In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit!
The Church dedicates the fourth Sunday of Great Lent to the memory of St. John Climacus, or ”of the Ladder,” as the author of The Ladder is called. There is a deep meaning in this. After all, the fast is entirely connected with repentance.
But what does it mean to repent? Only to name your sins and say, ”I have sinned”? No! This is not enough for repentance. To repent means to change your sinful thoughts and feelings, to correct yourself, to become different. It is good to admit your sins, to feel the weight of sinful falls. But in place of a defiled life made straight by our Lord Jesus Christ through repentance, we need to begin the creation of a new life, a life according to the spirit of Christ. We need to grow, to spiritually ascend "from strength to strength," as up the steps of a ladder.
St. John of the Ladder left us a remarkable work entitled, The Ladder of Divine Ascent, which contains teaching on the ascent to the Lord. As The Ladder instructs, Christian growth and progress is achieved through ascetic labors. If Lord on His part provides a person with grace along the path to the Kingdom of God, then the person on his part must provide self-denial and labor.
The Ladder consists of thirty homilies (chapters), like steps, according to the age at which the Lord Jesus Christ began His ministry.
At the first step, the saint places the renunciation of earthly attachments. Then follow: detachment, life in exile, obedience, repentance, remembrance of death, tears, and meekness. Further on, the passions and others sinful states are revealed, and instructions are given for the struggle with them. Then is illustrated the path of the virtues, the mother of which is "holy and blessed" prayer. The "Ladder" is crowned by the union of three virtues—faith, hope, and love.
We will give a brief account of the saintly writer's life.
St. John Climacus lived in the sixth century. He received a good education, but left the world at age sixteen, entering the monastery on Mt. Sinai, where he was tonsured a monk at age twenty by Elder Martyrius. St. John lived with his elder in total obedience for twenty years. The Raithu monk Daniel writes of St. John that as a youth of sixteen, he ascended Mt. Athos in body, but in soul he ascended the heavenly heights.
After his elder's death, St. John departed to the Sinai desert called Thola, and lived there for forty years performing great ascetic labors, in ceaseless prayer, and deep compunction of heart and tears. He lived in a small cave, which people called "tear-streaming." The saint left the coenobium so that the monks would not hear his lamentations, and his lamentations and cries were very strong. Fasting, prayer, tears, silence, and the writing of books—this is what made up the life of St. John. He came to the monastery every Saturday and Sunday for services, to receive the Holy Mysteries, and to talk with the brethren.
After forty years of ascetic labors, St. John was chosen as abbot of Sinai. This appointment had been foreshown long ago. When Elder Martyrius came with his young disciple, John, to Anastasios the Great, the latter asked him, "Who is this youth, and who tonsured him?" Martyrius answered, "He is your servant, father, and I tonsured him." Then Abba Anastasios said, "Who would have thought that you would tonsure the abbot of Sinai?"
Another time, Abba Martyrius and John went to the great John the Sabbaite. The latter rose, poured some water, washed John's feet, and kissed his hand. When the disciple of the Sabbaite, Stephan, asked his elder why he did this, he received the reply, "Believe me, my son, I do not know who this youth is, but I received the abbot of Sinai, and washed the feet of the abbot."
The life of St. John was itself truly a ladder. The saint knew from experience what true spiritual life is, and therefore he wrote The Ladder at the request of the Abbot of Raithu, John.
Isn't it true, brothers and sisters, that a work containing such rare spiritual experiences and such superlative soul-saving advice is worth reading, if only out of inquisitiveness, during these days of fasting and repentance? Whoever can read it but does not is punishing his own self, for he deprives his soul of a most healthy and sweet food.
Tags: lord, john