fr_basil (fr_basil) wrote,


Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Today the Holy Church, as an encouragement for our Lenten journey, asks us to remember St. John Climacus and in particular to reflect on his book “The Ladder to Paradise,”or The Ladder of Divine Ascent. In this book, St John gives instructions to the desert-dwelling monks of the 6th century, warning them about the ways that lead to spiritual destruction, and encouraging them in the ways that lead to eternal life and joy. His spiritual ladder has 30 rungs or steps or “challenges” that lead to heaven: Step 1. On renunciation of the world; Step 2. On detachment; Step 3. On exile or pilgrimage; Step 4. On blessed and ever-memorable obedience; Step 5. On painstaking and true repentance; Step 6. On remembrance of death; Step 7. On joy-making mourning; Step 8. On freedom from anger and on meekness; Step 9. On remembrance of wrongs; Step 10. On slander or calumny; Step 11. On talkativeness and silence; Step 12. On lying; Step 13. On despondency; Step 14. On that clamorous mistress, the stomach; Step 15. On incorruptible purity and chastity; Step 16. On love or money, or avarice; Step 17. On non-possessiveness (that hastens one Heavenwards); Step 18. On insensibility; Step 19. On sleep, prayer, and psalmody with the brotherhood; Step 20. On bodily vigil and how to use it to obtain spiritual vigil; Step 21. On unmanly and infantile cowardice; Step 22. On the many forms of vainglory; Step 23. On mad pride and unclean blasphemous thoughts; Step 24. On meekness, simplicity and guilelessness; Step 25. On the destroyer of passions, most sublime humility; Step 26. On discernment of thoughts, passions and virtues; Step 27. On holy stillness of body and soul; Step 28. On holy and blessed prayer; Step 29. Concerning Heaven on earth, or Godlike dispassion and perfection; Step 30. Concerning the linking together of the supreme trinity among the virtues, faith, hope, and love. 
This book, while written strictly for monastics, has nonetheless become a classic of spiritual lenten reading for Orthodox Christians through the centuries. While many of the details may not apply directly to those of us living in the world, the principles contained in the book apply to everyone, equally! I encourage everyone to obtain this book and read it. It will explain many of the experiences that you have in life, especially your spiritual life, and will provide you with many keys to understanding and weapons for combating your spiritual enemies: the demons, the logismoi, and the passions. The Ladder is a text book or a manual for monastics in their spiritual ascent. For us the Ladder is “suggested reading” aimed at providing us with inspirational help along our way.
However, in today’s Gospel we are shown another ladder, The Ladder of Christ, also known as “The Beatitudes.” They are called “beatitudes” because in Latin they begin with the word “beati,” meaning “blessed.” This Ladder is meant for everyone, without exception. And what are the “rungs” or the “steps” of this Ladder? They are as follows:
Step 1. Blessed are the Poor in Spirit. Those who are poor in spirit are those who are “humble and contrite in mind” according to St John Chrysostom It has nothing to do with how much money one has or doesn’t have.
Step 2. Blessed are those who mourn. Those who weep over their own sins, and those who have deep empathy for the fellow human beings are the ones who ascend to this step. The comfort that they receive is the joy of forgiveness from God
Step 3. Blessed are the Meek. Meekness means “gentleness of spirit,”  Meekness toward God is a disposition of spirit in which we accept His dealings with us as good, even if we can’t see the “reasoning.”  The meek are those who are conscious of their own sinfulness and their own unworthiness. They do not judge others, but instead, seek to relate to everyone with love and peacefulness of heart. The meek will inherit the earth because after the Second Coming only they will dwell in the New Earth, the New Jerusalem.
Step 4. Blessed are those who Hunger and thirst for righteousness. For those who love Christ there is a yearning, a deep desire to be ever nearer to Him. This is what is meant by “hunger” and “thirst.” In 1 Corinthians 1:30, St Paul says that God has given us Jesus as “wisdom..., and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption.” Since Christ is our righteousness, it is only natural that we should hunger and thirst after Him. As David sings, “As the deer earnestly yearns for the fountains of water, so my soul earnestly longs for thee, O God. My soul has thirsted for the living God” (Psalm 41: 1-2).
Step 5. Blessed are the merciful. Being merciful means having a forgiving and kindly nature. It also, and very importantly, means a charitable nature, a “giving” nature that that helps the poor and supports the church. St. Augustine says: “They are blessed who bring relief to those who are miserable, for it is paid back to them in such a way that they will, themselves, be freed from misery.” St. Makarii of Optina says: “God smiles on the compassionate heart. Every time a beggar knocks at your door, try to perceive Christ Himself under a humble disguise. Would you, under any circumstances, let Christ knock in vain?”
Step 6. Blessed are the pure in heart. When the nous is clear, God can be seen. St Augustine said: “How foolish, therefore, are those who seek God with these outward eyes, since He is seen with the heart! As it is written elsewhere: ‘And in singleness of heart seek Him’ (Wisdom 1:1). For that is a pure heart which is a heart free from duplicity and deceit: and just as the light cannot be seen except with pure eyes; so neither is God seen, unless that is pure by which He can be seen. It may be that you find it hard to purify your heart. Call upon Him, and He will not disdain to make there a clean abode for Himself, and come to dwell within you.” And St Theodore of Edessa, the Great Ascetic, says: “Through love we shall shake off the tyranny of the passions and rise to heaven, lifted up on the wings of the virtues; and we shall see God, so far as this is possible for human nature.”
Step 7. Blessed are the peacemakers. Peacemakers are those who fashion or create peace.  It means to bring harmony and calmness, but perhaps more importantly, to bring Christ. Peacemaking does not only apply to others, or others and ourselves; it also applies to the condition within our own souls. St. Seraphim of Sarov says:  “Acquire a spirit of peace, and thousands around you will be saved.” And St. Isaac the Syrian says: “It is better for you to make peace within yourself, causing concord to reign over the trinity within you (I mean, the body, the soul, and the spirit), than by your teaching peace to others who are in disagreement.”
Step 8. Blessed are those who endure trials, tribulations and persecutions. The patient endurance of these things brings great spiritual rewards. St Paul says (in Romans 5) “we glory in tribulations...knowing that tribulations bring about patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope: and hope does not disappoint; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit which is given to us.” St. Maximus the Confessor wrote: “The outcome of every affliction endured for the sake of virtue is joy, of every labour - rest, and of every shameful treatment - glory; in short, the outcome of all sufferings for the sake of virtue is to be with God, to remain with Him forever, and to enjoy eternal rest.”
So this is the Lord’s Ladder for us. As we admire and commemorate the spiritual and physical feats of St. John Climacus and the Holy Ascetics today, we must never forget that all of us are called to a certain measure of ascesis. All of us are called to podvig, to spiritual and physical struggle, especially during this time of the Great Fast. May the grace of God embolden us and empower us to complete the course of the Fast, and make us ready to behold and truly participate in Christ’s Holy Resurrection. Amen.
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