Thursday – Third Week of Great Lent – Ladder Readings



Step 15
On Incorruptible Purity and Chastity to Which the Corruptible Attain by Toil and Sweat.


We have heard from that raving mistress gluttony who has just spoken, that her offspring is war against bodily chastity. And this is not surprising since our ancient forefather Adam teaches us this too. For if he had not been overcome by his stomach he would not have known what a wife was. That is why those who keep the first commandment do not fall into the second transgression. And they continue to be children of Adam without knowing what Adam has been since his fall. But they are a little lower than the angels (in being subject to death). And this is to prevent evil from becoming immortal, as he who is called the Theologian says.

1. Purity means that we put on the angelic nature. Purity is the longed-for house of Christ and the earthly heaven of the heart. Purity is a supernatural denial of nature, which means that a mortal and corruptible body is rivalling the celestial spirits in a truly marvellous way.

2. He is pure who expels love with love and who has extinguished the material fire by the immaterial fire.

3. Chastity is the name which is common to all the virtues.

4. He is chaste who even during sleep feels no movement or change of any kind in his constitution.

5. He is chaste who has continually acquired perfect insensibility to difference in bodies.

6. The rule and limit of absolute and perfect purity is to be equally disposed towards animate and inanimate bodies, rational and irrational.

7. Let no one thoroughly trained in purity attribute its attainment to himself. For it is impossible for anyone to conquer his own nature. When nature is defeated, it should be recognized that this is due to the presence of Him who is above nature. For beyond all dispute, the weaker gives way to the stronger.

8. The beginning of purity is the refusal to have anything to do with bad thoughts and occasional dreamless emissions; the middle state of purity is natural movements due to excess of food, but without dreams and emissions; and the end of purity is the mortification of the body after previously mortifying bad thoughts.

9. Truly blessed is he who has acquired perfect insensibility to every body and colour and beauty.

10. Not he who has kept his clay undefiled is pure, but he whose members are completely subject to his soul.

11. He is great who remains free from passion when touched. But greater is he who remains unwounded by sight, and who has conquered the fire caused by the beauties of earth by meditation on the beauties of heaven.

12. He who drives away this dog by prayer is like someone fighting with a lion; he who subdues him by his resistance is someone still pursuing his enemy; but he who has once for all reduced its appeal to nothing, even though he is still in the flesh, is as one who has already risen from his coffin.

13. If a sign of true purity is to be unmoved by dreams during sleep, then it is certainly a mark of sensuality to be subject to emissions from (impure) thoughts when awake.

14. He who fights this adversary by bodily hardship and perspiration is like one who has tied his foe to a dry branch. But he who opposes him by temperance, sleeplessness, and vigil is like one who puts a dog-collar on him. He who opposes him by humility, freedom from irritability, and thirst is like one who has killed his enemy and hidden him in the sand. And by sand I mean humility, because it produces no fodder for the passions but is mere earth and ashes.

15. One keeps this tormentor bound by struggles, another by humility, and another by divine revelation. The first resembles the morning star, the second the full moon, and the third the blazing sun; and they all have their home in heaven. But from the dawn comes light, and in the light the sun rises. So too with what has been said, we can reflect and make discoveries.

16. A fox pretends to be asleep, and the body and demons pretend to be chaste; the former in order to deceive a bird, and the latter in order to destroy a soul.


17. Throughout your life, do not trust your body, and do not rely on it till you stand before Christ.

18. Do not trust to abstinence not to fall. One who had never eaten was cast from heaven.

19. Certain learned men have well defined renunciation, by saying that it is hostility to the body and a fight against the stomach.

20. With beginners falls usually occur by reason of luxury; with intermediates because of haughtiness as well as from the same cause which leads to the fall of beginners; and with those approaching perfection, solely from judging their neighbour.

21. Some have extolled those who are eunuchs by nature because they are delivered from the martyrdom of the body; but I daily extol those who make themselves eunuchs by castrating their bad thoughts as with a knife.

22. I have seen people who fell unwillingly, and I have seen people who would willingly fall but cannot. And I pitied the latter much more than those who fall daily; because even though impotent, they yearn for the stench.

23. He who falls is to be pitied. But still more to be pitied is he who causes another to fall, because he bears the burden of both, and further, the burden of pleasure tasted by the other.

24. Do not expect to confute the demon of fornication by arguing with him; for with nature on his side, he has the best of the argument.

25. He who has resolved to contend with his flesh and conquer it himself struggles in vain. For unless the Lord destroys the house of the flesh and builds the house of the soul, the man who desires to destroy it has watched and fasted in vain.

26. Offer to the Lord the weakness of your nature, fully acknowledging your own incapacity, and you will receive imperceptibly the gift of chastity.

27. In sensual people (as one who had experienced this passion personally told me after he had got over it) there is a feeling of a sort of love for bodies and a kind of shameless and inhuman spirit which openly asserts itself in the very feeling of the heart. This spirit produces a feeling of physical pain in the heart, fierce as from a blazing stove. As a result of this the sufferer does not fear God, despises the remembrance of punishment as of no consequence, disdains prayer, and during the very act itself regards the body almost as a dead corpse, as though it were an inanimate stone. He is like someone out of his mind and in a trance, perpetually drunk with desire for creatures, rational and irrational. And if the days of this spirit were not cut short, not a soul would be saved, clothed as it is in this clay, mingled with blood and foul moisture. How could they be? For everything created longs insatiably for what is akin to it – blood desires blood, the worm desires a worm, clay desires clay. And does not flesh too desire flesh? Yet we who bridle nature and desire the Kingdom try various tricks to deceive this deceiver. Blessed are they who have not experienced the conflict described above! Let us pray that we may always be delivered from such a trial, because those who slip into the pit we have mentioned fall far below those ascending and descending by the ladder; and to get out of that pit to the point of beginning to ascend they need much sweat and extreme abstinence.

28. We ought to consider whether our spiritual enemies have not each their own proper task to fulfil when drawn up in battle array against us, just as in a visible war. Surprising to say, they certainly have. When I thought about those who were tempted, I observed that falls were of varying seriousness. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

29. The devil often has the habit, especially in warring against ascetics and those leading the solitary life, of using all his force, all his zeal, all his cunning, all his intrigue, all his ingenuity and purpose, to assail them by means of what is unnatural, and not by what is natural. Therefore, ascetics coming into contact with women, and not in any way tempted either by desire or thought, have sometimes regarded themselves as already blessed, not knowing, poor things, that where a worse downfall had been prepared for them, there was no need of the lesser one.


30. I think that our wretched murderers have the habit of besetting and seducing us poor creatures with sins contrary to nature for the following two reasons: that we may have everywhere plenty of opportunity to fall, and that we may receive greater punishment. What we have just said, was learnt by personal experience by him who had previously commanded asses and had afterwards been given over to wild asses and pitifully disgraced; and though he had previously been nourished with heavenly bread he was afterwards deprived of this blessing. And what is most astonishing is that even after his repentance, our founder Antony, grieving bitterly, said of him: “A great pillar has fallen.” But that wise man hid the manner of the fall, for he knew that bodily fornication is possible without intercourse with another body. There is in us a kind of death; there is in us a devastating sin, which is ever borne about with us, but especially in youth. But I have not dared to write about it because my hand is restrained by him who said: the things which are done by them in secret, it is a shame even to speak of, or to write or to hear.

31. This my beloved adversary (and yet not mine) – the flesh – was called death by Paul: Who, says he, will deliver me from this body of death? And another theologian calls it a passionate, slavish, and nocturnal enemy. I used to long to know why it was given such names. If the flesh, as was said above, is death, who ever has conquered it undoubtedly does not die. But who is the man who will live and not see death in the impurity of his flesh?

32. I ask you to consider this question: who is greater, he who dies and rises again or he who does not die at all? Those who extol the latter are deceived, for Christ both died and rose. But he who extols the former urges that for the dying, or rather the falling, there is no cause whatever for despair.

33. And our merciless foe, teacher of fornication, says that God is very merciful towards this passion as it is a natural one. But if we observe the guile of the demons we shall find that after sin has been committed they say that God is a just and inexorable Judge. They said the former in order to lead us into sin, and now the latter to drown us in despair.

34. As long as sorrow and despair are present, we do not so easily abandon ourselves to further sin. But when sorrow and despair are quenched, the tyrant speaks to us again of God’s mercy.

35. The Lord, being incorruptible and incorporeal, rejoices in the purity and incorruptibility of our body. But nothing gives such joy to the demons, some say, as the stench of fornication, and no other passion so gladdens them as the defilement of the body.

36. Purity means that we put on the likeness of God, as far as is humanly possible.

37. The mother of sweetness is earth and dew, and the mother of purity is silence with obedience. Dispassion of the body attained by silence, has often been shaken on coming into contact with the world; but that obtained by obedience is genuine and inviolable everywhere.

38. I have seen pride lead to humility. And I remembered him who said: Who has known the mind of the Lord? The pit and fruit of conceit is a fall; but a fall is often an occasion of humility for those who are willing to use it to their advantage.

39. He who wants to overcome the demon of fornication with gluttony and surfeiting is like a man who puts out a fire with oil.

40. He who attempts to stop this war by temperance, and by that alone, is like a man who has the idea of escaping the sea by swimming with one hand. Join humility to temperance, because without the former the latter is useless.

41. He who sees that some passion is getting the better of him, should first of all take up arms against this passion, and moreover against this passion alone, especially if it is the domestic foe; because until this passion is destroyed, we shall not derive any profit from the conquest of other passions. When we have killed this Egyptian, we shall certainly see God in the bush of humility.