Climbing the Ladder: Triage

Thursday, December 2, 2021 Comments (0)

Kevin J.N Hughes

"Our God and King is good, ultra-good and all-good (it is best to begin with God in writing to the servants of God). Of the rational beings created by Him and honoured with the dignity of free-will, some are His friends, others are His true servants, some are worthless, some are completely estranged from God, and others, though feeble creatures are equally His opponents. By friends of God, dear and holy Father, we simple people mean, properly speaking, those intellectual and incorporeal beings which surround God. By true servants of God we mean all those who tirelessly and unremittingly do and have done His will. By worthless servants we mean those who think of themselves as having been granted baptism, but have not faithfully kept the vows they made to God. By those estranged from God and alienated from Him, we mean those who are unbelievers or heretics. Finally, the enemies of God are those who have not only evaded and rejected the Lord’s commandment themselves, but who also wage bitter war on those who are fulfilling it."

One of the first articles for the Queen of Peace blog that we ever published was a promise that we would be doing a series going through the Ladder of Divine Ascent by St. John Climacus, and offering some thoughts as a layman, so as to help other laymen who would be students of St. John. In doing this, it is my goal that we would be able to climb together this ladder of divine ascent even as lay people of Christ. To read that first article, click the link at the bottom of this article. I am finally ready to deliver on that promise. So, let’s begin at the beginning because it is a very good place to begin.

When I was a medical assistant, I had to learn about triage. If you would have walked into the urgent care with me behind the desk, you would have been placed in line like any other place, however, your placement in that line would not be based on when you arrived. Rather, it would be based on how serious your symptoms were. For example, if you had pain in your chest, you would be placed at the very front of the line, because that may very well mean a heart-attack. Well, as we begin to climb the ladder together, St. John starts with a sort of spiritual triage. After reminding us of the goodness and kindness of God, he also reminds us of our own free will, by which we act as agents in the world, and choose whether we will live lives of synergy with God, or with demons. Beginning with these reminders enables him to offer us a unique opportunity to triage ourselves, triaging ourselves as to whether and to what extent we have chosen to live in synergy with God, or with the demonic. So, as we are embarking on our journey, let us take this opportunity for self-triage seriously, so that we can know up front the disease, and thus be ready to receive our spiritual medicine. St. John takes us through this spiritual triage by explaining the different categories into which people tend to find themselves when they first embark on their climb of the ladder.

First, there are, “true servants of God”. These are the human and angelic beings who tirelessly and consistently serve God with their whole heart. St. John the Forerunner, the Theotokos, St. John the Theologian, these are people we know of who have reached this blessed state. Not everyone attains to this, but it is held out before all, and God is willing to make any of us attain this. Since most of us do not start our ascent here, and those who do are likely not aware of it until after this life, for, as the puritan, John Flavel, has noted, “Those who are immoral think themselves better than they are, and those who are holy think themselves worse, and so when a preacher sets out a banquet of both strong admonitions, and fervent praise, it is often true that the portions received by both parties are the opposite of those intended." Since this is the case, I repeat that there are few who begin their climb of the ladder in this blessed state, and those few likely will not class themselves there. Thus, let’s just think of this state as the goal to which we are climbing. 

Second, there are, “worthless servants”. In this category are the people who have received baptism, and have perhaps even begun their course well, however, because of the cares of this age and likely because of a fair bit of sin, those in this class have either fallen away completely, or at the very least do not walk diligently in the faith from day to day. These are they who are in church twice a year, or many of them even once a week, but they probably do not want to be. Those in this category may even participate in the feasts of the church but rarely participate in her fasts. These are often the sort of people who ask whether fasting is “really all that important” and who say, “I can worship God at home in bed just the same as you do in church.” I think this is the great temptation we face as laymen. Monks have their own struggles, but we must struggle to keep our faith alive and kicking in the midst of our worldly affairs. A monk can easily participate in every service of the Church, and attend worship continually with all the fasting and prayers that are available to those who do. You and I cannot generally do so. I have to provide for a wife and children, and run a bookstore. I can’t be at all the services of the Church. And it would be easy to talk myself into allowing good things to keep me from better things. We must fight the urge to become worldly, and must fight against it with all our might. The best way to fight against this is by living as the Church no matter what age and place we find ourselves in. Keeping ourselves from the influence and infection of secularism, feminism, and any other heresy. Just because the rest of the neighborhood wants to live secular and apostate lifestyles does not mean that we have to. If you live in line with the Church’s teaching, you will have to make sacrifices, but it is worth it.

Next there are, “Those estranged from God”. In this category, St. John mentions “Unbelievers and heretics.” These are those poor souls who have either no concern at all for God, or worse, worship a false god. In our modern day, this is the default state, especially in secular places like the United States. In other parts of the world, the default state is to live as a Christian,those places have their own struggles with things like nominalism. But we struggle less with nominalism and more with full on apostasy. Still though, the best way to fend off against apostasy is to fend off against any form of nominalism, so, same remedy.

Finally, there are “enemies of God”. These are those who make martyrs of the pious, or who at the very least try to make the pious fall. People like Bart Ehrman or Zakir Naik who try to convince Christians to become apostates are good examples of enemies of God and His Church. In former ages, the communists in Russia and China, with their fierce persecution of the Church were enemies of God, but God has restored Russia to His Church, and we trust He will one day save China. In our own day, the governments of Barbados and the United States are increasingly making themselves enemies of God, and it is the duty of the pious to pray for them, and for God to help us to stay faithful. Those in this category have not yet set out on their climb, and are not likely to do so at this time. they must first be brought to repentance. As Dietrich Bonhoffer discussed, we cannot help people in this state by arguing with them, we must pray for them, and hope that they experience a sort of internal liberation. Then and only then, logic and argument will persuade them.

Now, I don’t know in which category you find yourself, and in all likelihood, you don’t perfectly know. In fact, most of us are a bit of a mixture, at least I suspect. And so, as we embark on the first step of our climb together, let us keep in mind where we have begun, and use that to help us know how we must labor on our climb to come.

Pax Christi

St. Tsar Nicholas, and St. John of Climacus, pray for us



Saint John of Climacus: 


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