Showing posts from August, 2006

The Ladder Steps 29-30: The End

Sadly, this is the last post on the Ladder of Divine Ascent. I am sorry to see it come to an end. I am sure I learned much more than my class in studying it. There was much I could not teach because I could not come close to an accurate understanding much less practical experience of the truth. Hopefully the summaries have been helpful, and they will drive you to the original. As I said in the first post Fr. John Mack's book is an excellent primer to get you started and then I heartily recommend the original Ladder. I know many who read through this book every Lent as the monastics do.

Let me know if this was helpful and if a different format for future notes would be better.

Step 29 - On Dispassion-the spiritual state where the passions do not exist.St. John says that this man "regards the artifice of demons as a contemptible joke."
At this stage, the passions of man have become transformed by Christ so much so that temptation, although it may be relentless and fierc…

Louisville Orthodox Book Club & Institute for Orthodox Studies

The Orthodox Book Club will be meeting on Sunday, September 24, at 6:00 PM at the Dryden home to discuss The Mystery of Christ: Life in Death, by Fr. John Behr.

Fr. Behr will be the keynote speaker at the "Institute for Orthodox Studies" on September 22 and 23. He is Professor of Patristics at St. Vladimir's Seminary.

The following is the summary of the book given by the publisher: "By returning to the methodology of the early Church, Fr. Behr invites readers to approach the mystery of Christ in the same way that the first disciples of Jesus Christ learned theology. Fr. Behr examines how we search the scriptures to encounter Christ and thereby realize that we were created for this encounter, thus opening a profound perspective on creation, fall, sin, and salvation history. He further explains how Christ is born in those who are born again in the Church, their 'Virgin Mother,' so that they become truly human, after the stature of Christ, and continue the in…

The Ladder Step 28

Step 28 - On Prayer

“[Prayer is] A dialogue and union of man with God. Its effect is to hold the world together. It achieves reconciliation with God.”

This is the goal of all our spiritual work which is union with God.

“War reveals the love of a soldier for his king, and the time and practice of prayer show a [Christian’s] love for God. So your prayer shows where you stand.”

“Get ready for your time of prayer by unceasing prayer in your soul.”

The rule of prayer is essential to the spiritual life. This is addressed in any Orthodox work on prayer. The rule of prayer should be something done every day regardless of anything else. It should be the minimum that is done that is consistent to your daily life.

“However pure you may be, do not be forward in your dealing with God. Approach Him rather in al humility and you will be given still more boldness.”

Personal Prayer should contain:

1. Thanksgiving

2. Confession

3. Requests

Prayers from St. Ephraim

"I have the will, but I cannot say that I have the strength. I give what I have. Consider my situation and if it pleases Thee to give me what I lack, grant it to me."
-from St. Ephraim in The Spiritual Psalter or Reflections on God excerpted by Bishop Theophan the Recluse.

The above book is an excellent little book that I bought a couple of lents ago. I enjoyed it upon purchase, but only recently picked it up again. I don't know why I put it down. St. Ephraim was an early Christian saint in the whereabouts of modern day Iraq/Turkey. He has written an incredible amount of wonderful poetry that is reflective of his own prayer life.

This book is actually a compilation of another saint of the Church--St. Theophan the Recluse. St. Theophan is a wonderful saint for 19th century Russia. His works are easy to read and contain practical instructions on living the Christian life. St. Theophan took many of the prayers of St. Ephraim and compiled them into 150 prayers so t…

The Ladder Step 27

Step 27 - On Stillness

St. John "We are like purchased slaves, like servants under contract to the unholy passions. And because this is so, we know a little of their deceits, ways, impositions, and wiles. We know of their evil despotism in our wretched souls. But there are others who fully understand the tricks of these spirits, and they do so because of the working of the Holy Spirit and because of the freedom they themselves have managed to achieve. We in our sickness can only imagine the sort of relief that would come with good health."

This is one of the rewards of the spiritual life. The place of rest that one comes when they are no longer affected by temptation of sin.

Even though we may not experience this continually we do experience this from time to time.

The paradox is that the path to this type of lasting continuous peace is attained by great spiritual struggle.

The Ladder Step 26

Step 26 - On DiscernmentDiscernement is the ability to know God’s will in every situation; to know how to do battle in the spiritual life; and to understand all the schemes of the devils.St. John discusses three levels of discernment in the spiritual life and how discernment develops in our lives.Beginners – self-knowledge.-What does this mean?The phrase “Know Thyself” comes from Greek philosophy, but what do the Fathers mean by this? - Knowing yourself is not necessarily a pleasant enterprise.It is a honest self-evaluation that results in repentance, mourning, and humility.It an acute awareness of ones weaknesses, sins, and tendencies to sin.Midway – know the difference between good and evil in everysituation.This does not just refer to ethical dilemmas that may seem gray, but our interaction in the battle for our soul.We begin to see and understand the schemes of the devil.Perfect – to be so illumined by God that you are able to illumine others.This is…

The Ladder Steps 25

Step 25 - On HumilitySt. John begins this step talking about the futility of talking about humility.He says that he can speak about it, but unless we act upon it then we can never learn.Humility begins when we begin the struggle for godliness.If we are not struggling to be holy, then we will not learn humility.Signs of humility in your life: (Church sign:If you think you have it, you have lost it. )1. Willingness to be humiliated. “The delighted readiness to accept indignity, to receive it with open arms, to welcome it as something that relieves and cauterizes the diseases of the soul.”“indignity shows the true state of the heart.”2. Freedom from anger. “Wiping out of anger—and modesty over the fact that this has happened.”3. Humble about spiritual progress. “Honest distrust of one’s virtue, together with the unending desire to know more.” Unfortunately, to become prideful over the development of virtue is to lose what is gained. This is a great trap of the devil. Much ascetical l…

The Ladder Step 24

Step 24 - On Meekness, Simplicity, Guilelessness, Wickedness

Meekness can be difficult to define. I think our culture hears this word and thinks weakness. It is gentleness of the spirit.It is between apathy and unrestrained zeal or anger. It is the stability of soul because it is grounded in the love and sovereignty of God.St. John further defines meekness by discussing simplicity and guilelessness which is part of being meek.Simplicity:not hypocritical; what you see is what you get. -“those who have simplicity as part of their nature are good, but those who come by it through struggle are better. The reason is that it is the gateway to humility -simplicity opens our life to God’s grace.-Children embody this virtue of simplicity. (Mt. 18:3) "Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.”Guilelessness:uncalculating—no hidden agenda; not being cunning or crafty

The Ladder Step 23

Step 23 - On PridePride is a denial of God; reason for Satan’s fall Is 14:12ff; 1 Tim 3:6 “I have seen people who speak aloud their thanks to God but who in their hearts are glorifying themselves”(Pharisee in Lk 18:11)Markers of Pride: 1. Need for Control “The proud man wants to be in charge of things.He would feel lost otherwise.” 2. Can’t accept criticism.“to reject criticism is to show pride” 3. ArgumentativeDangers of Pride: 1. You become opposed to God. James 4:6 – this word for resist is a battle word meaning that the person’s pride sets himself as an enemy of God. 2. Dimishes virtues developed. St. John “Pride loses the profits of all hard work and sweat.”--nobody gives humility trophies. 3. It cascades into other sins.Solution:1. Confession.
2. Lives of the Saints. Reading the lives of the saints help puts our spiritual efforts in perspective. Whatever virtue or ascetic endeavors where we may have found "success", their is anot…

The Ladder Step 22

Step 22 - On VainglorySt. John “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.”Vainglory is the first step before pride. This is a not a word in much use today, much like avarice. However, we are awash in it. Obsession with the outward appearance. We are screaming, "Look at me...look at my stuff...look at what I have done."
Signs of Vainglory 1. rejoices in appearance both physical and behavior; how we appear before men. 2. the motive for everything is to please men rather than God 3. Response to praise. “men of high spirit endure offence nobly and willingly.But onl…

The Ladder Steps 18-21

Step 18Insensitivity-Getting Serious about God
Insensitivity is a callousness to spiritual things; just as we can become desensitized to bad things; we can become numb to things of God as well.The following is a longer quote than I would normally read, but it seems so pertinent and convicting. St. John, “He complains of sickness, and does not stop eating what is harmful. He prays against it, and immediately goes and does it. And when he has done it, he is angry with himself; and the wretched man is not ashamed of his own words. 'I am doing wrong,' he cries, and eagerly continues to do so. His mouth prays against his passion, and his body struggles for it. He philosophizes about death, but he behaves as if he were immortal. He groans over the separation of soul and body, but drowses along as if he were eternal. He talks of temperance and self-control, but he lives for gluttony. He reads about the judgment and begins to smile. He reads about vainglory, and is vainglorious while …

The Ladder Steps 16 & 17

Step 16 On Avarice

-unfortunately Avarice is not a word often used in the English language, and it is my guess that most would not know what it means. In fact, I remember looking it up just a few years back.

Just in case you do not know, it means the love of money.

Avarice, according to St. John, is Idolatry, and the offspring of unbelief. This is obvious because it wealth becomes the substance that trust to provide for us (1 Tim 6:10). It will sustain us, and shows our lack of faith in God.

St. John, "The man who has conquered this vice has cut our care, but the man trapped by it can never pray freely to God."

Met. Bloom's book, Beginning to Pray, discusses this holding onto the material as it relates to prayer. According to Bloom, prayer is a relationship of love. And we can only understand this relationship with God through the beatitude of poverty. All that we possess as humans is a gift from God, and we must realize that we possess nothing that we can keep. E…