Ladder of Divine Ascent | 29
Concerning heaven on earth, or godlike dispassion and perfection, and the resurrection of the soul before the general resurrection.
1. Here are we who lie in the deepest pit of ignorance, in the dark passions of this body and in the shadow of death, having the temerity to begin to philosophize about heaven on earth.
2. The firmament has the stars for its beauty, and dispassion has the virtues for its adornments; for by dispassion I mean no other than the interior heaven of the mind, which regards the tricks of the demons as mere toys.
3. And so he is truly dispassionate, and is recognized as dispassionate, who has made his flesh incorruptible, who has raised his mind above creatures and has subdued all his senses to it, and who keeps his soul in the presence of the Lord, ever reaching out to Him even beyond his strength.
4. Some say, moreover, that dispassion is the resurrection of the soul before the body; but others, that it is the perfect knowledge of God, second only to that of the angels.
5. This perfect, but still unfinished, perfection of the perfect, as someone who had tasted it informed me, so sanctifies the mind and detaches it from material things that for a considerable part of life in the flesh, after entering the heavenly harbour, a man is rapt as though in Heaven and is raised to contemplation. One who had experience of this well says somewhere: For God’s strong men of the earth have become greatly exalted.Such a man, as we know, was that Egyptian who prayed with some people for a long time without relaxing his hands which were stretched out in prayer.
6. There is a dispassionate man, and there is one who is more dispassionate than the dispassionate.
The one strongly hates what is evil, but the other has an inexhaustible store of virtues.
7. Purity too is called dispassion; and rightly, because it is the harbinger of the general resurrection and of the incorruption of the corruptible.
8. Dispassion was shown by him who said: I have the mind of the Lord.Dispassion was shown by the Egyptianwho said that he no longer feared the Lord. Dispassion was shown by him who prayed that his passions should return to him.Who before the future glory has been granted such dispassion as that Syrian? For David, glorious among the prophets, says to the Lord: O spare me, that I may recover my strength;but that athlete of God cries: ‘Spare me from the waves of Thy grace.’
9. The soul has dispassion who is immersed in the virtues as the passionate are in pleasures.
10. If it is the acme of gluttony to force oneself to eat even when one has no appetite, then it is certainly the acme of temperance for a hungry man to overcome nature when it is blameless.If it is extreme sensuality to rave over irrational and even inanimate creatures, then it is extreme purity to hold all persons in the same regard as inanimate things. If it is the height of cupidity to go on collecting and never be satisfied, it is the height of poverty not to spare even one’s own body. If it is the height of despondency, while living in complete peace, not to acquire patience, then it is the height of patience to think of oneself even in affliction as being at rest. If it is called a sea of wrath for a person to be savage even when no one is about, then it will be a sea of long-suffering to be as calm in the presence of your slanderer as in his absence. If it is the height of vainglory when a person, seeing no one near him to praise him, puts on affected behaviour, it is certainly a mark of its absence, not to let your thought be beguiled in the presence of those who praise you. If it is a sign of perdition (that is to say, pride) to be arrogant even in poor clothing, then it is a mark of saving humility to have humble thoughts in the midst of high undertakings and achievements. If it is a sign of complete enslavement to the passions to yield readily to everything the demons sow in us, then I take it as a mark of holy dispassion to be able to say honestly: The evil one who dodges me, I have not known;9 nor how he came, nor why, nor how he went; but I am completely unaware of everything of this kind, because I am wholly united with God, and always will be.
11. He who has been granted such a state, while still in the flesh, always has God dwelling within him as his Guide in all his words, deeds and thoughts. Therefore, through illumination he apprehends the Lord’s will as a sort of inner voice. He is above all human instruction and says: When shall I come and appear before the face of God?10 For I can no longer bear the force of love; I long for the immortal beauty which Thou hast given me in exchange for this clay.
12. But why say more? The dispassionate man no longer lives himself, but Christ lives inhim, as he says who fought the good fight, finished his course and kept the faith.2
13. A king’s diadem is not composed of one stone, and dispassion does not reach perfection if we neglect even one virtue, however ordinary.
14. Imagine dispassion as the celestial palace of the Heavenly King; and the many mansionsas the abodes within this city, and the wall of this celestial Jerusalem as the forgiveness of sins. Let us run, brethren, let us run to enter the bridal hall of this palace. If we are prevented by anything, by some burden or old habit, or by time itself what a disaster! Let us at least occupy one of those mansions around the palace. But if we sink down and grow weak, let us make sure of being at least within the walls. For he who does not enter there before his end, or rather, does not scale the wall, will lie out in the desert of fiends and passions. That is why a certain man prayed, saying: Through my God I shall scale the wall.And another says as if in the person of God: Is it not your sins that separate you from Me? Friends, let us break through this wall of separation which we have erected to our own harm by disobedience; and let us receive the forgiveness of our sins, because in hell there is no one to pardon our debts. So then, brethren, let us devote ourselves to our task, for we are on the roll of the devout.
There is no room for any excuse whether of a fall, or opportunity, or burden. For to all who have received the Lord by the baptism of regeneration He has given power to be come children of God,saying: Be still and know that I am Godand am Dispassion. To Him be the glory for ever and ever!
Blessed dispassion lifts the mind that is poor from earth to heaven, and raises the beggar from the dunghill of the passions. But love whose praise is above all makes him sit with the princes, with the holy angels, and with the princes of the people of God.