Philokalia Ministries
Ladder of Divine Ascent - Step 24 on Meekness, Simplicity and Guilelessness

Ladder of Divine Ascent - Step 24 on Meekness, Simplicity and Guilelessness

October 31, 2013

Having shown us the danger of pride, St. John wishes to lead us step by step to the virtue of humility (Step 25). Before we consider humility, however, he insists that we must seek meekness. What is meekness? St. John answers: "Meekness is a mind consistent amid honor and dishonor; meekness prays quietly and sincerely for a neighbor however troublesome he may be; meekness is a rock looking out over the sea of anger which breaks the waves which come crashing on it and stays entirely unmoved; meekness works alongside of obedience, guides a religious community, checks frenzy, curbs anger."
A meek person 1) is not quick to defend or justify himself in the presence and thoughts of others. He is not easily unsettled by the words and opinions of others, 2) guards his heart carefully against the intrusion of thoughts of "frenzy (against any thoughts which disturb his internal peace), 3) is calm in the midst of disturbing events; he is not easily excited or provoked, 4) watches over his words, carefully choosing to utter only those which bring peace, 5) does not project himself into conversations or situations in which his presence is not desired, 6) does not jump in to correct everyone and everything, 7) is willing to wait for God to act and does not believe that his action is necessary to God, 8) knows how to pray and to be quiet, 9) has no personal agenda and is concerned only for God's will - recognizing that God's will unfolds itself in ways that are unusual and unexpected. Thus, even in his concern for God's will, he is willing to calmly wait for God to accomplish His purpose. When he must act, he does so out of calm faith rather than panicky unbelief.

It is interesting that St. John connects meekness with simplicity and guilelessness: "A meek soul is a throne of simplicity, but a wrathful mind is a creature of evil." "Guilelessness is the joyful condition of an uncalculating soul." He use three images as illustrations: childhood, Adam in the Garden and St. Paul the simple. 
During childhood, he tells us, there is an absence of concern to "fit in". Those who have struggled for simplicity live much the same. Fitting in with the crowd, and compromising one's integrity to do so, are not a part of their lifestyle. They are free from the necessity to change themselves (becoming social/spiritual chameleons) to "fit in" and to meet the expectations of others. 
From Adam in the Garden we learn that simplicity is the absence of self-awareness. St. John writes: "As long as Adam has simplicity, he saw neither the nakedness of his soul nor the indecency of his flesh." Adam was free from the desire to "look in the mirror" and the necessity of "standing on the scale." Does not a lot of vanity spring from an unhealthy desire to look good in the eyes of other people or to find out how we look to others? Here we see why St. John keeps mentioning hypocrisy as he discusses simplicity. Our outside appearance often becomes the equivalent of a mask, designed to keep people from seeing us as we really are. Our outside appearance becomes divorced from our inner self. The inherent, simple connection between our inner soul and outer body becomes distorted. This distortion wreaks havoc on our spiritual lives. From St. Paul the Simple, we learn that simplicity is linked to obedience and firm faith. St. Paul was a disciple of Antony the Great. St. Antony thought him too old to be a monk, but Paul submitted to the severest disciplines with such unquestioning obedience that in a relatively short time he acquired holiness and spiritual powers even greater than his master's. After relating this story, St. John draws this conclusion: "Fight to escape your own cleverness. If you do, then you will find salvation and an uprightness through Jesus Christ. . . " 
If we follow the simple path - distrusting our own wisdom, doing the best we can yet realizing that our mind, without warmth of heart is a very weak tool - - then a Godly life will begin to be formed in us.
Ladder of Divine Ascent - Steps 18 and 19 On Insensitivity and Sleep

Ladder of Divine Ascent - Steps 18 and 19 On Insensitivity and Sleep

September 12, 2013

According to St. John, as we pursue the heavenly goal we need to be aware of the great danger of becoming desensitized to the importance of spiritual realities. What he describes should be familiar to all. When we are first awakened to the spiritual life and introduced to its depths, we are awestruck and experience a godly fear. Yet, familiarity often breeds contempt or at least invites one to have a casual attitude.

Insensitivity develops when we allow a division to exist between our words and our actions. It is brought on by a lengthy illness which prevents a person from engaging in spiritual disciplines, carelessness and prolonged negligence. In many ways it is hypocrisy at its worst and most pathetic. We speak to others about certain spiritual practices and their importance and yet rarely embrace themselves for ourselves. We remain unmoved and untouched by our own words and exhortations. Even the reality of death and the judgement of God provoke no response.

To understand such a vice and overcome it, John tells us, we must deliberately take hold of it and scourge it with unceasing prayer and the fear of God. The source of this vice is not the same for all, and so greater effort is required from us to expose its causes and defeat them

There is a saying in the book of Proverbs which introduces the theme of Step 19 very well: "A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep - - so shall your poverty come on you like a prowler, and your need like an armed man." (Interestingly, this saying is repeated twice: Proverbs 6:10,11 and Proverbs 24:33,34). In step 19, St. John reminds us that too much sleep, like too much of anything, can be spiritually dangerous. Of course, we all need to sleep. Just as we need to eat, so we need to sleep in order to live. But, although sleep is natural and needful, like desire it has many sources.

How can we tell the difference? St. John does not spend a great deal of time in explaining the answer. He simply reminds us: it is too much sleep when it keeps us from fulfilling our rule of prayer. When we choose to sleep rather than to pray - we have entered into the spiritual danger zone.
Many of the fathers have pointed out that Satan can oppress and make us feel more tired than we are in order to keep us from praying. This often happens at night when it is time to say your prayers before going to bed. All of a sudden, you are hit with a tremendous sense of fatigue so that you can barely make it to your bed without falling asleep. Sometimes, undoubtedly, this is natural, but more often than not it comes from the evil one. It is a trick to get us to go to bed without prayer. For if we go to bed without prayer, we leave open our minds and imaginations for demonic assault all night. When we are sleeping, we cannot be vigilant over our thoughts. Therefore, our prayer before sleep is of the greatest importance.

In this short step, John describes sleep and its sources, the habit of oversleeping, the tactics of demons especially at the time of prayer, and finally how these demons may be overcome.
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