This is the sixth in a series of posts that focuses on the Sundays of Great Lent (and Holy Week and Pascha). Each week we will share a little about that week’s focus, including related quotes from Church fathers and/or scriptures that can be helpful to our spiritual growth. We will share each blog early, to give you time to read it before that particular Sunday arrives. It is our hope that, by taking a few minutes to study these Sundays before the day arrives, we will be better prepared to partake in all that the Church has to offer us through this beautiful season of the year.
Today we commemorate St. John Climacus and his work “The Ladder of Divine Ascent,” both of which have had a great impact on the Holy Orthodox Church through their influence on the monastic community and on the Church at large.
St. John was given the name “Climacus” because of his writings. “Climacus” means “ladder” and thus his name is a nod to the work by that name. From a very young age, John desired to serve God with all of his heart. He became a monk at the Mt. Sinai Monastery when he was only 16 years old, and he served there faithfully for years before going into the desert to live a hermit’s life.
The fight against the devil and his passions was difficult, but John faithfully prayed and focused on Christ, and over time he became holier because of his refusal to give in to those passions. His holiness drew people to John, and even monks would come to him to ask for advice. God gave him the gift to be able to help people who were severely tempted and/or upset to be at peace.
God used John to work some miracles during his lifetime. For example, one time his disciple Moses was far from their dwelling, searching for dirt for their garden, when he got very hot and tired, so he took a rest under a big rock. As this was happening, John was back at his cell, praying, when he had a revelation that Moses was in danger. John began to pray fervently for his disciple. Later in the evening, when Moses returned home, he told John that while he had been sleeping under the rock, he heard John calling him, so he woke up and moved quickly, just as the huge rock crashed down right where he had been sleeping! God had heard John’s prayers and saved Moses with this miracle.
Many years passed, and John continued to faithfully pray and read from the lives of the saints. He continued to live a holy life. At age 74, he was made the abbot at the Mt. Sinai Monastery. The monks there asked him to write down all of the rules that he’d followed for his whole life, so that they could follow his example. He wrote about thirty steps that can lead monks (and any Orthodox Christian) closer to God. He called the steps “The Ladder of Divine Ascent.” Although this book was written about 1,400 years ago, it is still considered the ultimate guide to the Christian ascetic life.
St. John Climacus, please intercede for our salvation!
Here are a few quotes from St. John Climacus, as well as some resources that may be helpful to you and your family as we commemorate him and his wisdom.
“Fire and water are incompatible; and so is judging others in one who wants to repent. If you see someone falling into sin at the very moment of his death, even then do not judge him, because the Divine judgment is hidden from men. Some have fallen openly into great sins, but they have done greater good deeds in secret; so their critics were tricked, getting smoke instead of the sun.” ~ St. John Climacus
“An angel fell from Heaven without any other passion except pride, and so we may ask whether it is possible to ascend to Heaven by humility alone, without any other of the virtues.” ~ St. John Climacus
“If the Holy Spirit is peace of soul, as He is said to be, and as He is in reality, and if anger is disturbance of heart, as it actually is and as it is said to be, then nothing so prevents His presence in us as anger.” ~ St. John Climacus
“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. While a wound is still fresh and warm it is easy to heal, but old, neglected and festering ones are hard to cure, and require for their care much treatment, cutting, plastering and cauterization. Many from long neglect become incurable. But with God all things are possible [Matthew 19:26].” ~ St. John Climacus
“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.” ~ St. John Climacus
Find a summary of St. John Climacus’ life and of the Gospel reading for the Sunday of St. John Climacus, as well as a few suggestions of related things to do with your family at https://www.goarch.org/documents/32058/2618758/familygospellesson_stjohnclimacus.pdf/86acd892-6e50-4c9c-90f2-1816abff00ec
Feel inspired to learn more about St. John Climacus’ “Ladder of Divine Ascent”? You may be interested to know that someone has taken the time to break the whole book into sections, with suggested readings during Great Lent. Find them here: https://d2wldr9tsuuj1b.cloudfront.net/14333/documents/2017/2/Daily%20Readings%20for%20the%20Great%20Fast%20-%20Ladder%20of%20Divine%20Ascent.pdf
“So this is the book of St. John the Abbot of Sinai, perhaps the most-read book… in Eastern Orthodox tradition after the holy Scripture… Written for monks, but fruitful and helpful for everyone who wants to deny himself, take up his cross, follow Christ… It’s for the person who says, ‘I believe. Help my unbelief!’ And it’s for the one who knows that only by prayer, only by fasting, only by doing the things that the Lord commands us to do, with faith, can we actually receive the grace of God, live by the grace of God, and be saved by the grace of God that is fully and completely poured out upon us in his crucified and glorified Son.” Hear this and more when you listen to Fr. Thomas Hopko’s meditation on St. John of the Ladder: https://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/hopko/4th_sunday_of_lent_st_john_of_the_ladder