Monday – Second Week of Great Lent – Ladder Readings

MONDAY OF THE SECOND WEEK
OF THE GREAT LENT

THIRD HOUR

72. Those sick souls who try out a physician and receive help from him, and then abandon him out of preference for another before they are completely healed, deserve every punishment from God. Do not run from the hand of him who has brought you to the Lord, for you will never in your life esteem anyone like him.

73. It is dangerous for an inexperienced soldier to leave his regiment and engage in single combat. And it is not without peril for a monk to attempt the solitary life before he has had much experience and practice in the struggle with the animal passions. The one subjects his body to danger, the other risks his soul. Two are better than one, says Scripture. That is to say, “It is better for a son to be with his father, and to struggle with his attachments with the help of the divine power of the Holy Spirit.” He who deprives a blind man of his leader, a flock of its shepherd, a lost man of his guide, a child of its father, a patient of his doctor, a ship of its pilot, imperils all. And he who attempts unaided to struggle with the spirits gets killed by them.

74. Let those entering a hospital for the first time indicate their pains, and let those entering upon obedience show their humility. For the former, the first sign of their health is the relief of their pains, and for the latter a growing self-condemnation; and there is no other sign so unerring.

75. Let your conscience be the mirror of your obedience, and it is enough.

76. Those living in silence subject to a father, have only demons working against them. But those living in a community struggle with demons and human beings. The former, being always under the eyes of the master, keep his commands more strictly; but the latter, on account of his absence, break them to some extent. However, those who are careful and industrious more than make up for this failing by enduring collisions and knocks, and win double crowns.

77. Let us keep guard over ourselves with all care. For when a harbour is full of ships it is easy for them to get crushed by each other, especially if they are secretly riddled with bad temper as by some worm.

78. Let us practise extreme silence and ignorance in the presence of the superior. For a silent man is a son of wisdom, always acquiring much knowledge.

79. I have seen a religious who used to snatch the words from his superior’s lips, but I despaired of his obedience when I saw it led to pride and not to humility.

80. Let us keep wide awake with all vigilance, take care with all carefulness, watch with all watchfulness as to when and how service should be preferred to prayer. For you cannot do all things at all times.

81. Attend to yourself in the presence of your brethren, and never try to appear more correct than they are in any circumstance whatever. For if you do, you will have wrought a double ill: you will sting them by your false and hypocritical zeal and you will give yourself a motive for presumption.

82. Be zealous within your soul, without showing it in the least outwardly, either by visible sign or by word or by a hint. And you will only do this when you stop looking down on your neighbour. But if you are still inclined to do this, become like your brethren so that you do not differ from them simply in being conceited.

83. I saw an inexperienced disciple who in the presence of certain people boasted of the achievements of his teacher, thinking to win glory for himself from another’s harvest, but he only earned for himself dishonour, for everybody asked him: “But how could a good tree grow such a barren branch?”

84. It is not when we courageously endure the derision of our father that we are judged patient, but when we endure it from all manner of men. For we bear with our father both out of respect and as a duty to him.

85. Eagerly drink scorn and insult as the water of life from everyone who wants to give you the drink that cleanses from lust. Then a deep purity will dawn in your soul and the divine light will not grow dim in your heart.

86. If anyone sees that the brotherhood is appeased by his efforts he should not boast of it in his heart, because thieves are around. Always remember Him who said: When you have done all that is commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants; we have only done what we were bound to do. The judgment on our labours we shall know at the time of our death.

87. A monastery is an earthly heaven. Therefore let us tune our heart to be like angels serving the Lord. Sometimes those who live in this heaven have hearts of stone. But sometimes again, through compunction, they attain to consolation, in such a way as to avoid conceit or presumption, and they lighten their labours with tears.

88. A little fire softens a large piece of wax. So, too, a small indignity often softens, sweetens, and wipes away suddenly all the fierceness, uncouthness, insensibility, and hardness of our heart.

89. I once saw two sitting in hiding and watching the labours and listening to the groans of the ascetics. But one was doing this in order to emulate them, the other in order, when the chance came, openly to mock and to impede God’s labourer in his good work.

90. Do not be so unreasonably silent as to annoy and embitter others. And do not be slow in your gait and actions when ordered to hasten. Otherwise, you will be worse than the possessed and the rebellious. Often I have seen, as Job says, souls suffering from slowness of character, but sometimes from eagerness. And I was amazed at the diversity of evil.

91. He who is not alone but is with others cannot derive so much profit from psalmody as from prayer; for the confusion of voices renders the psalms indistinct.


SIXTH HOUR

92. Constantly wrestle with your thought, and whenever it wanders call it back to you. God does not require from those still under obedience prayer completely free of distractions. Do not despond when your thoughts are filched, but remain calm, and unceasingly recall your mind. Unbroken recollection is proper only to an angel.

93. He who has secretly vowed not to retire from the struggle till his last breath and to endure a thousand deaths of body and soul, will not easily fall into any of these defects. For inconstancy of heart and infidelity to one’s place always cause stumblings and disasters. Those who easily go from place to place are complete failures, for nothing causes fruitlessness so much as impatience.

94. If you come to an unknown physician and hospital, behave as though you were passing by, and secretly test the life and spiritual experience of all those living there. And when you begin to feel benefit from the doctors and nurses and get relief from your sicknesses, and especially with regard to your special disease, namely, spiritual pride, then go to them and buy it with the gold of humility, and write the contract on the parchment of obedience with the letters of service and with the angels as witnesses. And tear up and destroy in their presence the parchment of your own will. By going from place to place you get into the way of wasting the price with which Christ bought you. Let the monastery be your tomb before the tomb. For no one will come out of the grave until the general resurrection. And if some religious have left their tomb, see! They are dead. Let us implore the Lord that this may not happen to us.

95. When the senses find the orders heavy, the more lazy decide that they would prefer to devote themselves to prayer. But when they find they are ordered to do something easy they run from prayer as from fire.

96. Some undertake a particular duty, but for a brother’s peace of mind, at his request they leave it; and some leave their work through laziness; and some do not leave it out of vainglory; and some do not leave it out of zeal.

97. If you have bound yourself by obligations and notice that your soul’s eye is making no progress, do not get leave to quit. The genuine are genuine everywhere, and the reverse is equally true. In the world slander has caused many separations; but in communities greed produces all the falls and rejections. If you rule over your mistress (i.e. your stomach), every place of residence will give you dispassion; but if she rules over you, then outside the tomb you will be in danger everywhere.

98. The Lord who makes wise the blind opens the eyes of the obedient to the virtues of their guide, and He blinds them to his defects. But the hater of good does the opposite.

99. Let us find in what is called quicksilver an image of perfect obedience. For with whatever material we roll it, it runs to the lowest place, and will mix with no defilement.

100. Let the zealous be particularly attentive to themselves, lest by condemning the careless they themselves incur worse condemnation. And I think the reason why Lot was justified was because, though living among such people, he never seems to have condemned them.

101. At all times, but most of all during the singing in church, let us keep quiet and undistracted. For by distractions the demons aim to bring our prayer to nothing.

102. A servant of the Lord is he who in body stands before men, but in mind knocks at heaven with prayer.

103. Insults, humiliations, and similar things are like the bitterness of wormwood to the soul of a novice; while praises, honours, and approbation are like honey and give birth to all manner of sweetness in pleasure-lovers. But let us look at the nature of each: wormwood purifies all interior filth, while honey increases gall.

104. Let us trust with firm confidence those who have taken upon themselves the care of us in the Lord, even though they order something apparently contrary and opposed to our salvation. For it is then that our faith in them is tested as in a furnace of humiliation. For it is a sign of the truest faith if we obey our superiors without any hesitation, even when we see the opposite of what we had hoped for happening.

105. From obedience comes humility, as we have already said earlier. From humility comes discernment as the great Cassian has said with beautiful and sublime philosophy in his chapter on discernment. From discernment comes insight, and from insight comes foresight. And who would not follow this fair way of obedience, seeing such blessings in store for him? It was of this great virtue of obedience that the good Psalmist said: Thou hast in Thy goodness prepared for the poor obedient soul, O God, Thy presence in his heart.

106. Throughout your life remember that great athlete who for eighteen whole years never heard with his outward ears his superior say the words, “May you be saved,” but inwardly heard daily from the Lord, not merely, “May you be saved,” (which is an uncertain wish), but “You are saved,” (which is definite and sure).

107. Some living in obedience, on noticing the condescension and indulgence of the superior, ask his permission to follow their own desires. But let them know that when they obtain this they completely deprive themselves of the confessor’s crown. For obedience is entirely foreign to hypocrisy and one’s own will.

108. There was the man who received an order, but on seeing the intention of the person who gave it, namely that the fulfilment of the order would not give him pleasure, asked to be excused. And another saw this, but unhesitatingly obeyed. The question is: which of them acted more piously?

109. It is impossible that the devil should act contrary to his own will. Let those living an easy-going life, whether persevering in one solitary place or in a community, convince you of this. Let the temptation to retire from our place be a proof for us that our life there is pleasing to God. For being warred against is a sign that we are making war.


NINTH HOUR

About Saint Acacius.

110. I will not be silent about something which it is not right to leave in silence lest I should inhumanly keep to myself what ought to be made known. The famous John the Sabbaite told me things worth hearing. And that he was detached and above all falsehood, and free from words and deeds of evil, you know from your own experience, holy father. This man told me: “In my monastery in Asia (for that is where the good man came from) there was a certain elder who was extremely careless and undisciplined. I say this without passing judgment on him, but simply to state the truth. He obtained, I do not know how, a disciple, a youth called Acacius, simple-hearted but prudent in thought. And he endured so much from this elder that to many people it will perhaps seem incredible. For the elder tormented him daily not only with insults and indignities, but even with blows. But his patience was not mere senseless endurance. And so, seeing him daily in wretched plight like the lowest slave, I would ask him when I met him: ‘What is the matter, Brother Acacius, how are you today?’ And he would at once show me a black eye, or a scarred neck or head. But knowing that he was a worker, I would say to him: ‘Well done, well done; endure and it will be for your good.’ Having done nine years with this pitiless elder, he departed to the Lord. Five days after his burial in the cemetery of the fathers, Acacius’s master went to a certain elder living there and said to him: ‘Father, Brother Acacius is dead.’ As soon as the elder heard this he said: ‘Believe me, elder, I do not believe it.’ The other replied: ‘Come and see.’ The elder at once rose and went to the cemetery with the master of the blessed ascetic. And he called as to a living person to him who was truly alive in his falling asleep, and said: ‘Are you dead, Brother Acacius?’ And the good doer of obedience, showing his obedience even after his death, replied to the great elder: ‘How is it possible, Father, for a man who is a doer of obedience to die ?’ Then the elder who had been Acacius’s master became terrified and fell on his face in tears. Afterwards he asked the abbot of the Laura for a cell near the tomb, and lived in it devoutly, always saying to the fathers: ‘I have committed murder.’ And it seemed to me, Father John, that the one who spoke to the dead man was the great John himself. For that blessed soul told me another story as if it were about someone else, when it was really about himself, as I was afterwards able to learn for certain.”

About John the Sabbaite, or Antiochus.

111. “There was another,” said John, “in the same monastery in Asia who became a disciple of a certain meek, gentle and quiet monk. And seeing that the elder honoured and cared for him, he rightly judged that this would be fatal for many men, and he begged the elder to send him away. (As the elder had another disciple, this would not cause him much inconvenience.) And so he went away, and with a letter from his master he settled in a cenobitic monastery in Pontus. On the first night that he entered this monastery he saw in a dream his account being made out by someone, and after settling that awful account he was left a debtor to the sum of a hundred pounds of gold. When he woke up he began to reflect on what he had seen in his dream and said: ‘Poor Antiochus,’ (for this was his name), ‘you certainly fall far short of your debt!'” “And when,” he continued, “I had lived in this monastery for three years in unquestioning obedience, and was regarded by all with contempt and was insulted as the stranger (for there was no other strange monk there), then again I saw in a dream someone giving me a credit-note for the payment of ten pounds of my debt. And so when I woke up and had thought about my dream, I said: ‘Still only ten! But when shall I pay the rest?’ After that I said to myself: ‘Poor Antiochus! Still more toil and dishonour for you.’ From that time forward I began to pretend to be a blockhead, yet without in any way neglecting the service of all. But when the merciless fathers saw that I willingly served in that same condition, they gave me all the heavy work of the monastery. In such a way of life I spent thirteen years, when in a dream I saw those who had appeared to me before, and they gave me a receipt in complete settlement of my debt. So when the members of the monastery imposed upon me in any way, I remembered my debt and endured it courageously.” So you see, Father John, that wise John told me this as if it were about another person. And that was why he changed his name to Antiochus. But in actual fact it was he himself who so courageously destroyed the handwriting by his patience and obedience.

112. Let us hear what a gift of discernment this holy man obtained by his utter obedience. When he was residing in the monastery of St. Sabba three young monks came to him wanting to become his disciples. He gladly received them and at once gave them kindly hospitality, wanting to refresh them after the labour of their journey. When three days had passed, the elder said to them: “By nature, brothers, I am prone to fornication, and I cannot accept any of you.” But they were not scandalized, for they knew the good work of the elder. Yet however much they asked him, they were quite unable to persuade him. Then they threw themselves at his feet and implored him at least to give them a rule – how and where they ought to live. So he yielded to their entreaties, and knowing that they would receive it with humility and obedience, the elder said to one: “The Lord wants you, child, to live in a place of solitude in subjection to a father.” And to the second he said: “Go and sell your will and give it to God, and take up your cross and persevere in a community and monastery of brothers, and you will certainly have treasure in heaven.” Then to the third he said: “Take in with your very breath the word of Him who said: ‘He who endures to the end will be saved.’ Go, and if possible choose for your trainer in the Lord the most strict and exacting person and with daily perseverance drink abuse and scorn as milk and honey.” Then the brother said to the great John: “But, Father, what if the trainer lives a lax life?” The elder replied: “Even if you see him committing fornication, do not leave him, but say to yourself: ‘Friend, why are you here?’ Then you will see all pride vanish from you, and lust wither.”