Fr Luke A Veronis

We are climbing a ladder, or maybe a more modern-day version is we are trying to walk up an escalator that is going downwards. We’re trying to reach the top and enter into the kingdom of heaven, and yet so much in our world is trying to lead us in the opposite direction. This is an image of our spiritual journey. We are striving to enter into the kingdom of God and be united to Jesus Christ, yet, society’s escalator is going downwards. We have to go against the current of the age – always remember how Christianity is counter-cultural – and we have to struggle against the alluring deception of the world.

As we climb up the ladder, or walk up the downward going escalator, there are demons trying to knock us off the ladder or escalator. These demons come in many forms, distracting us, confusing us, lying to us, doing whatever they can to make us lose focus and fall. When we leave these passions uncontrolled, they will knock us off our ladder of divine ascent.

There is a beautiful prayer we can say each day before we nourish our souls by reading Holy Scripture that reminds us of this struggle:

Shine within our hearts, Loving Master, the light of Your divine knowledge, and open the eyes of our mind that we may understand the message of your Good News. Instill in us also reverence for your blessed commandments, so that conquering sinful desires we may pursue a spiritual way of life, thinking and doing all things that are well-pleasing to You. For You are our sanctification and to You we give glory, to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, now and forever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.

Every day we ask God to open our eyes to understand His commandments and we pray that we can conquer the desires and passions that lead us away from Him, and instead pursue a path in life that leads us into union with Him. We conquer our vices and nourish our virtues!

This is exactly what Saint John of the Ladder is trying to help us understand. HOW do we journey up this ladder of divine ascent? What do we need to be aware of and where should our effort be focused on?

We need to understand that a serious and sober spiritual journey is a long, difficult ascent. It’s hard not to get knocked off. It’s an honest, life-long struggle to know ourselves and our weaknesses, to be aware of the vices that so craftily tempt us, and to turn away from these passions. Simultaneously, we need to know where we are lacking in the divine virtues, and to nourish these virtues so that they grow and become a natural part of our very being.

So, what are the common spiritual vices that plague every person, according to St. John:

·      Gluttony, a desire for always more and more and not living in moderation and contentment

·      Lust, an egocentric distortion of our sexual desire

·      Avarice, a love for money and possessions

·      Anger, a lack of control over our ego

·      Slander and Talkativeness, not controlling our speech 

·      Falsehood, dishonesty and deception

·      Despondency, a paralysis of the soul which gives in to despair

·      Insensitivity, a lack of noticing our neighbor and of being lazy in reaching out in love

·      Fear, a loss of trusting in God’s Presence in our lives.

·      Vainglory, a desire to be praised by others instead of God.

·      Pride, living under the façade of our ego.

Today, focus of one of these spiritual vices that knock us off of the ladder of divine ascent and make a decision to work on controlling it, asking God to minimize and control this passion in you.

Simultaneously, our journey up the ladder doesn’t occur by simply eliminating our vices but we also need to grow in the divine virtues. We need to take on the “mind of Christ” and become more and more like Him.

Saint John highlights these necessary divine virtues we need to possess:

·      Obedience, humbling accepting and following the ways of our Lord.

·      Repentance, turning away from our sins and turning back toward God

·      Remembrance of death, recognizing the brevity of life; how the call of salvation is now

·      Sorrow, mourning for our sins and the sins of the world

·      Simplicity, learning to live with less so that we can give more

·      Humility, understanding who we truly are and who God truly is

·      Discernment, recognizing the will of God at all times, in all places, in all things

·      Stillness, putting aside the distractions of the world and dwelling in the Presence of God

·      Prayer, entering into deep and intimate communion with God

·      Divine Love, which is a resemblance of God insofar as is humanly possible.

Which one of these virtues can you focus on and seek after. Begin with one and try to cultivate and develop that.

It is important to realize that while climbing up the divine ladder we can never become complacent or self-certain. We face a life-long struggle climbing up that downward escalator. If we ever stop our effort, the escalator will take us down, away from our goal.

In the enlightening book Thirty Steps to Heaven, which we are reading together on our Wednesday night discussions, the author Vasilios Papavasilliou notes how “Our progress in virtue can often seem less like a ladder of ascent and more like a game of chutes and ladders. We climb and we get knocked off. We rise and then we fall.”

This describes the spiritual life. We struggle to climb up and yet we continuously fall. We don’t get discouraged. We simply call out to Christ, “Lord, help me” and then repent and get back up, climbing again and again.

The whole purpose of our ascetic struggle is to open our hearts to acquire divine love. The vices and passions distort our hearts to desire something other than divine love. So, let us nourish the virtues and continue taking a step higher and higher toward our heavenly goal.

Let us pray every day, "Loving Master, help us to conquer our sinful desires, so that we may pursue a spiritual way of life, thinking and doing all things that are well-pleasing to You!"

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