Tuesday – Second Week of Great Lent – Ladder Readings



113. Let all of us who wish to fear the Lord struggle with our whole might, so that in the school of virtue we do not acquire for ourselves malice and vice, cunning and craftiness, curiosity and anger. For it does happen, and no wonder! As long as a man is a private individual, or a seaman, or a tiller of the soil, the King’s enemies do not war so much against him. But when they see him taking the King’s colours, and the shield, and the dagger, and the sword, and the bow, and clad in soldier’s garb, then they gnash at him with their teeth, and do all in their power to destroy him. And so, let us not slumber.

114. I have seen innocent and most beautiful children come to school for the sake of wisdom, education, and profit, but through contact with the other pupils they learn there nothing but cunning and vice. The intelligent will understand this.

115. It is impossible for those who learn a craft whole-heartedly not to make daily advance in it. But some know their progress, while others by divine providence are ignorant of it. A good banker never fails in the evening to reckon the day’s profit or loss. But he cannot know this clearly unless he enters it every hour in his notebook. For the hourly account brings to light the daily account.

116. When a foolish person is accused or shouted at he is wounded by it and tries to contradict, or at once makes an apology to his accuser, not out of humility but in order to stop the accusations. But when you are being ridiculed, be silent, and receive with patience these spiritual cauterizations, or rather, purifying flames. And when the doctor has finished, then ask his forgiveness. For while he is angry perhaps he will not accept your apology.

117. While struggling against all the passions, let us who are in communities struggle every hour, especially against these two: greed of stomach and irritability. For in a community there is plenty of food for these passions.

118. The devil suggests to those living in obedience the desire for impossible virtues. Similarly, to those living in solitude he proposes unsuitable ideas. Scan the mind of inexperienced novices and there you will find distracted thought: a desire for quiet, for the strictest fast, for uninterrupted prayer, for absolute freedom from vanity, for unbroken remembrance of death, for continual compunction, for perfect freedom from anger, for deep silence, for surpassing purity. And if by divine providence they are without these to start with, they rush in vain to another life and are deceived. For the enemy urges them to seek these perfections prematurely, so that they may not persevere and attain them in due course. But to those living in solitude the deceiver extols hospitality, service, brotherly love, community life, visiting the sick. The devil’s aim is to make the latter as impatient as the former.

119. Only a few (and it is true what I say) can live in solitude; in fact, only those who have obtained divine consolation for encouragement in their labours and divine co-operation in their struggles.

120. Let us judge the nature of our passions and of our obedience, and choose our spiritual father accordingly. If you are prone to lust, then do not select as your trainer a wonderworker who is ready for everyone with a welcome and a meal, but rather an ascetic who will hear of no consolation in food. If you are haughty, then let him be stern and unyielding, and not meek and kindly. Let us not seek those who have the gift of foreknowledge and foresight, but rather those who are unquestionably humble and whose character and place of residence correspond to our maladies. And after the example of the above-mentioned righteous Abbacyrus, adopt this good habit so conducive to obedience, of always thinking that the Superior is trying you, and you will certainly never go wide of the mark. If your director constantly rebukes you and you thereby obtain great faith and love for him, then know that the Holy Spirit has invisibly made His abode in your soul and the power of the Highest has overshadowed you.

121. But do not boast or rejoice when you bear insults and indignities courageously, but rather mourn that you have done something meriting your bad treatment and incensed the soul of your director against you. Do not be surprised at what I am going to say (for I have Moses to support me.) It is better to sin against God than against our father; for when we anger God, our director can reconcile us; but when he is incensed against us, there is no one to propitiate him for us. But it seems to me that both cases amount to the same thing.

122. Let us look carefully and make our decision and keep alert as to when we ought to endure thankfully and silently accusations made to our pastor, and when we ought to reassure him. It seems to me that in all cases when indignity is offered to us we should be silent; for it is our moment of profit. But in those cases where another person is involved, we should put up a defence so as to maintain the link of love and peace unbroken.

123. Those who have jumped out of obedience will tell you of its value; for it was only then that they fully realized the heaven in which they had been living.

124. He who is running towards dispassion and God regards as a great loss any day in which he is not reviled. Just as trees swayed by the winds drive their roots deeply into the earth, so those who live in obedience get strong and unshakable souls.

125. He who has come to know his weakness by living in solitude, and has then changed his place and sold himself to obedience, has without trouble recovered his sight and seen Christ.

126. Keep at it, brother athletes, and I will say it again, keep running, as you hear Wisdom crying of you: As gold in the furnace, or rather, in a community, the Lord has tried them, and as a whole burnt offering has He received them into His bosom. To Him belongs the glory and eternal dominion, with the eternal Father and with the Holy and adorable Spirit! Amen.


Step 5
On Painstaking and True Repentance Which Constitute the Life of the Holy Convicts; and About the Prison.

Once John outran Peter; and now obedience precedes repentance. For the one who came first is a symbol of obedience, and the other of repentance.

1. Repentance is the renewal of baptism. Repentance is a contract with God for a second life. A penitent is a buyer of humility. Repentance is constant distrust of bodily comfort. Repentance is self-condemning reflection, and carefree self-care. Repentance is the daughter of hope and the renunciation of despair. A penitent is an undisgraced convict. Repentance is reconciliation with the Lord by the practice of good deeds contrary to the sins. Repentance is purification of conscience. Repentance is the voluntary endurance of all afflictions. A penitent is the inflicter of his own punishments. Repentance is a mighty persecution of the stomach, and a striking of the soul into vigorous awareness.

2. Gather together and come near, all you who have angered God; come and listen to what I expound to you; assemble and see what He has revealed to my soul for your edification. Let us give first place and first honour to the story of the dishonoured yet honoured workers. Let all of us who have suffered an unexpected and inglorious fall listen, watch and act. Rise and be seated, you who through your falls are lying prostrate. Attend, my brothers, attend to my word. Incline your ears, you who wish to be reconciled afresh with God by a true conversion.

3. Weak as I am, I heard that there was a certain powerful and strange way of life and humility for those living in a separate monastic establishment called “The Prison” which was under the authority of the above-mentioned man, that light of lights. So when I was still staying there I asked the good man to allow me to visit it. And the great man, never wishing to grieve a soul in any way, agreed to my request.

4. And so, coming to this abode of penitents and to this true land of mourners, I actually saw (if it is not audacious to say so) what in most cases the eye of a careless person never saw, and what the ear of a slothful and easy-going person never heard, and what never entered the heart of a timid person – that is, I saw such deeds and words as can incline God to mercy; such activities and postures as speedily attract His love for men.

5. I saw some of those guilty yet guiltless men standing in the open air, all night till morning and never moving their feet, by force of nature pitifully dazed by sleep; yet they allowed themselves no rest, but reproached themselves, and drove away sleep with dishonours and insults.

6. Others lifted up their eyes to heaven, and with wailings and outcries, implored help from there.

7. Others stood in prayer with their hands tied behind their backs like criminals, their faces, darkened by sorrow, bent to the earth. They regarded themselves as unworthy to look up to heaven. Overwhelmed by the embarrassment of their thoughts and conscience they could not find anything to say or pray about to God, how or with what to begin their prayers. But as if filled with darkness and a blank despair, they offered to God nothing but a speechless soul and a voiceless mind.

8. Others sat on the ground in sackcloth and ashes, hiding their faces between their knees, and striking the earth with their foreheads.

9. Others were continually beating their breasts and recalling their past life and state of soul. Some of them watered the ground with their tears; others, incapable of tears, struck themselves. Some loudly lamented over their souls as over the dead, not having the strength to bear the anguish of their heart. Others groaned in their heart, but stifled all sound of their lamentation. But sometimes they could control themselves no longer, and would suddenly cry out.

10. I saw there some who seemed from their demeanour and their thoughts to be out of their mind. In their great disconsolateness they had become like dumb men in complete darkness, and were insensible to the whole of life. Their minds had already sunk to the very depths of humility, and had burnt up the tears in their eyes with the fire of their despondency.

11. Others sat thinking and looking on the ground, swaying their heads unceasingly, and roaring and moaning like lions from their inmost heart to their teeth. And some were praying in good hope and asking for complete forgiveness. Others out of unspeakable humility condemned themselves as unworthy of forgiveness, and would cry out that it was not within their power to justify themselves before God. Some begged the Lord that they be punished here, and receive mercy in the next world. Others, crushed by the weight of their conscience, would say in all sincerity: “Spare us from future punishment, even though we are not worthy to be granted the Kingdom. And that will satisfy us.”

12. I saw there humble and contrite souls depressed by the weight of their burden. Their voices and outcries to God would have moved the very stones to compassion. For, casting their gaze to the earth they would say: “We know, we know that in all justice we deserve every punishment and torment. For how could we make satisfaction for the multitude of our debts even if we were to summon the whole world to weep for us? But this is our only petition, this our prayer, this our supplication, that He may not rebuke us in anger, nor chasten us in His wrath. Punish, but spare! It is sufficient for us if Thou deliverest us from Thy great threat, from the unknown and hidden torments. For we dare not ask for complete forgiveness – how could we? For we have not kept our vow but have defiled it, even Thy past loving kindness and forgiveness.


13. And there, friends, the fulfilment of the words of David could be clearly seen, men enduring hardship and bowed down to the end of their life, going about with a sad countenance all day long, the wounds in their body stinking of rottenness, and they took no notice of them, and they forgot to eat their bread, and they mingled their drink of water with weeping; they ate dust and ashes with their bread, and their bones cleaved to their flesh, and were withered like grass. You could hear from them nothing but the words: “Woe, woe! Alas, alas! It is just, it is just! Spare us, spare us O Lord.” Some were saying: “Have mercy, have mercy,” and others still more plaintively: “Forgive, O Lord; forgive if it is possible.”

14. One could see how the tongues of some of them were parched and hung out of their mouths like a dog’s. Some chastised themselves in the scorching sun, others tormented themselves in the cold. Some, having tasted a little water so as not to die of thirst, stopped drinking; others having nibbled a little bread, flung the rest of it away, and said that they were unworthy of being fed like human beings, since they had behaved like beasts.

15. Where could you see anything like laughter, or idle talking, or irritation, or anger? They did not even know that such a thing as anger existed among men, because in themselves grief had finally eradicated anger. Where were disputes among them, or frivolity, or audacious speech, or concern for the body, or a trace of vanity, or hope of comfort, or thought of wine, or eating of fruit, or the cheer of cooked food, or pleasing the palate? For even the hope of all such things had been extinguished in them in this present world. Where amongst them is there any care for earthly things, or condemnation of anyone? Nowhere at all.

16. Such were the unceasing utterances and cries to the Lord which they made. Some, striking themselves hard on the breast, as if standing before the gates of heaven would say to God: “Open to us, O Judge, open! We have shut ourselves out by our sins. Open to us.” Others would say: “Only show the light of Thy face, and we shall be saved.” Another again: “Give light to the humble sitting in darkness and in the shadow of death,” and another: “Let Thy mercies speedily forestall us, O Lord; we have perished, we have despaired; for we have utterly fallen away.” Some would say: “Will the Lord ever again show the light of His face to us?” Others: “Will our soul pass through the insupportable debt?” Another said: “Will the Lord at last be moved to mercy for us? Shall we ever hear Him say to us who are in unending bonds, Come forth, and to us who are in the hell of repentance, Be forgiven? Is our cry reached the ears of the Lord?”

17. They all used to sit with the sight of death unceasingly before their eyes and say: “How will it be with us? What will be our sentence? What kind of end shall we have? Will there be a reprieve for us? Will there be forgiveness for those in darkness, the humble, the convicted? Is our prayer powerful enough to enter before the Lord? Or has it not been deservedly rejected, deemed worthless and shameful? And if it did reach the Lord, how much of the Divine favour would it gain there? What success would it have? What profit would it bring? What power would it have? Coming from foul lips and bodies, it would not have great power. And so, would it reconcile us with the Judge completely or only in part – only to the extent of half our sores? Because they really are tremendous, calling for much sweat and labour. Have our guardian angels drawn nearer to us, or are they still far from us? And until they come nearer to us, all our labours are futile and useless. For our prayer has not the power of access nor the wings of purity to reach the Lord unless our angels approach us and take it and bring it to the Lord.”

18. Some often expressed their doubts to each other and said: “Are we accomplishing anything brothers? Are we obtaining our requests? Will the Lord accept us again? Will He open to us?” And to this others would reply: “Who knows, as our brothers the Ninevites said, if God will repent and will deliver us even from great punishment? In any case, let us do our part. And if He opens the door, well and good. And if not, blessed is the Lord God who in His justice has closed the door to us. At least let us persist in knocking at the door till the end of our life. Perhaps He will open to us for our great assiduity and importunity.” Therefore they exhorted one another, saying: “Let us run, brothers, let us run. For we need to run, and to run hard, because we have fallen behind our holy company. Let us run, and not spare this our foul and wicked flesh, but let us kill it as it has killed us.”