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Friday – Fourth Week of Great Lent – Ladder Readings

FRIDAY OF THE FOURTH WEEK
OF THE GREAT LENT

THIRD HOUR

Concerning Unmentionable Blasphemous Thoughts.

38. We have heard that from a troublesome root and mother comes a most troublesome offspring; that is to say, unspeakable blasphemy is born from foul pride. So it is necessary to bring it into the open, for it is no ordinary creature, but the most cruel of all our foes and enemies. And what is still worse, it is difficult to put into words, confess, or expose these thoughts to a spiritual physician. And so this unholy disease has produced frustration and despair in many, destroying all their hope like a worm in a tree.

39. During the Holy Liturgy, at the very moment when the Mysteries are being accomplished, this vile enemy often blasphemes the Lord and the holy events that are being enacted. This shows clearly that it is not our soul that pronounces these unspeakable, godless, and unthinkable words within us, but the God-hating fiend who fled from heaven for uttering blasphemies against the Lord there too, as it would seem. For if these shameless and disgraceful words are my own, how could I worship after receiving the gift? How can I praise and revile at one and the same time?

40. This deceiver and corrupter of souls has often driven many out of their mind. No other thought is so difficult to tell in confession as this. That is why it often remains with many to the very end of their lives. For nothing gives the demons and bad thoughts such power over us as nourishing and hiding them in our heart unconfessed.

41. No one in the face of blasphemous thoughts need think that the guilt lies within him, for the Lord is the Knower of hearts and He is aware that such words and thoughts do not come from us but from our foes.

42. Drunkenness is a cause of stumbling, and pride is a cause of unseemly thoughts. As far as his stumbling is concerned the drunkard is not to blame, but he will certainly be punished for his drunkenness.

43. When we stand in prayer, those unclean and unspeakable thoughts assail us; but if we continue praying to the end they retire at once, for they do not fight those who stand up to them.

44. The godless foe not only blasphemes God and everything Divine but utters the most shameful and indecent words within our minds to make us either give up praying or else despair of ourselves. He has prevented many from praying, and separated many from the Holy Mysteries.

45. This evil and inhuman tyrant has wearied the bodies of some with grief, has exhausted others with fasting, and has given them no rest. He does this with those living the monastic life as well as with people living in the world, suggesting to them that there is no hope whatsoever of salvation for them, and assuring them that they are more to be pitied and more wretched than all the unbelievers and heathen.

46. He who is troubled by the spirit of blasphemy and wants to be delivered from it should know for certain that it is not his soul that is the cause of such thoughts but the impure demon who once said to the Lord: All these things will I give Thee if Thou wilt fall down and worship me. And so let us too humiliate him and, without paying the least regard to his suggestion, say to him: “Get thee behind me, Satan! I shall worship the Lord my God, and Him only will I serve. Thy labour and thy word will return upon thy head, and thy blasphemies will come down upon thy crown in the present and in the future world. Amen.”

47. He who wants to grapple with the demon of blasphemy in any other way is like a man trying to hold lightning in his hands. For how will you catch, or contend and grapple with one who bursts into the heart suddenly like the wind, utters words quicker than a flash, and immediately vanishes? All other enemies stop, wrestle, linger, and give time to those who wish to struggle with them. But not this one: he has scarcely appeared, and he is gone; he has hardly said a word, and he is away.

48. This demon often likes to haunt the minds of simple and innocent people, and they are more upset and bewildered by it than others. We can certainly say of them that all this happens to them not from self-esteem but from the envy of the demons.

49. We ought to stop judging and condemning our neighbour, and then blasphemous thoughts will not alarm us; for the former is the occasion and root of the latter.

50. As one who is shut up in his house hears the words of passers-by without joining in their conversation, so the soul keeping to itself and overhearing the diabolical blasphemies is troubled by what is said by the demon passing by it.

51. He who despises this foe is delivered from its torture. But he who contrives some other way to wage war with it will end by submitting to it. He who wishes to conquer the spirits with words is like one trying to lock up the winds.

52. One careful monk who was troubled by this demon wore out his flesh for twenty years by fasts and vigils. But as he felt no benefit, he wrote his temptation on a card and went to a certain holy man and gave him the card and bowed his face to the earth, not daring to look up. As soon as the elder had read it he smiled and, raising the brother, he said to him: “Lay your hand on my neck, son.” And when the brother had done that, the great man said: “On my neck, brother, be this sin, for as many years as it may or may not be active in you; only after this, ignore it.” And this monk assured me that even before he had left the elder’s cell, his infirmity had gone. The man who had been tempted in this way told me this himself, offering thanksgiving to God.

He who has won the victory over this infirmity, has banished pride.


SIXTH HOUR

Step 24
On Meekness, Simplicity, Guilelessness Which Come Not from Nature but from Habit, and About Malice.

1. The morning light precedes the sun, and the precursor of all humility is meekness. Therefore let us hear in what order the Light arranges these virtues, for He says: Learn of Me, for I am meek and humble in heart. So then before looking at the sun, which is humility, we must be illumined by the light, which is meekness, and then we can look with a clear gaze at the sun. For it is impossible, absolutely impossible, to gaze upon the sun before we have experienced that light, as we have learnt from the order in which the Lord has put these virtues.

2. Meekness is an unchangeable state of mind, which remains the same in honour and dishonour.

3. Meekness consists in praying calmly and sincerely for a troublesome neighbour.

4. Meekness is a rock overlooking the sea of irritability, which breaks all the waves that dash against it yet remains completely unmoved.

5. Meekness is the buttress of patience, the door, or rather, the mother of love, and the foundations of discernment, for it is said: The Lord will teach the meek His way. It prepares us for the forgiveness of sins; it is boldness in prayer, an abode of the Holy Spirit. But to whom shall I look? Even to him that is meek and quiet.

6. Meekness is the fellow-worker of obedience, the guide of the brotherhood, a curb for the furious, a check to the irritable, a minister of joy, the imitation of Christ, something proper to angels, shackles for demons, a shield against peevishness.

7. In meek hearts the Lord finds rest, but a turbulent soul is a seat of the devil.

8. The meek shall inherit the earth, or rather shall exercise dominion over it, but bad-tempered folk will be harried out of their land.

9. A meek soul is a throne of simplicity, but an angry mind is a creator of evil.

10. A quiet soul makes room for words of wisdom, for the Lord will guide the meek in judgment, or rather, in discretion.

11. An upright soul is a fellow lodger with humility, but an evil one is a daughter of pride.

12. The souls of the meek are filled with knowledge, but an angry mind is a denizen of darkness and ignorance.

13. An angry man and an imposter met one another, and it was impossible to find a true word in their conversation. Unveiling the heart of the former you will find frenzy; looking into the soul of the other you will see malice.

14. Simplicity is a constant habit of soul that has become immune to evil thinking.

15. Evil is a science, or rather, a diabolical deformity, bereft of truth and thinking it can hide that fact from public notice.

16. Hypocrisy is a contrary state of body and soul interwoven with every kind of subterfuge.

17. Guilelessness is a joyous state of soul far removed from all ulterior motive.

18. Honesty is unmeddling thought, sincere character, frank and unpremeditated speech.

19. Innocent is he whose soul is in its natural purity as it was created, and who makes intercession for all.


NINTH HOUR

20. Malice is a perversion of honesty, a deceitful way of thinking, falsely screened by affability, false oaths, ambiguous words, dissimulation of heart, an abyss of cunning, deceit that has become a habit, conceit turned into nature, a foe to humility, a pretence of penitence, diminution of mourning, hostility to confession, wilfulness, an agent of falls, a hindrance to resurrection, a smiling at offences, affected frowning, false reverence, diabolical life.

21. An evil person is a namesake and companion of the devil; that is why the Lord taught us so to name the devil, saying: Deliver us from the evil one.

22. Let us run from the precipice of hypocrisy and from the pit of duplicity, hearing him who said: Evil-doers shall be destroyed, as the green herb they shall quickly wither, for such folk are food for demons.

23. God is called love, and also justice. That is why the wise man in the Song of Songs says to the pure heart: Justice has loved thee. Also the father of the wise man says: Good and just is the Lord. And of those who are His namesakes He says that they are saved: Who saves the upright of heart; and again: His countenance sees and visits those who are honest and just.

24. The first property of the age of childhood is uniform simplicity, and as long as Adam had it, he did not see the nakedness of his soul, or the indecency of his flesh.

25. Excellent too is that simplicity which is in some by nature, yes, and blessed, but not as much as that which is grafted in with toil and trouble after repenting from sin. For the former is sheltered and protected from much affectation and passion, but the latter leads to the highest humility and meekness. The former has not much reward, but the latter – infinite, infinite.

26. Let all of us who wish to attract the Lord to ourselves draw near to Him as disciples to the Master, simply, without hypocrisy, without duplicity or guile, not out of idle curiosity. He Himself is simple and absolute, and He wants souls that come to Him to be simple and innocent. For you will surely never see simplicity separated from humility.

27. The evil man is a false prophet who thinks that from words he can catch thoughts, and from outward appearance, dispositions of the heart.

28. I have seen honest souls who learnt to be evil from evil people, and I wondered how they could lose their natural disposition and superiority so soon. But it is as easy for the honest to fall from grace, as it is difficult to change the dishonest. But true exile, obedience, and guarding of the lips have often had great power, and have wonderfully restored the incurable.

29. If knowledge puffs up many people, simplicity and lack of learning can perhaps in the same measure humble them. All the same there are here and there people who pride themselves on their ignorance.

30. The thrice-blessed and most simple Paul was a clear example for us, for he was the rule and type of blessed simplicity, for no one, absolutely no one, has ever seen or heard or could see so much progress made in so short a time.

31. A simple-hearted monk is like a rational dumb animal, who lays his burden on his director. An animal does not answer back his master who yokes him, nor does an honest soul do this with his superior, but follows wherever he is led; though sent to the slaughter, he could make no protest.

32. It is hard for the rich to enter the Kingdom of Heaven and equally hard for those who are foolishly wise to enter simplicity.

33. A fall has often corrected the clever, giving them salvation and innocence in spite of themselves.

34. Struggle to elude your own prudence and by so doing you will find salvation and honesty through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

He who has the strength for this step, let him take courage; for he has become an imitator of Christ his Master and has been saved.

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