Monday – Fourth Week of Great Lent – Ladder Readings



76. Some say that it is from thoughts of fornication that passions invade the body. But some affirm on the contrary that it is from the feeling of the body that evil thoughts are born. The former say that if the mind had not gone before, the body would not have followed after. And the latter adduce the malice of bodily passion in justification of their view, saying that often bad thoughts manage to enter into the heart as the result of a pleasant sight, or the touch of a hand, or the smell of perfume, or hearing sweet voices. If anyone can do so in the Lord, let him explain this; for knowledge of this sort is extremely necessary and profitable for those living the active life scientifically. But for those practising virtue in simplicity of heart, this is not of the least importance. For not all have knowledge; but neither have all the blessed simplicity which is the breastplate against the wiles of evil spirits.

77. Some passions pass to the body from the soul, and some do the opposite. The latter happens to people living in the world, but the former to those living the monastic life, because of the lack of outward stimulus. But about this I will only say: Thou shalt seek wisdom among evil men and shalt not find it.

78. When we have struggled much with this demon, partner of filth, and driven it out of our heart, torturing it with the stone of fasting and the sword of humility, then this wretch like some kind of worm hides itself in our body and endeavours to defile us, tickling us into senseless and untimely movements.

79. It is those who are subject to the demon of arrogance who especially suffer in this way; because, as their hearts are no longer continually occupied with impure thoughts, they are prone to the passion of pride. And in order to be convinced of the truth of what has been said, when they have achieved a certain measure of holy quiet, let them discreetly examine themselves. Then they will certainly find that some thought is concealed in the depth of their heart like a snake in dung, suggesting to them that they have made some progress in purity of heart by their own effort and zeal. Poor wretches! They do not think of what was said:
“What hast thou that thou didst not receive as a free gift, either from God, or by the coöperation and prayers of others?” And so let them look to their own affairs, and let them cast out of their heart with all speed the snake mentioned above, killing it by much humility, so that when they have got rid of it they may in time be stripped of their clothing of skin and as chaste children sing to the Lord the triumph song of purity; if only, when they are stripped, they do not find themselves naked of that humility and freedom from malice which is natural to children.

80. This demon much more than any other watches for critical moments. And when we are physically unable to pray against it, then the unholy creature launches a special attack against us.

81. Those who have not yet obtained true prayer of the heart, can find help in violence in bodily prayer – I mean stretching out the hands, beating the breast, sincere raising of the eyes to heaven, deep sighing, frequent prostrations. But often they cannot do this owing to the presence of other people, and so the demons especially choose to attack them just at this very time. And as we have not yet the strength to resist them by firmness of mind and the invisible power of prayer, we yield to our enemies. If possible, go apart for a brief space. Hide for a while in some secret place. Raise on high the eyes of your soul, if you can; but if not, your bodily eyes. Hold your arms motionless in the form of a cross, in order to shame and conquer your Amalek by this sign. Cry to Him who is mighty to save, using no subtle expressions but humble speech, preferably making this your prelude: Have mercy on me, for I am weak. Then you will know by experience the power of the Most High, and with invisible help you will invisibly drive away the invisible ones. He who accustoms himself to wage war in this way will soon be able to put his enemies to flight solely by spiritual means; for the latter is a recompense from God to doers of the former; and rightly.


82. In a gathering where I was, I noticed that an earnest brother was troubled by evil thoughts. As he could not find a suitable place for secret prayer, he went out as if compelled by natural necessity to the place set apart for that purpose, and there armed himself with vigorous prayer against the enemy. When I reproached him for choosing an indecent place, he replied: “In an unclean place I prayed to drive away unclean thoughts in order to be cleansed of all impurity.”

83. All demons try to darken our mind, and then they suggest what they want to. For as long as the mind does not shut its eyes, we shall not be robbed of our treasure. But the demon of fornication tries to do this much more than all the rest. Often, after darkening our mind which controls us, it urges and disposes us in the presence of people to do what only those who are out of their mind do. Then later when the mind becomes sober we are ashamed of our unholy acts, words, and gestures not only before those who saw us but also before ourselves, and we are amazed at our previous blindness. Often as a result of such reflection, men have desisted from this evil.

84. Banish the enemy when he hinders you from prayer, meditation, or vigil after you have committed sin. Remember Him who said: Yet because the soul tormented by the thought of previous sins gives me trouble, I will give her relief from her enemies.

85. Who has conquered his body? He who has crushed his heart. And who has crushed his heart? He who has denied himself. For how can he not be crushed who has died to his own will?

86. There is a passionate person more passionate than the passionate, and he will even confess his pollutions with pleasure and enjoyment. Unclean and shameful thoughts in the heart are generally produced by the deceiver of the heart, the demon of fornication. But temperance and disregard of them is the cure.

87. But I do not know by what habit and rule of life I can bind this friend of mine and judge him by the example of the other passions. For before I can bind him he is let loose; before I can condemn him I am reconciled to him; before I can punish him I bend down and pity him. How can I hate him whom by nature I habitually love? How can I get free of him with whom I am bound forever? How can I escape what will share my resurrection? How am I to make immortal what has received a mortal nature? What argument can I use to one who has the argument of nature on his side?

88. If I bind him by fasting, by condemning my neighbour I am handed over to him again. If, desisting from judgment, I overmaster him, then being proud of this, I am subjected to him again. For he is an ally and a foe, an assistant and a rival, a defender and a traitor. If I humour him he attacks me. If I exhaust him he gets feeble. When he is rested, he misbehaves himself. If I turn away in loathing, he cannot bear it. If I mortify him, I endanger myself. If I strike him down, I have nothing with which to obtain virtues. I embrace him and I turn away from him.

89. What is this mystery in me? What is the meaning of this blending of body and soul? How am I constituted a friend and foe to myself? Tell me, tell me, my yoke-fellow, my nature, for I shall not ask anyone else in order to learn about you. How am I to remain unwounded by you? How can I avoid the danger of my nature? For I have already made a vow to Christ to wage war against you. How am I to overcome your tyranny? For I am resolved to be your master.

90. And the flesh might say in reply to its soul: “I shall never tell you anything which you do not know equally well, but only of things of which we both have knowledge. I have my father within me – self-love. The fire which I experience from without comes from humouring me and from general comfort. The fire which burns within comes from past ease and bygone deeds. Having conceived, I give birth to sins, and they, when born, in turn beget death or despair. If you know the deep and obvious weakness which is in both you and me, you have bound my hands. If you starve your appetite, you have bound my feet from going further. If you take the yoke of obedience, you have thrown off my yoke. If you obtain humility, you have cut off my head.”

This is the fifteenth reward of victory. He who has received it while still living in the flesh has died and risen, and from now on experiences the foretaste of future immortality.


On Love of Money or Avarice.

1. Many learned teachers treat next, after the tyrant just described, the thousand-headed demon of avarice. We, unlearned as we are, did not wish to change the order of the learned, and we have therefore followed the same convention and rule. So let us first say a little about the disease, and then speak briefly about the remedy.

2. Avarice, or love of money, is the worship of idols, a daughter of unbelief, an excuse for infirmities, a foreboder of old age, a harbinger of drought, a herald of hunger.

3. The lover of money sneers at the Gospel and is a wilful transgressor. He who has attained to love scatters his money. But he who says that he lives for love and for money has deceived himself.

4. He who mourns for himself has also renounced his body; and at the appropriate time he does not spare it.

5. Do not say that you are collecting money for the poor; with two mites the Kingdom was purchased.

6. A hospitable man and a money-lover met one another, and the latter called the former unintelligible.

7. He who has conquered this passion has cut out care; but he who is bound by it never attains to pure prayer.

8. The beginning of love of money is the pretext of almsgiving, and the end of it is hatred of the poor. So long as he is collecting he is charitable, but when the money is in hand he tightens his hold.

9. I have seen how men of scanty means enriched themselves by living with the poor in spirit, and forgot their first poverty.

10. A monk who loves money is a stranger to idleness and hourly remembers the word of the Apostle: Let an idle man not eat, and: These hands of mine have ministered to me and to those who were with me.

This is the sixteenth struggle. He who has won this victory has either obtained love or cut out care.