts

-- God resisteth the proud (James 4:6). Who then can have mercy on them? Every proud-hearted man is unclean before God. Who then can cleanse such a person?

-- An angel fell from heaven without any other passion except pride, and so we may ask whether it is possible to ascend to Heaven by humility alone, without any other of the virtues.

-- A proud monk has no need of a devil; he has become a devil and enemy to himself.

-- I once caught this mad imposter as it was rising in my heart, bearing on its shoulders its mother, vainglory. Roping them with the noose of obedience and thrashing them with the whip of humility, I demanded how they got access to me. At last, when flogged, they said: “we have neither beginning nor birth, for we are progenitors and parents of all the passions. Contrition of heart that is born of obedience is our real enemy; we cannot bear to be subject to anyone; that is why we fell from Heaven, though we had authority there.

“In brief, we are the parents of all that opposes humility; for everything which furthers humility, opposes us. We hold sway everywhere, save in Heaven, so where will you run from our presence? We often accompany dishonours, and obedience, and freedom from anger, and lack of resentment, and service. Our offspring are the falls of spiritual men: anger, calumny, spite, irritability, shouting, blasphemy, hypocrisy, hatred, envy, disputation, self-will and disobedience.

“There is only one thing in which we have no power to meddle; and we shall tell you this, for we cannot bear your blows: If you keep up a sincere condemnation of yourself before the Lord, you can count us as weak as a cobweb. For pride’s saddlehorse, as you see, is vainglory, on which I am mounted.” But holy humility and self-accusation laugh at both the horse and its rider, happily singing the song of victory: Let us sing to the Lord, for gloriously is He glorified: horse and rider hath He hurled into the sea (Exodus 15:1) and into the abyss of humility.


-- During the divine services, and at the very moment when the Mysteries (e.g., Holy Communion) are being accomplished, this vile enemy often blasphemes the Lord and the holy Sacrifice that is being consecrated. Wherefore, we clearly learn 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?

-- This deceiver and corrupter of souls has often driven many out of their mind. No other thought is so difficult to tell in confession as this. That is why it often remains with many to the very end of their lives. For nothing gives the demons and bad thoughts such power over us as nourishing and hiding them in our heart unconfessed.

-- No one in the face of blasphemous thoughts need think that the guilt lies within him, for the Lord is the Knower of hearts, and He is aware that such words and thoughts do not come from us but from our foes.

-- When we stand in prayer, those unclean and unspeakable thoughts assail us; but if we continue praying to the end, they retire at once, for they do not fight those who stand up to them.

STEP 24: On Meekness, Simplicity, and
Guilelessness Which Come Not From Nature but From
Conscious Effort, and About Guile

-- Meekness is an unchangeable state of mind, which remains the same in honour and dishonour.

-- Meekness consists in praying calmly and sincerely for a neighbour when he causes many turmoils.

-- Meekness is a rock overlooking the sea of anger, which breaks all the waves that dash against it, yet remains completely unmoved.

-- In the hearts of the meek the Lord finds rest, but a turbulent soul is a seat of the devil.

-- A gentle soul retains words of wisdom, for the Lord will guide the meek in judgment, or rather, in discretion.

-- Guile is a perversion of honesty, a deluded way of thinking, a lying disposition, false oaths, ambiguous words, a dark secrecy of heart, an abyss of cunning, deceit that has become habit, conceit turned into nature, a foe to humility, a pretence of repentance, an estrangement from mourning, hostility to confession, a teacher of wifulness, a cause of falls, a hindrance to resurrection, a smiling at offences, affected frowning, sham reverence, diabolical life.

-- Let all of us who wish to attract the Lord to ourselves draw near to Him as disciples to the Master, simply, without hypocrisy, without duplicity or guile, not out of idle curiosity. He Himself is simple and not composite, and He wants sould that come to Him to be simple and guileless. For you will surely never see simplicity bereft of humility.

-- Struggle to delude your own prudence, and by so doing, you will find salvation and uprightness through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

He who has the strength for this step, let him take courage; for he has become an imitator of Christ his Master, and has been saved.

from St. John Climacus, "The Ladder of Divine Ascent," (Boston: Holy Transfiguration Monastery, 1978), pp. 126 - 149.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012


Today's thought is from an unknown holy father of the Egyptian Desert who was asked by a disciple what it meant to be a monk. The holy father's answer sums up the monastic ideal:

BEGIN: And the old man also said, "God saith unto thee thus -- if thou lovest Me, O monk, do that which I ask, and do not that which I do not desire. For monks should lead lives wherein they act not in iniquity, and a man should not look upon evil things with his eyes, no hear with his ears things which are alien to the fear of God, nor utter calumnies with his mouth, nor plunder with his hands; but he should give especially to the poor, and he should not be unduly exalted in his mind, and he should not think evil thoughts, neither should he fill his belly. Let him do then all these things with discretion, for by them is a monk known."

The old man also said, "These things form the life of a monk: good works, and obedience, and training. A man should not lay blame on his neighbor, and he should not utter calumnies, and he should not complain, for it is written, 'The lovers of the Lord hate wickedness.'" END

from E. A. Wallis Budge, "The Paradise of the Holy Fathers," (Seattle: St. Nectarios Press), 1984, p. 135

Sunday, September 9, 2012

ST. JOHN CLIMACUS - PART IV (Steps 13-18 of the Ladder of Divine Ascent)

The Ladder of Divine Ascent: Steps 13 - 18

STEP 13: On Despondency

-- As we have frequently said, this - we mean despondency - is very often one of the branches of talkativeness, and its first child. And so we have given it its appropriate place in this chain of vices.

-- Despondency is a paralysis of soul, an enervation of the mind, neglect of asceticism, hatred of the vow made. It calls those who are in the world blessed. It accuses God of being merciless and without love for men. It is being languid in
singing psalms, weak in prayer, like iron in service, resolute in manual labour, reliable in obedience.

-- Community life is opposed to despondency. But she is a constant companion of the hermit. She will never leave him till his death, and wrestles with him daily till his end.   Seeing an anchorite's cell, she smiles, and creeps up and camps near by.

-- A doctor visits the sick in the morning, but despondency visits ascetics about noonday.

-- Despondency is a pretext for hospitality. She insists that by means of manual labour, alms could be given; and she urges us eagerly to visit the sick, recalling Him who said, I was sick and ye visited Me (Matthew 25:36). She puts it into our
heards to go our visiting the dejected and faint-hearted, and sets one faintheart to comform another.

-- Spiritual heroes come to light at the time of despondency, for nothing procures so many crowns for a monk as the battle with despondency.

-- 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.

This is the thirteenth victory. He who has really gained it has become experienced in all good.

STEP 14: On That Clamorous Mistress, the Stomach

-- 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.

-- Satiety in food is the father of fornication; but affliction of the stomach is an agent of purity.

-- As long as the flesh is in full health, let us observe abstinence at all times and in every place. When it has been tamed (which I do not suppose is possible this side of the grave), then let us hide our accomplishment.

-- The heart of gluttons dreams only of food and eatables, but the heart of those who weep dreams of judgment and castigation.

-- Satiety of the stomach dries the tear sprints, but the stomach when dried produces these waters.

-- He who cherishes his stomach and hopes to overcome the spirit of fornication, is like one who tries to put out a fire with oil.

-- Stint your stomach and you will certainly lock your mouth, because the tongue is strengthened by an abundance of food. Struggle with all your might against the stomach and restrain it with all sobriety. If you labour a little, the Lord will also soon work with you.

-- If you have promised Christ to go by the strait and narrow way, restrain your stomach, because by pleasing it and enlarging it, you break your contract. Attend and you will hear Him who says: "Spacious and broad is the way of the belly
that leads to the perdition of fornication, and many there are who go in by it; because narrow is the gate and strait is the way of fasting that leads to the life of purity, and few there be that find it.

-- The prince of demons is the fallen Lucifer, and the prince of passions is gluttony.

STEP 15: On Incorruptible Purity and Chastity,
to Which the Corruptible Attain by Toil and Sweat

-- Purity means that we put on the angelic nature. Purity is the longed-for house of Christ and the earthly heaven of the heart. Purity is a supernatural denial of nature, which means that a mortal and corruptible body is rivalling the celestial
spirits in a truly marvellous way.

-- Chastity is the name which is common to all virtues.

-- He is chaste who has continually acquired perfect insensibility to difference in bodies.

-- The rule and limit of absolute and perfect purity is to be equally disposed towards animate and inanimate bodies, rational and irrational.

-- He is great who remains free from passion when touched. But greater is he who remains unwounded by the sense of sight, and who, by meditation on the beauty of Heaven, has conquered the fire caused by sight.

-- He who fights this adversary by bodily hardship and sweat is like one who has tied his foe with a string. But he who opposes him by temperance, sleeplessness and vigil is like one who puts a yoke on him. He who opposes him by humility, freedom from irritability and thirst is like one who has killed his enemy and hidden him in the sand. And by sand, I mean humility, because it produces no fodder for the passions, but is mere earth and ashes.

-- He who falls is to be pitied. But still more to be pitied is he who causes another to fall, because he bears the burden of the falls of both, and further, the burden of pleasure tasted by the other.

-- Those who are inclined to sensuality often seem sympathetic, merciful, and prone to compunction; while those who care for chastity do not seem to have these qualities to the same extent.

-- Someone told me of an extraordinarily high degree of purity. He said: "A certain man (NOTE: St. Nonnus, Bishop of Heliopolis), on seeing a beautiful woman, thereupon glorified the Creator; and from that one look, he was moved to the love of God and to a fountain of tears. And it was wonderful to see how what would have been a cause of destruction for one was for another the supernatural cause of a crown." If such person always feels and behaves in the same way on similar occasions, then he has risen immortal before the general resurrection.

-- The good Lord shows His great care for us in that the shamelessness of the feminine sex is checked by shyness as with a sort of bit. For if the woman were to run after the man, no flesh would be saved.

-- There is a passionate person more passionate than the passionate, and he will even confess his pollutions with pleasure and enjoyment.

STEP 16: On Love of Money, or Avarice

-- After the tyrant just described, many learned teachers next treat of the thousand-headed demon of avarice. We, unlearned as we are, did not wish to change the order of the learned, and we have therefore followed the same convention and rule. So let us first say a little about the disease, and then speak briefly about the remedy.

-- Avarice, or love of money, is the worship of idols, a daughter of unbelief, an excuse for infirmities, a foreboder of old age, a harbinger of drought, a herald of famines.

-- The lover of money sneers at the Gospel, and is a willful transgressor. He who has attained to love scatters his money. But he who says that he lives for love and for money has deceived himself.

-- Do not say that you are collecting money for the poor; with two mites the Kingdom was purchased.

-- The beginning of love of money is the pretext of almsgiving, and the end of it is hatred of the poor. So long as he is collecting he is charitable, but when the money is in hand he tightens his grip.

-- I have seen how men of scant means enriched themselves by living with the poor in spirit, and forgot their first poverty.

STEP 17: On Non-Permissiveness (that Hastens One Heavenwards)

-- Non-possessiveness is the resignation of cares, life without anxiety, an unencumbered wayfarer, alienation from sorrow, fidelity to the commandments.

-- A non-possessive monk is lord of the world. He has entrusted his cares to God, and by faith has obtained all men as his servants. He will not tell his need to man, and he receives what comes to him, as from the hand of the Lord.

-- The non-possessive ascetic is a son of detachment, and thinks of what he has as if it were nothing. When he becomes a solitary, he regards everything as refuse. But if he worries about something, he has not yet become non-possessive.

-- Those who live in obedience are strangers to love of money. For where even the body has been given up, what is left to be one's own? Only in one way can they be harmed, namely by being ready and quick to go from place to place. I have seen material possessions make monks patient to remain in one place. But I praise those who are pilgrims for the Lord.

-- He who has tasted the things on high easily despises what is below. But he who has not tasted the things above finds joy in possessions.

-- Let us monks, then, be as trustful as the birds are; for they have no cares, neither do they gather into barns.

-- Great is he who piously renounces possessions, but holy is he who renounces his will. The one will receive a hundredfold, either in money or in graces, but the other will inherit eternal life.

-- In Job there was no trace of avarice; therefore, when he lost everything, he remained undisturbed.

-- The love of money is (and is called) the root of all evils, because it produces hatred, thefts, envy, separations, enmities, storms, remembrance of wrong, hard-heartedness, murders.

STEP 18: On Insensibility, that is, Deadening of the Soul
And the Death of the Mind Before the Death of the Body

-- Insensibility both in the body and in the spirit is deadened feeling, which, from long sickness and negligence, lapses into loss of feeling.

-- He who has lost sensibility is a witless philosopher, a self-condemned commentator, a self-contradictory windbag, a blind man who teaches others to see. He talks about healing a wound, and does not stop irritating it. He complains of
sickness, and does not stop eating what is harmful. He prays against it, and immediately goes and does it. And when he has done it, he is angry with himself; and the wretched man is not ashamed of his own words. "I am doing wrong," he cries, and eagerly continues to do so. His mouth prays against his passion, and his body struggles for it. He philosophizes about death, but he behaves as if he were immortal. He groans over the separation of soul and body, but drowses along as if he were eternal. He talks of temperance and self-control, but he lives for gluttony. He reads about the judgment and begins to smile. He reads about vainglory, and is vainglorious while actually reading. He repeats what he has learnt about vigil, and drops asleep on the spot. He praises prayer, but runs from it as from the plague. He blesses obedience, but he is the first to disobey. He praises detachment, but he is not ashamed to be spiteful and to fight for a rag. When angered he becomes bitter, and he is angered again at his bitterness; and he does not feel that, after one defeat, he is suffering another. Having overeaten he repents, and a little later again gives way. He blesses silence, and praises it with a spate of words. He teaches meekness, and during the actual teaching frequently gets angry. Having woken from passion he sighs, and shaking his head, he again yields to passion. He condemns laughter, and lectures on mourning with a smile on his face. Before others he blames himself for being vainglorious, and in blaming himself is only angling for glory for himself. He looks people in the face with passion, and talks about chastity. While frequenting the world, he praises those who live in stillness without realizing that he shames
himself. He extols almsgivers, and reviles beggars. All the time he is his own accuser, and he does not want to come to his senses -- I will say cannot.

from St. John Climacus, "The Ladder of Divine Ascent," (Boston; Holy Transfiguration Monastery, 1978), pp. 97 - 126.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

ABBA ARSENIUS - Why Silence? Why the Desert?

Today's story is from Abba Arsenius who was born in Rome circa 360. He was well-educated, of senatorial rank, and served as a tutor to the sons of Emperor Theodosius I. At the age of 34, Arsenius sailed secretly from Rome to Alexandria and from there to Scetis where he became a monk under Abba John the Dwarf. Abba Arsenius went to the Lord in 449.

BEGIN: The brethren said, "What is the meaning of the words which one of the old men spake, saying, 'He who dwelleth with men, because of the commotion of worldly affairs is unable to see his sins; but if he dwell in the silent repose of the desert he will be able to see God in a pure manner?'"

The old man (Abba Arsenius) said, "The excellences which are cultivated in the world, and to which our Lord, speaking in the Gospel, ascribed blessing, are lovingkindness, peace-making and the other commandments which are like unto them, and it is quite possible for such virtues to be cultivated in the world by certain strenuous persons.

"But the purity of heart which seeth God, and to which our Lord ascribed blessing, saying, 'Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God,' cannot be acquired without dwelling in the desert and solitary and silent contemplation. The monk must acquire it in the following way. First of all a man must go forth from the world, and dwell in a monastery, and after his training in a monastery and having gone into his cell, he must die through contemplation in silence, and through the other labors of his body, and through striving against the passions, and through conflict with devils.

"Then through the tranquillity of mind (which he will acquire) in silent contemplation, he will remember his sins, and when he hateth his passions, and hath petitioned for the remission of his sins, and hath suppressed his thoughts, and hath become constant in pure prayer, and hath cleansed his heart from odious thoughts, then shall he be worthy to see in his heart, even as in a polished mirror, the light of the revelation of our Lord (shining) upon it, even as the Fathers say.

"Well, then, did that holy man say to those brethren, 'Visit the sick, reconcile the men of wrath,' for he who cultivateth spiritual excellences in the world cannot, by reason of the commotion of the affairs thereof, see his sins; but if he continue in silent contemplation and prayer he shall see God." END

from E. A. Wallis Budge, "The Paradise of the Holy Fathers, vol. II," (Seattle: St. Nectarios Press, 1984), pp. 319-320

Sunday, September 2, 2012

ST. JOHN CLIMACUS - PART III (Steps 7-12 of the Ladder of Divine Ascent)

Last week’s thought contained the first six steps of ìThe Ladder of Divine Ascent,î by St. John Climacus (“St. John of the Ladder”).  This book outlines thirty steps of the ladder by which one ascends to salvation and gives practical guidance and advice to the spiritual struggler.  We will look at six of these steps in each issue of our newsletter over a five-week period.  This is intended to give you only the briefest of overviews of this monumental work as St. John’s writings have far more detail and instructions than we can possibly reprint here.  This book is truly a “must have” for any spiritual library!

Today we will look at the steps seven through twelve:

Step 7: On Joy-Making Mourning

-- Mourning according to God is sadness of soul and the disposition of a sorrowing heart, which ever madly seeks that for which it thirsts; and when it fails in its quest, it painfully pursues it, and follows in its wake grievously lamenting.  Or thus: mourning is a golden spur in a soul which is stripped of all attachment and of all ties, fixed in a soul which is stripped of all attachment and of all ties, fixed by holy sorrow to watch over the heart.

-- A characteristic of those who are still progressing in blessed mourning is temperance and silence of the lips; and of those who have made progress - freedom from anger and patient endurance of injuries; and of the perfect - humility, thirst for dishonors, voluntary craving for involuntary afflictions, non-condemnation of sinners, compassion even beyond one’s strength.  The first are acceptable, the second laudable; but blessed are those who hunger for hardship and thirst for dishonor, for they shall be filled with the food whereof there can be no satiety.

-- If you possess the gift of mourning, hold on to it with all your might.  For it is easily lost when it is not firmly established.  And just as wax melts in the presence of fire, so it is easily dissolved by noise and bodily cares, and by luxury, and especially by talkativeness and levity.

-- Greater than baptism itself is the fountain of tears after baptism, even though it is somewhat audacious to say so.  For baptism is the washing away of evils that were in us before, but sins committed after baptism are washed away by tears.  As baptism is received in infancy, we have all defiled it, but we cleanse it anew with tears.  And if God in His love for mankind had not given us tears, those being saved would be few indeed and hard to find.

-- 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.

-- Let your very dress urge you to the work of mourning, because all who lament the dead are dressed in black.  If you do not mourn, mourn for this cause.  And if you mourn, lament still more that, by your sins, you have brought yourself down from a state free of labors to one of labour.

Step 8: On Freedom From Anger and On Meekness

-- As the gradual pouring of water on a fire completely extinguishes the flame, so the tears of mourning are able to quench every flame of anger and irritability.  Therefore, we place this next in order.

-- Freedom from anger is an insatiable appetite for dishonor, just as in the vainglorious there is no unbounded desire for praise.  Freedom from anger is victory over nature and insensibility to insults, acquired by struggles and sweat.

-- Meekness is an immovable state of soul which remains unaffected, whether in evil report or in good report, in dishonor or in praise.

-- 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.

-- Wrath is a reminder of hidden hatred, that is to say, remembrance of wrongs.  Wrath is a desire for the injury of the one who has provoked you.  Irascibility is the untimely blazing up of the heart.  Bitterness is a movement of displeasure seated in the soul.  Anger is an easily changeable movement of one’s disposition and disfiguration of soul.

-- As with the appearance of light, darkness retreats; so, at the fragrance of humility, all anger and bitterness vanishes.

-- If it is a mark of extreme meekness, even in the presence of one’s offender, to be peacefully and lovingly disposed towards him in ones heart, then it is certainly a mark of hot temper when a person continues to quarrel and rage against his offender, both by words and gestures, even when by himself.

-- If you want, or rather intend, to take a splinter out of another person, then do not hack at it with a stick instead of a lancet, for you will only drive it in deeper.  And this is a stick ñ rude speech and rough gestures.  And this is a lancet - tempered instruction and patient reprimand.  “Reprove,” says the Apostle, “rebuke, exhort,” but he did not say “beat.” (II Timothy 4:2)  And if even this is required, do it rarely, and not with your own hand.

Step 9: On Remembrance of Wrongs

-- Remembrance of wrongs is the consummation of anger, the keeper of sins, hatred of righteousness, ruin of virtues, poison of the soul, worm of the mind, shame of prayer, cessation of supplication, estrangement of love, a nail stuck in the soul, pleasureless feeling cherished in the sweetness of bitterness, continuous sin, unsleeping transgression, hourly malice.

-- He who has put a stop to anger has also destroyed remembrance of wrongs; because childbirth continues only while the father is alive.

-- Remembrance of wrongs is an interpreter of Scripture which explains the words of the Spirit allegorically in order to suit its own disposition.  Let it be put to shame by the Prayer of Jesus which cannot be said with it.  (NOTE: The “Prayer of Jesus” used in the Orthodox Church is “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.”  What is said in the paragraph applies equally to the Lord’s Prayer, especially in the clause “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.”)

-- Some, for the sake of forgiveness, give themselves up to labors and struggles, but a man who is forgetful of wrongs excels them.  If you forgive quickly, then you will be generously forgiven.

-- The forgetting of wrongs is a sign of true repentance.  But he who dwells on them and thinks that he is repenting is like a man who thinks he is running while he is really asleep.

Step 10: On Slander or Calumny

-- No sensible person, I think, will dispute that slander is born of hatred and remembrance of wrongs.  Therefore it comes next in order after its forebears.

-- I have heard people slandering, and I have rebuked them.  And these doers of evil replied in self-defense that they were doing so out of love and care for the person whom they were slandering.  I said to them: “Stop that kind of love, otherwise you will be condemning as a liar him who said: ëHim that privily talked against his neighbor, did I drive away.í (Psalm 100:5)  If you say you love, then pray secretly, and do not mock the man.  For this is the kind of love that is acceptable to the Lord.”  But I will not hide this from you ñ and of course be careful, lest you judge the offender: Judas was in the company of Christ’s disciples, and the thief was in the company of murderers.  Yet it is a wondrous thing, how in a single instant, they exchanged places.

-- He who wants to overcome the spirit of slander should not ascribe the blame to the person who falls, but to the demon who suggests it.  For no one really wants to sin against God, even though we all sin without being forced to do so.

-- Do not regard the feelings of a person who speaks to you about his neighbor disparagingly, but rather say to him: “Stop, brother!  I fall into graver sins every day, so how can I criticize him?”  In this way you will achieve two things: you will heal yourself and your neighbor with one plaster.  This is one of the shortest ways to the forgiveness of sins; I mean, not to judge.  “Judge not, and ye shall not be judged.” (Luke 6:37)

-- Do not condemn, even if you see with your eyes, for they are often deceived.

Step 11: On Talkativeness and Silence

-- 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 and summoner of despondency, a precursor of sleep, the dissipation of recollection, the abolition of watchfulness, the cooling of ardor, the darkening of prayer.

-- Intelligent silence is the mother of prayer, a recall from captivity, preservation of fire, an overseer of thoughts, a watch against enemies, a prison of mourning, a friend of tears, effective remembrance of death, a depicter of punishment, a deliverer into judgment, a minister of sorrow, an enemy of freedom of speech, a companion of stillness, an opponent of desire to teach, increase of knowledge, a creator of divine vision, unseen progress, secret ascent.

-- He who has become aware of his sins has controlled his tongue, but a talkative person has not yet come to know himself as he should.

-- He who is anxious about his departure, cuts down words; and he who has obtained spiritual mourning, shuns talkativeness like fire.

Step 12: On Lying

-- The offspring of flint and steel is fire; and the offspring of chatter and joking is lying.

-- A lie is the destruction of love, and a false oath is a denial of God.

-- Hypocrisy is the mother of lying, and often its occasion.  For some define hypocrisy as none other than meditation on falsehood, and an inventor of falsehood which has a reprehensible oath intertwined with it.

-- He who has obtained the fear of the Lord has forsaken lying, having within himself an incorruptible judge - his own conscience.

-- We notice various degrees of harm in all the passions, and this is certainly the case with lying.  There is one judgment for him who lies through fear of punishment, and another for him who lies when no danger is at hand.

-- Lying is wiped out by the tortures of superiors; but it is finally destroyed by an abundance of tears.

-- He who has become merry with wine involuntarily speaks the truth on all subjects, and he who is drunk with compunction cannot lie.

from St. John Climacus, “The Ladder of Divine Ascent,” (Boston: Holy Transfiguration Monastery, 1978), pp. 70 - 95.