Throughout the spring I’ve plodding through The Ladder of Divine Ascent by John Climacus, a 7th Century monastic leader of the Eastern Church. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I simply trying to get out of my comfort zone a bit. Though its not accurate to say the book has been ignored in the West, Climacus does represent an “off the beaten path” selection of spiritual devotion one from which Christians of all stripes should be able to appreciate.
John’s single minded approach to see those under him prepare their souls to meet God through acts of love in an arduous life long battle against sin is so astounding I think because it is so missing from today’s writing.
Here is an one poignant selection:
“Real repentance, morning scrubbed of all impurity, and holy humility among beginners are as different and distinct from one another as yeast and flour from bread. The soul is ground and refined by visible repentance. The water of true mourning bring it to a certain unity. I would even go so far as to speak of a mingling with God. Then, kindled by the fire of the Lord, blessed humility is made into bread and made firm without the leaven of pride. The outcome of all this is a three-strand (cf. Eccles. 4:12), a heavenly rainbow coming together as a single power and energy, with its own effects and characteristics. Speak of one and we imply the other two. And I will now briefly try to prove the truth of what I am saying.
The first and principal token of this excellent and admirable triad is the delighted readiness of the soul to accept indignity, to receive it with open arms, to welcome it as something that relieves and cauterizes diseases of the soul and grievous sins. The second token is the the wiping out of anger – and modesty over the fact that it has subsided. Third and preeminent is the honest distrust of one’s own virtues, together with an unending desire to learn more.
The end of the law and the prophets is Christ, for the justification of every believer (Rom. 10:4). And the impure passion is vainglory and pride for every man who fails to deal with the problem. But their destroyer is a spiritual stag which keeps the man who lives with it safe from every poison (in John’s day the stag was thought to be able to kill snakes). The deadly bain of hypocrisy and of calumny can surely never appear where there is humility. Where will this snake nestle and hide? Will it not be pulled out from the heart’s earth to be killed and done away with? Where there is humility there will be no sign of hatred, no species of quarrelsomeness, no whiff of disobedience – unless of course some question of faith arises. The man with humilty for his bride will be gentle, kind, inclined to compunction, sympathetic, calm in every situation, radiant, easy to get along with, inoffensive, alert and active. In a word, free from passion. “The Lord remembered us in our humility and delivered us from our enemies” (Ps. 135:23-24), that is, from our passions and from our impurities.
A humble monk will not preoccupy himself with mysteries. A proud monk busies himself with the hidden judgement’s of God.”
Do you hear the empathetic yearning that those under his authority seek holiness? The concern for soul shaping and actually rooting out sin? The biblical foundation?
I’ve found my soul beautifully refreshed from the wisdom of this long dead desert father. I hope you will as well.