In The Ladder of Divine Ascent, St John describes the spiritual life as a thirty step ladder of virtues and passions. Each step is one chapter, and when successfully dealt with, raises the Christian one step closer to Christ who awaits at the top of the ladder.
The top step of the Ladder (Gr. Κλίμαξ) is that of Faith, Hope and Love. This trio is metaphorically described as an increasing concentration of light with the greatest of the three being Love. In its essence, Love is ‘a resemblance to God insofar as this is humanly possible’, and so the promise that awaits the heart of the person who climbs to the top is the presence of God Himself.
But this poses a slight problem in that ‘the man who wants to talk about love is undertaking to speak about God’, and this is no simple task. St John expresses elsewhere that ‘plain words cannot precisely or truly or appropriately or clearly or sincerely describe the love of the Lord… such matters will [not] mean anything to someone who has never experienced them’. The point is to encourage us to taste and see for ourselves, to lead us from merely following Christ, to becoming like Him, Christ-like, and radiating His Divine Love.
After this step, there is no higher virtue, no more rungs to climb, ‘love has no boundary, and both in the present and in the future age we will never cease to progress in it’. Such is the aim and the struggle in ascending the ladder, that is, to try and experience this perfect Love, but in order to do so one would have to uproot all the passions with ‘a fountain of faith, an abyss of patience, a sea of humility’. Nevertheless, we are encouraged in that ‘love never fails’, being ‘the spiritual union of all the virtues’. Therefore, if we are to struggle against any passion, we must begin with a spirit of Love – the thread binding all the virtues and the key which unlocks them – and then proceed with Faith, Patience, Humility and all the other virtues until we ascend to Perfect Love.
Source: Lychnos February/March 2018