We should test the straightness or crookedness of the rules and the ascetic feats which we may have in mind and undertake. This necessity of being turned inwardly towards God must be fully recognized, because all the errors in the active life seem to come from ignorance of this principle. Not seeing its significance, some people stop short at the exterior stage of devout exercises and ascetic efforts, others stop short at the habitual practice of good deeds, without rising any higher. Others again attempt to pass directly to contemplation. All these things are required of us but everything must be done in its own time.
At the beginning there is only a seed, which afterwards develops —not exclusively, but in its general tendency—into one form of life or another. Gradualness is necessary—the orderly ascent from exterior to interior deeds, and then from both to contemplation. Such is always the sequence—never vice versa.
Theophan the Recluse, the Art of Prayer, p. 175.