Tuesday – Fifth Week of Great Lent – Ladder Readings



52. Many have received salvation without prophecies and lights, without signs and wonders; but without humility no one will enter the marriage chamber, because humility is the guardian of these gifts, and without her they will bring frivolous people to ruin.

53. For those of us who do not wish to humble ourselves the Lord has arranged in His providence that no one can see his faults as well as his neighbour does. So we are bound to give thanks for our healing not to ourselves but to our neighbour and to God.

54. The man of humble mind always loathes his own will as wayward, and in his requests to the Lord he studies with unwavering faith to learn and to obey. He does not direct his attention to the life of his masters but casts his care upon God who used an ass to teach Balaam his duty. A worker of this kind, although he does everything and thinks and speaks according to the will of God, yet he never trusts himself. Self-confidence for the humble is just as much a weight and a burden as another man’s choice is for the proud.

55. It seems to me that it is the property only of an angel never even secretly to commit sins, for I hear an earthly angel say: I know nothing against myself; yet am I not hereby justified. But He who examines me is the Lord. Therefore we should unceasingly condemn and reproach ourselves so as to cast off involuntary sins through voluntary humiliations. Otherwise, if we do not, at our departure we shall certainly be subjected to heavy punishment.

56. He who asks God for less than his desert will certainly receive more than he deserves. This is demonstrated by the publican who asked for forgiveness but received justification. And the robber only asked to be remembered in His Kingdom, but he inherited all Paradise.

57. It is impossible to see fire, small or great, in any natural creature; and it is absolutely impossible that anything of a material nature should be found in sincere humility. As long as we fall into voluntary sins, there is not this humility in us; and that is the sign that there is still something material in us.

58. The Lord, knowing that the virtue of the soul is modelled on outward behaviour, took a towel and showed us how to walk the way of humility. For the soul becomes like its bodily occupations. It conforms itself to its activities and takes its shape from them. Sovereignty served as a ground for arrogance for one of the angels, although that was not why it was conferred on him.

59. He who sits on a throne has certain dispositions, and he who sits on a dunghill has others. And that is perhaps why that great saint sat on the dunghill outside the city, for then when he had obtained perfect humility he said with deep feeling: I abhor myself and melt away, and have accounted myself earth and ashes.

60. I find that Manasses sinned as no other man has sinned by defiling the temple of God with idols and contaminating all the divine worship. If the whole world had undertaken a fast for him it could have made no reparation for this. But humility had power to remedy even what was incurable in him. If Thou hadst desired sacrifice I would have given it, says David to God; but Thou wilt not be pleased with holocausts, that is, with bodies consumed by fasting. The sacrifice for God – and everyone knows what follows.

61. I have sinned against the Lord, blessed humility once cried to God after committing adultery and murder; and he soon heard: The Lord has put away thy sin.

62. The ever-memorable Fathers laid down that the way to humility and its foundations is bodily toil. And I would say obedience and honesty of heart, because they are naturally opposed to self-esteem.

63. If the pride of some of the angels made them demons, no doubt humility can make angels out of demons. So those who have fallen may take courage!

64. Let us hasten with all our powers to fight our way to the crest of humility. Failing this, let us at least mount on her shoulders. And if our effort is not sufficient for this, let us at least not fall out of her arms; for I hardly think a man who falls out of them will receive any eternal gift.

65. The sinews of humility and its ways, but not its signs, are: poverty, hidden withdrawal from the world, concealment of wisdom, simplicity of speech, asking of alms, hiding of nobility, banishment of familiarity, putting chatter out of court.

66. Nothing can so humble the soul as a state of destitution and a beggar’s subsistence. For we only prove to be philosophers and lovers of God when, having the possibility of exaltation, we flee from it irrevocably.

67. If you take up arms against some passion, take humility as an ally, for she will tread upon the asp and basilisk, that is, sin and despair, and will trample underfoot the lion and serpent, that is, the devil and the snake of the body.

68. Humility is a heavenly siphon which from the abyss of sins can raise the soul to heaven.

69. Someone saw in his heart the beauty of humility and, seized with amazement, asked her to tell him the name of her parent. Smiling joyfully and serenely at him, humility replied: “How is it you are in a hurry to know the name of my parent? He is nameless, and I cannot tell you until you possess God.” To Him be the glory for ever and ever! Amen.

The mother of the fountain is the deep sea, and the fountain of discernment is humility.


Step 26
On Discernment of Thoughts, Passions, and Virtues.

1. Discernment in beginners is true knowledge of themselves; in intermediate souls it is a spiritual sense that faultlessly distinguishes what is truly good from what is of nature and opposed to it; and in the perfect it is the knowledge which they possess by divine illumination, and which can enlighten with its lamp what is dark in others. Or perhaps, generally speaking, discernment is, and is recognized as, the assured understanding of the divine will on all occasions, in every place and in all matters; and it is only found in those who are pure in heart, and in body and in mouth.

2. He who has piously destroyed within him the three passions has destroyed the five too; but he who has been negligent about the former will not conquer even one passion.

3. Discernment is undefiled conscience and purity of feeling.

4. Let no one on seeing or hearing something supernatural in the monastic way of life fall into unbelief out of ignorance; for where the supernatural God dwells, much that is supernatural happens.

5. Every satanic conflict in us comes from these three generic causes: either from negligence, or from pride, or from the envy of the demons. The first is pitiable, the second is disastrous, but the third is blessed.

6. After God, let us have our conscience as our aim and rule in all things, so that we may know which way the wind is blowing and set our sails accordingly.

7. In all our actions in which we try to please God the demons dig three pits for us. In the first, they endeavour to prevent any good at all from being done. In the second, after their first defeat, they try to secure that it should not be done according to the will of God. But when these rogues fail in this too, then, standing quietly before our soul, they praise us for living a thoroughly godly life. The first is to be opposed by zeal and fear of death, the second by obedience and humiliation, and the third by unceasing self-condemnation. We shall be faced by toil of this kind until the divine fire enters into our sanctuary. And then the force of bad habit will no longer exist in us. Our God is a fire consuming all fever (of lust) and movement (of passion), every inclination rooted in us and all blindness and darkness within and without, both visible and spiritual.

8. The demons generally produce in us the opposite of what has just been said. For when they take possession of the soul and extinguish the light of the mind, then there is no longer in us poor wretches either sobriety, or discernment, or self-knowledge or shame; but there is indifference, lack of perception, want of discernment and blindness.

9. What has just been said is known very vividly by those who have subdued their lust in order to become chaste, who have curbed their freedom of speech and have changed from shamelessness to modesty. They know how after the sobering of the mind, after the ending of its blindness, or rather its maiming, they are inwardly ashamed of themselves for what they said and did before when they were living in blindness.

10. If the day in our soul does not draw to evening and grow dark, then the thieves will not come and rob and slay and ruin our soul.

11. Robbery is loss of property. Robbery is doing what is not good as if it were good. Robbery is unobserved captivity of the soul. The slaying of the soul is the death of the rational mind that has fallen into nefarious deeds. Ruin is despair of oneself following on breach of the law.

12. Let no one plead his incapacity to fulfil the commandments of the Gospel, for there are souls who have gone even beyond the commandments. And you will certainly be convinced of what has been said by him who loved his neighbour more than himself and laid down his life for him, although he had not received this commandment from the Lord.

13. Those who have been humbled by their passions may take courage. For even if they fall into every pit and are trapped in all the snares and suffer all maladies, yet after their restoration to health they become physicians, beacons, lamps, and pilots for all, teaching us the habits of every disease and from their own personal experience able to prevent their neighbours from falling.

14. If some are still dominated by their former bad habits, and yet can teach by mere word, let them teach. But they should not have authority as well. For, perhaps, being put to shame by their own words, they will eventually begin to practise what they preach. And even if they do not begin, yet they may be able to help, as I saw happen with others who were stuck in the mud. Bogged down as they were, they were telling the passers-by how they had sunk there, explaining this for their salvation, so that they should not fall in the same way. However, for the salvation of others, the all-powerful God delivered them too from the mud. But if those who are possessed by passions voluntarily plunge into pleasures, let them teach by silence; for Jesus began both to do and to teach.

15. Perilous, truly perilous is the sea that we humble monks are crossing, a sea in which there are many winds, rocks, whirlpools, pirates, hurricanes, shallows, monsters, and waves. A rock in the soul we may consider to be fierce and sudden anger. A whirlpool is hopelessness which seizes the mind and strives to drag it to the depths of despair. A shallow is ignorance which accepts what is bad as good. A monster is this heavy and savage body. Pirates are the most dangerous servants of vainglory who rifle our cargo and the hard-won earnings of the virtues. A wave is a swollen and burdened stomach which by its greed hands us over to the beast. A hurricane is pride that casts us down from heaven, that carries us up to the sky and then down to the abyss.

16. Those engaged in education know what studies are suitable for beginners, what for the intermediate, and what for teachers. Let us take sensible precautions not to prolong our study and stop in the beginners’ lessons. For to see an old man going to a children’s school is a great disgrace.


17. Here is an excellent alphabet for all:

(A) obedience
(B) fasting
(C) sackcloth
(D) ashes
(E) tears
(F) confession
(G) silence
(H) humility
(I) vigil
(J) courage
(K) cold
(L) toil
(M) hard work
(N) humiliation
(O) contrition
(P) forgetfulness of wrongs
(Q) brotherly love
(R) meekness
(S) simple and unquestioning faith
(T) freedom from worldly cares
(U) hateless hatred of parents
(V) detachment
(X) innocent simplicity
(Z) voluntary abasement

18. A good scheme for the advanced, and evidence of their progress is: absence of vainglory, freedom from anger, good hope, silence, discernment, firm remembrance of the judgment, compassion, hospitality, moderation in reproof, passionless prayer, disregard of self.

19. And here is a standard, rule, and law for those in the flesh who are piously aiming at perfection in spirit and body:

(A) an unfettered heart
(B) perfect love
(C) a well of humanity
(D) a detached mind
(E) indwelling of Christ
(F) security of the light of prayer
(G) abundance of divine illumination
(H) a longing for death
(I) hatred of life
(J) flight from the body
(K) an intercessor for the world
(L) a forcer of God
(M) fellow worshipper with angels
(N) abyss of knowledge
(O) house of mysteries
(P) a keeper of secrets
(Q) a saviour of men
(R) god of the demons
(S) lord of the passions
(T) master of the body
(U) controller of nature
(X) house of dispassion
(V) banishment of sin
(Z) with the Lord’s help an imitator of the Lord.

20. We have need of considerable vigilance when the body is sick. The demons, seeing us laid low and temporarily incapable of entering into the struggle with them owing to our infirmity, try to attack us fiercely at such times. The demon of irritation and sometimes of blasphemy hovers round those living in the world in time of illness. And the demon of gluttony and fornication attacks those living outside the world if they have an abundance of all necessaries; but if they are living in an ascetic way of life bereft of all consolation, then the tyrant of despondency and ingratitude is constantly sitting with them.

21. I noticed that the wolf of fornication added to the sufferings of the sick, and during their actual sufferings produced in them movements of the flesh and emissions. And it was astounding to see how the flesh rages and burns with desire amidst violent agonies. And I looked again and saw men lying in bed who were then and there comforted by the power of God or by a sense of compunction, and by this comfort they warded off the pain and reached such a frame of mind in which they never wanted to get rid of their sickness. And again I turned and saw those suffering severely who by illness were delivered from the passions of their soul as if by some penance; and I glorified Him who cleansed clay by clay.

22. A spiritual mind is inevitably wrapped in spiritual understanding. Whether it is in us or not, we must never stop seeking this understanding. And when it makes its appearance, the outward senses of their own accord cease their natural action. Knowing this, one of the wise said: And thou shalt obtain a sense of the Divine.

23. The monastic life in regard to deeds, words, thoughts, and movements must be lived with heartfelt conviction. Otherwise it will not be monastic life, let alone angelic life.

24. Divine Providence is one thing, Divine help is another, Divine protection is another, Divine mercy is another, and Divine consolation is another. Providence is displayed in all nature, help only in the faithful, protection in the faithful who truly have faith, mercy in those who serve God, and consolation in those who love Him.

25. Sometimes what serves as a medicine for one is poison for another; and sometimes something given to one and the same person at a suitable time serves as a medicine, but at the wrong time it is a poison.

26. I have seen an unskilled physician who, by subjecting a sick man who was contrite in spirit to dishonour, only drove him to despair. And I have seen a skilled physician who operated on an arrogant heart with the knife of dishonour, and drained it of all its evil-smelling pus.

27. I have seen one and the same sick man sometimes drink the medicine of obedience, move, walk, and not sleep in order to cleanse his impurity; and sometimes, when the eye of his soul was sick, remain without movement, noiseless, and silent. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.