St. John Climacus on everyday asceticism.
Over at Synaxis, a blog of Saint Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary, Father Philip Rogers recently presented some thoughts from Saint John Climacus on everyday asceticism:
One of the greatest monks in history, St. John Climacus, wrote a 30-step treatise called The Ladder of Divine Ascent. This book was written specifically for those who were monks and laid out step by step the way to the Kingdom of God. Though he wrote it in the 7th century, it is still read today during Great Lent in many of the monasteries in the Orthodox world. In this work, St. John doesn’t just address the monks, however. He was presented with this same question over 1500 years ago: "Do I have to be a monk?" He responded by saying:To read the rest, click here. AMDG.
"Some people living carelessly in the world have asked me: 'We have wives and are beset with social cares, and how can we lead the solitary life?' I replied to them: ‘Do all the good you can; do not speak evil of anyone; do not steal from anyone; do not lie to anyone; do not be arrogant towards anyone; do not hate anyone; do not be absent from the divine services; be compassionate to the needy; do not offend anyone; do not wreck another man’s domestic happiness, and be content with what your own wives can give you. If you behave in this way, you will not be far from the Kingdom of Heaven.'"
Notice that St. John doesn’t start off by mentioning what we should avoid and not do, but what we should actually do. "Do all the good you can" is very different from "avoid doing bad." If the answer was to avoid doing bad, we would be better suited to stay in our homes and be alone as much as we can; or, if we are outside our homes, to focus on the task that we are doing and not pay attention to anyone else that is around us. St. John is encouraging all of us to pay attention to the moment that we are in and look for the good that we can do. How often do we drive down the road talking on the phone or listening to the radio and mindlessly make our way to our destination? In my case, too often. In attempting to "do all the good you can," try instead to pay attention to where you are going, your surroundings. You might notice an opportunity to do good. . . .