June 20th, 2013
THE MOST ESSENTIAL OF ALL WORKS - THE REMEMBRANCE OF DEATH AND ITS FRUITS IN THE SPIRITUAL LIFE
This brief step considers a rather simple but essential practice of the desert fathers; to remember not only that one will die, but what death brings - judgment. Such a thought spurs one on to repentance and conversion, prevents laziness, makes dishonor and indignity sweet, banishes worries and anxieties, and deters sin. This alone is enough to make John call it the "most essential of all works."
Remembrance of death is defined, including how one recognizes it in others;John discusses how remembrance of death leads a monk to conversion and repentance and the practice of specific ascetical disciplines;Through the use of illustrative stories, John shows how remembrance of death prevents spiritual laziness and deters sin; John warns against excessive trust in the leniency of God and exhorts his monks to embrace this holy practice.
June 13th, 2013
THE REPUGNANT NATURE OF SIN AS REFLECTED IN THE PENANCE OF THE MONKS OF THE "PRISON"
John then speaks of the value of penitence and the humility needed to embrace such a path.
The causes of moral lapses are considered and the need for courage and perseverance in the face of recurring failures. John exhorts the penitent to trust in the mercy and grace of God but also warns against presumption. Humility is key and true repentance will keep one from judging or even recognizing another's faults.
John concludes by telling his readers to above all let the image of the inmates at the "Prison" be imprinted upon their minds and hearts. They are to let the example of these holy men be their rule and model for repentance.
June 6th, 2013
ON PENITENCE AND THE AVOIDANCE OF PRESUMPTION
John begins this step with a somewhat moderate and encouraging tone by describing repentance as a "renewal of one's baptism and a contract with God for a fresh start in life." With repentance there is always hope and never despair. As penitents we stand before our God guilty, but never disgraced. Indeed, we inflict punishments on ourselves out of love for God, in an attempt to reconcile ourselves to him and to receive the peace that comes through his forgiveness.
However, if there is a step in the "Ladder" which pierces one's heart, if there is any part of the book which really shakes us and brings the message home, it is precisely this step concerning those blessed and compunctionate and voluntary inmates of "the Prison." For truly these holy ones, crazed for Christ, described by John, are a mirror for us, the sluggish and indolent, to look into and to behold how wanting we are in the realm of true heartfelt repentance. They were earnest and serious about their repentance; we are light and distracted concerning our salvation. Some are repelled by the Prison of the "Ladder", while others are pierced and moved by the love for God and strength of soul of these stouthearted inmates, and mourn the lack of both in themselves.
May 30th, 2013
Signs of obedience in the monk; Obedience and how it is to be fostered in community life - silence, watchfulness, humility, constancy, and faith; Things that help or hinder the growth of obedience. Again Climacus addresses the choice of one's director and how a monk must cherish this relationship above all; Applying John's teaching to contemporary life and relationships.
May 23rd, 2013
FOSTERING OBEDIENCE, THE DEVIL'S ASSAULTS ON THE OBEDIENT, THE VALUE OF A SPIRITUAL FATHER
Climacus then turns his thoughts to how this virtue is fostered and developed. One must begin by being watchful of every thought, seeking purity of heart through true contrition. A monk should willingly accept rebukes and criticism, freely exposing his thoughts to his director. If one is truly obedient this will be reflected in his speech and his unwillingness to cling to his own opinions.
The truly obedient need have no fear of death or judgment.
Having to confess one's thoughts to spiritual father will keep a monk from committing sins. Obedience is perfected when simply the thought of the spiritual father keeps a monk from doing wrong. The truly obedient monk in humility attributes all good that he does to the prayers of his spiritual father.
The Devil's attacks on those who are obedient.
The necessity of constancy in obedience and completeness in the revelation of thoughts. A monk must develop that habit of doing both.
Climacus warns that a monk should not get into the practice of leaving one healer for another. Again the monk should not enter the solitary life or leave his spiritual father too quickly.
May 16th, 2013
What must be done from the start: Choosing a spiritual father and submitting one's self and one's thoughts to him completely. Climacus gives an example of how the wisdom and sternness of a spiritual father brought true humility to a monk through the public confession of his sins. Although himself shocked by the severity of the test and the humiliation experienced, Climacus recognizes the spiritual healing it brought to the young monk and the power of his example for the rest of the community.
Climacus describes the obedience of the monks at a monastery in Alexandria and the wisdom of their holy superior. The obedience of the monks was constant, even in the absence of their superior. They supported each other in the practice and did penance for each other's indiscretions. The superior was strict in his application of remedies, applying them quickly and expecting them to be used without question. The value of this, Climacus states, was in the fruits it produced.
Multiple examples of obedience are given as well as the responsibility of a director of souls of testing the virtue of his monks.
May 9th, 2013
On Exile:detachment from relations and absolute value of commitment to Christ; the necessity of humility and avoiding corrupting influence of demons and those of bad character; Dreams and the dangers of deception through literal interpretation.
On Obedience: renunciation of self-will and self-direction
May 2nd, 2013
Applying St. John's Teaching to Daily Life in the World
John does not hide the difficulty of the struggle ahead for those who have entered the religious life, and provides little hope for an easier way to progress in virtue. To give oneself up to God requires a stripping of oneself of all possible attachments, concerns, anxieties, possessions, and even certain loves and friendships. In short, one must strip oneself of anything and everything and live solely for God. Only in doing this, John states, can one be truly able to pray as the psalmist, "I will cling close to you" (Ps 62:9).
There are many things, John calls them demons, which try to attack a monk after he has renounced the world. In convincing a monk that he is no better off for the renunciation, the monk either returns to the world, or falls through his grief into despair.
The grief, John tells us, comes from the love of things left behind in the world and, therefore, a monk must be diligent in guarding his heart. Once beginning the difficult journey on the narrow way, John states, it is easy to fall again onto the broad highway that leads to destruction. When the thoughts of the world threaten to overwhelm, the best weapon is prayer.
With this third step, John concludes the first section of his treatise describing renunciation and the break with the world which is a prerequisite to the spiritual journey of the monk. As with the two previous steps, exile involves the painful stripping away of worldly attachments - renouncing all for God. Exile means leaving all that one finds familiar. For those in the religious life, it means separation from relations.
John is quick to point out that this does not mean hatred of family, but the recognition that even what is good can be used to draw one away from God. Once a person has renounced the world and entered the monastic life, the strength of his feelings for his family can draw him away from his commitment.
April 25th, 2013
Ladder of Divine Ascent; St. John Climacus; Renunciation; Detachment
April 18th, 2013
Ladder of Divine Ascent and St. John Climacus, History and background; structure and emphases of the work; What does the Ladder mean for those living in the world; Step One - On the Renunciation of the World