St. John of the Ladder on Anger

johnclimacusladderI continue with some thoughts on this important subject. This is taken from the great spiritual classic, The Ladder of Divine Ascent (chapter 8). There are a number of very worthy insights – quite similar to those found in Met. Jonah article referenced earlier.

As the gradual pouring of water on a fire puts out the flame completely, so the tears of genuine mourning can extinguish every flame of anger and irascibility. Hence this comes next in our sequence.

Freedom from anger is an endless wish for dishonor, whereas among the vainglorious there is a limitless thirst for praise. Freedom from anger is a triumph over one’s nature. It is the ability to be impervious to insults, and comes by hard work and the sweat of one’s brow.

Meekness is a permanent condition of that soul which remains unaffected by whether or not it is spoken well of, whether or not it is honored or praised.

The first step toward freedom from anger is to keep the lips silent when the heart is stirred; next, to keep thoughts silent when the soul is upset; the lst, to be totally calm when unclean winds are blowing.

Anger is an indication of concealed hatred, of grievance nursed. Anger is the wish to harm someone who has provoked you.

Irascibility is an untimely flaring up of the heart. Bitterness is a stirring of the soul’s capacity for displeasure. Anger is an easily changed movement of one’s disposition, a disfigurement of the soul.

Just as darkness retreats before light, so all anger and bitterness disappears before the fragrance of humility.

Some unfortunate people, who have a tendency to anger, neglect the treatment and cure of this passion and so give no thought to the saying, “The moment of his anger is his downfall” (Ecclesiasticus 1:22).

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.



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12 responses to “St. John of the Ladder on Anger”

  1. AR Avatar

    Father, how can any condition of the soul be permanant? How does Orthodox theology allow for this?

  2. elizabeth Avatar

    Lord have mercy. Thank you for this post Father. Please pray for us.

  3. fatherstephen Avatar

    I see what you mean (after re-reading it). I think it’s a translation issue. Meekness being more or less a “universal” condition of the soul that defeats anger. Though as a virtue, it is quite possible for the virtues to be formed (by grace) as permanent aspects of the soul, I would think. It would be a very advanced spiritual life.

  4. Mrs. Mutton Avatar
    Mrs. Mutton

    Useful and sobering. In an earlier post, the one from Metropolitan Jonah, one response raised the question of anger on another’s behalf, and I wish you could address this in a future post, since I suspect that many of us struggle with the matter of how to use anger to defend an innocent third party without sinning.

  5. JS Bangs Avatar

    Freedom from anger is an endless wish for dishonor, whereas among the vainglorious there is a limitless thirst for praise.

    This strikes me like a slap in the face. Jesus have mercy on me, a sinner.

  6. Karen C Avatar
    Karen C

    Dear Father, bless! Tangential to Mrs. Mutton’s question I am wondering about the Scriptures exhortation, “Be angry, but do not sin.” in Eph. 4:26 (which is a quote of Ps. 4:4). If this merely has the meaning of “When you become angry. . .”, or “If you are angry . . .” why does the English translation say “Be angry” which sounds like an imperative? Perhaps this is merely a frank acknowledgment that we will in our imperfection get angry and in contrast to saying, “repress your anger!” Forgive my ignorance here. I have heard conflicting teachings about anger as an emotion, and I am neither a Greek nor Hebrew scholar, so I’m curious. Obviously, in context both passages are an exhortation to not allow our anger to lead us to sin, but to trust God and control our angry responses. So the overall context supports the patristic approach.

  7. fatherstephen Avatar


    The Greek is not really ambiguous. It says “Be angry” (it’s in the imperative mood). and do not sin. But it’s the verse following that explains this strange statement: “Do not let the sun go down on your anger.” It does not seem to assume that we will not be angry, but first tells us not to use the anger to sin, and then to get rid of it asap. It’s like saying, “pick up a snake but don’t get bit and don’t hang on to it.” Perhaps writing in East Tennessee I should not have used the pick up a snake image. 🙂

  8. Karen C Avatar
    Karen C

    Maybe it would be better to use the analogy of “Get gum on your shoe, but don’t leave it there; clean it off before it picks up a whole lot of other crud!” 🙂 Sometimes being vulnerable to sin is simply the result of living in a fallen, dirty world, full of careless people like ourselves who spit out their gum in the parking lot! On the other hand, sin can’t stick to us unless there is an element of the cooperation of our will, so maybe “pick up a snake” is more truly analogous. Thanks for the quick reply.

  9. Sean Avatar

    “Father, how can any condition of the soul be permanant? How does Orthodox theology allow for this?” – Meekness (or better its greek equivalent) is not perceived as a permanent condition, but rather an attribute. In this sense, it refers to the reaction towards outer conditions and inward thought and emotion, and, I would think, not to a general and unchanged passive stance. Might be wrong, of course, I am not a theologian.

  10. William Avatar

    I wonder if the permanence spoken of here about meekness is like the unceasing quality of prayer toward which we strive. In this case, we are being called to remain unceasingly unaffected whether or not we are spoken well of.

    Lord, have mercy!

  11. […] H/T: Glory to God For All Things (here) […]

  12. Andreas Avatar

    When angry I am afraid it used to take me a while to calm down because I got moody when the anger had past. I used my prayer rope and say the Jesus Prayer to help me, and still do use it for other reasons. I am also regretful that it seems to be a family trait, a lot of my family who are Greek Cypriot were hot headed. I have learnt over the years with experience to become much more calm, as have my closest relatives, because as a family we have learnt patience and understanding. Also, because of much suffering in our lives we have gained humility which being the single greatest characteristic a person can have, has help control anger as a whole.

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