Wednesday – Fourth Week of Great Lent – Ladder Readings



Step 20
On Bodily Vigil and How to Use It to Attain Spiritual Vigil and How to Practise It.

1. Some stand before earthly kings without weapons and without armour, others hold staffs of office, and some have shields, and some swords. The former are vastly superior to the latter, for they are usually personal relations of the king and members of the royal household. So it is with earthly kings.

2. Now let us see how we stand before God our King, when we stand at our prayers in the evening, or during the day and night. For some at their evening all-night vigil lift up their hands in prayer as if they were incorporeal and stripped of all care. Others stand at that time singing psalms. Others are more occupied in reading. And some out of weakness courageously resist sleep by working with their hands. Others try to feel the horror of the thought of death, hoping thus to obtain contrition. And of all these, the first and last are in all-night vigil for the love of God; the second do what befits a monk; while the third go the lowest way. Yet God accepts and values the offerings of each according to their intention and power.

3. A vigilant eye makes the mind pure; but much sleep binds the soul.

4. A vigilant monk is a foe to fornication but a sleepy one mates with it.

5. Vigil is a quenching of lust, deliverance from dream phantoms, a tearful eye, a softened heart, the guarding of thoughts, the dissolving of food, the subduing of passions, the taming of spirits, the bridling of the tongue, the banishment of phantasies.

6. A monk who denies himself sleep is a fisher of thoughts, and in the stillness of the night he can easily observe and catch them.

7. The God-loving monk, when the bell rings for prayer, says: “Good, good!” The lazy one says: “What a nuisance!”

8. The preparing of the table exposes gluttons, but the work of prayer exposes lovers of God. The former dance on seeing the table, but the latter scowl.

9. Long sleep produces forgetfulness, but vigil purifies the memory.

10. The farmer’s wealth is gathered on the threshing floor and in the wine-press, but the wealth and knowledge of monks is gathered during the evenings and the night hours while standing at prayer and engaged in spiritual activity.

11. Long sleep is an unjust comrade; it robs the lazy of half their life, and even more.

12. The inexperienced monk is wide awake in friendly conversation; but his eyes become heavy when the hour of prayer is upon him.

13. The lazy monk is famous and skilled at talking; but when reading is about to begin, he cannot keep his eyes open. At the sound of the trumpet the dead will rise, and when idle talk is afoot those who were asleep come to themselves.

14. The tyrant sleep is a crafty friend; when we are full of food it often leaves us; but in hunger and thirst it attacks us vigorously.

15. It suggests that we should do handwork during our prayers; for it cannot otherwise foil the prayers of the vigilant.

16. It first enters into conflict with beginners in order to make them negligent from the very outset or to prepare the way for the demon of fornication.

17. Not until we are freed from this should we beg to be excused common worship, for often shame keeps us from dozing. The hound is the enemy of the hares, and the demon of vainglory is the enemy of sleep.

18. When the day is over, the vendor sits down and counts his profits, but the ascetic does so when the psalm-singing is over.

19. When prayer is finished wait soberly, and you will see that swarms of demons, as if challenged by us, try to invade us after prayer with absurd phantasies. Sit and watch; you will see those who are in the habit of snatching away the first fruits of the soul.

20. It may happen that continuous meditation on passages of the Psalms is prolonged into the hour of sleep. And it may happen that the demons put these passages into our mind in order to lead us to pride. I would not have mentioned the third case, had not someone forced me to do so. The soul which has spent all day unceasingly engaged with the word of the Lord will love to be occupied with it in sleep too. For this second grace is in a special sense a reward for the first and helps us to avoid falls and phantasies.

This is the twentieth step. He who has mounted it has received light in his heart.


Step 21
On Unmanly and Puerile Cowardice.

1. If you pursue virtue in a monastery or community, you are not likely to be attacked much by fear. But the man who spends his time in more solitary places should make every effort to avoid being overcome by that offspring of vainglory, that daughter of unbelief, cowardice.

2. Cowardice is a childish disposition in an old, vainglorious soul. Cowardice is a falling away from faith that comes of expecting the unexpected.

3. Fear is a rehearsing of danger beforehand; or again, fear is a trembling sensation of the heart, alarmed and troubled by unknown misfortunes. Fear is a loss of conviction.

4. A proud soul is a slave of cowardice; it vainly trusts in itself, and is afraid of any sound or shadow of creatures.

5. Those who mourn over their sins but are insensible to every other sorrow do not feel cowardice, but the cowardly often have mental breakdowns. And this is natural. For the Lord rightly forsakes the proud that the rest of us may learn not to be puffed up.

6. Although all cowardly people are vainglorious, yet not all who are unafraid are humble, since even robbers and grave-plunderers may be without fear.

7. Do not hesitate to go late at night to those places where you usually feel afraid. But if you yield only a little to such weakness, then this childish and ridiculous infirmity will grow old with you. As you go on your way, arm yourself with prayer. When you reach the place, stretch out your hands. Flog your enemies with the name of Jesus, for there is no stronger weapon in heaven or earth. When you get rid of the disease (of fear), praise Him who has delivered you. If you continue to be thankful, He will protect you for ever.

8. Just as it is impossible to satisfy the stomach in one bout, so also it is impossible to overcome fear instantly. It will yield more quickly in proportion as you mourn; but to the extent that our mourning fails, we continue to be cowards.

9. My hair and my flesh shuddered said Eliphaz, when describing the malice of the demon. Sometimes the soul, and sometimes the flesh, turns coward first, and the one passes its infirmity on to the other. If this untimely fear does not pass into the soul when the flesh flinches, then deliverance from the disease is at hand. But the actual freedom from cowardice comes when we eagerly accept all unexpected events with a contrite heart.

10. It is not darkness and loneliness of place that gives the demons power against us, but barrenness of soul. And through God’s providence this sometimes happens in order that we may learn by it.

11. He who has become the servant of the Lord will fear his Master alone, but he who does not yet fear Him is often afraid of his own shadow.

12. In the presence of an invisible spirit the body becomes afraid; but in the presence of an angel the soul of the humble is filled with joy. Therefore, when we recognize the presence from the effect, let us quickly hasten to prayer, for our good guardian has come to pray with us.

He who has conquered cowardice has clearly dedicated his life and soul to God.


Step 22
On the Many Forms of Vainglory.

1. Some like to distinguish vainglory from pride and to give it a special place and chapter. And so they say that there are eight capital and deadly sins. But Gregory the Theologian and other teachers have given out that there are seven; and I am strongly inclined to agree with them. For who that has conquered vainglory has pride within him? The only difference between them is such as there is between a child and a man, between wheat and bread; for the one is the beginning and the other the end. And so now that the occasion calls for it let us speak briefly about the beginning and sum of the passions, unholy self-esteem. For if anyone were to try to philosophize at length on this subject he would be like someone who fusses over the weight of the winds.

2. With regard to its form, vainglory is a change of nature, a perversion of character, a note of blame. And with regard to its quality, it is a dissipation of labours, a waste of sweat, a betrayal of treasure, a child of unbelief, the precursor of pride, shipwreck in harbour, an ant on the threshing-floor which, though small, has designs upon all one’s labour and fruit. The ant waits for the gathering of the wheat, and vainglory for the gathering of the riches of virtue; for the one loves to steal and the other to squander.

3. The spirit of despair rejoices at the sight of increasing vice, and the spirit of vainglory at the sight of increasing virtue. The door of the first is a multitude of wounds, and the door of the second is a wealth of labours.

4. Observe and you will find unholy vainglory abounding till the very grave in clothes, oils, servants, perfumes, and the like.

5. The sun shines on all alike, and vainglory beams on all activities. For instance, I am vainglorious when I fast, and when I relax the fast in order to be unnoticed I am again vainglorious over my prudence. When well-dressed I am quite overcome by vainglory, and when I put on poor clothes I am vainglorious again. When I talk I am defeated, and when I am silent I am again defeated by it. However I throw this prickly-pear, a spike stands upright.

6. A vainglorious person is a believing idolater; he apparently honours God, but he wants to please not God but men.

7. Every lover of self-display is vainglorious. The fast of the vainglorious person is without reward and his prayer is futile, because he does both for the praise of men.

8. A vainglorious ascetic is cheated both ways: he exhausts his body, and he gets no reward.

9. Who will not laugh at the vainglorious worker, standing for psalmody and moved by this passion now to laughter and then to tears for all to see?

10. God often hides from our eyes even those perfections that we have obtained. But he who praises us or, rather, misleads us, opens our eyes by his praise, and as soon as our eyes are opened, our treasure vanishes.

11. The flatterer is a servant of devils, a guide to pride, a destroyer of contrition, a ruiner of virtues, a misleader. Those who honour you deceive you, says the prophet.

12. People of high spirit bear offence nobly and gladly, but only holy people and saints can pass through praise without harm.

13. I have seen people mourning who, on being praised, flared up in anger; and as at a public gathering one passion gave place to another.

14. Who among men knows the thoughts of a man, except the spirit of the man within him? And so let those who try to praise us to our face be silent and ashamed.

15. When you hear that your neighbour or friend has abused you behind your back or even to your face, then show love and praise him.

16. It is a great work to shake from the soul the praise of men, but to reject the praise of demons is greater.

17. It is not he who depreciates himself who shows humility (for who will not put up with himself?) but he who maintains the same love for the very man who reproaches him.

18. I have noticed the demon of vainglory suggesting thoughts to one brother, while he reveals them to another, and he incites the latter to tell the former what is in his heart, and then praises him as a thought reader. And sometimes, unholy creature that he is, he even touches the bodily members and produces palpitations.

19. Do not take any notice of him when he suggests that you should accept a bishopric, or abbacy, or doctorate; for it is difficult to drive away a dog from a butcher’s counter.

20. Whenever he sees that any have acquired in some slight measure a contemplative attitude, he immediately urges them to leave the desert for the world, saying: “Go away in order to save the souls which are perishing.”

21. Ethiopians have one kind of face, and statues another; so too the vainglory of those living in a community takes a different form from that of those living in a desert.

22. Vainglory incites monks given to levity to anticipate the arrival of lay guests and to go out of the cloister to meet them. It makes them fall at their feet and, though full of pride, it feigns humility. It checks manner and voice, and keeps an eye on the hands of visitors in order to receive something from them. It calls them lords and patrons, graced with godly life. To those sitting at table it suggests abstinence, and it rebukes subordinates mercilessly. It stirs those who are slack at standing in psalmody to make an effort; those who have no voice become good singers and the sleepy wake up. It flatters the conductor, and begs to be given first place in the choir; it calls him father and master as long as the guests are still there.

23. Vainglory makes those who are preferred, proud, and those who are slighted, resentful.

24. Vainglory is often the cause of dishonour instead of honour, because it brings great shame to its enraged disciples.

25. Vainglory makes quick-tempered people meek before men.

26. It has great ambition for natural gifts, and through them often hurls its wretched slaves to destruction.

27. I have seen a demon injure and chase off his own brother. For just when a brother had lost his temper, secular visitors suddenly arrived; and the wretched fellow resold himself to vainglory. He could not serve two passions at the same time.

28. He who has sold himself to vainglory leads a double life. Outwardly he lives with monks, but in mind and thought he is in the world.