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Archive for June 2013

JOYFUL SORROW: TEARS OF REPENTANCE THAT LEAD US INTO THE EMBRACE OF LOVE

In this step John discusses the source of tears and what they do for the soul.  Not only are they a gift of God which purifies our hearts and drains away our passions, but true tears produce joy within the heart.  Mourning gives way to the consolation of being forgiven by and reconciled with God.

At the heart of our mourning, then, is love for God.  We weep because we long for God and the love that He alone can provide.  According to John, this makes it one of the most important and essential of virtues.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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