Monday – Sixth Week of Great Lent – Ladder Readings



Brief Summary of All the Previous Steps

1. Firm faith is the mother of renunciation. The opposite of this is self-evident.

2. Unwavering hope is the door to detachment. The opposite of this is self-evident.

3. Love of God is the foundation of exile. The opposite is self-evident.

4. Obedience is born of self-condemnation and desire for health.

5. Temperance is the mother of health. The mother of temperance is the thought of death and firm remembrance of our Lord’s gall and vinegar.

6. The helper and foundation of chastity is solitude. The quenching of fleshly burning is fasting. The adversary of shameful thoughts is contrition of heart.

7. Faith and exile are the death of cupidity. But compassion and love betray the body.

8. Unflagging prayer is the ruin of despondency. Remembrance of the judgment is a means of fervour.

9. Love of indignity is a cure for anger. Hymnody, compassion and poverty are the suffocation of sorrow.

10. Detachment from things of the senses is contemplation of spiritual things.

11. Quietness and solitude are the foes of vainglory. And if you are amongst people, seek dishonour.

12. Visible pride is cured by grim conditions, but invisible pride can be healed only by Him who is eternally Invisible.

13. The deer is a destroyer of all visible snakes, but humility destroys spiritual ones.

14. By means of what is natural we can be trained to a clear conception of the spiritual.

15. As a snake cannot strip itself of its old skin unless it crawls into a tight hole, neither can we shed our old prejudices, our oldness of soul and the garment of the old man unless we go by the strait and narrow way of fasting and dishonour.

16. It is just as impossible for the person who nourishes and panders to his flesh to fly to heaven as it is for an overfed bird.

17. Dried up mire offers no attraction for swine, and in exhausted flesh demons no longer find anywhere to rest.

18. As too many sticks often choke a fire and put it out, while making a lot of smoke, so excessive sorrow often makes the soul smoky and dark, and dries the stream of tears.

19. As a blind man is no use as an archer, so a contradictory pupil is a lost one.

20. As tempered iron can sharpen untempered, so a fervent brother has often saved an indolent one.

21. As eggs that are warmed in dung hatch out, so bad thoughts that are not confessed hatch out and proceed to action.

22. As galloping horses race one another, so a good community excites mutual fervour.

23. Just as clouds hide the sun, so evil thoughts darken and ruin the mind.

24. As the man under sentence who is going to execution will not talk about theatres, so he who truly weeps for himself will never gratify his stomach.

25. When poor men see the royal treasury they are still more conscious of their poverty, and so too when the soul reads about the great virtues of the Fathers it at least comes to a more humble frame of mind.

26. As steel is attracted to the magnet even without meaning to be, for it is drawn by an inexplicable force of nature, so he who has contracted sinful habits is tyrannized by them.

27. As oil tames the sea, even though it is reluctant to do this, so fasting quenches the involuntary burnings of the body.

28. As a dammed stream of water rushes upwards, so often the soul that is pressed by dangers ascends to God and is saved through penitence.

29. As he who carries perfumes with him makes his presence felt by the fragrance whether he wants to or not, so he who has the Spirit of the Lord is known by his words and his humility.

30. As the sun makes gold glitter, so virtue singles out the man who possesses it.

31. As winds stir the deep, so temper disturbs the mind more than anything else.

32. As mere hearsay does not provoke violent desire to taste what the eye has not seen, so those who are chaste in body get great relief through their ignorance.

33. Just as thieves will not attack a place where they see royal weapons lying, so he who has knit his heart to prayer will not lightly be raided by spiritual thieves.

34. As fire does not give birth to snow, so those who seek honour here will not enjoy it there (in heaven).

35. As one spark has frequently set fire to much wood, so it has been found that one good deed can wipe out a multitude of great sins.

36. As it is impossible to destroy a wild beast without a weapon, so without humility it is impossible to obtain freedom from anger.

37. As by nature we cannot live without food, so up to the very moment of our death we cannot, even for a second, give way to negligence.


38. As a ray of sun, passing through a crack, lights everything in the house and shows up even the finest dust, so the fear of the Lord, entering a man’s heart, reveals to him all his sins.

39. Crabs are easily caught because they walk sometimes forwards, sometimes backwards. So the soul that now laughs, now mourns, now lives in luxury, can make no progress.

40. The drowsy are easily robbed, and so are those who seek virtue near the world.

41. A man who is fighting a lion is lost the moment he takes his eye off it, and so is the man who, while fighting his flesh, gives it any respite.

42. As he who climbs up a rotten ladder runs a risk, so all honour, glory, and authority oppose humility and bring down him who has them.

43. As it is impossible for a starving man not to think of bread, so it is impossible for a man eager to be saved not to think of death and judgment.

44. As writing is washed out by water, so sins can be washed out by tears.

45. As some, for lack of water, blot out writing by other means, so there are souls who have no tears, but pound out and scour away their sins by sorrow, sighing, and great heaviness of heart.

46. As a mass of dung breeds a mass of worms, so a surfeit of food breeds a surfeit of falls, and evil thoughts, and dreams.

47. As a blind man cannot see to walk, so a lazy man can neither see good nor do it.

48. As he whose legs are tied cannot walk freely, so those who hoard money cannot ascend to heaven.

49. As a fresh wound is easily cured, so the opposite is true of those suffering from chronic wounds of the soul; if they are healed, they are healed with difficulty.

50. As a dead man cannot walk, so a despairing man cannot be saved.

51. He who says he has true faith yet continues to sin is like a man who has no eyes in his face. But he who has no faith, even though he may do some good, is like a man who draws water and pours it into a barrel with holes in it.

52. As a ship which has a good helmsman comes safely into harbour with God’s help, so the soul which has a good shepherd, even though it has done much evil, easily ascends to heaven.

53. Without a guide it is easy to wander from the road, however prudent you may be, and so he who walks the monastic way under his own direction soon perishes, even though he may have all the wisdom of the world.

54. If anyone is weak in body and has had some grave falls, he should take the road of humility and the qualities that belong to her, for he will find no other way to salvation.

55. As one who has suffered a prolonged illness can scarcely obtain health in an instant, so it is impossible suddenly to overcome the passions, or even one passion.

56. Keep track of the extent of every passion and of every virtue, and you will know what progress you are making.

57. As those who exchange gold for clay are the losers, so are those who discuss and divulge the spiritual for material gain.

58. Many have soon obtained forgiveness, but no one has obtained dispassion quickly; this needs considerable time, and love, and longing, and God.

59. Let us find out which particular beasts and birds try to harm us at the time of sowing, and at the time when the seed shoots, and at the time of harvest, so as to set our traps accordingly.

60. Just as a man with fever has no right to commit suicide, so till our very last breath we must never give up hope.

61. As it is irreverent for a man who has just buried his father to go from the funeral straight on to his wedding, so for those who are mourning over their falls it is not proper to seek from men in this present life either honour, or rest, or glory.

62. As citizens have one kind of dwelling and convicts another, so the needs of those who are mourning ought to be quite different from those of the innocent.

63. Just as a king orders a soldier who has received serious wounds in battle in his presence not to be dismissed from his service but rather to be promoted, so the Heavenly King crowns the monk who endures many perils from demons.

64. Spiritual perception is a property of the soul itself, but sin is a buffeting of perception. Conscious perception produces either the cessation or lessening of evil; and it is the offspring of conscience. And conscience is the word and conviction of our guardian angel given to us from the time of baptism. That is why we find that the unbaptized do not feel such keen pangs of remorse in their soul for their bad deeds.

65. The lessening of evil breeds abstinence from evil; and abstinence from evil is the beginning of repentance; and the beginning of repentance is the beginning of salvation; and the beginning of salvation is a good intention; and a good intention is the mother of labours. And the beginning of labours is the virtues; the beginning of the virtues is a flowering, and the flowering of virtue is the beginning of activity. And the offspring of virtue is perseverance; and the fruit and offspring of
persevering practice is habit, and the child of habit is character. Good character is the mother of fear; and fear gives birth to the keeping of commandments in which I include both heavenly and earthly. The keeping of the commandments is a sign of love; and the beginning of love is an abundance of humility; and an abundance of humility is the daughter of dispassion; and the acquisition of the latter is the fullness of love, that is to say the perfect indwelling of God in those who through dispassion are pure in heart. For they shall see God. And to Him the glory for all eternity. Amen.


Step 27
On Holy Solitude of Body and Soul.

1. We are like bought serfs under contract to unholy passions; we therefore know to some extent the whims, ways, will, and wiles of the spirits that rule over our poor souls. But there are others who through the action of the Holy Spirit, and by reason of their liberation from the rule of those spirits, are fully alive to their tricks. The former, being in a painful state of sickness, can only guess about the relief which would come with good health; while the latter, being in a healthy condition, are able to form ideas and draw conclusions about the miseries attendant on sickness. That is why we, who are weak and infirm, hesitate to philosophize in our discourse about the haven of solitude, for we know that at the table of the good brotherhood there is always some cur watching to snatch from it a piece of bread, that is, a soul, and it then runs off with it in its mouth and devours it on the quiet. We do not want our discourse to give room to that dog, and an opportunity to those who are looking for opportunities, and for this reason we do not consider it permissible to talk about peace to the courageous warriors of our King who are struggling in the battle. We will simply remark that crowns of peace and calm are woven for those who do not flag in the fight. But we do not want to grieve anyone by speaking of other things without even mentioning this, and so we shall, if you wish, speak briefly about solitude, if only in order to explain what it is.

2. Solitude of the body is the knowledge and reduction to order of the habits and feelings. And solitude of soul is the knowledge of one’s thoughts and an inviolable mind.

3. A friend of solitude is a courageous and unrelenting power of thought which keeps constant vigil at the doors of the heart and kills or repels the thoughts that come. He who is solitary in the depth of his heart will understand this last remark; but he who is still a child is unaware and ignorant of it.

4. A discerning solitary will have no need of words, because he expresses words by deeds.

5. The beginning of solitude is to throw off all noise as disturbing for the depth (of the soul). And the end of it is not to fear disturbances and to remain insusceptible to them. Though going out, yet without a word, he is kind and wholly a house of love. He is not easily moved to speech, nor is he moved to anger. The opposite of this is obvious.

6. A solitary is he who strives to confine his incorporeal being within his bodily house, paradoxical as this is.

7. The cat keeps hold of her mouse, and the thought of the solitary holds his spiritual mouse. Do not call this example rubbish; if you do, then you do not yet know what solitude means.

8. A monk living with another monk is not saved as a solitary monk would be. When a monk is alone he has need of great vigilance and of an unwandering mind. When not alone, the other often helps his brother; but an angel assists the solitary.

9. The celestial powers unite in worship with him whose soul is quiet, and dwell lovingly with him. And the opposite to this is obvious.

10. The depth of the dogmas is profound, and the mind of the solitary does not caper among them without risk.

11. It is not safe to swim in one’s clothes, nor should a slave of passion touch theology.

12. The cell of the solitary is the confines of his body; he has within a shrine of knowledge.

13. He who is sick in soul from some passion and attempts solitude is like a man who has jumped from a ship into the sea and thinks that he will reach the shore safely on a plank.

14. For all who are struggling with their clay, solitude is suitable at the right time if only they have a director. For angelic strength is needed for the solitary life. I speak of those who lead a life of real solitude of body and soul.

15. The solitary who has become lazy will tell lies, urging people by hints to end his solitude for him. And having left his cell, he blames the devils. He has not discovered that he is his own devil.

16. I have seen solitaries who insatiably nourished their flaming desire for God, generating fire by fire, love by love, desire by desire.