Clean Tuesday, 2016: Body & Soul

This morning I was looking over a copy of The Talanton, the newsletter from St. Gregory Palamas Monastery in Ohio. Included is a good homily by Metropolitan Savas, you can read the whole homily HERE. I had a hard time picking which part to share, so this is kind of a long excerpt. Worth the read, though.

This is why we go through this period of fasting: to discipline our body, to show the body who is the boss so we are not led by it. But we are riding the body like a horse. This is why we involve our body in prayer; we do not just pray in our heads, but we involve our bodies: we raise hands, bend our knees, kiss the ground, cross ourselves. We know that whatever we do with the body affects the soul. We know that the body’s actions are an expression of this. And we know that we wait for a new heaven and earth. We aren’t expecting to be delivered from the material world – we are expecting a transfiguration of the world. . .
I want to share an extended passage from St. John [of the Ladder] that speaks to this relationship of body and soul. . .

By what rule or manner can I bind this body of mine? By what president can I judge him? Before I can bind him he is let loose, before I condemn him I am reconciled with him, before I can punish him I bow down before him and feel sorry for him. How can I hate him when my nature disposes me to love him? How can I break away from him when I am bound to him forever? How can I escape from him when he is going to rise with me? How can I make him incorrupt when he has received a corruptible nature? How can I argue with him when all the arguing of nature is on his side? If I try to bind him through fasting, then I pass judgement on a neighbor who does not fast, with the result I am handed over to him again. If I defeat him by not passing judgement, I turn proud, and I am again a prisoner to him. He is my helper and my enemy, my assistant and my opponent, a protector and a traitor. I am kind to him and he assaults me. If I wear him out he gets weak. If he has his rest he becomes unruly. If I upset him he cannot stand it. If I mortify him I endanger myself. If I strike him down, I have nothing left with to acquire the virtues. I embrace him and I turn away from him. What is this mystery in me? What is the principle of mixture of body and soul? How can I be my own friend and my own enemy? Speak to me, speak to me my old fellow, my nature, I cannot ask anyone but you. How can I remain uninjured by you? How can I escape the danger of my own nature? I have made a promise to Christ that I will fight you, yet how can I defeat your tyranny? But this I have resolved, mainly that I am going to master you.

. . .We are living now in a period where we are trying to do just that, master our bodies, for the sake of the health of our soul, and we are in a period where we are in a sense all becoming monks and nuns. We are trying to do at least 40 days of what monks and nuns do throughout the year. You know they are the maximalists of the faith, they have the volume turned way up. They do it all the time, we try and get there every so often, and follow their example, and learn from them. And so this is the time where we, too, turn to literature such as this that feeds our souls as we try to reign in our bodies, and we thank God for the gift of St.John and we ask for his prayers always now and forever and to the ages of ages.

4th Sunday of Great Lent: Cookies of Divine Ascent

I hope my friend Carolyn doesn’t mind, but I have to share some pictures of the cookies she and her granddaughter made for our Lenten bake sale today, on the 4th Sunday of Lent when the Orthodox Church commemorates St. John of the Ladder.


St. John wrote The Ladder of Divine Ascent sometime around 600 AD.


It describes the means by which the highest degree of religious perfection may be attained.


There are 30 rungs in the ladder, listed below – and shown here in cookies!


I bought this one for myself 🙂 and picked out a few other favorites for my family.

Jesus Christ’s teaching is overwhelming in its simplicity. Rather than give us burdens, He tells us to take up only one thing: our cross. Instead of demanding many sacrifices, He desires from us only one thing: our lives. “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel will save it.” (Mk 8: 34-36)

Because such words are overwhelming in their directness, Jesus Christ ordained Apostles and teachers to help guide us in living this simple God-centered life; much of the Epistles in the Bible are given over to this subject. Jesus Christ did not stop appointing such people to lead us after the death of the Apostle John, and so in addition to the Holy Scriptures there are many other treatises intended to humbly guide us through the snares and pitfalls of this world and toward Salvation. One of the best known and well-loved is The Ladder of Divine Ascent (Gr: Κλίμαξ), written by St. John Climacus c.a. 600 A.D.

Read more at A Reader’s Guide to Orthodox Icons

St. John Climacus – The Rungs of His Ladder of Divine Ascent
Step 1. On renunciation of the world
Step 2. On detachment
Step 3. On exile or pilgrimage
Step 4. On blessed and ever-memorable obedience
Step 5. On painstaking and true repentance
Step 6. On remembrance of death
Step 7. On joy-making mourning
Step 8. On freedom from anger and on meekness
Step 9. On remembrance of wrongs
Step 10. On slander or calumny
Step 11. On talkativeness and silence
Step 12. On lying
Step 13. On despondency
Step 14. On that clamorous mistress, the stomach
Step 15. On incorruptible purity and chastity
Step 16. On love of money, or avarice
Step 17. On non-possessiveness (that hastens one Heavenwards)
Step 18. On insensibility
Step 19. On sleep, prayer, and psalmody with the brotherhood
Step 20. On bodily vigil and how to use it to obtain spiritual vigil.
Step 21. On unmanly and puerile cowardice
Step 22. On the many forms of vainglory
Step 23. On mad pride and unclean blasphemous thoughts
Step 24. On meekness, simplicity and guilelessness
Step 25. On the destroyer of passions, most sublime humility
Step 26. On discernment of thoughts, passions and virtues
Step 27. On holy stillness of body and soul
Step 28. On holy and blessed prayer
Step 29. Concerning Heaven on earth, or Godlike dispassion and perfection
Step 30. Concerning the linking together of the supreme trinity among the virtues

Carolyn used my old standby Sugar Cookie recipe.

Ladder of Divine Ascent

1Ladder of Divine Ascent “Violence and unending pain are the lot of those who aim to ascend to heaven with the body, and this especially at the early stages of the enterprise, when our pleasure-loving disposition and our unfeeling hearts must travel through overwhelming grief toward the love of God and holiness. It is hard, truly hard. There has to be an abundance of invisible bitterness, especially for the careless, until our mind, that cur sniffing around the meat market and reveling in the uproar, is brought through simplicity, deep freedom from anger and diligence to a love of holiness and guidance. Yet full of passions and weaknesses as we are, let us take heart and let us in total confidence carry to Christ in our right hand and confess to Him our helplessness and our fragility. We will carry away more help than we deserve, if only we constantly push ourselves down into the depths of humility.”

-St. John Climacus, from “The Ladder of Divine Ascent”, Step One

St. John of the Ladder is commemorated on the fourth Sunday of Great Lent. These are the rungs of his ladder:

Step 1. On renunciation of the world
Step 2. On detachment
Step 3. On exile or pilgrimage
Step 4. On blessed and ever-memorable obedience
Step 5. On painstaking and true repentance
Step 6. On remembrance of death
Step 7. On joy-making mourning
Step 8. On freedom from anger and on meekness
Step 9. On remembrance of wrongs
Step 10. On slander or calumny
Step 11. On talkativeness and silence
Step 12. On lying
Step 13. On despondency
Step 14. On that clamorous mistress, the stomach
Step 15. On incorruptible purity and chastity
Step 16. On love or money, or avarice
Step 17. On non-possessiveness (that hastens one Heavenwards)
Step 18. On insensibility
Step 19. On sleep, prayer, and psalmody with the brotherhood
Step 20. On bodily vigil and how to use it to obtain spiritual vigil.
Step 21. On unmanly and puerile cowardice
Step 22. On the many forms of vainglory
Step 23. On mad pride and unclean blasphemous thoughts
Step 24. On meekness, simplicity and guilelessness
Step 25. On the destroyer of passions, most sublime humility
Step 26. On discernment of thoughts, passions and virtues
Step 27. On holy stillness of body and soul
Step 28. On holy and blessed prayer
Step 29. Concerning Heaven on earth, or Godlike dispassion and perfection
Step 30. Concerning the linking together of the supreme trinity among the virtues