LIBER GRADUUM: THE SYRIAC BOOK OF STEPS
A collection of thirty discourses from the fourth century Syriac speaking church located in modern day Iraq, Turkey and Syria. Reflecting the ups and downs of a real Christian community the discourses call the reader back to the steps of Uprightness and Perfection.
The Book of Steps is divided into thirty chapters, or discourses. The first discourse, and subsequent ones (especially number 14), divides the community into two groups. One group is called the perfect, to whom the stricter major commandments apply. The other group is called the upright, who comprise the remainder of the community, to whom lesser commandments apply which are described as spiritual milk to the solid food of the major commandments — Hebrews 5.13-14. The lesser commandments are outworkings of the Golden Rule, Matthew 7.12 and Luke 6.31, and represent a life devoted to charity. On the other hand, the perfect are expected to renounce family, marriage and property so as to receive baptism of fire and Spirit.
The headings of the thirty chapters, or discourses, are as follows:
On the distinction between the major commandments, for the perfect, and the minor commandments, for the upright.
On those who wish to be perfect.
The physical and the spiritual ministry.
On vegetables for the sick (see Romans 14.2).
On milk for infants (see I Corinthians 3.1-2).
On the person who becomes perfect and continues to grow.
On the commandments for the upright.
On the person who gives all he has to the poor to eat.
On uprightness and on the love of the upright and of prophets.
On the advantage we have when we endure evil while performing good; and on fasting and humiliation of body and soul.
On hearing the Scriptures, and when the Law is read before us.
On the ministry of the hidden and the revealed church.
On the way of life of the upright.
On the upright and the perfect.
On the marriage instinct in Adam.
On how a person grows as a result of the major commandments.
On the sufferings of our Lord, by which an example is provided for us.
On the tears of prayer.
On the distinguishing characteristics of the way of perfection.
On the hard steps on the way.
On the Tree of Adam.
On the judgments by which those who make them are not saved.
On Satan, Pharaoh and the Children of Israel.
On the voice of God and that of Satan.
On the second law which the Lord laid down for Adam.
On the matter of the thief who was saved.
On the human soul not being blood.
On subduing the body.
On the commandments of faith and of love of the solitaries.
Since we know that the body becomes a hidden temple and the heart a hidden altar for spiritual worship, let us be diligent in this public altar and before this public temple. Although we are weary in these things, we shall live forever in the great freeborn and heavenly church, an in that altar that is adorned and erected by the Spirit, before which angels and all the saints serve and Jesus celebrates and offers up His sacrifice before them, and above them and on all their sides.
Since we know that the Perfect are baptized in Jesus Christ and are inwardly pure, let us believe and affirm this visible baptism, which is of the Spirit and is the absolution and pardoning of sins for whoever believes in it and is baptized in it and performs good deeds.
For our lord and his first and last preachers did not erect in vain the Church and the altar and baptism, all of which are visible to physical eyes. It is through these visible things, however that we shall be in these heavenly things, which are invisible to eyes of the flesh, our bodies becoming temples and our hearts altars. Let us open the door and enter into this visible church with its priesthood and its worship so that our bodies may become good examples to all people who imitate the church in the vigils and fasting and patience of our Lord and his preachers--let us act and teach.
Then when we are in great lowliness and honor all people-great and small-that heavenly church and spiritual altar will be revealed to us and we will sacrifice praise upon it through the prayer of our hearts and the supplication of our bodies while believing in this visible altar and this priesthood which serves that altar true for us. Everything in this church is established in imitation of that hidden church. But if we doubt and treat with contempt this public church and this public altar, and the public priesthood and the baptism that brings forgiveness, our body will not become a temple nor will our heart become an altar and a fortress of glory. That higher church and its altar, its light and its priesthood, will not be revealed to us. Whither are gathered all the saints who are pure in their heart and dwell in its glory and luxuriate in its light for they do not treat with contempt this blessed nurse who gives birth everyday and educates good envoys and sends them to that great church in heaven.
Blessed is whoever has entered that heavenly church upon which our Lord shines openly, just as this visible sun shines upon this visible church and upon these temples of the body. How many times will this sun set on these? The light of the face of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ does not depart for that church that is above. For even if our Lord is everywhere, he is clearly visible only in that heavenly church, but only to those who have lowered themselves and have become calm and gentle with everyone, and have fought and made war only with the evil spirits, and have purified their hearts from evil thoughts, just as the apostle said, your struggle has not been against people of flesh and blood, but against the principalities and the powers and the evil spirits, and against Satan the destroyer.
There are three very difficult steps on this road leading to the city of our Lord Jesus. One is this: If a person has enemies, even though he does not offend or annoy anyone he should go meet these enemies-and those who hate him for no reason-and reconcile with them.
The second step is this: It is right for people to raise their pure hands before the Lord without anger and without evil thoughts. That is while their heart is pure from sin just as the heart of our father Adam was pure before he transgressed against the commandment.
Indeed a person may climb that first step, in which one should humble reconcile with his enemies who hate him for no reason through much fasting and powerful and lengthy prayer. Then a person may ascend that second step in which one should not be anxious or work, trusting in our Lord and saying, If I climb up, good, if I remain on the same step so be it. That is, we receive sustenance from our Lord as well as from begging food and clothing like a poor person. If I die, I will die and if I live, I will live, as long as I do not abandon the journey of the great road on account of nourishment and clothing. A person may climb this step in this hope, knowing very well that he must endure because his soul will be cast down to death, as our Lord said, whoever loses his soul on account of me shall find it.
This other step, through which a person shall come to reach the city of our Lord Jesus Christ, is harder than all the other steps. Because through this one a person encounters murder and perseveres until blood flows in the struggle against sin. Along with it there are many other steps on the road of our Lord, which were described to us above, and all are hard so that one may climb them all only with endurance.
But these three are especially hard and this is the last step: when a person has kept all of the commandments, he uproots all sin, its evil thoughts and fruits from the heart, that very sin that was planted in our father Adam and in our mother Eve on the day they sinned. Sin entered and lived in all their children This is the most difficult step the nearer one comes to the city of our Lord, the harder and steeper the road becomes, so that no one is able to climb it except with difficulty. But if a person climbs it, he will triumph and escape from captivity and death. On the other hand, there are people who travel these steps and upon reaching this step are amazed and pull back from its severity, remaining silent in front of the city of our Lord, and do not enter into it because they are shaken by the severity of this step, or they turn around, or distance themselves a long way from the city of our Lord, in which he dwells openly with his saints.
This step is difficult because through it a person does battle against sin, and if he does climb this step he will enter the house of our Lord. Ardently and defiantly, sin stands in front of him: either it kills or is killed. Because of this, even an athlete, who see sin standing menacingly before him preventing him from crossing over to the place our Lord promised him, battles desperately, struggling with sin. Concerning this step Paul said, you have not yet encountered murder nor stood up in the struggle until blood is shed against sin. While you have not yet cut off the leaves of a withered tree, its shoots and its branches, you have not yet approached the root, nor do you know how difficult it will be to uproot it. That is while you have not yet conquered even the visible sins, which are the leaves and shoots and branches of sin, when you reach its root, then you will see murder and the battle by which sin and the powers of Satan engage you, as it is written, A battle outside and fear within, Externally, the powers of Satan do battle and internally sin attacks.
Therefore, all the difficulty of this step lies in that a person uproots the hidden death, which Adam experienced in the transgression of the commandment, as well as all the evil thoughts of sin, everything that is considered spiteful in a person as our Lord said, in the heart exist all the thoughts of murder, adultery, and false witness, and of all the evil things a person does. Within and without, this sin entices him, for it is the same death that our parents and Adam and Eve experienced in the transgression of the first commandment. For as long as a person commits despicable deeds external to himself, derived from the sin inwardly thought about, the sin inside him is not very hard on him. But when he eliminates his despicable deeds, and fights and defeats the evil spirits that struggle against him externally, and eliminates this external sins, then he will reach that inner root that makes the flower bloom from within and strikes many from without, as Paul said, watch out lest the root of bitterness push the flower out and harm many.
Understand this also, my brothers: unless one performs all the commandments as our Lord and his apostles did and as our Lord commanded to do, one will not be able to cast off all outer and inner faults. If one does not become full of our Lord, his heart will not be emptied of sin and its fruits.
Therefore, our Lord shows us how a person might become pure from sin. Notice how he died on account of sinners and if it were not on account of us- so that he might teach us how to fight with Satan- he could have breathed on Satan and made him cease to exist. See how on account of us, he lowered himself in order to fight against Satan, an unworthy fox. For just as when a righteous person is seized, condemned to death on account of God, and the Lord sees him, turning away so that he may endure a little suffering and be victorious, that person, seeing that there is no one who will help him, is filled with sadness and cries for his murderers so that they may not be killed on account of him. In this way, our Lord desired to be afflicted by evil people and endure sufferings, and his heart was filled with sadness for our iniquity. This is due to his love for creatures and his desire to save them from perishing. Because, in this way, he had a means whereby you might be convinced and turn around to the house of life. In the same way, our Lord was sad for his betrayers and crucifiers and he wept and prayed with tears for them so that he might become for us an example that we should pray for our murderers with tears and should request from him as he had requested from his Father to forgive his murderers, because he and his Father are one in each other and the Holy Spirit is one in them. Whenever he said, forgive them, it was to teach us also to say what he had said to his Father.