The Ladder of Divine Ascent – Step 27, The First Four Paragraphs

Step 27 On holy solitude1 of body and soul

1. We are like bought serfs under contract to unholy passions; we, therefore, know to some extent the whims, ways, will and wiles of the spirits that rule over our poor souls. But there are others who through the action of the Holy Spirit, and by reason of their liberation from the rule of those spirits, are fully alive to their tricks. The former, being in a painful state of sickness, can only guess about the relief which would come with good health; while the latter, being in a healthy condition, are able to form ideas and draw conclusions about the miseries attendant on sickness. That is why we, who are weak and infirm, hesitate to philosophize in our discourse about the haven of solitude, for we know that at the table of the good brotherhood there is always some cur watching to snatch from it a piece of bread, that is, a soul, and it then runs off with it in its mouth and devours it on the quiet. We do not want our discourse to give room to that dog, and an opportunity to those who are looking for opportunities, and for this reason we do not consider it permissible to talk about peace to the courageous warriors of our King who are struggling in the battle. We will simply remark that crowns of peace and calm are woven for those who do not flag in the fight. But we do not want to grieve anyone by speaking of other things without even mentioning this, and so we shall, if you wish, speak briefly about solitude, if only in order to explain what it is.

2. Solitude of the body is the knowledge and reduction to order of the habits and feelings. And solitude of soul is the knowledge of one’s thoughts and an inviolable mind.

3. A friend of solitude is a courageous and unrelenting power of thought which keeps constant vigil at the doors of the heart and kills or repels the thoughts that come. He who is solitary in the depth of his heart will understand this last remark; but he who is still a child is unaware and ignorant of it.

4. A discerning solitary2 will have no need of words, because he expresses words by deeds.

Notes.

1. Gr. hēsychia, i.e. ‘quiet’ or ‘contemplation’; this has usually been translated as ‘solitude’.

2. I.e. a hesychast, a contemplative, one who lives in solitude or holy quiet.