The Ladder of Divine Ascent, or Ladder of Paradise 
(Κλίμαξ; Scala or Climax Paradisi)
Icon of The Ladder of Divine Ascent (the steps toward theosis as described by St. John Climacus) showing monks ascending (and falling from) the ladder to Jesus. Saint Catherine's Monastery.


The Ladder of Divine Ascent, or Ladder of Paradise (Κλίμαξ; Scala or Climax Paradisi), is an important ascetical treatise for monasticism in Eastern Christianity written by John Climacus in ca. AD 600 at the request of John, Abbot of Raithu, a monastery situated on the shores of the Red Sea.

The Scala, is addressed to anchorites and cenobites and treats of the means by which the highest degree of religious perfection may be attained. Divided into thirty parts, or "steps", in memory of the thirty years of the life of Christ, the Divine model of the religious, growth to paradise. It presents a picture of all the virtues and contains a great many parables and historical touches, drawn principally from the monastic life, and exhibiting the practical application of the precepts.

At the same time, as the work is mostly written in a concise, sententious form, with the aid of aphorisms, and as the reasonings are not sufficiently closely connected, it is at times somewhat obscure. The most ancient of the manuscripts containing the Scala is found in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris and was probably brought from Florence by Catherine de' Medici. In some of these manuscripts, the work bears the title of "Spiritual Tables" (Plakes pneumatikai).

Steps or Rungs on the Ladder to Heaven

The Scala consists of 30 chapters, or "rungs",

· 1–4: Renunciation of the world and obedience to a spiritual father

1. Περί αποταγής (On renunciation of the world, or asceticism)

2. Περί απροσπαθείας (On detachment)

3. Περί ξενιτείας (On exile or pilgrimage; concerning dreams that beginners have)

4. Περί υπακοής (On blessed and ever-memorable obedience (in addition to episodes involving many individuals))

· 5–7: Penitence and affliction (πένθος) as paths to true joy

5. Περί μετανοίας (On painstaking and true repentance, which constitutes the life of the holy convicts, and about the Prison)

6. Περί μνήμης θανάτου (On remembrance of death)

7. Περί του χαροποιού πένθους (On joy-making mourning)

· 8–17: Defeat of vices and acquisition of virtue

8. Περί αοργησίας (On freedom from anger and on meekness)

9. Περί μνησικακίας (On remembrance of wrongs)

10. Περί καταλαλιάς (On slander or calumny)

11. Περί πολυλογίας και σιωπής (On talkativeness and silence)

12. Περί ψεύδους (On lying)

13. Περί ακηδίας (On despondency)

14. Περί γαστριμαργίας (On that clamorous mistress, the stomach)

15. Περί αγνείας (On incorruptible purity and chastity, to which the corruptible attain by toil and sweat)

16. Περί φιλαργυρίας (On love of money, or avarice)

17. Περί ακτημοσύνης (On non-possessiveness (that hastens one Heavenwards))

· 18–26: Avoidance of the traps of asceticism (laziness, pride, mental stagnation)

18. Περί αναισθησίας (On insensibility, that is, deadening of the soul and the death of the mind before the death of the body)

19. Περί ύπνου και προσευχής (On sleep, prayer, and psalmody with the brotherhood)

20. Περί αγρυπνίας (On bodily vigil and how to use it to attain spiritual vigil, and how to practice it)

21. Περί δειλίας (On unmanly and puerile cowardice)

22. Περί κενοδοξίας (On the many forms of vainglory)

23. Περί υπερηφανείας, Περί λογισμών βλασφημίας (On mad pride and (in the same Step) on unclean blasphemous thoughts; concerning unmentionable blasphemous thoughts)

24. Περί πραότητος και απλότητος (On meekness, simplicity, and guilelessness, which come not from nature but from conscious effort, and on guile)

25. Περί ταπεινοφροσύνης (On the destroyer of the passions, most sublime humility, which is rooted in spiritual perception)

26. Περί διακρίσεως (On discernment of thoughts, passions and virtues; on expert discernment; brief summary of all aforementioned)

· 27–29: Acquisition of hesychia, or peace of the soul, of prayer, and of apatheia (dispassion or equanimity with respect to afflictions or suffering)

27. Περί ησυχίας (On holy stillness of body and soul; different aspects of stillness and how to distinguish them)

28. Περί προσευχής (On holy and blessed prayer, the mother of virtues, and on the attitude of mind and body in prayer)

29. Περί απαθείας (Concerning Heaven on earth, or Godlike dispassion and perfection, and the resurrection of the soul before the general resurrection)

· 30. Περί αγάπης, ελπίδος και πίστεως (Concerning the linking together of the supreme trinity among the virtues; a brief exhortation summarizing all that has said at length in this book)

One translation of the Scala, La Escala Espiritual de San Juan Clímaco, became the first book printed in the Americas, in 1532.

A solitary hermitage in Mount Athos                         Practical internment - extreme form

An anchorite or anchoret (female: anchoress; adj. anchoritic; from Ancient Greek: ἀναχωρητής, anachōrētḗs, "one who has retired from the world", from the verb ἀναχωρέω, anachōréō, signifying "to withdraw", "to retire") is someone who, for religious reasons, withdraws from secular society so as to be able to lead an intensely prayer-oriented, ascetic, and—circumstances permitting—Eucharist-focused life. Whilst anchorites are frequently considered to be a type of religious hermit, unlike hermits they were required to take a vow of stability of place, opting instead for permanent enclosure in cells often attached to churches. They enter in the enclosure after final rites and never come back to the communal living.



Cenobitic (or coenobitic) monasticism is a monastic tradition that stresses community life. Often in the West, the community belongs to a religious order and the life of the cenobitic monk is regulated by a religious rule, a collection of precepts.
The older style of monasticism, to live as a hermit, is called eremitic.
A third form of monasticism, found primarily in the East, is the skete.

The English words "cenobite" and "cenobitic" are derived, via Latin, from the Greek words koinos, "common", and bios, "life". The adjective can also be cenobiac, koinobiakos

The Philokalia ("love of the beautiful, the good", from philia "love" and  kallos "beauty") is "a collection of texts written between the 4th and 15th centuries by spiritual masters" of the Eastern Orthodox hesychast tradition. They were originally written for the guidance and instruction of monks in "the practice of the contemplative life." The collection was compiled in the eighteenth century by St. Nikodemos of the Holy Mountain. You can download a copy at: http://www.holybooks.com/wp-content/uploads/Philokalia.pdf

Stages in Theosis


According to the standard ascetic formulation of this process, there are three stages:

first, κάθαρσις, Katharsis or purification; the purgative way, purification, or katharsis;

second, θεωρία Theoria or illumination, also called "natural" or "acquired contemplation;"illumination, the illuminative way, the vision of God.

third,  θέωσις, Union or Theosis; also called "infused" or "higher contemplation"; indwelling in God; vision of God; deification; union with God; sainthood, the unitive way, or theosis.

κάθαρσις, Katharsis or purification; the Purgation, Purification,Clarification

Purification precedes conversion and constitutes a turning away from all that is unclean and unwholesome. This is a purification of mind and body.


Hippocrates associated catharsis with healing, because it's role of a "purification agent" affecting the course of disease (both physical and mental). The spiritual meaning of catharsis is very much the same: discharging everything harmful from one's mind and heart, so that one can become pure.  The ritual of purification usually implies that a person had engaged in some prohibited actions or sins. Catharsis helped to return to the previous status - before the violation of generally accepted rules and norms. In various religious practices, the action of purification is fulfilled with the help of water, blood, fire, change of clothes, and sacrifice. The rituals are often considered as part of a person's healing from the devastating effect of guilt.

Further, the key mission of mysticism is to understand the return or unification of one's soul with God. The ritual of baptism (purifying person with water) in Christianity has cathartic meaning of revival. Confession has the same underlying assumption, and it is similar to the concept of cathartic treatment introduced by Freud and Breuer, because confession involves the recall, revealing, and release of forbidden thoughts, actions, and repressed emotions.

Spiritual and cultural rituals have been known throughout the history to help people process collective stress situations, such as death or separation, or major life changing events like rites of passages, weddings, and such. Traditional societies have ceremonies of mourning, funeral rites, and curing rituals, which most often include cathartic activities, such as crying, weeping, drumming, or ecstatic dance (Szczeklik, 2005).

In the Eastern Orthodox ascetic tradition called hesychasm, humility, as a saintly attribute, is called Holy Wisdom or sophia. Humility is the most critical component to humanity's salvation. Following Christ's instruction to "go into your room or closet and shut the door and pray to your father who is in secret" (Matthew 6:6), the hesychast withdraws into solitude in order that he or she may enter into a deeper state of contemplative stillness. By means of this stillness, the mind is calmed, and the ability to see reality is enhanced. The practitioner seeks to attain what the apostle Paul called 'unceasing prayer'.


An exercise long used among Christians for acquiring contemplation, one that is "available to everyone, whether he be of the clergy or of any secular occupation", is that of focusing the mind by constant repetition a phrase or word. This method is found in almost all religions, especially in the mystical traditions.

Degrees of prayer

Eastern Orthodox tradition recognizes three degrees of prayer:
(1) Ordinary oral prayer, as is practiced in church or at home;
(2) prayerful thoughts and feelings united with the mind and heart; and
(3) unceasing prayer, also known as 'Prayer of the Heart':

"...the heart is warmed by concentration so that what hitherto has only been thought now becomes feeling.
Where first it was a contrite phrase now it is contrition itself;
and what was once a petition in words is transformed into a sensation of entire necessity.
Whoever has passed through action and thought to true feeling, will pray without words, for God is God of the heart.
So that the end of apprenticeship in prayer can be said to come when in our prayer we move only from feeling to feeling.
In this state reading may cease, as well as deliberate thought…
When the feeling of prayer reaches the point where it becomes continuous,
then spiritual prayer may be said to begin…
Without inner spiritual prayer there is no prayer at all,
for this alone is real prayer, pleasing to God."

Prayer of the Heart is often associated with a prayer called The Jesus Prayer.
The Jesus Prayer has long been used in hesychastic asceticism as a spiritual tool to aid the practitioner to bring about the unceasing, wordless prayer of the heart that St. Theophan describes.
The Jesus Prayer does this by invoking an attitude of humility essential for the attainment of
The Jesus Prayer is also invoked to pacify the passions, as well as the illusions that lead a person to actively express these passions. The worldly, neurotic mind is habitually accustomed to seek perpetuation of pleasant sensations and to avoid unpleasant ones. This state of incessant agitation of the mind is attributed to the corruption of primordial knowledge and union with God (the Fall of Man and the defilement and corruption of consciousness, or
nous). According to St. Theophan the Recluse, though the Jesus Prayer has long been associated with the Prayer of the Heart, they are not synonymous.

The Eastern repetitious prayer has the intention and purpose of helping the devotee empty their mind and enter a state of self abnegation and forgetting this world. The object of the prayer of meditation is for the devotee to enter into a kind of nothingness in which all material things are forgotten or denied.Vain repetition is repetition without any foundation in meaning or purpose.

That’s what Jesus means in the second half of Matthew 6:7 when he says, “They think they are heard because of their many words.”

Contemplation (theoria)


The Great Schema worn by Orthodox monks and nuns of the most advanced degree.


The Greek theoria (θεωρία), from which the English word "theory" (and theatre) is derived,
meant "contemplation, speculation, a looking at, things looked at",
from theorein (θεωρεῖν) "to consider, speculate, look at",
theoros (θεωρός) "spectator",
thea (θέα) "a view" + horan (ὁρᾶν) "to see".
It expressed the state of being a spectator.
Both Greek
θεωρία and Latin contemplatio primarily meant looking at things, whether with the eyes or with the mind. 

Taking philosophical and theological traditions into consideration, the term was used by the ancient Greeks to refer to the act of experiencing or observing and then comprehending through consciousness, which is called the nous or "eye of the soul" (Matthew 6:22–34).  

Insight into being and becoming (called noesis) through the intuitive truth called faith, in God (action through faith and love for God), leads to truth through our contemplative faculties. This theory, or speculation, as action in faith and love for God, is then expressed famously as "Beauty shall Save the World". This expression comes from a mystical or gnosiological perspective, rather than a scientific, philosophical or cultural one. 

Christianity took up the use of both the Greek (theoria) and Latin (contemplatio, contemplation) terminology to describe various forms of prayer and the process of coming to know God. Eastern and Western traditions of Christianity grew apart as they incorporated the general notion of theoria into their respective teachings.

 The Greek idea of theoria and the Indian idea of darśana (darshan) has similarities, both leading the person into deeper mystic realities.

Theoria is beyond conceptual knowledge, like the difference between reading about the experience of another, and reading about one's own experience.

Greek Fathers of the Church, in taking over from the Neoplatonists the word theoria, attached to it the idea expressed by the Hebrew word da'ath, which, though usually translated as "knowledge", is a much stronger term, since it indicates the experiential knowledge that comes with love and that involves the whole person, not merely the mind. In addition, the Christian's theoria is not contemplation of Platonic Ideas nor of the astronomical heavens of Pontic Heraclitus, but is contemplative prayer, the knowledge of God that is impregnated with love.

Together with the meaning of "proceeding through philosophical study of creatures to knowledge of God", θεωρία had, among the Greek Fathers, another important meaning, namely "studying the Scriptures", with an emphasis on the spiritual sense.

In the advance to contemplation Augustine spoke of seven stages:

1. the first three are merely natural preliminary stages, corresponding to the vegetative, sensitive and rational levels of human life;

2. the fourth stage is that of virtue or purification;

3. the fifth is that of the tranquillity attained by control of the passions;

4. the sixth is entrance into the divine light (the illuminative stage);

5. the seventh is the indwelling or unitive stage that is truly mystical contemplation.


Unity (theosis)

Theosis results from leading a pure life, practicing restraint and adhering to the commandments, putting the love of God before all else. This metamorphosis (transfiguration) or transformation results from a deep love of God. Saint Isaac the Syrian says that "Paradise is the love of God, in which the bliss of all the beatitudes is contained," and that "the tree of life is the love of God" (Homily 72). Theoria is thus achieved by the pure of heart who are no longer subject to the afflictions of the passions. It is a gift from the Holy Spirit to those who, through observance of the commandments of God and ascetic practices have achieved dispassion.

The highest theoria, the highest consciousness that can be experienced by the whole person, is the vision of God. A nous in a state of ecstasy or ekstasis, called the eighth day, is not internal or external to the world, outside of time and space; it experiences the infinite and limitless God. . This ontic or ontological theoria is the observation of God.

 Ascetic practice

The journey toward theosis includes many forms of praxis, the most obvious being monasticism and clergy.

Of the monastic tradition, the practice of hesychasm is most important as a way to establish a direct relationship with God. Living in the community of  the church and partaking regularly of the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, is taken for granted.

Also important is cultivating "prayer of the heart", and prayer that never ceases, as Paul exhorts the Thessalonians (1 and 2). This unceasing prayer of the heart is a dominant theme in the writings of the Fathers, especially in those collected in the Philokalia. It is considered that no one can reach theosis without an impeccable Christian living, crowned by faithful, warm, and, ultimately, silent, continuous Prayer of the Heart.

The "doer" in deification is the Holy Spirit, with whom the human being joins his will to receive this transforming grace by praxis and prayer, and as Gregory Palamas teaches, the Christian mystics are deified as they become filled with the Light of Tabor of the Holy Spirit in the degree that they make themselves open to it by asceticism (divinization being not a one-sided act of God, but a loving cooperation between God and the advanced Christian, which Palamas considers a synergy).

This synergeia or co-operation between God and Man does not lead to mankind being absorbed into the God as was taught in earlier pagan forms of deification like henosis. Rather it expresses unity, in the complementary nature between the created and the creator. Acquisition of the Holy Spirit is key as the acquisition of the spirit leads to self-realization.

Saint Teresa of Avila described four degrees or stages of mystical union:

1. incomplete mystical union, or the prayer of quiet or supernatural recollection, when the action of God is not strong enough to prevent distractions, and the imagination still retains a certain liberty;

2. full or semi-ecstatic union, when the strength of the divine action keeps the person fully occupied but the senses continue to act, so that by making an effort, the person can cease from prayer;

3. ecstatic union, or ecstasy, when communications with the external world are severed or nearly so, and one can no longer at will move from that state; and

4. transforming or deifying union, or spiritual marriage (properly) of the soul with God.