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Thursday – Fifth Week of Great Lent – Ladder Readings

THURSDAY OF THE FIFTH WEEK
OF THE GREAT LENT

THIRD HOUR

89. There is a despair that is the consequence of a multitude of sins, of a burdened conscience and unbearable sorrow because the soul is covered with a multitude of wounds and it sinks under the burden of them into the depth of despair. And there is another kind of sorrow that comes to us from pride and conceit, when someone considers that he has not deserved a fall that he has had. The observant will find the distinguishing feature of each: the one cooly gives way to indifference, the other in despair still clings to his struggle – which does not accord with his state. The former is cured by temperance and good hope, and the latter by humility and the habit of not judging anyone.

90. It should not surprise us or seem to us strange when we see that some do bad deeds under cover of good words; for perhaps even in Paradise the snake was destroyed by overwhelming conceit.

91. In all your undertakings and in every way of life, whether you are living in obedience, or are not submitting your work to anyone, whether in outward or in spiritual matters, let this be your rule and practice, to ask yourself: Am I really doing this in accordance with God’s will? For example, when we, I mean beginners, carry out some task and the humility acquired from this action is not added to our soul, then in my opinion, be the matter great or small, we are not doing it according to God. For in us who are still young in the spiritual life, growth in humility is the fulfilment of the Lord’s will; and for those who have reached a middle state perhaps the test is the cessation of inner conflicts; and for the perfect, an increase and abundance of the divine light.

92. Even a small thing can be not small to the great; but to the small, even great things are not altogether perfect.

93. When the air is cleared of clouds, the sun shines brightly; and a soul freed from its former habits and granted forgiveness has certainly seen the divine light.

94. Sin is one thing, idleness another, indifference another, passion another, and a fall another. He who is able to investigate this in the Lord, let him seek clearly.

95. Some praise above all the gift of miracle-working and the visible spiritual gifts, not knowing that there are many higher than this which are hidden and which therefore remain secure.

96. He who is perfectly purified sees the soul of his neighbour (although not the actual substance of the soul), and can tell its state. But he who progresses further can judge the state of the soul from the body.

97. A small fire often destroys a whole forest; so too a small flaw spoils all our labour.

98. There is a rest from hostility which awakens the power of the mind without stirring the fire of passion. And there is an exhaustion of the body, which perhaps excites even movements in the flesh so that we should not trust in ourselves, but should trust in God, who, without our knowledge, mortifies the lust living in us.

99. When we see that some love us in the Lord, then we should not allow ourselves to be especially free with them, for nothing is so likely to destroy love and produce hatred as familiarity.

100. The eye of the soul is spiritual and extremely beautiful and, next after the incorporeal beings, it surpasses all things. That is why people who are still subject to passions can often know the thoughts in the souls of others on account of their great love for them, and especially when they have not been sunk and defiled by the clay. If nothing is so opposed to immaterial nature as material nature, let him who reads understand.

101. Superstitious observances in the case of lay people are contrary to Divine Providence, and in the case of monks, to spiritual knowledge.

102. Let those who are infirm in soul recognize God’s visitation from their bodily circumstances, dangers and outward temptations; but the perfect recognize it from the presence of the Holy Spirit and an accession of spiritual gifts.

103. There is a demon who comes to us when we are lying in bed and shoots at us evil and dirty thoughts to make us shrink from rising for prayer and from taking up arms against it, and makes us fall asleep with these foul thoughts and then have foul dreams too.

104. There is an evil spirit, called the forerunner, who assails us as soon as we awake from sleep and defiles our first thought. Devote the first-fruits of your day to the Lord, because the whole day will belong to whoever gets the first start. It is worth hearing what an expert told me: “From my morning,” he said, “I know the course of the whole day.”

105. There are many ways of piety and perdition. That is why it often happens that a way that is unsuitable for one just fits another; and the intention of both is acceptable to the Lord.

106. In all the temptations that happen to us the devils struggle to make us say or do something improper. And if they cannot do that, they stand quietly and suggest that we should offer God arrogant thanksgiving.

107. Those whose minds are on things above, after the separation of soul and body, ascend on high in two parts; but those whose minds are on things below, go below. For souls separated from the body there is no intermediate place. Of all God’s creations only the soul has its being in something else (in a body) and not in itself; and it is wonderful how it can exist outside that in which it received being.

108. Pious daughters are born of pious mothers, and the mothers are born of the Lord. And it is not a bad plan to apply this rule in the contrary sense.

109. Moses, or rather God Himself, forbids the coward to go out to battle lest the last spiritual error should be worse than the first bodily fall. And this is right. The eyes of our body are a light for all the bodily members; and the discernment of the divine virtues is a light for the mind.


SIXTH HOUR

On expert discernment

110. As the hart parched by the heat longs for the streams, so monks long for grasp of the good and divine will, and not only that, but also for what is not the pure will of God, and even for what is opposed to it. This is a subject that is extremely important for us and not easily explained, namely: which of our affairs should be done at once, without delay, and as soon as possible, according to him who said: Woe to him who puts off from day to day, and from time to time; and again, what should be done with moderation and circumspection, as is advised by him who said: War is a matter for guidance, and again: Let all things be done decently and in order. For it is not for everyone to decide quickly and precisely such fine points. Even the God-bearing David who had the Holy Spirit speaking within him, prayed for this gift and sometimes says: Teach me to do Thy will, for Thou art my God, and sometimes again: Guide me to Thy truth, and again: Make known to me the way I should go, O Lord, for I lift up my soul from all the cares of life and passions, and raise it to Thee.

111. Those who wish to learn the will of the Lord must first mortify their own will. Then, having prayed to God with faith and honest simplicity, and having asked the fathers or even the brothers with humility of heart and no thought of doubt, they should accept their advice as from the mouth of God, even if their advice be contrary to their own view, and even if those consulted are not very spiritual. For God is not unjust, and will not lead astray souls who with faith and innocence humbly submit to the advice and judgment of their neighbour. Even if those who were asked were brute beasts, yet He who speaks is the Immaterial and Invisible One. Those who allow themselves to be guided by this rule without having any doubts are filled with great humility. For if someone expounded his problems on a harp, how much better, do you think, can a rational mind and reasonable soul teach than an inanimate object.

112. On account of self-will many have not accepted the perfect and easy blessing mentioned above, and having tried to discover what was pleasing to the Lord of themselves and in themselves, have handed on to us many and various judgments concerning this matter.

113. Some of those who were seeking the will of God laid aside all attachments; they submitted to the Lord their own thought about this or that inclination of the soul, I mean whether to perform an action or to resist it; they submitted their mind stripped of its own will to Him, offering fervent prayer for a set number of days. In this way they attained to a knowledge of His will, either through the spiritual Mind spiritually communicating with their mind or through the complete disappearance from their soul of their cherished intention.

114. Others on account of the trouble and distractions which attended their undertaking concluded that these disturbances came from God, according to him who said: We wanted to come to you time and again but Satan hindered us.

115. Others, on the contrary, recognized that their action was pleasing to God from its unexpected success, declaring: God coöperates with everyone who deliberately chooses to do good.

116. He who has obtained God within him through illumination, both in actions requiring haste and in actions allowing of delay, is assured of His will by the second way, only without a definite period of time.

117. To waver in one’s judgments and to remain in doubt for a long time without assurance is the sign of an unenlightened and ambitious soul.

118. God is not unjust and does not close the door against those who knock with humility.

119. In all our actions, the intention must be sought from the Lord, whether in those that require haste or in those that require to be postponed. For all actions free from attachment and from all impurity will be imputed to us for good if they have been done especially for the Lord’s sake and not for anyone else, even though these deeds are not entirely good.

120. Seeking for what is beyond us has no safe end. The Lord’s Judgment about us is unfathomable. By His special providence He often chooses to hide His will from us, knowing that, even if we were to learn it, we should disobey it, and should thereby receive greater punishment.

121. An honest heart is free from the different kinds of distractions which occur and it is safely sailing in the bark of innocence.

122. There are courageous souls who with love and humility of heart throw themselves into tasks that are beyond them; and there are proud hearts who do the same. For our foes often intentionally suggest to us things beyond our powers so that these should cause us to lose heart and leave even what is within our power and make ourselves a great laughing-stock to our enemies.

123. I have seen those who were sick in soul and body who, because of the multitude of their sins, engaged in battles that were beyond them and which they could not continue. I say to such as these that God judges our repentance not by our labours but by our humility.


NINTH HOUR

124. Sometimes upbringing is the cause of great evils, and sometimes company. But often a warped soul is of itself sufficient for its ruin. He who is clear of the first two is free from the third as well. But whoever has the third defect is reprobate everywhere; for there is no place safer than heaven.

125. In the case of those who malevolently dispute with us, whether unbelievers or heretics, we should desist after we have twice admonished them. But in the case of those who wish to learn the truth let us never grow weary in well-doing. However, we should use both opportunities for the establishment of our own heart.

126. The man who despairs of himself when he hears of the supernatural virtues of the saints is most unreasonable. On the contrary, they teach you supremely one of two things: either they rouse you to emulation by their holy courage, or they lead you by way of thrice-holy humility to deep self-contempt and realization of your inherent weakness.

127. Amongst the impure evil demons, there are some more evil than others. They suggest to us that we should not commit sin alone, but they counsel us to have others as companions in evil in order to make our punishment more severe. I have seen one learning a bad habit from another, and although he who taught came to his senses and began to repent and gave up doing wrong, his repentance was ineffectual on account of the influence of his pupil.

128. Stupendous, truly stupendous and incomprehensible is the wickedness of the evil spirits. It is not seen by many, and I think that even those few see it only in part. Thus, how is it that while living in luxury and plenty we keep vigil and do not sleep, and why while fasting and exhausting ourselves with labours are we pitifully overpowered by drowsiness? Or why does our heart become hard while abiding in silence? And why, while sitting among our companions, do we come to compunction? When we are hungry why are we tempted by dreams? Yet when sated we do not experience these temptations. In poverty we become dark and incapable of compunction; but if we drink wine we are happy and easily come to compunction. He who can do so in the Lord, let him bring light to the unenlightened in this matter. For we are not enlightened about this. At least we can say that such a change does not always come from the demons. And this sometimes happens to me, I know not how, by reason of the constitution I have been given and the sordid and greedy corpulence with which I am girt about.

129. With regard to the changes enumerated above, so hard to interpret, let us sincerely and humbly pray to the Lord. And if after prayer and the time which it took we still feel the same thing at work in us, then let us conclude that this is caused not by demons but by nature. Yet it often pleases Divine Providence to benefit us through adversity and to check our conceit by all possible means.

130. It is dangerous to be inquisitive about the depth of the divine judgments, because the inquisitive sail in the ship of conceit.

131. Someone asked one of those who could see: “Why does God, who foresees their falls, adorn some with gifts and wonder-working powers?” And he replied: “In order to make other Spiritual men more careful, and to demonstrate the freedom of the human will, and to cause those who fall to be without any excuse at the last judgment.”

132. The law, being imperfect, says: Attend to yourself. But the Lord, being entirely perfect, enjoined upon us the correction of our brother, saying: If thy brother sin against thee, and so on. If your reprimand, or rather your reminder, is pure and humble, you should not refuse to carry out the Lord’s behest, and especially in the case of those who accept correction. But if you have not yet got as far as this, then at least practise the precept laid down by the law.

133. Do not be surprised when you see that those whom you love turn against you on account of your rebukes. Frivolous people are the tools of the demons, and especially against the demons’ foes.

134. One thing about us astonishes me very much: Why do we so quickly and easily incline to the passions when we have Almighty God, angels and saints, to help us towards the virtues, and only the wicked demon against us? I do not wish to speak about this in more detail; in fact, I cannot.

135. If all created substances keep to their nature, then why, as the great Gregory says, am I, the image of God, compounded with clay? If some of God’s creatures have somehow lost their created nature, it is certain that they will continually strive to return to their original state. Man ought to use every means to raise his clay, so to speak, and seat it on the throne of God. And let no one make excuses for not undertaking this ascent, because the way and the door are open.

136. It excites the mind and soul to emulation to hear the spiritual feats of the Fathers, and their zealous admirers are led to imitate them through listening to their teaching.

137. Discernment is a light in darkness, the return of wanderers to the way, the illumination of those whose sight is dim. A discerning man finds health and destroys sickness.

138. All who show surprise at every trifle do so for two reasons: either from crass ignorance, or else they magnify and exalt the deeds of their neighbour with a view to humility.

139. Let us make an effort not only to wrestle with the demons but also to wage war on them. The former sometimes throws them, and is sometimes thrown; but the latter is continuously hounding the foe.

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