Following Those Who have Climbed Before Us

Wednesday, December 15, 2021 Comments (0)

Kevin J.N. Hughes

A couple of weeks ago, we learned that and how we can triage our spiritual starting point as we embark on our climb of the Ladder of Divine Ascent. If you haven’t read that article yet, and would like to, feel free to follow the link at the bottom of this page. In the meantime, let’s continue with our climb. 

Each of the classes mentioned above might well have a special treatise devoted to it. But for simple folk like us it would not be profitable at this point to enter into such lengthy investigations. Come then, in unquestioning obedience let us stretch out our unworthy hand to the true servants of God who devoutly compel us and in their faith constrain us by their commands. Let us write this treatise with a pen taken from their knowledge and dipped in the ink of humility which is both subdued yet radiant. Then let us apply it to the smooth white paper of their hearts, or rather rest it on the tablets of the spirit, and let us inscribe the divine words (or rather sow the seeds). And let us begin like this.

So, now we have embarked on our climb. One thing we must learn how to do is to learn from those who have gone before. Even an anti-Catholic Apologist like Dr. James White has extolled the virtue of, “Not reinventing the wheel every generation.” And Todd Friel, who also has been very vocal in his stance against the historic faith has spoken on multiple occasions about the import of Church history, saying that we all “Stand on the shoulders of giants.”

So, even in circles that tend to oppose traditional Christian beliefs, there is still a sense that we should honor those holy people who have gone before. However, one thing that those who oppose the historic faith do not tend to appreciate is the idea that living people today can have spiritual authority. We may be under authority, but most of us, especially americans, do not like that authority to actually be able to make demands on us. St. John of Climacus however, encourages us to give due deference to holy people of old, and to the holy people who have authority even now. In doing so, we will experience the great blessing of being under authority.

In monastic life, this is something direct and simple (thought having a meek heart is never exactly easy). This is because when you’re in the monastic life, you have a hierarchy in your immediate context. You know who your abbot is, you know who your spiritual father is, etc. And more importantly, what they say goes. In the lay-person, this is a little more nuanced. Yes, our leaders have authority over us, but we also must tend to the affairs of our life, and our spiritual fathers are expected to discern that and work with us. However, We can still apply this in a few different ways.

First, we should read great books, paying special attention to the Holy Fathers, but we should also read new books like Arise O God by Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick and The Religion of the Apostles by Fr. Stephen De Young. We should learn to partake the wealth of the treasures of Alexander Schmamann. Basically, we should be exposing ourselves to the wisdom of the Church and feeding our mind with the wisdom of those who have gone before, and of those who studied under them, even to our day. 

Second, and of equal importance, we should make time to meet with our parish priest. If possible, go to confession once a month, or even once a week if you can do so. The more the merrier. And when you do go to confession, really listen to the counsel of your spiritual father. Don’t make excuses or write off his admonitions, they are for your great benefit. Listen carefully, and ask questions with humility when you do not understand, but do not argue with anything he says, for in the confessional he stands in the place of Jesus, to forgive you and admonish you to a better way.

Moreover, combine those two things. Schedule times to meet with your priest as often as you can. If you’re in a large parish, this may be every month or every other month, in smaller parishes, you may even be able to meet twice a month or weekly. Of course, this will depend upon your schedule too, but make the effort, it will be worth it. And trust me, your priest is not likely to be annoyed by you. In fact, if you come to him asking for spiritual counsel, and seeking answers to questions about the Bible and the Holy Fathers, and the teachings of the Church, he will be delighted. If there’s one thing every priest I know has in common, it is a love of discussing theology. If there are two things they have in common, it’s that and coffee. So, offer to take your priest out for coffee, or bring him coffee or tea. I have even brought my spiritual father a box of Coke Zero a couple of times. And then take whatever excuse you can to sit under the teaching of your spiritual father. 

Again, because we are laymen, we cannot expect of ourselves what monks do, we will have to work around our own schedules as well as the schedule of our parish priests. But I promise, if you are willing to put in just a little bit of effort you will see great rewards. Not all at once, God is not a microwave that you can push a few buttons on and gain everything you want. But when we put in the work, and listen to Him, He never fails us. Just a little effort goes a long way. 

The best part of all is that all these things compound together. If you read good spiritual books, you will come across things that you do not understand, or realize that there are passions you are struggling with. Whenever you encounter something like that, write it in a note-book or journal. Then when you are able, meet with your priest and ask him to untangle the knot for you. In confession, unburden your heart about all the sins that beset you, the things you struggle against time and time again. Your priest will not look down on you for this, but will instead share with you things you may not have considered, things other saints have used to gain the victory, and this will compound when you add to it the lessons from great spiritual masters.

One more category that should not be ignored is the blessing of the married state. St. Paul admonishes women to learn from their husbands at home (1 Timothy 2:11-14). This command has an obvious implication for husbands, men, we are called to be the sort of men our wives can ask questions of. So, study, be knowledgeable, and able to answer your wife’s spiritual questions, or have the humility to admit that you do not know the answer, and the willingness to do some homework to help her find it. Also, it is important to not only have the right information, but also be able to provide it in the right way. So, don’t be condescending, overbearing, angry, or terse when you answer, but answer your wife gently and lead her with compassion and humility. My wife is a very educated woman, and the questions she asks have been some of the most enriching I have ever pondered. On more than one occasion I have had to admit that I didn’t know the answer, and on more than one occasion, I have been deeply blessed by finding the answer for her. Moreover, the wonderful conversations that we have been able to have over the years about the beauty of theology have enriched both of our lives beyond what I can write. 

As lay-people, we may not manifest it in the same way, but we are just as much people under authority as the monastics. And if we choose to do so, we can experience ALL of the benefits of that authority from those living people who are in authority over us as well as from those saints who have gone before.

Pax Christi

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


To read the Triage article, click the following: 



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