Continuing our look at St John Climacus’ The Ladder of Divine Ascent:

St. John now moves on from our renunciation of the world (in order to cling wholly to Christ) and our detachment from the things of the world (again, in order to be attached to the “one thing needful,” which is Christ) to his third step – exile. We live as strangers in a strange land. If one truly follows the first two steps that we’ve looked at, then one has no choice but to live as an exile. The world does not long for Christ, the world does not look to Christ – the Scriptures make it very clear that those who choose Christ become enemies to the world (we do not set ourselves up as enemies, but rather the world perceives us as enemies). Christ was killed, and in much the same way our lives will be lives of suffering and struggle if we choose to follow Christ. The world seeks the pleasures of the flesh, the pleasures of pride and knowledge – we seek obedience and humility in the face of our King. Ironically, in this paradigm, the greatest joy a human being can know is in complete submission to Christ – only in rejecting self-will and sin and living as an exile in this world can we fulfill all that we were created to be.

St. John writes, “Have you become an exile from the world? Do not touch the world any more; because the passions desire nothing better than to return” (Step 3:7). This is our great struggle, is it not? We have the desire to leave sin and to walk in the light of Christ – but we’re continually reaching out to touch the forbidden fruit, even after we’ve already chosen to forsake it. Meditate on life – what is truly important? What truly counts, when all is said and done? The pleasures of the flesh are fleeting, they pass in a moment and even escape us entirely as we grow into old age. The love of God is all sustaining, not only in our childhood and youth, but though adulthood and old age, and is the only thing that will follow us into eternity. Love God with all of your being, heart and soul and mind and strength. Exile is easy to bear when supported by the grace and love of our sweetest Jesus!

“Exile means that we leave forever everything in our own country [‘lay aside all earthly cares’] that prevents us from reaching the goal of piety [salvation]. Exile means modest manners, wisdom which remains unknown, prudence not recognized as such by most, a hidden life, an invisible intention, unseen meditation, desire for humiliation, longing for hardship, constant determination to love God, abundance of love, renunciation of vainglory, depth of silence” (Step 3:1).

Matthew Jackson