By: Fr. Thomas Alatzakis – St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church (Libertyville, Illinois)
On this the 5th week of Lent we remember St. John Climacus author of the Ladder of Divine Ascent. I believe this week is perhaps one of the more difficult for us to fully understand. When we read or hear about this 40-rung ladder of virtues established by St. John, a monastic, for his brother monks we may get intimidated or flatly say, “this is not for me”. Today I say, “it is for you”, this is our prescription from our Holy Church to our spiritual benefit. Our Metropolis theme this week is discernment or diakrisis in the Greek, so let’s take a look at our theme of discernment within St. John’s Ladder.
St. John focuses on discernment as the 26th step of the ladder. It is important to remember there are spiritual requirements before reaching discernment, namely obedience which leads to humility or meekness. From humility and meekness comes discernment. We must first learn obedience to God and humility before we can seek and acquire discernment.
St. John defines discernment in the spiritual sense as “undefiled conscience and purity of feeling” and as an “understanding of the divine will”. More than knowing right from wrong, discernment is what links us to God in an intimate way. True discernment is impossible without God as our central focus, as it is His will we seek to emulate in our lives. Discernment allows for us to decide our direction, as St. John writes, “After God, let us have our conscience as our aim and rule in all things, so that we may know which way the wind is blowing and set our sails accordingly.”
Aside from guiding us to what is good, it is discernment that allows to realize when we are wrong and use that to help others. St. John likens this to when a traveler is stuck in the mud, he can yell out to those coming down this road of the upcoming hazard. When we see the works of the evil one, discernment allows us to identify them as such and to keep our distance.
Discernment is vital to our spiritual growth and leads us to insight and ultimately foresight. We are richly blessed by the wisdom of our holy church fathers. Let us take every opportunity we have to learn about, and grow in, the spiritual life.
I wish you all good strength and discernment as we complete the fast.
Fr. Thomas Alatzakis