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Step 19

ON BODILY AND MENTAL VIGILANCE.

1. Amongst the attendants of an earthly monarch, some are vested in robes of state, without armour, others carry battle-axes, many bear shields, or swords. There is a wide difference between the first and the last, and they cannot be compared one with the other. For the first are either the relatives or intimate friends of the sovereign; but they who are clothed in armour are merely his officers and domestics. Such is the order and rank of those who dwell in the palaces of earthly kings.

2. Let us learn from this the rank and order in which we should present ourselves before the Lord, our heavenly King, during our prayers at eventide, midnight, or in the course of the day. During their evening devotions some address their supplications to Him with arms extended, clothed only with spiritual ornaments, and disengaged from all terrestrial cares. Others stand before His Divine Majesty whilst chanting in His honour their psalms and canticles of jubilation and praise. Several are principally employed in reading the Holy Scriptures. Others, whose intellectual capacity is not so great, courageously resist drowsiness by manual labour. And not a few keep their attention alive by the meditation of death, which awakens in their bosoms sentiments of true compunction. Of all the solitaries here mentioned, the first and the last are they who employ the hours of watching in exercises the most holy and divine. The second adopt a method less excellent, and which is common to all religious. The vigils of the remainder are spent far less perfectly. Nevertheless, God accepts these presents from these differently disposed persons, and varies His judgment according to the zeal and fortitude they display in His service.

3. The eye of the body which watches, purifies the eye of the mind. Protracted sleep obscures the light of the soul.

4. The solitary who loves watching is the enemy of incontinency; but he who indulges in immoderate sleep has usually impurity for his companion.

5. Holy watching cools down the ardour of sensuality; it is the banishment of obscene songs; the fountain of penitential tears; the fixed attention and careful superintendence of our thoughts; the salutary warmth which quickly digests our nourishment, that it may not oppress the chest; the extermination of the passions; the bridle of an indiscreet tongue; the dispersion of all the clouds, the annihilation of all the phantoms, which darken with their shadows the purity of the mind, and trouble its repose.

6. The solitary that is vigilant is a spiritual fisherman, who, without distraction from sensible objects, observes with diligence all his thoughts during the silence and repose of the night, and who seizes them, arrests them, and permits not one of them to escape.

7. The solitary who loves God hears the bell for divine office with joy, and exclaims: “Courage, my soul, courage”. But the sluggard, with much regret, cries out: “Alas! Alas!”.

8. As gluttons display their intemperance during their meals, so do those who are cold in the service of God, show forth their tepidity in the time of prayer. The first leap with joy at the sight of a well-spread table, the latter grow sad when they are summoned to prayer.

9. A too great indulgence in sleep produces a forgetfulness of holy things; whilst watching purifies the imagination and the memory.

10. As it is into the granary and the corn-bin that husbandmen gather their treasures, so is it in the prayer of the evening and of the night, that solitaries amass their store of virtue, their treasures of knowledge.

11. Drowsiness is to the sluggard an unfaithful ally, which steals from him, by a just robbery, the half or greater part of his life.

12. The lukewarm religious is but too much awake in conversation and entertainments, but the moment the hour of prayer is announced, his eyelids become heavy with sleep.

13. The solitary who has lost the spirit of his state is active and prompt enough in vain and frivolous discourse, but always nodding and dropping asleep whilst reading pious books. As at the end of the world, the archangel’s trumpet will be the signal for the resurrection of the dead; so the invitation to those entertaining colloquies is the hour for these dormant religious to arise from their slumbers.

14. The demon that tyrannizes over us is a deceitful friend. Frequently will he retire from us after a full meal, but persecute us beyond endurance, when, during our longest fasts we are oppressed by hunger and thirst.

15. In the very midst of our prayers, he prompts us to employ ourselves in manual labour. For he cannot distract in any other way those who are fully awake.

16. Sleepfulness is the first of the spiritual enemies that glides into the souls of young solitaries, and that begins with them their first combat, for the purpose either of rendering them slothful at the outset of their career, or to open a passage to the demon of incontinency.

17. Until we have conquered this disposition to drowsiness, it is our best policy to join a religious community. and chant the divine office in company with many brethren. For respect and shame will prevent us from sleeping much in a numerous choir. The dog is the deadly enemy of the hare, and vainglory the mortal foe of sleep.

18. As the merchant counts in the evening the profits of the day, so the virtuous solitary reckons his spiritual gain, derived from the chanting of the Psalms, at the termination of the Divine Office.

19. Watch attentively after prayer, and you will behold yourselves surrounded by legions of demons, invisible to the eyes of the body. Not able to endure the defeat they sustained during our prayers, they exert themselves to obtain a conquest by piercing our souls with the poisoned shafts of impure and dishonest thoughts. Observe them with care when you retire to rest, that you may discover which of these enemies is accustomed to steal from you your first aspirations, your first-fruits intended for an oblation to God.

20. It sometimes happens that, from our custom of reciting the Psalms when awake, certain words or verses of these inspired hymns will recur to the mind during sleep. It may also be that the angel of darkness suggests these portions of holy song purposely to inflate our hearts with vanity, and thus hurl us down the precipice of destruction. I would intentionally have suppressed a third effect, had I not been placed under some obligation to mention it. The soul which is nourished by continual meditation on the word of God, often revolves during sleep the pious thoughts which occupied it during the wakeful hours of the day. This second grace is an appropriate recompense for our correspondence with the first, and God grants it to us that we may repel the midnight phantoms and illusions of the evil spirits.

He who has ascended this nineteenth step in the Ladder of Perfection, has received in his heart the illumination of celestial light.



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Archbishop Gregory
Dormition Skete
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