Friday – Third Week of Great Lent – Ladder Readings



42. During temptation I have felt that this wolf was producing incomprehensible joy, tears, and consolation in my soul, but I was really being deceived when I so childishly thought to have fruit from this and not harm.

43. Every other sin that a man may commit is outside the body, while he who commits impurity sins against his own body, and this is certainly because the very substance of the flesh is defiled by pollution, which cannot happen in the other sins.

44. And I should like to ask: Why in the case of every other sin do we usually say that people have slipped, and simply that; but when we hear that someone has committed fornication, we say sorrowfully: So and so has fallen?

45. A fish swiftly escapes a hook; and a sensual soul shuns solitude.

46. When the devil wishes to tie two people to each other by a shameful bond, he works on the inclinations of both of them, and then lights the fire of passion.

47. Those who are inclined to sensuality often seem sympathetic, merciful, and prone to compunction; while those who care for chastity do not seem to have these qualities to the same extent.

48. A certain learned man put a serious question to me, saying: “What is the gravest sin, apart from murder and denial of God?” And when I said: “To fall into heresy,” he asked: “Then why does the Catholic Church receive heretics who have sincerely anathematized their heresy, and consider them worthy to partake in the Mysteries; while on the other hand when a man who has committed fornication is received, even though he confesses and forsakes his sin, the Apostolic Constitutions order him to be excluded from the immaculate Mysteries for a number of years?” I was struck with bewilderment, and what perplexed me then has remained unsolved.

49. In judging delights felt by us during psalmody, let us examine, ponder, and observe what comes to us from the demon of fornication, and what comes from the words of the Spirit and from the grace and power contained in them.

50. Do not be ignorant of yourself, young man. I have seen men pray with all their soul for their loved ones, who in reality were moved by the spirit of fornication, while believing that they were fulfilling the law of love.

51. Touch alone is sufficient for bodily defilement, for nothing is so dangerous as this sense. Remember him who wrapped his hand in his cassock when about to carry his sick mother, and deaden your hand to natural or unnatural things, whether your own or another’s body.

52. I think that one ought not to call anyone a saint in any real sense, until he has transformed this earth into holiness, if such a transformation is even possible.

53. When we are lying in bed let us be especially sober and vigilant, because then our mind struggles with the demons without our body, and if it is sensual, it readily becomes a traitor.

54. Always let the remembrance of death and the Prayer of Jesus said as a monologue go to sleep with you and get up with you; for you will find nothing to equal these aids during sleep.

55. Some think that battles and emissions during sleep come only from food. But I have observed that people who are seriously ill and the strictest fasters are very prone to these pollutions. I once asked one of the most experienced and distinguished monks about this, and the blessed man explained it to me very clearly. “Emissions during sleep,” said that ever-memorable man, “come from abundance of food and from a life of ease. They also come from contempt, when we pride ourselves that we have not been subject to these effluxes for a long time. And also they come from judging our neighbour. The last cases,” he added, “can happen even to the sick.” But perhaps all three can. But if anyone is unable to find any of these reasons in himself, then he is indeed blessed to be so free from passion. And if this happens to him, then it comes solely from the envy of the demons, and God allows it for a time in order that, after a sinless mishap, he may obtain the most sublime humility.


56. Let no one get into the habit of thinking over during the day-time the phantasies that have occurred to him during sleep; for the aim of the demons in prompting this is to defile us while we are awake by making us think about our dreams.

57. Let us listen again to another wile of our foes. Just as food bad for the body produces sickness after a time or some days, so this often happens in the case of actions which defile the soul. I have seen some give way to luxury and not at once feel the attacks of the enemy. I have seen others eat with women and converse with them and at the time have no bad thoughts whatsoever in their mind. They were thus deceived and encouraged to grow careless and to think that they were in peace and safety, and they suddenly suffered destruction in their cells. But what bodily and spiritual destruction comes to us when we are alone? He who is tempted knows. And he who is not tempted does not need to know.

58. On these occasions the best aids for us are: sackcloth, ashes, all-night standing, hunger, moistening the tongue in moderation when parched with thirst, dwelling amongst the tombs, and above all humility of heart; and if possible a spiritual father or a careful brother, an elder in spirit to help us. But I shall be surprised if anyone will be able to save his ship from the sea by himself.

59. One and the same sin often incurs a condemnation a hundred times greater for one person than for another, according to character, place, progress, and a good deal else.

60. Someone told me of an extraordinarily high degree of purity. He said: “A certain man, on seeing a beautiful body, thereupon glorified the Creator, and from that one look he was moved to the love of God and to a fountain of tears. And it was wonderful to see how what would have been a cause of destruction for one was for another the supernatural cause of a crown.” If such a person always feels and behaves in the same way on similar occasions, then he has risen immortal before the general resurrection.

61. Let us be guided by the same rule in singing melodies and songs. For lovers of God are moved to holy gaiety, to divine love, and to tears both by worldly and by spiritual songs; but lovers of pleasure to the opposite.

62. As we have said before, some people in hermitages suffer far more severe attacks from the enemies. And no wonder! For the demons haunt such places, since the Lord in His care for our salvation has driven them into the deserts and the abyss (of hell). Demons of fornication cruelly assail the solitary in order to drive him back into the world, as having received no benefit from the desert. Demons keep away from us when we are living in the world, that we may go on staying among worldly-minded people because we are not attacked there. Hence we should realize that the place in which we are attacked is the one in which we are certainly waging bitter war on the enemy; for if we ourselves are not waging war, the enemy is presenting himself as our friend.

63. When we are in the world for some justifiable reason, we are protected by the hand of God, perhaps through the prayer of our spiritual father, that the Lord may not be blasphemed through us. And sometimes we are protected through our insensitivity and through having had long experience of the sights of the world and its subjects of conversation and all its doings. And sometimes it is because the demons go away of their own accord and leave us only the demon of conceit which takes the place of all the rest.

64. Hear yet another trick and villainy of that deceiver, all you who wish to be confirmed in purity, and look out for it. One who had experience of this craftiness told me that the demon of sensuality very often hid himself completely, and while a monk was sitting or conversing with women, he would suggest to him extreme piety, and perhaps even a fountain of tears, and would put into his mind the thought of instructing them on the remembrance of death, judgment, and chastity. Then the poor women, being deceived by his speech and false piety, would run to this wolf as to a shepherd, and when at last acquaintance ripened into familiarity, the unfortunate monk would suffer a fall.

65. Let us by every means in our power avoid either seeing or hearing of that fruit which we have vowed not to taste. For it is absurd to think ourselves stronger than the Prophet David – that is impossible.


66. Purity is worthy of such great and high praise that certain of the Fathers ventured to call it freedom from passion.

67. Some say that those who have tasted sin cannot be called pure. In refutation of this view I would say: If anyone is willing, it is possible and easy to graft a good olive on to a wild olive. And if the keys of heaven had been entrusted to one who had always lived in a state of virginity, then perhaps the teaching of those who maintain what I have quoted above would be right. But let them be put to shame by him who had a mother-in-law, and having become pure, received the keys of the Kingdom.

68. The snake of sensuality is many-faced. In those who are inexperienced in sin he sows the thought of making one trial and then stopping. But this crafty creature incites those who have tried this to fresh trial through the remembrance of their sin. Many inexperienced people feel no conflict in themselves simply because they do not know what is bad; and the experienced, because they know this abomination, suffer disquiet and struggle. But often the opposite of this also happens.

69. When we rise from sleep in a good and peaceful mood, we are being secretly encouraged by the holy angels, especially if we went to sleep with much prayer and watching. But sometimes we rise from sleep in a bad mood, and this is a result of evil dreams and visions.

70. I have seen the wicked highly exalted and towering aloft and foaming and raging in me like the cedars of Lebanon. And I passed by with temperance and lo, his fury was not as before, and I humbled my thought and sought him out, and his place could not be found in me – not a trace of it.

71. He who has conquered his body has conquered nature; and he who has conquered nature has certainly risen above nature. And he who has done this is little (if at all) lower than the angels.

72. It is not surprising for the immaterial to struggle with the immaterial. But it is truly surprising for one inhabiting matter, and in conflict with this hostile and crafty matter, to put to flight immaterial foes.

73. The good Lord shows His great care for us in that the shamelessness of the feminine sex is checked by shyness as with a sort of bit. For if the woman were to run after the man, no flesh would be saved.

74. In the rulings made by the Fathers a distinction is drawn between different things, such as attraction, or intercourse, or consent, or captivity, or struggle, or so-called passion in the soul. And these blessed men define attraction as a simple conception, or an image of something encountered for the first time which has lodged in the heart. Intercourse is conversation with what has presented itself, accompanied by passion or dispassion. And consent is the bending of the soul to what has been presented to it, accompanied by delight. But captivity is a forcible and involuntary rape of the heart or a permanent association with what has been encountered which destroys the good order of our condition. Struggle, according to their definition, is power equal to the attacking force, which is either victorious or else suffers defeat according to the soul’s desire. And they define passion in a special sense as that which lurks disquietingly in the soul for a long time, and through its intimacy with the soul brings it finally to what amounts to a habit, a self-incurred downright desertion. Of all these states the first is without sin, the second not always, but the third is sinful or sinless according to the state of the contestant. Struggle is the occasion of crowns or punishments. Captivity is judged differently, according to whether it occurs at the time of prayer, or at other times; it is judged one way in matters of little importance, and in another way in the case of evil thoughts. But passion is unequivocally condemned in every case, and demands either corresponding repentance or future correction. Therefore he who regards the first attraction dispassionately cuts off at a single blow all the rest which follow.

75. Amongst the more precise and discerning Fathers there is mention of a still more subtle notion, something which some of them call a flick of the mind. This is its characteristic: without passage of time, without word or image, it instantaneously introduces the passion to the victim. There is nothing swifter than this in the material world or more indiscernible in the spiritual. It manifests itself in the soul by a simple remembrance with which the soul has no time to dally, since it is independent of time, unconnected with any image, impervious to analysis, and in some cases even unknown to the person himself. If anyone, therefore, with the help of mourning has been able to detect such a subtlety, he can explain to us how it is possible for a soul, by the eye alone, by a mere glance, or the touch of the hand, or the hearing of a song, without any notion or thought, to commit a definite sin of impurity.