It is known from St. John's life that he ate what was allowed by the rule of fasting, but within measure. He did not go without sleep at night, although he never slept more than was needed to support his strength for ceaseless vigilance, and so as not to negatively affect his mind. "I did not fast beyond measure," he said of himself, "and I did not conduct intensified night vigil, nor did I sleep on the ground; but I humbled myself…, and the Lord speedily saved me.
So it is also in the spiritual life. As a Christian gradually ascends, the force of spiritual and ascetical labours lifts him on high. Our Lord Jesus Christ said: "Strive to enter in through the narrow gate." That is, the Christian ought to be an ascetic. Not only the monastic, but every Christian. He must take pains for his soul and his life.
The Lord said to His Apostles about the evil spirits, This kind can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting (Mk. 9:29). Here is a new aspect of fasting! Fasting is acceptable to God when it is preceded by the great virtue of mercy; fasting prepares a reward in heaven when it is foreign to hypocrisy and vainglory; fasting works when it is joined with another great virtue—prayer. How does it work? It not only tames the passions in the human body, but it enters into battle with the spirits of evil, and conquers them.
Having penetrated into the mystical darkness of contemplation, this new Moses, having been initiated into the secrets of the spiritual Law, and coming back down the mountain impassible, his face transfigured by divine grace, was able to become for all the shepherd, the physician and the spiritual master. Carrying within him the Book written by God, he did not have need of other books to teach his monks the science of the sciences and the art of arts.
This is the wondrous love and mercy of our God—before He calls us up to Himself, He comes down to us. And this is the uniqueness of Christianity—it is not man searching for God, as are other religions, but rather, it is God searching out man. God has descended to us and become one of us—Jesus Christ. And because He is perfect God, He also perfected human nature, which allows us to seek perfection and climb the ladder of Divine ascent. This is the essence of salvation—this two-way motion—God loves and moves towards us, so that we can love and move towards Him.
The holy fathers instruct those who begin their spiritual life: Be ready for prolonged warfare and do not hope that we will always be savoring triumphs. Just the reverse, we will often have to be patient, enduring our burden.
The forthcoming week is devoted to a great ascetic – Saint John Climacus. Spiritual life is a ladder, which leads to the Heavenly Kingdom. We climb it, we fall down, we hit the ground, we stand up and we fall again. The thing is, we need to stand up over and over again. The ascetics, who devoted their lives to studying spiritual laws and struggling against sin have left to us a number of works for edification. However, we need to be prudent.
The Ladder is not the Typikon; it has a different value. There are no prayer rules written there, no defined number of prostrations or amount of food to partake of. More important things are disclosed there, the effect of which is not revealed to the superficial gaze. In fact, the reading of such books is healing from blindness. And we ourselves, no matter how many years the Lord metes out to us, will never understand our inner life with such depth and clarity as did Abbot John of Mt. Sinai.
In our time, many laypeople ask the question: Why should people of the twenty-first century act according to rules written by monks and for monks in deep antiquity? Why should they read monastic books in which there isn’t even a remote mention of the problems that we face today?
“Every time the Divine Liturgy is celebrated, it is celebrated for all the world” says Father Arsenios, “It is a global event. An elder from Mount Athos has said that the Second Coming will take place when the Liturgy ceases to be offered up on earth…” Even when their numbers are few, Saint Catherine’s monks do not cease to liturgize every day of the week—not only in their great basilica at the foot of Mount Sinai, but in the surrounding desert chapels; on the Holy Summit where Moses received the Ten Commandments, and at the cave where Saint John Climacus spent 40 years in ascetic solitude—never omitting to pray for the peace of a world in travail, and all those in it, that hope never cease...
Lent is a time of renewal when like spring, everything become new again; when our life that had gone into a twilight becomes alive with all the intensity that God can communicate to us, humans, by making us partakers of His Holy Spirit, by making us partakers, through the Holy Sacraments and the direct gift of God, of the Divine nature.
The sixth step of St. John Climacus’s The Ladder of Divine Ascent is dedicated to the spiritual discipline of the remembrance of death, which is to have in mind the hour of one’s repose and the following judgment before God, in order to deter oneself from sin. St. John tells us that the remembrance of death is the highest work for one who is spiritually minded (6:4), and that “He who has mounted [this sixth step] will never sin again” (6:24).
Christianity is very simple. We complicate it because we want to complicate it. Because then we sort of have a smoke screen around us. It’s hard to be brutally honest with ourselves. Christianity is brutal honesty with ourselves and with others.
The Patriarch was the spiritual leader of the Russian people during a very difficult time. He continues to be so during our difficult time in Russia—a time of schism, separation, and falls. The Church's duty in such trials is to inspire and unite the people for the sake of saving their native land, faith, and truth, serving for unification.