Lenten Learning: St. John Climacus

The fourth Sunday of Great Lent is called “The Sunday of St. John Climacus.” Together as a family, let us study the life of St. John and find out why we commemorate him on this day. There are many ways in which we can learn about him Here are two of them: Watch a 2-minute video about St. John of the Ladder, which introduces him and his book as well as the icon which we will venerate; and ends with a challenge to young people to keep climbing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8VTtpllgQTk. We can also read about his life and see pictures of the cave where St John Climacus lived, here: https://orthodoxword.wordpress.com/2013/04/14/the-cave-of-saint-john-of-the-ladder/ or here: http://myocn.net/blessings-desert-st-john-ladder-climacus/ Would you believe that we do not actually even know St. John Climacus’ family name?!? Climacus is a Greek word that means “of the Ladder.” He is so named because of the book that he wrote primarily for ascetics. The book is also both challenging and helpful to lay people, and it is called The Ladder of Divine Ascent. St. John Climacus is known for what he lived, taught, and passed on; not for where (or who) he came from. We do know that St. John was a monk who chose to live his life to the fullest for Christ, beginning at an early age. He was only 16 years old when he went to live at St. Catherine’s Monastery. When he was 20, he was tonsured a monk. One source mentioned that his elder waited those four years to tonsure him in order to test his humility. He lived as a monk for more than 70 years, many of those years in solitude, in a “cave” which was actually a small shelter formed by boulders: a truly humble dwelling. He lived a life of humility. We also know that St. John’s pursuit of holiness has influenced the lives of Orthodox Christians for every century since he walked on earth. His words in The Ladder of Divine Ascent (which he wrote because the abbot of another monastery asked him to do so) encourage all of us to continue our journey towards the Kingdom of God. His entreaty that we “let the remembrance of Jesus be present with each breath” has challenged Orthodox Christians to live their lives in hesychasm, or the quietness that leads a person to God through constant prayer. (This constant prayer has come to be known as the “Jesus Prayer.”) He humbly led his monks and all Orthodox Christians since then, passing down tools that we can use to grow deeper in our faith. So, what can we learn from what we know about St. John Climacus? How can we apply that learning in our family life? 1. Perhaps we can begin by emphasizing to our children how important it is for Orthodox Christians to live in a way that leads others towards God. Our family name is important to us, but how much more important is the name “Christian?” Let us evaluate how well our family is living up to that name, consider how our life is impacting those around us and those who will follow after us, and take steps to “kick it up a notch.” 2. Another thing we can do after studying the life of St. John Climacus is encourage our children to live godly lives wherever they are! We need to support them in their pursuit of the Faith, doing all that we can to incorporate them into the life of the Church, to be involved with the Sunday Church School and JOY/SOYO, etc. We should help our children attend Orthodox Christian summer camp so that they can meet other Orthodox kids and be strengthened in their faith. We must invest in icons, books, music, etc. that will help to point our children towards the Faith. We also need to encourage our children to offer themselves to God for His service, whether that happens now (serving in the altar, choir, etc.) or later in life (as short- or long-term missionaries, as monastics, or as clergy). Regardless of their age, when our children take steps like this, whether they are small or large steps, let us support them and humbly let them go. 3. We can pursue holiness together as a family by using the tools that St. John Climacus left for us. We can continue to pray constantly, pursuing hesychasm with more fervor. We can read The Ladder of Divine Ascent and study the steps with our children. (Download the book here: http://www.prudencetrue.com/images/TheLadderofDivineAscent.pdf. Listen to Fr. Thomas Hopko’s podcast about it here: http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/hopko/4th_sunday_of_lent_st_john_of_the_ladder. Or read this new book that takes a look at each of the steps of St. John Climacus’ Ladder of Divine Ascent: http://store.ancientfaith.com/thirty-steps-to-heaven. Print a copy of the basic steps of the ladder to hang in your home as a reminder: http://saintannas.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/30-Steps-of-Ladder.pdf. Read about the icon of the Ladder of Divine Ascent here: http://saintannas.org/sunday-of-the-ladder-of-divine-ascent/.) As we practice constant prayer and daily continue our ascent of the ladder, we will become more like Christ.

“Ascend, brothers, ascend eagerly, and be resolved in your hearts to ascend and hear Him who says: Come and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord and to the house of our God, who makes our feet like hind’s feet, and sets us on high places, that we may be victorious with His song. Run, I beseech you, with him who said: Let us hasten until we attain to the unity of faith and of the knowledge of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, who, when He was baptized in the thirtieth year of His visible age, attained the thirtieth step in the spiritual ladder; since God is indeed love, to whom be praise, dominion, power, in whom is and was and will be the cause of all goodness throughout infinite ages. Amen.” St. John Climacus, The Ladder of Divine Ascent, p. 129

Following are quotes from St. John Climacus: *** “The memory of insults is the residue of anger. It keeps sins alive, hates justice, ruins virtue, poisons the heart, rots the mind, defeats concentration, paralyzes prayer, puts love at a distance, and is a nail driven into the soul. If anyone has appeased his anger, he has already suppressed the memory of insults, while as long as the mother is alive the son persists. In order to appease the anger, love is necessary.” *** “Let your prayer be completely simple. For both the publican and the prodigal son were reconciled to God by a single phrase.” *** “It is impossible, someone says, impossible to spend the present day devoutly unless we regard it as the last of our whole life. And it is truly astonishing how even the pagans have said something of the sort, since they define philosophy as meditation on death. This is the sixth step. He who has mounted it will never sin again. Remember thy last end, and thou shalt never sin [Ecclesiasticus/Wisdom of Sirach 7:36].” *** “If you want to overcome the spirit of slander, blame not the person who falls, but the demon that prompted them to sin.” *** “Do not say, after spending a long time in prayer, that nothing has been gained; for you have already gained something. And what higher good is there than to cling to the Lord and persevere in unceasing union with Him?” *** “The first stage of this tranquility consists in silencing the lips when the heart is excited. The second, in silencing the mind when the soul is still excited. The goal is a perfect peacefulness even in the middle of the raging storm.” *** “Do not be surprised that you fall every day; do not give up, but stand your ground courageously. And assuredly, the angel who guards you will honour your patience.” *** “When our praisers, or rather our seducers, begin to praise us, let us briefly call to mind the multitude of our sins, and we shall find ourselves unworthy of what is said or done in our honor.”  

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