Sunday of Saint John Climacus
On this Sunday, the fourth in Great Lent, we commemorate Saint John of the Ladder. He lived in the 6th/7th centuries mainly in the Sinai Desert Monastery of Saint Catherine ( previously known as the Vatos Monastery). He spent many years studying the writings of the saints and elders and he worked in isolation away from the “noise” of the Monastery, in nearby caves, In many respects, on our pilgrimage to Pascha we just plod on as we did last year and probably the year before that. May be our progress will be measured in the height of our kulich or the silky smoothness of our pascha rather than in our attitude and spiritual development!
If we remain the same without any improvement then we can hardly stand to gain much more from the wealth of spiritual works which the Holy Fathers and Mothers have provided for us so that we may learn from their onward journey.
To fix a roof would be impossible if we never progressed up a ladder. To try and fix our own soul – not anyone else’s – to be ready for the Kingdom, we must proceed slowly and gently and yet gaining confidence enough to send us forward to ensure that the sacrifice of the Son is not in vain – for us. Then we can reach out to others and help them along the way.
His famous and obviously Divinely inspired work is based on a principle of divine ascent as on a ladder. In the ikon each rung of the ladder leads to another higher level. Christ awaits at the top of the ladder to welcome and present the Kingdom of Heaven to those who have succeeded. Saint John is encouraging the faithful to take the first step. As some people fall by the wayside (Luke 8: 5) some also fall off the ladder through sin, weakness and temptation.
On the Ladder, Saint John highlights 30 rungs and describes how to raise one’s soul and body to God through the acquisition of ascetic virtues. Using the analogy of Jacob’s Ladder as the framework for his spiritual teaching, Saint John refers to each chapter as a “step”, and deals with a separate spiritual subject. The Thirty steps correspond to the age of Jesus at his baptism and the beginning of his earthly ministry.
Steps 1-7 concern general virtues necessary for the ascetic life.
Steps 8–26 instruct us on how we can overcome vices and build their corresponding virtues.
Steps 27-30 focus on the higher virtues towards which the ascetic life aims. The final rung of the ladder—beyond prayer, stillness, and even dispassion—is love.