St. John of the Ladder
Prepared by Elias and Mariam
On the fourth Sunday of Great Lent, the holy Orthodox Church has appointed the commemoration of our father among the saints, John of the Ladder (or Climacus). John loved God from his youth, and entered the monastic life, dedicating his life to the ascetic struggles at the age of 16. After living as a hermit for forty years, he became abbot of the God-trodden mountain of Sinai. Out of his experience struggling against the passions, he wrote his immortal book, The Ladder of Divine Ascent (or Klimax meaning the ladder), from which his name is derived. The ladder is a series of counsels to monks that outline the spiritual life based on the image of the lofty ladder which Jacob beheld in a dream stretching from earth to heaven (Genesis 28:12).
Although initially addressed to monks, the ladder is an excellent book for all those who wish to elevate their soul to God in pure prayer. The ladder is composed of 30 steps leading the soul from renunciation of the world to the perfection of the trinity of virtues (faith, hope and love). As a skilled physician and a co-struggler in the spiritual life, St. John leads the faithful who wish to turn their back to sin to actively acquire the fundamental virtues of obedience, penitence, remembrance of death and sorrow. A great portion of this work is dedicated to the struggle against the passions, physical (e.g. gluttony, lust and avarice), and non-physical (e.g. anger, malice, slander, talkativeness, falsehood, deception, insensitivity, fear, vainglory and pride). Its goal is to become a Christocentric being, one who follows Christ in humility and lives in unity with Him, practicing the virtues of stillness, prayer, dispassion, and love. This goal is beautifully illustrated in the icon of the ladder of divine ascent, which shows the faithful ascending the ladder to Christ who is ready to receive them with a loving embrace.
As we celebrate the feast of this most honourable saint, let us begin our climb taking courage from his counsel as he explains what it means to be a faithful and wise Christian:
He who has kept his fervour unabated, and to the end of his life has not ceased daily to add fire to fire, fervour to fervour, zeal to zeal, love to love.
This is the first step. Let him who has mounted it not turn back.
APOLYTIKION OF ST. JOHN CLIMACUS IN TONE EIGHT
The barren wilderness thou didst make fertile with the streams of thy tears; and by thy deep sighing thou hast given fruit through thy struggles a hundredfold. Accordingly, thou hast become a star for the universe, sparkling with miracles. Therefore, O righteous Father John Climacus, intercede with Christ God to save our souls.
Through the prayers of our Holy Father John, O Lord Jesus Christ our God have mercy on us and save us. Amen.