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Friday – Fifth Week of Great Lent – Ladder Readings

FRIDAY OF THE FIFTH WEEK
OF THE GREAT LENT

THIRD HOUR

140. He who has conquered the passions wounds the demons; by pretending that he still has passions he deceives his foes and remains unassailable. One of the brethren once suffered disgrace and without being in the least moved in his heart he prayed in his mind. Then he began to bewail the disgrace, hiding his dispassion by passion. Another of the brethren who had no longings at all for the office of superior pretended that he was working for this. And how am I to describe the chastity of that man who went into a brothel ostensibly for the sake of sin, but drew the harlot to the ascetic life? Again, a bunch of grapes was brought very early in the morning to one of the hermits, and after the person who brought them had gone, he ate them with a semblance of gobbling but without any pleasure, to make it seem to the demons that he was a glutton. Another, having lost a few palm-leaves, spent all day pretending that he was grieved about this. Such people need to take care, otherwise in trying to fool the demons they may end by being fooled themselves. It was of these, no doubt, that the Apostle said: As deceivers and yet true.

141. He who wishes to present his body pure to Christ and to show Him a clean heart must carefully preserve chastity and freedom from anger, for without these our labour is quite useless.

142. Just as eyes have different coloured lights in them, so in the soul many different overshadowings of the spiritual Sun occur. One kind comes through bodily tears, another through the tears of the soul; one kind through what is contemplated by the bodily eyes, another through the spiritual. One kind comes from hearing words, another is the joy that spontaneously springs up in the soul; also there is one kind that comes from silence, and another which by rapture ineffably and unexpectedly transports the mind in spiritual light to Christ.

143. There are virtues, and there are mothers of virtues. So a wise man strives rather to obtain the latter. The Teacher of the mother-virtues is God Himself through His own action, while there are plenty of teachers for the daughter-virtues.

144. Let us beware lest we compensate austerity in taking food by excess of sleep, and vice versa; for such behaviour is characteristic of foolish men.

145. I have seen toilers who for some reason slightly indulged their stomachs, but soon after this, these courageous ascetics chastised their poor stomachs by standing throughout the night, and in this way they taught them to be well content to refrain from satiety.

146. The demon of avarice strives fiercely against those who possess nothing, and when it cannot vanquish them it reminds them of the state of the poor and persuades those who are spiritual to become material again.

147. In times of despondency never fail to bear in mind the Lord’s commandment to Peter to forgive a person who sins seventy times seven. For He who gave this command to another will Himself do far more. But when we are exalted let us again remember the saying: He who shall keep the whole spiritual law, and yet stumble in one passion, that is, fall into pride, has become guilty of all.

148. There exist certain dispositions of wicked and envious spirits which voluntarily leave the saints so as to deprive those who battle of any chance of obtaining crowns for victory over them.

149. Blessed are the peacemakers. No one will deny this. But I have also seen enemy-makers who are blessed. A certain two developed impure affection for one another. But one of the discerning fathers, a most experienced man, was the means whereby they came to hate each other, by setting one against the other, telling each that he was being slandered by the other. And this wise man by human roguery succeeded in parrying the devil’s malice and in producing hatred by which the impure affection was dissolved.

150. Some set aside one commandment for the sake of another commandment. I have seen young men who were attached to one another in a right spirit. Yet in order not to offend other men’s consciences, by mutual agreement they kept apart for a time.

151. Just as a marriage and a funeral are the very opposite of each other, so too are pride and despair. But as a result of the confusion caused by the demons it is possible to see the two together.

152. At the beginning of the monastic life some of the unclean demons instruct us in the interpretation of the Divine Scriptures. And they are particularly fond of behaving in this way in the case of vainglorious people and of those who have been educated in secular studies so that by gradually deceiving them they may lead them into heresy and blasphemy. We can recognize this diabolical divinity, or rather, devilry, by the disturbances and the confused and unholy joy which are felt in the soul during the instruction.

153. All creatures have received from the Creator their order of being and their beginning, and some their end too. But the end of virtue is infinite. For the Psalmist says: I have seen the end of all perfection, but Thy commandment is exceedingly broad and boundless. If some good ascetics pass from the strength of action to the strength of contemplation, and if love never ceases, and if the Lord will guard the coming in of your fear and the going out of your love, then from this it follows that there is actually no limit to love. We shall never cease to advance in it, either in the present or in the future life, continually adding light to light. And however strange what I have said may seem to many, nevertheless it shall be said. According to the testimonies we have given, I would say, blessed Father, even the spiritual beings (that is, the angels) do not lack progress; on the contrary, they ever add glory to glory, and knowledge to knowledge.


SIXTH HOUR

154. Do not be astonished if the demons often suggest to us good thoughts, and intellectual arguments against them. The aim of our foes in this case is to make us believe that they also know the thoughts of our hearts.

155. Do not judge too severely those who are eloquent in preaching but do not support this in practice, for the profit of a word has often compensated for the dearth of deeds. We do not all obtain everything in equal measure. With some speech takes precedence over action, but with others the latter transcends the former.

156. God is not the cause or the creator of evil, and those who say that certain passions are natural to the soul have been deceived not knowing that we have turned the constituent qualities of nature into passions. For instance, nature gives us the seed for childbearing, but we have perverted this into fornication. Nature provides us with the means of showing anger against the serpent but we have used this against our neighbour. Nature inspires us with zeal to make us compete for the virtues, but we compete in evil. It is natural for the soul to desire glory, but the glory on high. It is natural to be overbearing, but against the demons. Joy is also natural to us, but a joy on account of the Lord and the welfare of our neighbour. Nature has also given us resentment, but to be used against the enemies of the soul. We have received a desire for pleasure, but not for profligacy.

157. An energetic soul rouses the demons against itself. But as our conflicts increase, so do our crowns. He who has never been struck by the enemy will certainly not be crowned. But the warrior who does not flinch despite his incidental falls will be glorified by the angels as a champion.

158. He who spent three nights in the earth returned to life for ever, and he who has conquered three hours will never die.

159. Divine providence causes the sun to rise in us for our edification, and then for a time to set, and then He makes darkness His hiding place, and night falls, in which prowl the fierce young lions, which had previously left us and all the beasts of the forest of thorny passions, roaring to snatch the hope that is in us, and seeking from God their food of passions either in thought or in action. And again through the darkness of humility the sun rises upon us and the wild beasts gather together and lie down in their dens, that is to say in sensual hearts, but not in us. Then the demons say amongst themselves: The Lord has done great things for them. And we say to them: The Lord has done great things for us, and we are glad but you are banished. Behold, the Lord rides on a swift cloud, no doubt the soul that is raised above all earthly desire, and comes into Egypt, into the heart already darkened, and will shatter the idols of man’s making, that is, vain thoughts of the mind.

160. If Christ, although omnipotent, as man fled bodily from Herod, then let the rash learn not to hurl themselves into temptations. For it is said: Let not thy foot be moved, nor him (the angel) who keeps thee slumber.

161. Vanity or conceit twines itself round courage just as bindweed twines round cypress.

162. Let us constantly guard against admitting even the mere thought that we have attained to any good whatsoever; and let us keep on looking carefully to see whether this is one of our characteristics. If it is, then we shall know that we have utterly failed.

163. Look unceasingly for evidence of the passions, and then you will find many of them in you which we are unable to distinguish in our diseased condition, by reason of our own weakness or because they are so deeply rooted.

164. God is the judge of our intentions; but in His love He does also require us to act as far as we are able. Great is he who leaves undone nothing that is within his power; but greater is he who humbly attempts what is beyond his power.

165. The demons often hinder us from carrying through what is easy and profitable for us, and they urge us to turn to what is more laborious instead.

166. I find that Joseph is honoured for avoiding the occasion of sin, and not for showing dispassion. It may be asked: From what and from how many sins does aversion merit a crown? For it is one thing to turn away from the shadow, but it is a much greater thing to run towards the sun of righteousness.

167. Being in darkness is a cause of stumbling; stumbling is a cause of a fall; and to fall is a cause of death.

168. Those who have been overcome by wine often wash with water, but those who have been overcome by passions wash with tears.

169. Pollution is one thing, darkness is another, and blindness another. The first is cured by temperance, the second by solitude, and the third by obedience and by God who for our sakes became obedient.

170. We can take as an example two places in which mundane things are cleaned. Let us picture to ourselves by analogy two sublime institutions for those who set their mind on things above; a monastic community such as is pleasing to God is like the laundry in which uncleanness, grossness and deformity of soul are scoured out; and the dye-works will be the solitary life for those who have already laid aside lust, remembrance of wrongs and anger, and who are now passing from the monastery to solitude.


NINTH HOUR

171. Some say that we fall into the same sins because we have been unable to correct our former sins through the inadequacy of our repentance. But it may be asked: Have all those who have not fallen into the same kind of sin really repented as they should? Some fall into the same sins either because they have sunk into a deep forgetfulness of their former sins, or because they imagine in their own pleasure-loving way that God is merciful, or they have lost all hope of their own salvation. I do not know whether anyone will blame me if I say that their trouble arises because they have not been strong enough to bind the foe who is dominating them through the tyranny of habit.

172. We should inquire why the soul which is incorporeal does not see of what nature the spirits are that take up their abode with it. Is it not a result of its union with the flesh? This is known only to Him who joined them.

173. A discerning man once asked me: “Tell me, tell me, for I desire to know which of the spirits are liable to depress the mind when we sin and which of them to lift it up?” But I was embarrassed by the question, and on oath I affirmed my ignorance. Then he who wished to learn taught me himself, saying: “I shall give you in a few words the leaven of discernment, and then I shall leave you to seek the rest by your own industry. The spirit of lust, the spirit of anger, the spirit of gluttony, the spirit of despondency the spirit of sleepiness have no tendency to lift up the horn of the mind. But the spirit of love of money, ambition, talkativeness and many others add evil to evil. That is why the spirit of criticism is near to the latter.”

174. If any monk has spent an hour or a day in visiting people in the world, or has had them as guests, he ought to rejoice when he parts from them like someone who has been freed from a clog and a trap. But if on the contrary he feels the dart of sorrow, this indicates that he has become the toy either of vainglory or of lust.

175. We ought to begin by seeing which way the wind is blowing, and then we shall not set our sails against it.

176. Comfort with love and allow a little respite to old men practised in charity, such as have exhausted their bodies in asceticism. But compel young men who have exhausted their souls with sins to be abstinent, and bring to their memory the eternal torments.

177. It is quite impossible, as I said in another place, suddenly to become perfectly free from gluttony and vainglory at the outset of the monastic life. But we should not fight vainglory with luxury, because victory over gluttony, I mean in beginners, gives rise to vainglory. Rather let us master it by frugality. For the hour will come, and is already here for those who desire it, when the Lord will also subdue this passion under our feet.

178. When they enter monastic life the young and the aged are not afflicted by the same passions, because they often have quite opposite infirmities. Therefore, blessed, truly blessed is humility, because it makes repentance safe and effective for young and old alike.

179. Do not make an uproar at what I am going to say. There are indeed true and upright souls, though they are rare, who are strangers to malice, hypocrisy, and mischief, for whom living with men is completely uncongenial. But with the help of their guide, from solitude as from a harbour, they can ascend to heaven without desiring or experiencing the disturbances and stumbling blocks of community life.

180. Men can cure the lustful, angels the malicious, but only God the proud.

181. Perhaps one aspect of love often consists in letting the neighbour who is a frequent visitor do what he likes, and in any case showing him all our kindness.

182. It may be asked: How and to what extent, when and whether good is destroyed by a kind of repentance in the same way as evil.

183. We must use great discernment in order to know when to take our stand against sin, and in what cases and to what extent to struggle against the food of the passions, and when to withdraw from the fray. For, on account of our weakness, sometimes it is necessary to acknowledge that flight is better than death.

184. We should watch and see when and how we can empty out our gall by malice. Some of the demons uplift us, some depress us, some harden, some comfort, some darken, some pretend to communicate enlightment to us, some make us slothful, some make us cunning, some make us sad, and some cheerful.

185. We should not be dismayed if we find that our passions are stronger at the beginning of our monastic life than they were in our life in the world. For we have to remove the causes of sickness, and then health will come to us. The beasts were there in hiding all the time, only they did not show themselves.

186. When by some accident those who are otherwise approaching perfection are overcome by the demons in a trivial matter, they should at once use all means in their power to wrench this fault out of them again a hundredfold.

187. As the winds in calm weather ruffle only the surface of the sea, but at other times they stir the depths as well, so you can imagine to yourself the dark winds of iniquity. For in those enslaved by passions they shake the actual consciousness of the heart, but in those who have already made progress they only ruffle the surface of the mind. That is why the latter soon feel their normal calm, for the heart was left undefiled.

188. It is the privilege of the perfect to know unerringly whether a thought in the soul comes from their own consciousness, or from God, or from the demons; for the demons do not at first suggest everything that is repugnant. This is indeed a dark problem and hard to solve.

189. The body is enlightened by its two corporeal eyes; but in visible and spiritual discernment the eyes of the heart are illumined.

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