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.