In English translation, the only work of St John of Sinai, the Ladder of Divine Ascent, is over 200 pages long. That is 200 pages of aphoristic observation on the monastic state as seen by a Saint. It is impossible to summarize such a dense work. We will begin with a detailed analysis of one chapter—one paragraph, really—so that our esteemed readers can see just how the Ladder is written, but first let us mention editions.
As we have already pointed out, there is no critical edition, and a plethora of manuscripts, of the Ladder. That means that there is no reliable text. There is a text in Patrologia Migne Volume 88. There is also a text, based on more than one manuscript, by Archimandrite Ignatios of the Monastery of Parakletou in Oropos, Attica, Greece (Ninth Edition, 2002), together with a translation into modern Greek. There is one English translation by Archimandrite Lazarus Moore, published by Holy Transfiguration Monastery,
Let us look at the chapter. In Archimandrite Ignatios’ edition it is Step 3, 23. In Archimandrite Lazarus Moore’s translation it is Step 3, 17. The first thing we note is that because there is no critical edition, the numbering of the chapters varies from edition to edition. There is nothing to do. The next thing to note is that the structure of the Ladder is that of a ladder with 30 rungs: each rung is a stage on the journey of the monk from life in the world to the goal of the monk: dispassion, or, in the case of the coenobite, deep humility.
So we are in rung or step 3 of the Ladder, which is ‘Concerning being a Stranger’. The word used by
3, 17 Look! Look! lest everything appears to have been filled with water to you who love the attachment of your family, and you depart together with the flood of love for the world. Have no pity on the tears of parents or friends; otherwise, you will be crying eternally.
To understand how subtle
Let us look at a few key points in
Next, among men there are both sinners and righteous. There are also both laymen and monks.
1, 38 I heard some men who were settled in a negligent state in the world asking me: ‘How can we, living together with spouses and surrounded by public cares, follow the monastic state?’ I replied to them: ‘All things good that you can do, do. Revile no one. Steal from no one. Lie to no one. Be arrogant with no one. Hate no one. Do not separate yourselves from the services of the Church. Be sympathetic towards those in need. Cause scandal to no one. Do not approach the portion of another and be satisfied with the wages that your wives can give you. If you do thus, you are not far from the Kingdom of the Heavens.’
His definition of the Christian is appropriate here:
1, 7 A Christian is the imitation of Christ, as much as is possible for man, in words and works and thought, believing in the Holy Trinity rightly and faultlessly.
There is no sense in
What is a monk?
1, 10 A monk is the order and condition of the bodiless powers accomplished in a material and sordid body. A monk is he who has only the commandments and words of God in every time place and thing. A monk is continual violence to nature and a faultless guard of the senses. A monk is a purified body, a cleansed mouth and an enlightened mind. A monk is a soul full of pain that is occupied in the uninterrupted memory of death both awake and asleep.
We can see why
What kind of monks are there?
1, 47 The whole monastic state is contained in three most general types of foundation: the one in athletic anchoretism and solitude; to practise Hesychia with one, at the most two, others; to remain in the coenobium with patient endurance. ‘Do not deviate,’ says the Ecclesiast, to the right or to the left: travel by the royal road.’ For the middle of the aforesaid ways has turned out to be appropriate for many. Woe to he who is alone, if he falls into accidie or sleep or negligence or despair, for there is no one among men to raise him up; ‘wherever there are gathered two or three in my name, there am I in the midst of them,’ said the Lord.
We should note
The next topic is to look at the concepts of passion and dispassion in St John of Sinai. This takes us into his dependence on Evagrius Ponticus, and in the next post we will draw on The Psychological Basis of Mental Prayer in the Heart, which discusses this sort of thing. The work was written by an Orthodox monk, Fr Theophanes (