Home Bible Study – St. John of the Ladder

A bit of a change this week.  Rather than looking at the scripture readings for the coming Sunday, we are looking at a (very) few chapters from St. John of the Ladder.

Some Lessons from St. John’s “The Ladder of Divine Ascent”

From Step Four: On Blessed Obedience

5. You who have decided to strip for the arena of this spiritual confession, you who wish to take on your neck the yoke of Christ, you who are therefore trying to lay your own burden on another’s shoulders, you who are hastening to sign a pledge that you are voluntarily surrendering yourself to slavery, and in return want freedom written to your account, you who are being supported by the hands of others as you swim across this great sea—you should know that you have decided to travel by a short but rough way, from which there is only one deflection, and it is called idiorrhythmia (i.e. self-rhythm). But he who has renounced this entirely, even in things that seem to be good and spiritual and pleasing to God, has reached the end before setting out on his journey. For obedience is distrust of oneself in everything, however good it may be, right up to the end of one’s life.

  • Why might it be useful to give up one’s will? Is this Christian?
  • In what sense is it NOT useful?
  • To WHOM should we surrender our will (in everything!?)? See the next passage.

6. When motives of humility and real longing for salvation decide us to bend our neck and entrust ourselves to another in the Lord, before entering upon this life, we ought first to question and examine, and even test our helmsman, so as not to mistake the sailor for the pilot, a sick man for a doctor, a passionate for a dispassionate man, the sea for a harbor, and so bring about the speedy shipwreck of our soul. But when once we have entered the arena of religion and obedience we must no longer judge our good manager in any way at all, even though we may perhaps see in him some slight failings, since he is only human. Otherwise, by sitting in judgment we shall get no profit from our subjection.

  • Is there anyone worthy of such trust for us (living in the world)? Your priest? A monk?
  • Who do we end up trusting in our lives and why?
  • Parishes (and Christians) are the way that people encounter God and learn to know His Way (the only thing worthy of our trust). How can we ensure that this is done safely?
  • What are some of the ways that leaders (to include both clergy and layleaders), parishes, and Christians betray that trust?
  • What is the condemnation for those who use God and religion for their own purposes? Whose actions keep others from a saving relationship with God?

73. It is dangerous for an inexperienced soldier to leave his regiment and engage in single combat. And it is not without peril for a monk to attempt the solitary life before he has had much experience and practice in the struggle with the animal passions. The one subjects his body to danger, the other risks his soul. He who attempts unaided to struggle with the spirits gets killed by them.

  • Is this also a danger in our lives (i.e. outside the monastery)?

120. Let us judge the nature of our passions and of our obedience, and choose our spiritual father accordingly. (E.g. If you are prone to lust, chose an ascetic [approach].)

From Step Eight: On freedom from anger and on meekness.

4. The beginning of freedom from anger is silence of the lips when the heart is agitated; the middle is silence of the thoughts when there is a mere disturbance of soul; and the end is an imperturbable calm under the breath of unclean winds.

  • Is it really best to be silent when we are moved by anger? Are their exceptions?
  • What is the goal of this advice?
  • What about justice? What about fairness?

10. As a hard stone with sharp corners has all its sharpness and hard formation crushed by knocking and rubbing against other stones, and is made round, and in the same way a sharp and curt soul, by living in community and mixing with hard, hot-tempered men, undergoes one of two things: either it cures its wound by its patience, or by retiring it will certainly discover its weakness, its cowardly flight making this clear to it as in a mirror.

  • Communities (e.g. families and parishes) give plenty of opportunities for anger. Why is it still better for us to be together?
  • Is it okay to avoid communities that cause us anger? When?

13. If it is a mark of extreme meekness even in the presence of one’s offender to be peacefully and lovingly disposed towards him in one’s heart, then it is certainly a mark of hot temper when a person continues to quarrel and rage against his (absent) offender both by words and gestures, even when by himself.

  • How can we be peaceful in the face of people that are offending us? Should we be?

20. If you want, or rather intend, to take a splinter out of another person, then do not hack at it with a stick instead of a lancet for you will only drive it deeper. And this is a stick—rude speech and rough gestures. And this is a lancet—tempered instruction and patient reprimand. ‘Reprove,’ says the Apostle, ‘rebuke, exhort,’ but he did not say ‘beat’. And if even this is required, do it rarely.

  • Why does St. John believe that we should make our operations on people’s eyes rare?
  • How can we develop the skill to operate on people?

22. If, as we said above, a single wolf with the help of a demon can trouble a flock, then certainly one most wise brother with the help of an angel can make the waves abate and the ship sail calmly…. And the condemnation of the former is indeed heavy, and equally great is the reward that the latter will receive from God, and he will become an edifying example for all.

  • How many wolves does it take to destroy a community?
  • How many angels does it take to save one?

27. I once saw three monks receive the same injury at the same time. One felt the sting of this, but kept silent; the second rejoiced at his injury for the reward it would bring him, but was sorry for the wrongdoer; and the third, thinking of the harm his erring neighbour was suffering, wept fervently. And fear, reward and love were to be seen at work.