Abba Poemen shares a parable brought by a layman on the Spiritual Way
A man said to his friend, " I want to go see the king. Come with me." hTe friend answered him. "I will go with you half way." He said to another friend, "Take me to the king." He said, "I will take you as far as the king's palace." The man said to the third person, "Come with me to the king." "Lets go," replied the third friend, "I will go with you to the king's palace, bring you inside, announce your arrival and present you to him."Abba Poeman asked the layman, "What does this parable mean?"
He replied, "the first friend is asceticism, which leads you to the true path; the second is purity, which takes you to Heaven; the third friend is almsgiving, which will fearlessly bring you to the King Himself, God"Abba is pointing out that our first step in attaining our union with God is asceticism. Through prayer, fasting and worship we orient ourselves on the true path. We learn to tame our passions and focus on God instead of our own self-initated needs and desires. It is like we are now able to lift our eyes off the ground and to look ahead and see where the pathway leads us. Without this first step we have our heads focused only on our own footsteps. This is why the church puts such a heavy emphasis on disciplines such as fasting and daily prayer. It is why the practice of the Jesus Prayer is so important for our spiritual growth.
Once we have purified ourselves of our passions and the numerous desires that tempt us to pursue only our own pleasure, we find we are at the gates of heaven. Our soul is energized and grace comes to us freely. This enables us to take the final step which is our union with God. This is the step of love of our neighbor. It is where we are continually seeking ways to help those who are around us, including our enemies. We freely give help where it is needed. In this we find ourselves in harmony with the God Himself. We are now able to do His will, on earth as it is in heaven.
Reference: The Spiritual Life, p 271