St John Climacus, in his centrally important The Ladder of Divine Ascent, lays out 30 ‘steps’ of the Christin spiritual life. He doesn’t intend these to be seen as a literal step by step “ladder to God,” but rather as a picture of the various things that a Christian must go through in his process of drawing ever nearer to Christ.

The first of these steps he calls renunciation of the world. This may seem rather harsh at first thought, but then we remember the words of our Lord – “let the dead bury their dead,” and if you love mother or father or brother or sister (etc) more than Me then you are not worthy of Me. We are called, as followers of Christ, to be “in the world, but not of the world.” We are to renounce the ways of the world, which in Biblical and Patristic language means the way of the passions – the way of sin and pain and death.

The Orthodox Church helps us do this in some very simple ways – we renounce our own will in our fasting during Great Lent, for instance. One of the best ways to learn to renounce the ways of the world is to learn to renounce our own, very often sinful, will. I must die, as St Paul says, so that Christ may live in me. Our fallen will often follows the path of sinful passions – we lay these things aside and struggle to put on the way of Christ.

We live our renunciation of the world when we follow the commandments of Christ. Following Christ is counter-cultural in every way – the things we’re called to as Christians go against the grain of the world. As we continue daily in the sruggle to be more like Christ, then we open ourselves to receiving His grace, which then continues to help us in our struggles.

St John writes, “Let us eagerly run our course as men called by our God and King, lest, since our time is short, we be found in the day of our death without fruit and perishing of hunger. Let us please the Lord as soldiers please their king; because we are required to give an exact account of our service after the campaign…”

Matthew Jackson

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