Sunday, April 28, 2013

Handout: Ladder of Divine Ascent Step 4 - "On Obedience"

      The Ladder of Divine Ascent

         Step 4 - On Obedience

            After concluding his discussion on the first three steps concerning the break with the world, Climacus begins the far more lengthy section of his treatise which focuses on the active life of spiritual warfare.  This section includes twenty-three of the thirty steps of the ladder and considers the acquisition of the fundamental and higher virtues and the struggle against the passions.  The greatest detail is found in his explanation of the virtues, of which obedience is the first.
            Obedience, Climacus states, has its origin in the previous step of exile.  The monk who has stripped and emptied himself of all that he possesses, including his own will in obedience,  will be filled with the Holy Spirit and rise heavenward.  The battle ahead will be difficult, but Climacus assures his readers that they will not be without weapons in the struggle to attain this virtue.  "From the dangers of unbelief, we protect ourselves with the shield of faith.  To cut away all selfish needs and longing we wield the spiritual sword.  Guarding us from the mortal wounds of insult and degradation we wear the breastplate of patience and meekness.  And saving us from the dangers of a lack of discernment we wear as a helmet the prayers of our spiritual father."
            Only after beginning thus does Climacus venture to define obedience.  It is to give up one's life entirely in the way one thinks, judges and acts.  It is "the burial place of the will and the resurrection of lowliness."  The need for a spiritual father, Climacus believes, is evident - one who will intercede for the monk before God and direct him through word and example in the submission of his will. 
            Climacus seeks to describe this virtue and the path to attaining it through the use of often severe but nonetheless illuminating and inspiring examples of obedient behavior.  Sternness on the part of the spiritual father is seen as being important, for through such harshness he test the monk's resolve in living the monastic life.  Climacus continuously warns against judging or questioning one's chosen spiritual father, because it is through a simple trust and guilelessness that a monk is protected from the attacks of demons.  The monk should hold back his mind and guard his thoughts in all things, not trusting in himself or his own judgments.  A spiritual father should be chosen whose life and virtue match the weaknesses of the monk.  For example, if a monk struggles with arrogance, he should choose a spiritual guide who is tough and unyielding, not gentle and accommodating.
            Climacus also discusses the fruit that this virtue produces.  There is a healing of soul that takes place through the laying bare of one's sins to the spiritual father.  Through being tried and purified as in a furnace, the obedient grow in humility through their lowliness and gain the gifts of dispassion and discernment. 

1-3            Climacus introduces the topic and discusses the weapons of the spiritual warrior who is seeking to conquer himself through obedience.

4-7            Obedience is defined.  The monk is warned of the one great threat to the obedient life.

            Obedience is a total renunciation of our own life, and it shows up clearly in the way we act.  Or, again, obedience is the mortification of the members while the mind remains alive.  Obedience is unquestioned movement, death freely accepted, a simple life, danger faced without worry, an unprepared defense before God, fearlessness before death, a safe voyage, a sleeper's journey.  Obedience is the burial place of the will and the resurrection of lowliness.  A corpse does not contradict or debate the good or whatever seems bad, and the spiritual father who has devoutly put the disciple's soul to death will answer for everything.  Indeed, to obey is, with all deliberateness, to put aside the capacity to make one's own judgment.

            So you have decided to strip for the race of spiritual profession, to take Christ's yoke on your neck, to lay your own burden on the shoulders of another, to pledge your willing surrender to slavery?  And for this you want it in writing that you get freedom in return, even when you swim across this great sea borne up on the hands of others?  Very well, then.  But you had better recognize that you have undertaken to travel by a short and rough road, along which there is only one false turning, that which they call self-direction and if that is avoided - even in matters seemingly good, spiritual, and pleasing to God - then straightaway one has reached journey's end.  For the fact is that obedience is self-mistrust up to one's dying day, in every matter, even the good.

8-17            What must be done from the start: Choosing a spiritual father and submitting one's self and one's thoughts to him completely.  Climacus gives an example of how the wisdom and sternness of a spiritual father brought true humility to a monk through the public confession of his sins.  Although himself shocked by the severity of the test and the humiliation experienced, Climacus recognizes the spiritual healing it brought to the young monk and the power of his example for the rest of the community.

            When humbly and with true longing for salvation we resolve to bend the neck and entrust ourselves to another in the Lord, there is something to be done before we start.  If there happens to be any cunning in us, any prudence, then we should question, examine, and, if I may say so, put to the test our master, so that there is no mistaking the sailor for the helmsman, the patient for the doctor, the passionate for the dispassionate man, the sea for the harbor - with the resulting shipwreck of our soul.  But having once entered the stadium of holy living and obedience, we can no longer start criticizing the umpire, even if we should notice some faults in him.  After all, he is human and if we start making judgments, then our submissiveness earns no profit.
            If we wish to preserve unshaken faith in our superiors, we must write their good deeds indelibly in our hearts and preserve them in our memories so that, when the demons scatter distrust of them among us, we can repel them by what we have retained in our minds.  The more faith blossoms in the heart, the more the body is eager to serve.  To stumble on distrust is to fall, since "whatever does not spring from faith is sin" (Rom 14:23).  When the thought strikes you to judge or condemn your superior, leap away as though from fornication.  Give no trust, place, entry, or starting point to that snake.  Say this to the viper: "Listen to me, deceiver, I have no right to pass judgment on my superior but he has the authority to be my judge.  I do not judge him; he judges me."

            He who is submissive is passing sentence on himself.  If his obedience for the Lord's sake is perfect, even when it does not appear to be so, he will escape judgment.  But if in some things he follows his own will, then even though he thinks of himself as obedient, he takes the burden onto his own self.  If the superior continues to rebuke him, then that is good; but if he gives up, I do not know what to say.
            Those who submit to the Lord with simple heart will run the good race.  If they keep their minds on leash they will not draw the wickedness of demons onto themselves.
            Above all let us make our confession to our good judge, and to him alone, though to all if he so commands.  Wounds shown in public will not grow worse, but will be healed.

18-28            In the following paragraphs, Climacus describes the obedience of the monks at a monastery in Alexandria and the wisdom of their holy superior.  The obedience of the monks was constant, even in the absence of their superior.  They supported each other in the practice and did penance for each other's indiscretions.  The superior was strict in his application of remedies, applying them quickly and expecting them to be used without question.  The value of this, Climacus states, was in the fruits it produced.

            Praiseworthy sternness of this kind has reached a high point among them and bears plenty of fruit.  Many of these holy fathers became experts in active life and in spirituality, in discernment and humility.  Among them was the awful and yet angelic sight of men grey-haired, venerable, preeminent in holiness, still going about like obedient children and taking the greatest delight in their lowliness.  I have seen men there who lived in total obedience for all of fifty years, and when I begged them to tell me what consolation they had won from so great a labor, some answered that having arrived thereby at the lowest depth of abasement they could repel every onslaught, while others declared that they had attained complete freedom from the senses and had obtained serenity amid every calumny and insult. 
            I saw others among these wonderful fathers who had the white hair of angels, the deepest innocence, and a wise simplicity that was spontaneous and yet directed by God Himself.  The fact is that just as an evil person is two-faced, one thing in public and another in private, so a simple person is not twofold, but something whole.  There is no one among them who is silly and foolish in the way that some old men in the world are, as they say, senile.  No indeed.  They are openly gentle, kindly, radiant, genuine, without hypocrisy, affectation, or falsity of either speech or disposition - something not found in many.  Spiritually, they are like children, with God and the superior as their very breath, and with the mind's eye on strict lookout for demons and the passions.

29-34            Climacus then gives an example of Isidore who submitted to his superior in obedience like iron to the blacksmith.  Isidore spent seven years at the gate of the monastery begging for the prayers of those who entered and there learned unashamed obedience and humility.  How Isidore's obedience was perfected over is of greatest interest for the reader.
            While he was still alive, I asked this great Isidore how he had occupied his mind while he was at the gate, and this memorable man did not conceal anything from me, for he wished to be of help.  "At first I judged that I had been sold into slavery for my sins," he said.  "So I did penance with bitterness, great effort, and blood.  After a year my heart was no longer full of grief, and I began to think of a reward for my obedience from God Himself.  Another year passed and in the depths of my heart I began to see how unworthy I was to live in a monastery, to encounter the fathers, to share in the divine Mysteries.  I lost the courage to look anyone in the face, but lowering my eyes and lowering my thoughts even further, I asked with true sincerity for the prayers of those going in and out."

35-36            Another example is given of Lawrence, who was eighty years old and had been in the monastery for 48 years.  In a test of obedience, he was left standing throughout the midday meal as everyone else ate.  The mind and heart of this obedient old man is what instructs the most.

            Being myself a bad character, I did not let slip the chance to tease the old man, so I asked him what he had been thinking about as he stood by the table.  "I thought of the shepherd as the image of Christ," he said.  "I thought of the command as coming not from him but from God.  And so, Father John, I stood praying as if I were in front of the altar of God rather than the table of men; and because I trust and love my shepherd, I had no malevolent thoughts concerning him.  It is said that loves does not reckon up injury.  But be sure of this much, Father, that anyone who freely chooses to be simple and guileless provides the devil with neither the time nor the place for an attack.

37-38            John uses another example to describe the responsibility of a director of souls of testing the virtue of his monks.  Consideration is also given to human frailty.

            And the just Lord sent that shepherd of the holy flock someone just like himself to be bursar of the monastery.  He was modest, like few others, and gentle as very few are.  As a help to the others, the great elder once pretended to get angry with him in church and ordered him out before the usual time.  Now I knew that he was innocent of the charge laid against him by the pastor, and when we were alone I started to plead with the great man on behalf of the bursar.  But this is what the wise man said: "Father, I too know he is innocent.  But just as it would be a pity and indeed wrong to snatch bread from the mouth of a starving child, so too the director of souls does harm to himself and to the ascetic if he denies him frequent opportunities to gain crowns such as the superior thinks he deserves at each hour, through having to put up with insults, dishonor, contempt, and mockery.  Three things happen that are very wrong: first, the director misses the rewards due to him for making corrections; second, the director fails to bring profit to others when he could have done so through the virtue of that one person; but third, and worst, is that those who seem to be the most hard-working and obedient and hence confirmed in virtue, if left for any length of time without being censured or reproached by the superior, lose that meekness and obedience they formerly had.  Good, fruitful, and fertile land, if left without the water of dishonor, can revert to being forest and can produce the thorns of vanity, cowardice, and arrogance.  The great Apostle understood this.  Hence his instruction to Timothy: "Be insistent, criticize them, rebuke them in season and out of season" (2 Tim. 4:2).
            But when I argued the matter with that true director, reminding him of human frailty, I suggested that punishment, deserved or otherwise, might lead many to break away from the flock.  That man, in whom wisdom had made a home, had this to say to me.  "A soul bound in faith and love to the shepherd for Christ's sake does not go away, even when blood is spilt.  He certainly does not leave if through the shepherd he has received the cure for his wounds, for he bears in mind the words, 'Neither angels, nor principalities, nor powers nor any other creature can separate us from the love of Christ' (Rom. 8:38-39).  If a soul is not attached, bound, and devoted to the shepherd in this fashion, it seems to me that the man should not be here at all; for what binds him to the shepherd is hypocrisy and false obedience."  And the truth is that this great man is not deceived, for he has guided, led to perfection, and offered to Christ blameless sacrifices.

39-50            Through a series of examples Climacus describes how testing in obedience leads to purity and the absence of inner conflict.

51-54            Climacus notes the unwillingness of the fathers to talk about the higher aspects of the contemplative life.  Obedience, they believed, must be given first place among the virtues for the monk.

            . . . on one occasion I initiated a discussion of stillness among the most experienced elders there.  They smiled and in their own cheerful way they spoke to me courteously as follows: "Father John, we are corporeal beings and we lead a corporeal life.  Knowing this, we choose to wage war according to the measure of our weakness, and we think it better to struggle with men who sometimes rage and are sometime contrite than to do battle with demons who are always in a rage and always carrying arms against us."
            One of those memorable men showed me great love according to God.  He was outspoken, and once, in his own kindly fashion, he said this to me: "Wise man, if you have consciously within you the power of him who said, 'I can do everything in Christ Who strengthens me' (Phil. 4:13), if the Holy Spirit has come upon you as on the Holy Virgin with the dew of purity, if the power of the Most High has cast the shadow of patience over you, then, like Christ our God, gird your loins with the towel of obedience, rise from the supper of stillness, wash the feet of your brethren in a spirit of contrition, and roll yourself under the feet of the brethren with humbled will.  Place strict and unsleeping guards at the gateway of your heart.  Practice inward stillness amid the twistings and the turbulence of your limbs.  And, strangest of all perhaps, keep your soul undisturbed while tumult rages about you.
            Your tongue longs to jump into argument, but restrain it.  It is a tyrant, and you must fight it daily seventy times seven.  Fix your mind to your soul as to the wood of a cross, strike it with alternating hammer blows like an anvil.  It has to be mocked, abused, ridiculed, and wronged, though without in any way being crushed or broken; indeed it must keep calm and unstirred.  Shed your will as if it were some disgraceful garment, and having thus stripped yourself of it, go into the practice arena.  Put on the breastplate of faith, which is so hard to come by, let it not be crushed or damaged by distrust of your trainer.  Let the rein of temperance curb the shameless onward leap of the senses of touch.  With meditation on death bridle those eyes so ready to waste endless hours in the contemplation of physical beauty.  Hold back your mind, so busy with its own concerns, so ready to turn to the reckless criticism and condemnation of your brother.  Show instead every love and sympathy for your neighbor.  Dearest father, all men will come to know that we are disciples of Christ if, as we live together, we have love for one another.  Stay here with us, my friend, stay.  Drink down ridicule by the hour, as if it were living water.  David tried every pleasure under the sun, and at the end was at a loss saying 'Behold what is good or what is pleasant?' (Ps. 132:1).  And there was nothing except that brother should live together in unity.  But if this blessing of patience and obedience has still not been given to us, then the best thing to do is, having discovered our weakness, to stay away from the athlete's stadium, to bless the contestants, and to pray that it might be granted to them to endure."
            Such was the discourse of this good father and excellent teacher, who argued with me in an evangelical and prophetic way, like a friend.  And I was persuaded, so that with no hesitation I agreed to give first place to blessed obedience.
55-68             Climacus then turns his thoughts to how this virtue is fostered and developed.  One must begin by being watchful of every thought, seeking purity of heart through true contrition.  A monk should willingly accept rebukes and criticism, freely exposing his thoughts to his director.  If one is truly obedient this will be reflected in his speech and his unwillingness to cling to his own opinions. 

            When we are bitten by rebukes, let us be mindful of our sins until the Lord, seeing the determination of our efforts, wipes away our sins and turns to joy that sadness eating our hearts.

            Blessed is he who, slandered and despised every day for the Lord's sake, still restrains himself.  He will be in the chorus of martyrs and will talk familiarly with angels.  Blessed is the monk who thinks of himself by the hour as having earned all dishonor and contempt.  Blessed is he who mortifies his will to the very end and who leaves the care of himself to his director in the Lord.  He will be placed at the right hand of the Crucified.  But he who refuses to accept a criticism, just or not, renounces his own salvation, while he who accepts it, hard or not though it may be, will soon have his sins forgiven.

            He who exposes every serpent shows the reality of his faith, while he who hides them still walks the trackless wastes.

            A man should know that a devil's sickness is on him if he is seized by the urge in conversation to assert his opinion, however correct it may be.  If he behaves this way while talking to his equals, then a rebuke from his seniors may heal him.  But if he carries on in this way with those who are greater and wiser than he, his sickness cannot be cured by human means.
            He who is not submissive in his talk will certainly not be so in what he does.  To be unfaithful in the small things is to be unfaithful in the great, and this is very hard to bring under control.  Such a monk labors in vain, and from holy obedience he will bring nothing but judgment on himself.

69-71            The truly obedient need have no fear of death or judgment.

            Someone with a totally clear conscience in the matter of being obedient to his spiritual father waits each day for death - as though it were sleep, or rather life; and he is unafraid, knowing with certainty that when it is time to go, not he but his spiritual director will be called to render account.

72-75            Having to confess one's thoughts to spiritual father will keep a monk from committing sins.  Obedience is perfected when simply the thought of the spiritual father keeps a monk from doing wrong.  The truly obedient monk in humility attributes all good that he does to the prayers of his spiritual father.

            Confession is like a bridle that keeps the soul which reflects on it from committing sin, but anything left unconfessed we continue to do without fear as if in the dark.
            If we picture for ourselves the face of the superior whenever he happens to be away, if we think of him as always standing nearby, if we avoid every gathering, word, meal, sleep, or indeed anything to which we think he might object, then we have really learned true obedience.  False children are glad when the teacher is away, but the genuine think it a loss.

            A wisely obedient man, even if he is able to raise the dead, to have the gift of tears, to be free from conflict, will nevertheless judge that this happened through the prayer of his spiritual director; and so he remains a stranger and an alien to empty presumption.  For how could he take pride in something that, by his reckoning, is due to the effort not of himself but of his director?

76-79            The Devil's attacks on those who are obedient.
            The devil goes to battle with those in obedience.  Sometimes he defiles them with bodily pollutions and hardheartedness or makes them more restless than usual, sometimes he makes them dry and barren, sluggish at prayer, sleepy and unilluminated.  He does this to bring discouragement to their efforts, making them think that their obedience has brought no profit and that they are only regressing.  He keeps them from realizing that very often the providential withdrawal of what seem to be our goods is the harbinger of our deepest humility.
            That deceiver is often overcome by patient endurance, and yet while he is still talking there is another angel standing by to cheat us a little later in a different fashion.
            I have known men living under obedience who, guided by their director, become contrite, meek, self-controlled, zealous, free of turmoil, fervent.  Then came the demons.  They suggested to them that they were now qualified for the solitary life, that as hermits they would win the ultimate prize of total freedom from passion.  Thus fooled, they left harbor and put to sea, and when the storm lowered onto them, their lack of pilots left them pitifully exposed to disaster from this foul and bitter ocean.

80-86            The necessity of constancy in obedience and completeness in the revelation of thoughts.  A monk must develop that habit of doing both.

            The man who sometimes obeys his director and sometimes not resembles the person who puts into his eyes now medicine and now quicklime.  It is said, "When one man builds and another pulls down, what has been the profit of their labor?" (Ecclus. 34:23).
            Son, obedient servant of the Lord, do not be so fooled by the spirit of conceit that you confess your sins to your director as though they were someone else's.  Lay bare your wound to the healer.  Only through shame can you be freed from shame.  Tell him, and do not be ashamed: "This is my wound, Father; this is my injury.  It happened because of my negligence and not from any other cause.  No one is to blame for this, no man, spirit or body or anything else.  It is all through my negligence."
            At confession you should look and behave like a condemned man.  Keep your head bowed and, if you can, shed tears on the feet of your judge and healer, as though he were Christ.  (Very often demons manage to persuade us either to omit confession, or else to confess as though the sins were committed by someone else or else to blame others as responsible for our own sins.)
            Habit forms things and follows them.  And it is particularly true that virtue depends on habit, and here God is the great collaborator.
            My son, if at the very start you manage to allow your entire soul to suffer indignities, you will not have to struggle for many years in search of blessed peace.
            You must not imagine that prostrating yourself in confession to your helper, as if he were God Himself, is in any way wrong.  Condemned criminals, by their sorry looks, by earnest confession and pleadings, have softened the harshness of a judge and turned his rage to mercy.
            We ought not be surprised if the attacks continue to come even after confession.  In any case, it is better to be battling with our thoughts rather than our self-esteem.

87-90            Must not give in to the deception to embrace the solitary life prematurely.  In humility the monk must stay with his spiritual father as long as he can.

            Do not get excited or carried away by the stories concerning hesychasts and hermits.  You are marching in the army of the First Martyr, and in the event of a fall you should remain on the practice ground, since then more than ever one needs a healer.  He who strikes his foot against a rock while being helped would not only have stumbled unaided, but would have died.
            When a doctor says he cannot help you, then you must go to another, since few are cured without one.  Who, indeed, would disagree if I were to say that a ship wrecked while there was a skilled pilot aboard would quite certainly have been lost if there had been no pilot at all?
            Humility arises out of obedience . . .

91-92            Climacus warns that a monk should not get into the practice of leaving one healer for another.  Again the monk should not enter the solitary life or leave his spiritual father too quickly.

            The sick who try out a healer, receive help from him, and then, before being fully cured, jettison him for the sake of another deserve every punishment from God.  Do not run from the hands of him who has brought you to the Lord, for never in your life again will you respect anyone as you did him.
            It is not safe for an untried soldier to leave the ranks and take up single combat.  Equally, it is dangerous for a monk to undertake the solitary life before he has had plenty of experience and practice in the battle with the passions of the soul.  The one man jeopardizes his body, the other his soul.  Now Scripture says, "Two are better than one" (Eccles. 4:9), meaning that it is better for a son to be with his father as, aided by the divine power of the Holy Spirit, he fights against his predispositions.  He who deprives a blind man of his guide, a flock of its shepherd, a lost man of his counselor, a child of its father, a sick man of his doctor, a ship of its pilot, becomes a menace to everyone.  And he who tries to fight unaided against the spirits gets himself killed by them.

93-94            Signs of obedience in the monk.

            Those entering a hospital for the first time should indicate where they hurt, and those entering on obedience should show their humility.  Relief from pain is the sign of a return to health for the one, while increasing self-criticism is the sign for the other.  Indeed, there is no clearer sign.
            It is enough that your conscience should be the mirror of your obedience.

 95-129  Obedience and how it is to be fostered in community life - silence, watchfulness, humility, constancy, and faith.

            Those living in stillness and subject to a father have only demons working against them.  But those living in a community have to fight both demons and human beings.  This first kind keep the commands of their master more strictly since they are always under his scrutiny, while the latter break them to some extent on account of his being away.  Still, the zealous and the hard-working more than compensate for this failing by their persistence, and accordingly they win double crowns.
            We ought to be very careful to keep a watch on ourselves.  When a harbor is full of ships it is easy for them to run against each other, particularly if they are secretly riddled by the worm of bad temper.
            We should practice complete silence and ignorance in the presence of the superior, for a silent man is a son of wisdom and is always gaining great knowledge.  I have watched while a monk anticipated the words of his superior, but I trembled for his obedience because I observed that this tendency led him to pride rather than lowliness.

            Watch yourself when you are in the presence of your brothers and under no circumstances should you put yourself forward as being better than they.  For if you do, then you will be doubly in the wrong, provoking them with your fake zeal and stirring yourself up to presumption.
            Be zealous within your soul, but do not give the slightest sign, word, or hint of it outwardly; and you will manage this as soon as you stop looking down on your neighbor, something you may be inclined to do.  And if so, then become like your brethren in order not to differ from them solely by the measure of your conceit.
            I once saw an inexperienced disciple who used to boast in certain quarters about the achievement of his teacher.  He imagined that in this way he would win glory for himself from another's harvest.  But he only got a bad name for himself, for everyone put this question to him: "How then could a good tree grow such a dead branch?"
            We do not get the name of being patient when we bravely endure the derision of our father, but only when we endure it from every kind of person.  For we put up with our father out of respect and because it is our duty.
            Drink deeply of scorn from every man, as though it were living water handed you to cleanse you from lust.  Then indeed will a deep purity dawn in your soul and the light of God will not grow dim in your heart.
            If someone observes that his brothers are satisfied with him, let him not start boasting to himself.  There are thieves all around.  Remember the warning: "When you have done all that was laid on you to do, say, 'We are unprofitable servants.  We did only what we had to'"(Luke 17:10).  We will find out at the time of death what judgment has been passed on us.

            Do not become silent in an unreasonable way that cause disturbance and hard feeling in others, and do not let your behavior and progress slow down when you have been told to hurry.  Otherwise you will be worse than the possessed and the rebellious.  I have often seen such things as these, as Job says (Job 13:1), that is, souls burdened sometimes by slowness of character and sometimes by excessive eagerness.  I was astounded by the variety of evil.

            Whoever has secretly vowed not to give up the struggle until his very last breath, to endure a thousand deaths of body and soul, will not fall easily into any of these difficulties, for it is inconstancy of heart and unfaithfulness to one's place that bring about stumblings and disasters.  Those who readily go from monastery to monastery are totally unfit since nothing is more conducive to barrenness than impatience.

            . . . if you discover that the doctors and the workers in that place can cure you of your ailments and, especially, of the spiritual pride that weighs you down, then go to them, buy your healing with the gold of humility, and write your terms in letters of service on the parchment of obedience, and let the angels be your witnesses as you tear up before them the book of your willfulness.
            If you wander from place to place, you fritter away the gold with which Christ ransomed you.  So let the monastery be for you a tomb before the tomb.  No one can come out of the tomb before the general resurrection, and if there be monks who have gone out, then they are really dead.  Let us beg the Lord not to let this happen to us.

            If, having bound yourself to certain obligations, you become aware of the fact that your soul's eye has made no progress, do not seek permission to quit.  The authentic monk will persevere anywhere and the converse is also true.

            The zealous should be especially careful not to condemn the easygoing in case they draw down a worse sentence on themselves.  That, I think, was why Lot was justified.  Despite the sort of people he lived with, he never seems to have condemned them.

            Regarding those who have undertaken to care for us in the Lord, we should trust them completely, even when they order us to do something that looks like being contrary to our salvation.  That is the time when our faith in them is tested as in a furnace of humiliation, and the sign of the most genuine faith is when we obey our superiors without hesitation, even when we see the opposite happening to what we had hoped.

            There are some living in obedience who, on noticing the kindness and indulgence of their superior, seek his permission to follow their own wishes.  They ought to know that if they get this, they deprive themselves completely of their confessor's crown.  Obedience is foreign to hypocrisy and willfulness.

            . . . if there is a temptation on us to move from a place, let that be proof that our life there is pleasing to God.  War against us is proof that we are making war.

130-136  More examples of obedient behavior and its fruits.

137-150  Things that help or hinder the growth of obedience.  Again Climacus addresses the choice of one's director and how a monk must cherish this relationship above all.

            Those striving completely to learn a craft make daily progress.  It has to be so.  But some know how they are progressing.  Others, by divine providence, do not know.

            A silly person feels hurt when accused or shouted at.  He tries to answer back or else at once apologizes to his accuser, not for reasons of humility but to put a stop to his reproaches.  In fact you should be silent when ridiculed.  Accept patiently these spiritual cauterizations, or rather, purifying flames.

            The devil proposes impossible virtues to those who live under obedience, and unsuitable ideas to those living in solitude.  If you look at the thinking of the inexperienced novices living under obedience, you will find ideas out of step with one another - desire for stillness, for extreme fasting, for unbroken prayer, for total freedom from vanity, for continual remembrance of death, for unceasing compunction, for absolute release from anger, for deep silence, for outstanding purity.  And should they happen by divine providence to be without these at the start, they rush vainly toward a different life because they have been deceived.  The enemy persuades them to look too soon for these virtues, so that they may not persevere and attain them in due time.  And to those living in solitude, the deceiver heaps praise on the hospitality of those living under obedience, on their service, their brotherly love, their community living, the visits to the sick.  What the devil is trying to do is to make both restless.

            We should analyze the nature of our passions and of our obedience, so as to choose our director accordingly.  If lust is your problem, do not pick for your trainer a worker of miracles who has a welcome and a meal for everyone.  Choose instead an ascetic who will reject any of the consolation of food.  If you are arrogant, let him be tough and unyielding, not gentle and accommodating.  We should not be on the lookout for those gifted with foreknowledge and foresight, but rather for those who are truly humble and whose character and dwelling place match our weaknesses.
            Adopt the fine habit, so conducive to obedience, of always assuming that the superior is testing you, and you will not be far wrong.  If you are constantly upbraided by your director and thus acquire great faith in him and love for him, then you may be sure that the Holy Spirit has taken up residence invisibly in your soul and the power of the Most High has overshadowed you.  But you must not boast or celebrate when you manage to be brave under insults and indignities.  Rather should you mourn for having earned criticism and for having stirred your director to anger against you.  And what I am going to say to you now must not shock you.  (In any case I have the support of Moses in this.)  It is better to sin against God than against our father.  If we make God angry, our director can reconcile Him to us.  But if he is angry, then there is no one to speak for us before God.  And in any case, the two situations are really the same.  Or so it seems to me.
            Let us be vigilant and very carefully and prudently decide when we should gladly and silently endure accusations made against us to our pastor, and when we ought to speak up for ourselves to him.  I think we should always be silent when some indignity is offered to us, since we can profit from that.  But where another person is involved we should make a defense so as to keep unbroken the bond of love and peace.

            He who strives for dispassion and for God considers lost any day on which he was not criticized.  Like trees swayed by the wind and driving their roots deeper into the ground, those who live in obedience become strong and unshakable souls.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Handout: Ladder of Divine Ascent Step Three "On Exile"

The Ladder of Divine Ascent

         Step 3 - On Exile

            With this third step, John concludes the first section of his treatise describing renunciation and the break with the world which is a prerequisite to the spiritual journey of the monk.  As with the two previous steps, exile involves the painful stripping away of  worldly attachments - renouncing all for God.  Exile means leaving all that one finds familiar.  For those in the religious life, it means separation from relations.
            John is quick to point out that this does not mean hatred of family, but the recognition that even what is good can be used to draw one away from God.  Once a person has renounced the world and entered the monastic life, the strength of his feelings for his family can draw him away from his commitment. 

1-3            Exile defined.

            There is such a thing as exile, an irrevocable renunciation of everything in one's familiar surroundings that hinders one from attaining the ideal of holiness.  Exile is a disciplined heart, unheralded wisdom, an unpublicized understanding, a hidden life, masked ideals.  It is unseen meditation, the striving to be humble, a wish for poverty, the longing for what is divine.  It is an outpouring of love, a denial of vainglory, a depth of silence.

            Exile is a separation from everything, in order that one may hold on totally to God.

4-5            Exile as the Mother of Detachment: when possessions or relations are not in plain sight the monk has less incentive to desire them. 

            Detachment is good and its mother is exile.  Someone withdrawing from the world for the sake of the Lord is no longer attached to possessions, that he should not appear to be deceived by the passions.  If you have left the world, then do not begin to reach out for it.  Otherwise your passions will come back to you.  Eve had no wish to be driven from Paradise, whereas a monk will abandon his homeland willingly; she would have wished again for the forbidden tree, but he has rebuffed the sure danger coming from the kinship of the flesh.  Run from the places of sin as though from a plague.  When fruit is not in plain sight, we have no great urge to taste it.

6-10            Once exile is embraced, a monk must not be tempted to think greater triumphs can be found for him in the world.  Nor should he let vanity lead him back to the world; convincing himself that he could rescue others through his teaching and holiness.  A true exile is careful not even to enter into conversation with others easily - knowing that it might be an act of vanity, the wish to display his knowledge.

            You have to beware the ways and the guile of thieves.  They come with the suggestion to us that we should not really abandon the world.  They tell us of the rewards awaiting us if only we stay to look on women and to triumph over our desire for them.  This is something we must not give in to at all.  Indeed, we must do the very opposite.
            Then again we manage for some time to live away from our relatives.  We practice a little piety, compunction, self-control.  And then the empty thoughts come tramping towards us, seeking to turn us back to place we knew.  They tell us what a lesson we are, what an example, what a help to those who witnessed our former wicked deeds.  If we happen to be articulate and well informed, they assure us that we could be rescuers of souls and teachers to the world.  They tell us all this so that we might scatter at sea the treasures we have assembled while in port.  So we had better imitate Lot, and certainly not his wife.  The soul turning back to the regions from which it came will be like the salt that has lost savor, indeed like that famous pillar.  Run from Egypt, run and do not turn back.  The heart yearning for the land there will never see Jerusalem, the land of dispassion.

            A true exile, despite his possession of knowledge, sits like someone of foreign speech among men of other tongues.

11-12            An exile does not abhor his family relations but he is seeking to imitate Christ, whose love for his heavenly Father and His will had absolute value.  Do not think, John warns, that you can have two masters even if both are good. 

            If we have taken up the solitary life, we certainly ought not to abhor our own relations or our own places, but we ought to be careful to avoid any harm that may come from these.  Here, as in everything, Christ is our teacher.  It often looked as if He were trying to rebuff His earthly parents.  Some people said to Him, "Your mother and your brothers are looking for you," and at once Christ gave an example of detachment that were nonetheless free from any harsh feelings.  "My mother and my brothers are those who do the will of my Father in heaven,"  He said.  So let your father be the one who is able and willing to labor with you in bearing the burden of your sins, and your mother the compunction that is strong enough to wash away your filth.  Let your brother be your companion and rival in the race that leads to heaven, and may the constant thought of death be your spouse.  Let your longed-for offspring be the moanings of your heart.  May your body be your slave, and your friends the holy powers who can help you at the hour of dying if they become your friends.
            If you long for God, you drive out your love for family.  Anyone telling you he can combine these yearnings is deceiving himself.  "No one can serve two masters" (Matt. 6:24).  "I did not come to bring peace on earth," says the Lord, knowing how parents would rise up against sons or brothers who chose to serve Him.  "It was for war and the sword" (Matt. 10:34), to separate the lovers of God from the lovers of the world, the materially-minded from the spiritually-minded, the vainglorious from the humble.

13            Those in exile must keep a close watch on their feelings;  when drawn away from the noble contest because of its difficulty they must reflect upon their own mortality and even their own past sins.

            Do not let the tears of parents or friends fill you with pity, lest you find yourself weeping forever in the afterlife.  When they circle around you like bees, or rather wasps, when they pour out their laments over you, do not hesitate at all but think at once of your death and keep the eye of your soul directed unswervingly to what it used to do, that you may be able to counteract one pain with another. 

14-15            A monk must shield his efforts in humility, never thinking of what he has done as his own achievement. 

            When demons or men lavish praise on us for our exile as if it were a great achievement, let us remind ourselves at once of Him Who came down from heaven for our benefit and exiled Himself to earth.  Nothing we could ever do would match that.

16-17            Even the slightest attachment can gradually draw a monk back to the world and cool the fire of his contrition.  Simply being in the presence of the worldly and those of bad character can defile a monk's heart, or lead him to hold others in contempt, which would certainly be his downfall.

            An attachment to any of our relations or even to a stranger is hard enough to deal with.  It can gradually pull us back toward the world and make cool the fire of our contrition.  You cannot look to heaven and to earth at the same time; similarly, if you have not turned your back completely on your relatives and others in thought and in body, you cannot avoid endangering your soul.
            To establish a good and firm character within ourselves is something very difficult and troublesome, and one crisis can destroy what we have worked so hard to set right.  Bad, worldly and disorderly company destroys good character (cf. 1 Cor. 15:33).  When a man has renounced the world and still returns to its affairs or draws near to it, he will either fall into its snares or will defile his heart with thoughts of it.  He may perhaps be uncorrupted himself.  But if he comes to feel contempt for those who are corrupted, then assuredly he will join them in their corruption.

18-24            In these final paragraphs, John turns his attention to the dreams of novices.  After a monk has left home and family for the sake of the Lord, the demons try to shake him through the stirrings of the mind during the body's rest.           

            After we leave home and family for the sake of the Lord, after we have gone into exile for the love of God, the demons try to shake us with dreams.  They show us our relatives grieving, near death, poverty-stricken or imprisoned because of us.  But the man who believes in dreams is like someone running to catch up with his own shadow.

            To the credulous, a devil is a prophet; and to those who despise him, he is just a liar.  Because he is a spiritual being, he knows what is happening in the lower regions, that someone is dying, for instance, so by way of dreams he passes the information on to the more gullible.  However, demons lack actual foreknowledge.  If they did not, these tricksters would be able to foretell our deaths.
            Devils often take on the appearance of angels of light or martyrs and they appear to us in sleep and talk to us, so that they can push us into unholy joy and conceit when we wake up.  But this very effect will reveal their trick, for what angels actually reveal are torments, judgments, and separation, with the result that on waking up we tremble and are miserable.  And if we start to believe in the devils of our dreams, then we will be their playthings when we are also awake.
            The man who believes in dreams shows his inexperience, while the man who distrusts every dream is very sensible.  Trust only the dreams that foretell torments and judgment for you, but even these dreams may also be from demons if they produce despair in you. 

            This is the third step, equaling the number of the Three Persons.  Whoever has reached it should look neither to right or left.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Ladder of Divine Ascent Study Group Podcast

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Sunday, April 21, 2013

Ladder of Divine Ascent - On Detachment

      The Ladder of Divine Ascent

         Step 2 - On Detachment

            John does not hide the difficulty of the struggle ahead for those who have entered the religious life, and provides little hope for an easier way to progress in virtue.  To give oneself up to God requires a stripping of oneself of all possible attachments, concerns, anxieties, possessions, and even certain loves and friendships.  In short, one must strip oneself of anything and everything and live solely for God.  Only in doing this, John states, can one be truly able to pray as the psalmist, "I will cling close to you" (Ps 62:9).
            There are many things, John calls them demons, which try to attack a monk after he has renounced the world.  In convincing a monk that he is no better off for the renunciation, the monk either returns to the world, or falls through his grief into despair.
            The grief, John tells us, comes from the love of things left behind in the world and, therefore, a monk must be diligent in guarding his heart.  Once beginning the difficult journey on the narrow way, John states, it is easy to fall again onto the broad highway that leads to destruction.  When the thoughts of the world threaten to overwhelm, the best weapon is prayer.

1-2            To renounce one's life and the world is worthless if after having done so the monk still pines for the things he left behind.  In fact, it reveals that he did not have a good start in the spiritual journey and that he may not have had the proper motivation.  The monk must throughly examine his thoughts and fight against all temptations. 

            If you truly love God and long to reach the kingdom that is to come, if you are truly pained by your failings and are mindful of punishment and of the eternal judgment, if you are truly afraid to die, then it will not be possible to have an attachment, or anxiety, or concern for money, for possessions, for family relationships, for worldly glory, for love and brotherhood, indeed for anything of earth.  All worry about one's condition, even for one's body, will be pushed aside as hateful.  Stripped of all thought of these, caring nothing about them, one will turn freely to Christ.

            It would be a very great disgrace to leave everything after we have been called - and called by God, not man - and then to be worried about something that can do us no good in the hour of our need, that is, of our death.

            There are demons to assail us after our renunciation of the world.  They make us envy those who remain on the outside and who are merciful and compassionate.  They make us regret that we seem deprived of these virtues.  Their hostile aim is to bring us by way of false humility either to turn back to the world or, if we remain monks, to plunge down the cliffs of despair.

3-4            Pride and vanity may destroy the value of a monk's renunciation.  Conceit may lead him to disparage the secular life or secretly despise those on the outside.  Vanity may be the source and motivation of his renunciation, making his external asceticism lifeless.

            Conceit may lead us to disparage the secular life or secretly to despise those  on the outside.  We may act in this way in order to escape despair or to obtain hope. 

            We should investigate why those who have lived in the world, and have endured nightlong vigils, fasting, labors, and suffering, and then have withdrawn from their fellowmen to the monastic life, as if to a place of trial or an arena, no longer practice their former fake and spurious asceticism.  I have seen many different plants of the virtues planted by them in the world, watered by vanity as if from an underground cesspool, made to shoot up by love of show, manured by praise, and yet they quickly withered when transplanted to desert soil, to where the world did not walk, that is, to where they were not manured with the foul-smelling water of vanity.

5-7            Grief over what was left behind still shows some attachment - that something still has a hold upon the monk's heart.  Therefore, living a monastic lifestyle is no guarantee of sanctity or salvation.  A monk may just as easily be led astray by his own inner longings for the things of this world.

            If someone has hated the world, he has run away from its misery; but if he has an attachment to visible things, then he is not yet cleansed of grief.  For how can he avoid grief when he is deprived of something he loves?  We need great vigilance in all things, but especially in regard to what we have left behind.
            I have observed many men in the world assailed by anxiety, by worry, by the need to talk, by all-night watching, and I have seen them run away from the madness of their bodies.  They turned to the monastic life with totally free hearts, and still were pitiably corrupted by the stirrings of the body.
            We should be careful in case it should happen to us that while talking of journeying along the narrow and hard road we may actually wander onto the broad and wide highway.

8-9            Exterior mortification and renunciation will lead a monk to the greater and more difficult interior detachment from the desire for respect and honor. 

            Mortification of the appetite, nightlong toil, a ration of water, a short measure of bread, the bitter cup of dishonor - these will show you the narrow way.  Derided mocked, jeered, you must accept the denial of your will.  You must patiently endure opposition, suffer neglect without complaint, put up with violent arrogance.  You must be ready for injustice, and not grieve when you are slandered; you must not be angered by contempt and you must show humility when you have been condemned.

10            In this final paragraph, Climacus discusses the means by which a monk can strengthen his resolve and keep himself faithful to his commitment to God.   

            Whenever our feelings grow warm after our renunciation with the memories of parents and of brothers, that is all the work of demons, and we must take up the weapons of prayer against them.  Inflamed by the thought of eternal fire, we must drive them out and quench that untimely glow in our hearts.  If a man thinks himself immune to the allurement of something and yet grieves over its loss, he is only fooling himself.  Young men who still feel strongly the urge for physical love and pleasure and yet who also want to take on the regime of a monastery must discipline themselves with every form of vigilance and prayer, avoiding all dangerous comfort, so that their last state may not be worse than their first.  For those sailing the tides of spirituality know only too well that the religious life can be a harbor of salvation or a haven of destruction, and a pitiable sight indeed is the shipwreck in port of someone who had safely mastered the ocean.
            This is the second step, and if you take it, then do as Lot did, not his wife, and flee.