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Wednesday – Fifth Week of Great Lent – Ladder Readings

WEDNESDAY OF THE FIFTH WEEK
OF THE GREAT LENT

THIRD HOUR

28. Some, I know not why (for I have not learned to pry conceitedly into the gifts of God) are by nature, I might say, prone to temperance, or silence, or purity, or modesty, or meekness, or contrition. But others, although almost their own nature itself resists them in this, to the best of their power force themselves; and though they occasionally suffer defeat yet, as men struggling with nature, they are in my opinion higher than the former.

29. Do not boast, man, of the wealth you have obtained without labour. For the Bestower, foreseeing your great hurt, and infirmity, and ruin, at least saves you to some extent by those unmerited gifts.

30. Instruction in childhood, education, studies, when we come of age either help or hinder us in virtue and in the monastic way of life.

31. Angels are a light for monks, and the monastic life is a light for all men. Therefore let monks strive to become a good example in everything, giving no occasion of stumbling in anything in all their works and words. For if the light becomes darkness, how much darker will be that darkness, that is, those living in the world.

32. If you will listen to me, you who are willing to do so, it is best for us not to be versatile and not to split our wretched soul into detachments, and not to challenge to battle with oneself thousands and myriads of the enemies: for it is not in our power to comprehend or even to discover all their hosts.

33. With the help of the Holy Trinity, let us battle with three against three. Otherwise we shall make much toil for ourselves.

34. If He who turned the sea into dry land really abides in us, then our Israel too, that is, the mind that beholds God, will certainly cross this sea untossed, and will see the Egyptians sunk in the waters of tears. But if He has not yet made His abode in us, who will stand the roaring of the waves of this sea, that is, of our flesh?

35. If through our activity God rises in us, His enemies will be scattered; and if we draw near to Him by contemplation, those who hate Him will flee from His face and ours.

36. Let us try to learn divine truth more by toil and sweat than by mere word, for at the time of our departure it is not words but deeds that will have to be shown.

37. Those who hear of treasure hidden in a certain place seek it and, having discovered it, take trouble to keep what they have found; but those who get rich without trouble readily squander their possessions.

38. It is difficult to overcome former bad habits; and those who keep on adding further new ones to them either fall into despair or get no benefit at all from obedience. But I know that to God all things are possible, and to Him nothing is impossible.

39. Certain people asked me a question difficult to solve and which is beyond the powers of anyone like me, and is not to be found in any of the books that have reached me. For they said: What are the particular offspring of the eight deadly sins? Or which of the three chief sins is the father of the other five (minor sins)? But by pleading praiseworthy ignorance as regards this difficulty, I learnt from the holy men the following: “The mother of lust is gluttony, and the mother of despondency is vainglory; sorrow and also anger are the offspring of those three (that is, cupidity, sensuality, ambition); and the mother of pride is vainglory.”

40. In reply to this statement of those ever-memorable Fathers, I began again earnestly to ask them to tell me about the pedigree of the eight sins – which exactly are born from which? And these dispassionate men kindly instructed me, saying: “The irrational passions have no order or reason, but they have every sort of disorder and every kind of chaos.” And the blessed Fathers confirmed this by convincing examples and supplied many proofs, some of which we are including in the present chapter, in order to draw light from them in judging the rest.

41. The sort of thing I mean is this. Untimely jesting is sometimes born of lust; and sometimes of vainglory, when a man impiously puts on a pious air; and sometimes too of luxury.

42. Much sleep is born sometimes of luxury; and sometimes of fasting, when those who fast are proud of it; and sometimes of despondency; and sometimes from nature.

43. Talkativeness is born sometimes of gluttony, and sometimes of vainglory.

44. Despondency is born sometimes of luxury, and sometimes of lack of fear of God.

45. Blasphemy is properly the offspring of pride; but it is often born of condemnation of our neighbour for the same thing; or of the untimely envy of the demons.

46. Hardness of heart sometimes comes from over-eating, often from coldness and attachment. And again attachment comes sometimes from lust, or from avarice, or from gluttony, or from vainglory, and from many other causes.

47. Malice is born of conceit and anger.

48. Hypocrisy comes from self-satisfaction and wilfulness.

49. All the contrary virtues are born of parents contrary to these. But without enlarging on the subject (for I should not have time if I were to inquire into them all one by one), I will merely say that for all the passions mentioned above, the remedy is humility. Those who have obtained that virtue have won the whole fight.

50. The mother of all the vices is pleasure and malice. He who has them within him will not see the Lord; and abstinence from the first will bring but little benefit without abstinence from the second.


SIXTH HOUR

51. As an example of the fear of the Lord let us take the fear that we feel in the presence of rulers and wild beasts; and as an example of desire for God let carnal love serve as a model for you. There is nothing against taking examples of the virtues from what is contrary.

52. The present generation is seriously corrupt and all full of pride and hypocrisy. In bodily labours it perhaps reaches the level of our ancient Fathers, but it is not graced with their gifts, though I think nature never had such need of spiritual gifts as now. And we have got what we deserve. For God is manifested not in labours but in simplicity and humility. And if the power of the Lord is made perfect in weakness, the Lord will certainly not reject a humble worker.

53. When we see one of our athletes in Christ in bodily suffering and infirmity, let us not maliciously seek to learn the explanation of his illness, but rather with simple and genuine love let us try to heal him as though he were part of our own body, and as a fellow warrior wounded in the fray.

54. Sickness is sometimes for the cleansing of sins, and sometimes to humble our mind.

55. When our good and all-gracious Lord and Master sees people too lazy in their exercises, He lays their flesh low with sickness, an exercise that gives them no labour; and sometimes it also cleanses the soul from evil thoughts or passions.

56. All that happens to us, seen or unseen, can be taken by us in a good or a passionate or some middle disposition. I saw three brethren punished: one was angry, one suppressed his grief, but the third reaped the fruit of great joy.

57. I have seen farmers who were casting the same seeds on the earth, yet each had his own special intention. One was thinking of paying his debts; another wanted to get rich; another wished to honour the Lord with his gifts; another’s aim was to get praise for his good work from the passers-by on the way of life; another desired to annoy his neighbour who was envious of him; and another did not want to be reproached by people for idleness. Here are the names of those seeds cast to the earth by the farmers: fasting, vigil, alms, services and the like. Let our brethren in the Lord carefully test their intentions.

58. In drawing water from a well we sometimes without noticing it bring up a frog with the water, and so in acquiring the virtues we often get involved in the vices that are imperceptibly entwined with them. The kind of thing I mean is that gluttony is entangled with hospitality; lust with love; cunning with discernment; malice with thoughtfulness; duplicity, procrastination, laziness, contradiction, wilfulness and disobedience with meekness; contempt of instruction with silence; conceit with joy; indolence with hope; harsh judgment with love again; despondency and sloth with quietness; acerbity with chastity; familiarity with humility; and behind them all as a general salve, or rather poison, follows vainglory.

59. We should not be distressed if in asking the Lord for something we remain for a time unheard. It would have pleased the Lord if all men in a single moment had become dispassionate, only His foresight told Him that this would not be for their good.

60. All who ask and do not obtain their requests from God, are denied for one of the following reasons: either because they ask at the wrong time, or because they ask unworthily and vaingloriously, or because if they received they would become conceited, or finally, because they would become negligent after obtaining their request.

61. No one, I think, would doubt that the demons and passions leave the soul either for a time or entirely; but few know the reasons why they go away from us.

62. Some of the faithful, and even of the unfaithful, have been deserted by the passions, all except one; and that one has been left as a paramount evil which fully takes the place of all the others, for it is so harmful that it can even cast down from heaven.

63. The spent material of the passions is destroyed by the divine fire. And while this material is being uprooted and the soul purified the passions all retire; that is, if the man himself does not attract them again by worldly habits and indolence.

64. Demons leave us of their own accord so as to lead us to carelessness, and then suddenly carry off our wretched soul.

65. I know another way in which those beasts slink off; they go after the soul has thoroughly acquired the habits of vice and is its own betrayer and enemy. Infants are an example of what has been said; for, when weaned from their mother’s breasts, from long standing habit they suck their fingers.

66. I know also a fifth kind of spiritual dispassion which comes from great simplicity and praiseworthy innocence. For on such people help is justly bestowed by God who saves the true of heart and imperceptibly rids them of all vice; just as infants, when undressed, are quite unaware of it.

67. Vice or passion is not originally planted in nature, for God is not the Creator of passions. But there are in us many natural virtues from Him, among which are certainly the following: mercy, for even the pagans are compassionate; love, for even dumb animals often weep at the loss of one another; faith, for we all give birth to it of ourselves; hope, for we lend, and sail, and sow, hoping for the best. So if, as has been shown, love is a natural virtue in us, and is the bond and fulfilment of the law, then it follows that the virtues are not far from nature. And those who plead their inability to practise them ought to be ashamed.

68. Above nature are chastity, freedom from anger, humility, prayer, vigil, fasting, constant compunction. Some of them men teach us, others angels, and of others the Teacher and Giver is God the Word Himself.

69. When confronted by evils, we should choose the least. For instance, it often happens that we are standing at prayer, and brothers come to us, and we have to do one of two things: either to stop praying, or to grieve the brother by leaving him without an answer. Love is greater than prayer, because prayer is a particular virtue but love embraces all the virtues.


NINTH HOUR

70. Once long ago, when I was still young, I came to a town or village and while sitting at table I was attacked by thoughts of gluttony and vainglory, both at once. Fearing the offspring of gluttony, I decided that it was better to yield to vainglory, for I knew that in the young the demon of gluttony often conquers the demon of vainglory. And this is not surprising. In people of the world the root of all evil is love of money, but in monks it is gluttony.

71. Often Divine Providence leaves certain slight passions in spiritual people so that by unsparingly condemning themselves for those trifling and venial defects they may obtain that wealth of humility which none can steal.

72. It is impossible for those who have not first lived in obedience to obtain humility; for everyone who has learned an art on his own fancies himself.

73. The Fathers state that the active life consists in two virtues of the most general kind: in fasting and obedience. And rightly, for the first destroys sensuality, and the other reinforces this destruction with humility. That is why mourning also has a double power, for it destroys sin and produces humility.

74. To the pious it is natural to give to everyone who asks; and to the more pious to give even to him who does not ask. But not to demand a thing back from the person who took it, especially when they have the chance, is characteristic perhaps only of the dispassionate.

75. In every passion, and also in the virtues, let us critically examine ourselves: Where are we? At the beginning, or in the middle, or at the end?

76. All the attacks which we suffer from the demons come from these three causes: from sensuality, or from pride, or from the envy of the demons. The last are blessed, the middle are very pitiful, but the first are failures till the end.

77. There is a certain feeling, or rather habit, called endurance of hardship. He who possesses it will never fear pain, labour, or hardship or turn aside from such. Upheld by this glorious grace, the souls of the martyrs recklessly despised their tortures.

78. The guarding of the thoughts is one thing, and the custody of the mind is another. As far as the East is from the West so much higher is the latter than the former, even if it is more laborious.

79. It is one thing to pray for deliverance from bad thoughts, another to contradict them, another to despise and disregard them. Of the first way he bears testimony who said: O God, come to my help; of the second, he who said: And to those who reproach me I will make contradictory answer; and again: Thou hast made us a contradiction to our neighbours; of the third the witness is the Psalmist: I was dumb, and opened not my mouth; and: I put a bridle on my mouth, when the sinner was before me; and again: The proud have broken the law to excess, but I have not swerved from Thy contemplation. He who stands on the middle step will often make use of the first of these means through being taken unawares. But he who stands on the first step is not in a position to ward off his enemies by the second means. But he who has reached the third step spurns the demons altogether.

80. Naturally it is impossible for a bodiless being to be confined by a body; but for a person who has God everything is possible.

81. Just as those whose sense of smell is healthy can tell who has hidden perfumes, so the pure soul can recognize in others both the fragrance which he himself has obtained from God and the stench from which he has been freed, though this is imperceptible to others.

82. It is impossible for all to become dispassionate, but it is not impossible for all to be saved and reconciled to God.

83. Take care that you are not mastered by foreigners, those thoughts which urge you to be inquisitive about the ineffable judgments of Divine Providence or the visions that people have which secretly suggest that the Lord is partial. For they are the offspring of self-esteem, and are known as such.

84. There is a demon of avarice which often apes humility; and there is a demon of vainglory, and one of sensuality too, which both urge to almsgiving. However, if we are clear of them both, we should not stint our acts of mercy wherever we are.

85. Some have said that demons work against demons; but I know that they all seek our destruction.

86. Our own strong desire and intention, with God’s cooperation, precede every spiritual action both visible and mental; for if the first has not paved the way, the second is apt not to follow.

87. If there is a time for everything under heaven, as the Preacher says, and by the word “everything” must be understood what concerns our holy life, then if you please let us look into it and let us seek to do at each time what is proper for that occasion. For it is certain that for those who enter the lists there is a time for dispassion (I say this for the combatants who are serving their apprenticeship); there is a time for tears, and a time for hardness of heart; there is a time for obedience, and there is a time to command; there is a time to fast, and a time to partake; there is a time for battle with our enemy the body, and a time when the fire is dead; a time of spiritual storm, and a time of spiritual calm; a time for heartfelt sorrow, and a time for spiritual joy; a time for teaching and a time for listening; a time of pollutions, perhaps on account of conceit, and a time of cleansing by humility; a time for struggle, and a time for safe relaxation; a time for quiet, and a time for undistracted distraction; a time for unceasing prayer, and a time for sincere service. So let us not be deceived by proud zeal and seek prematurely what will come in its own good time; that is, we should not seek in winter what comes in summer, or at seed time what comes at harvest; because there is a time to sow labours, and a time to reap the unspeakable gifts of grace. Otherwise we shall not receive even in season what is proper to that season.

88. By the ineffable providence of God some have received holy returns for their toiling before their labours, some during their labours, some after labours, and some at the time of their death. It is a question which of them was rendered more humble?

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