Friday – Sixth Week of Great Lent – Ladder Readings

FRIDAY OF THE SIXTH WEEK
OF THE GREAT LENT

THIRD HOUR

Step 29
Concerning Heaven on Earth, or Godlike Dispassion and Perfection, and the Resurrection of the Soul Before the General Resurrection.

1. Here are we who lie in the deepest pit of ignorance, in the dark passions of this body and in the shadow of death, having the temerity to begin to philosophize about heaven on earth.

2. The firmament has the stars for its beauty, and dispassion has the virtues for its adornments; for by dispassion I mean no other than the interior heaven of the mind, which regards the tricks of the demons as mere toys.

3. And so he is truly dispassionate, and is recognized as dispassionate, who has made his flesh incorruptible, who has raised his mind above creatures and has subdued all his senses to it, and who keeps his soul in the presence of the Lord, ever reaching out to Him even beyond his strength.

4. Some say, moreover, that dispassion is the resurrection of the soul before the body; but others, that it is the perfect knowledge of God, second only to that of the angels.

5. This perfect, but still unfinished, perfection of the perfect, as someone who had tasted it informed me, so sanctifies the mind and detaches it from material things that for a considerable part of life in the flesh, after entering the heavenly harbour, a man is rapt as though in Heaven and is raised to contemplation. One who had experience of this well says somewhere: For God’s strong men of the earth have become greatly exalted. Such a man, as we know, was that Egyptian who prayed with some people for a long time without relaxing his hands which were stretched out in prayer.

6. There is a dispassionate man, and there is one who is more dispassionate than the dispassionate. The one strongly hates what is evil, but the other has an inexhaustible store of virtues.

7. Purity too is called dispassion; and rightly, because it is the harbinger of the general resurrection and of the incorruption of the corruptible.

8. Dispassion was shown by him who said: I have the mind of the Lord. Dispassion was shown by the Egyptian who said that he no longer feared the Lord. Dispassion was shown by him who prayed that his passions should return to him. Who before the future glory has been granted such dispassion as that Syrian? For David, glorious among the prophets, says to the Lord: O spare me, that I may recover my strength; but that athlete of God cries: “Spare me from the waves of Thy grace.”

9. The soul has dispassion who is immersed in the virtues as the passionate are in pleasures.

10. If it is the acme of gluttony to force oneself to eat even when one has no appetite, then it is certainly the acme of temperance for a hungry man to overcome nature when it is blameless. If it is extreme sensuality to rave over irrational and even inanimate creatures, then it is extreme purity to hold all persons in the same regard as inanimate things. If it is the height of cupidity to go on collecting and never be satisfied, it is the height of poverty not to spare even one’s own body. If it is the height of despondency, while living in complete peace, not to acquire patience, then it is the height of patience to think of oneself even in affliction as being at rest. If it is called a sea of wrath for a person to be savage even when no one is about, then it will be a sea of long-suffering to be as calm in the presence of your slanderer as in his absence. If it is the height of vainglory when a person, seeing no one near him to praise him, puts on affected behaviour, it is certainly a mark of its absence, not to let your thought be beguiled in the presence of those who praise you. If it is a sign of perdition (that is to say, pride) to be arrogant even in poor clothing, then it is a mark of saving humility to have humble thoughts in the midst of high undertakings and achievements. If it is a sign of complete enslavement to the passions to yield readily to everything the demons sow in us, then I take it as a mark of holy dispassion to be able to say honestly: The evil one who dodges me, I have not known; nor how he came, nor why, nor how he went; but I am completely unaware of everything of this kind, because I am wholly united with God, and always will be.

11. He who has been granted such a state, while still in the flesh, always has God dwelling within him as his Guide in all his words, deeds and thoughts. Therefore, through illumination he apprehends the Lord’s will as a sort of inner voice. He is above all human instruction and says: When shall I come and appear before the face of God? For I can no longer bear the force of love; I long for the immortal beauty which Thou hast given me in exchange for this clay.

12. But why say more? The dispassionate man no longer lives himself, but Christ lives in him, as he says who fought the good fight, finished his course and kept the faith.

13. A king’s diadem is not composed of one stone, and dispassion does not reach perfection if we neglect even one virtue, however ordinary.

14. Imagine dispassion as the celestial palace of the Heavenly King; and the many mansions as the abodes within this city, and the wall of this celestial Jerusalem as the forgiveness of sins. Let us run, brethren, let us run to enter the bridal hall of this palace. If we are prevented by anything, by some burden or old habit, or by time itself: what a disaster! Let us at least occupy one of those mansions around the palace. But if we sink down and grow weak, let us make sure of being at least within the walls. For he who does not enter there before his end, or rather, does not scale the wall, will lie out in the desert of fiends and passions. That is why a certain man prayed, saying: Through my God I shall scale the wall. And another says as if in the person of God: Is it not your sins that separate you from Me? Friends, let us break through this wall of separation which we have erected to our own harm by disobedience; and let us receive the forgiveness of our sins, because in hell there is no one to pardon our debts. So then, brethren, let us devote ourselves to our task, for we are on the roll of the devout. There is no room for any excuse whether of a fall, or opportunity, or burden. For to all who have received the Lord by the baptism of regeneration He has given power to be come children of God, saying: Be still and know that I am God and am Dispassion. To Him be the glory for ever and ever! Amen.

Blessed dispassion lifts the mind that is poor from earth to heaven, and raises the beggar from the dunghill of the passions. But love whose praise is above all makes him sit with the princes, with the holy angels, and with the princes of the people of God.


SIXTH HOUR

Step 30
Concerning the Linking Together of the Supreme Trinity Among the Virtues.

1. And now, finally, after all that we have said, there remain these three that bind and secure the union of all, faith, hope, love; and the greatest of these is love, for God Himself is so called.

2. And (as far as I can make out) I see the one as a ray, the second as a light, the third as a circle; and in all, one radiance and one splendour.

3. The first can make and create all things; the divine mercy surrounds the second and makes it immune to disappointment; the third does not fall, does not stop in its course and allows no respite to him who is wounded by its blessed rapture.

4. He who wishes to speak about divine love undertakes to speak about God. But it is precarious to expatiate on God, and may even be dangerous for the unwary.

5. The angels know how to speak about love, and even they can only do this according to the degree of their enlightenment.

6. God is love. So he who wishes to define this, tries with bleary eyes to measure the sand in the ocean.

7. Love, by reason of its nature, is a resemblance to God, as far as that is possible for mortals; in its activity it is inebriation of the soul; and by its distinctive property it is a fountain of faith, an abyss of patience, a sea of humility.

8. Love is essentially the banishment of every kind of contrary thought for love thinks no evil.

9. Love, dispassion, and adoption are distinguished as sons from one another by name, and name only. Just as light, fire, and flame combine to form one power, it is the same with love, dispassion, and adoption.

10. As love wanes, fear appears; because he who has no fear is either filled with love or dead in soul.

11. There is nothing wrong in representing desire, and fear, and care and zeal and service and love for God in images borrowed from human life. Blessed is he who has obtained such love and yearning for God as an enraptured lover has for his beloved. Blessed is he who fears the Lord as much as men under trial fear the judge. Blessed is he who is as zealous with true zeal as a well-disposed slave towards his master. Blessed is he who has become as jealous of the virtues as husbands who remain in unsleeping watch over their wives out of jealousy. Blessed is he who stands in prayer before the Lord as servants stand before a king. Blessed is he who unceasingly strives to please the Lord as others try to please men.

12. Even a mother does not so cling to the babe at her breast as a son of love clings to the Lord at all times.

13. He who truly loves ever keeps in his imagination the face of his beloved, and there embraces it tenderly. Such a man can get no relief from his strong desire even in sleep, even then he holds converse with his loved one. So it is with our bodily nature; and so it is in spirit. One who was wounded with love said of himself (I wonder at it): I sleep because nature requires this, but my heart is awake in the abundance of my love.

14. You should notice, venerable brother, that the stag – the soul – having destroyed those reptiles, longs and faints for the Lord with the fire of love, as if struck by an arrow.

15. The effect of hunger is vague and indefinite; but the effect of thirst is intense and obvious to all, and indicative of blazing heat. So one who yearns for God says: My soul thirsts for God, the strong, the living God.

16. If the face of a loved one clearly and completely changes us, and makes us cheerful, gay, and carefree, what will the Face of the Lord not do when He makes His Presence felt invisibly in a pure soul?

17. Fear when it is an inner conviction of the soul destroys and devours impurity, for it is said: Nail down my flesh with the fear of Thee. And holy love consumes some, according to him who said: Thou hast ravished our heart, Thou hast ravished our heart. But sometimes it makes others bright and joyful, for it is said: My heart trusted in Him and I have been helped; even my flesh has revived; and: When the heart is happy the face is cheerful. So when the whole man is in a manner commingled with the love of God, then even his outward appearance in the body, as in a kind of mirror, shows the splendour of his soul. That is how Moses who had looked upon God was glorified.

18. Those who have reached such an angelic state often forget about bodily food. I think that often they do not even feel any desire for it. And no wonder, for frequently a contrary desire knocks out the thought of food.

19. I think that the body of those incorruptible men is not even subject to sickness any longer, because it has been rendered incorruptible; for they have purified the inflammable flesh in the flame of purity. I think that even the food that is set before them they accept without any pleasure. For there is an underground stream that nourishes the root of a plant, and their souls too are sustained by a celestial fire.


NINTH HOUR

20. The growth of fear is the beginning of love, but a complete state of purity is the foundation of divine knowledge.

21. He who has perfectly united his feeling to God is mystically led by Him to an understanding of His words. But without this union it is difficult to speak about God.

22. The engrafted Word perfects purity, and slays death by His presence; and after the slaying of death, the disciple of divine knowledge is illumined.

23. The Word of the Lord which is from God the Father is pure, and remains so eternally. But he who has not come to know God merely speculates.

24. Purity makes its disciple a theologian, who of himself grasps the dogmas of the Trinity.

25. He who loves the Lord has first loved his brother, because the second is a proof of the first.

26. One who loves his neighbour can never tolerate slanderers, but rather runs from them as from fire.

27. He who says that he loves the Lord but is angry with his brother is like a man who dreams that he is running.

28. The power of love is in hope, because by it we await the reward of love.

29. Hope is a wealth of hidden riches. Hope is a treasure of assurance of the treasure in store for us.

30. It is a rest from labours; it is the door of love; it is the superannuation of despair; it is an image of what is absent.

31. The failure of hope is the disappearance of love. Toils are bound by it. Labours depend on it. Mercy encircles it.

32. A monk of good hope is a slayer of despondency; with this sword he routs it.

33. Experience of the Lord’s gift engenders hope; he who is without experience remains in doubt.

34. Anger destroys hope, because hope does not disappoint, but a passionate man has no grace.

35. Love bestows prophecy; love yields miracles; love is an abyss of illumination; love is a fountain of fire – in the measure that it bubbles up, it inflames the thirsty soul. Love is the state of angels. Love is the progress of eternity.

36. Tell us, fairest of virtues, where thou feedest thy flock, where thou restest at noon. Enlighten us, quench our thirst, guide us, take us by the hand; for we wish at last to soar to thee. Thou rulest over all. And now thou hast ravished my soul. I cannot contain thy flame. So I will go forward praising thee. Thou rulest the power of the sea, and stillest the surge of its waves and puttest it to death. Thou hast humbled the proud – the proud thought – like a wounded man. With the arm of thy power thou hast scattered thine enemies, and thou hast made thy lovers invincible.

But I long to know how Jacob saw thee fixed above the ladder. Satisfy my desire, tell me, What are the means of such an ascent? What the manner, what the law that joins together the steps which thy lover sets as an ascent in his heart? I thirst to know the number of those steps, and the time needed for the ascent. He who knows the struggle and the vision has told us of the guides. But he would not, or rather, he could not, enlighten us any further.

And this queen (or I think I might more properly say king), as if appearing to me from heaven and as if speaking in the ear of my soul, said: Unless, beloved, you renounce your gross flesh, you cannot know my beauty. May this ladder teach you the spiritual combination of the virtues. On the top of it I have established myself, as my great initiate said: And now there remain faith, hope, love—these three; but the greatest of all is love.

A Brief Exhortation Summarizing All That Has Been Said at Length in this Book.

Ascend, brothers, ascend eagerly, and be resolved in your hearts to ascend and hear Him who says: Come and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord and to the house of our God, who makes our feet like hind’s feet, and sets us on high places, that we may be victorious with His song.

Run, I beseech you, with him who said: Let us hasten until we attain to the unity of faith and of the knowledge of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, who, when He was baptized in the thirtieth year of His visible age, attained the thirtieth step in the spiritual ladder; since God is indeed love, to whom be praise, dominion, power, in whom is and was and will be the cause of all goodness throughout infinite ages. Amen.