Friday, March 14, 2014

Thirty Steps to Heaven (Ancient Faith Press)

Is there a book on your shelf that has been there too long? One that you wish you could understand, but no matter how many times you pick it up, it just doesn't make sense to you? Sadly, I have a few books like that on my shelf. One in particular is The Ladder of Divine Ascent by St. John Climacus. Every Lent, I pull out my copy from Holy Transfiguration Monastery, and every year I get a few pages in and quit in disgust. Not this year! This year I have Thirty Steps to Heaven to help me!

Before I review, Thirty Steps to Heaven, I think I should clarify what The Ladder of Divine Ascent is for those unfamiliar with it. The Ladder is an ascetical treatise, intended for monastics, on how to obtain salvation. It was written in the 7th Century by Fr. John of Sinai (also known as Climacus, meaning of the Ladder), and is traditionally read by monastics every Great Lent. There are currently two versions in print. I prefer the one from Holy Transfiguration Monastery as it is a nice hardcover, has verse numbers and has other useful texts inside. The other version is printed by Paulist Press and contains an introduction by Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, possibly worth buying just for the introduction. Fr. Papavassiliou, the author of Thirty Steps to Heaven, chose the Paulist Press edition for quoting in his book.

Knowing this about The Ladder of Divine Ascent, why would a non-monastic want to read this book? Better yet, how could he ever hope to understand it or apply it to his life? Enter Fr. Papavassiliou and his wonderful book, Thirty Steps to Heaven. Aimed at the non-monastic, this book takes excerpts from the thirty rungs of The Ladder and then applies them to one's daily life. The first thing I like about this book is how the author divides the rungs of The Ladder into seven sections:
  • The Break with the World
  • The Fundamental Virtues
  • The Spiritual Passions
  • The Physical Passions
  • The Spiritual Passions (continued)
  • The Higher Virtues
  • Union with God
Doing this not only provides logical breaks, but it also focuses the reader's mind on the goal of each section as they ascend The Ladder. I must admit that the first section alone, The Break with the World, was enough to knock me to my knees. These first three steps focus on detachment from the world, renunciation (or not longing from the world you just detached yourself from), and exile (or humility and not seeking glory in anything we do). After reading these steps, I experienced both a longing to climb these three steps and doubt on whether or not I was able to.

Another thing I appreciate about this book is that it can be read as a stand-alone book, not just in conjunction with The Ladder. With extensive quotes, an easily-read explanation of each rung, and a humble tone, Fr. Papavassiliou makes this difficult ascetical treatise available to the laity, like myself. I think the step that hit home the most for me dealt with talkativeness. "Talkativeness is the throne of vainglory on which it loves to preen itself and show off. Talkativeness is a sign of ignorance, a doorway to slander, a leader of jesting..." The quote goes on to further tell the evils of talkativeness, and all I keep thinking to myself is, Amen. Teach me intelligent silence, Lord.

I find myself picking up this book and re-reading the same step several times per day, letting more knowledge sink in each time. I will soon pick up The Ladder again, with this book by its side, and read with hopefully a little less frustration and a little more understanding. I wholeheartedly recommend this book to all, no matter if you are Orthodox, Catholic, or Protestant. It is the perfect book for Lent, but can honestly be read at any time of the year. May we all ascend The Ladder which leads to Paradise. Also, be sure to purchase, Fr. Papavassiliou's next book, Meditations for Holy Week. There's a preview in the back of this book, and it looks just as awesome as Meditations for Advent and Meditations for Great Lent.

This book was provided to me for free by Ancient Faith Publishing in exchange for an honest review. If you found this review helpful, please click here and hit Yes!