The Sunday of St. St John of the Ladder (Climacus) is the fourth Sunday of Great Lent. It commemorates St John Climacus (+649), the author of the work The Ladder of Divine Ascent.
Each of the Sundays of Great Lent has a special theme. This Sunday’s theme is St John’s witness to the real spiritual struggle needed for entrance into God’s Kingdom. It also is encouragement for the faithful to keep the goal of their Lenten efforts, for according to the Lord, only “he who endures to the end will be saved” (Mt 24:13).
John, whilst a hermit living at the Sinai Peninsula, was recognized for his humility, obedience, wisdom (which was attained through spiritual experience), and discernment. He already had a reputation for being extremely knowledgeable about how to practice a holy life. St. John, igumen of the Raithu Monastery, one day asked St. John Climacus (also known as John of Sinai) to write down his wisdom in a book. At first hesitant to take on such a task, John of Sinai eventually honored the request, and he proceeded to write The Ladder. St. John Climacus received his name “Climacus” (“of the Ladder”) because of this work, and his writing The Ladder (later called The Ladder of Divine Ascent) has been compared to the Holy Prophet and God-seer Moses receiving the Law.
This work was initially used by monastics. In fact it is read by monastics to this day during the Great Fast. It is also suggested as Lenten reading for those who are still “of this world”; yet this should be done with caution and under the guidance of a spiritual father. This work has made its mark on the lives of innumerable saints, including St. Theodore the Studite, St. Sergius of Radonezh, St. Joseph of Volokolamsk, St. Peter of Damascus, and St. Theophan the Recluse, amongst many others.
The aim of the treatise is to be a guide for practicing a life completely and wholly devoted to God. The ladder metaphor—not dissimilar to the vision that the Patriarch Jacob received—is used to describe how one may ascend into heaven by first renouncing the world and finally ending up in heaven with God. There are thirty chapters; each covers a particular vice or virtue. They were originally called logoi, but in the present day, they are referred to as “steps.” The sayings are not so much rules and regulations, as with the Law that St. Moses received at Sinai, but rather observations about what is being practiced. Metaphorical language is employed frequently to better illustrate the nature of virtue and vice. Overall, the treatise does follow a progression that transitions from start (renunciation of the world) to finish (a life lived in love).
The steps are:
1.On renunciation of the world
3.On exile or pilgrimage; concerning dreams that beginners have
4.On blessed and ever-memorable obedience (in addition to episodes involving many individuals)
5.On painstaking and true repentance which constitutes the life of the holy convicts; and about the Prison
6.On remembrance of death
7.On joy-making mourning
8.On freedom from anger and on meekness
9.On remembrance of wrongs
10.On slander or calumny
11.On talkativeness and silence
14.On that clamorous mistress, the stomach
15.On incorruptible purity and chastity, to which the corruptible attain by toil and sweat
16.On love of money, or avarice
17.On non-possessiveness (that hastens one Heavenwards)
18.On insensibility, that is, deadening of the soul and the death of the mind before the death of the body
19.On sleep, prayer, and psalmody with the brotherhood
20.On bodily vigil and how to use it to attain spiritual vigil, and how to practise it
21.On unmanly and puerile cowardice
22.On the many forms of vainglory
23.On mad pride and (in the same Step) on unclean blasphemous thoughts; concerning unmentionable blasphemous thoughts
24.On meekness, simplicity, and guilelessness which come not from nature but from conscious effort, and about guile
25.On the destroyer of the passions, most sublime humility, which is rooted in spiritual perception
26.On discernment of thoughts, passions and virtues; on expert discernment; brief summary of all aforementioned
27.On holy stillness of body and soul; different aspects of stillness and how to distinguish them
28.On holy and blessed prayer, the mother of virtues, and on the attitude of mind and body in prayer
29.Concerning Heaven on earth, or Godlike dispassion and perfection, and the resurrection of the soul before the general resurrection
30.Concerning the linking together of the supreme trinity among the virtues; a brief exhortation summarizing all that has said at length in this book
Like with other ascetical and spiritual texts, this one should be read carefully. Since the original audience was those practicing the monastic life, the language is very strong when contrasting the life of the world and the life devoted to God. This is one of the reasons why this work should be read under the guidance of a spiritual father. This work can be read at once with careful attention and intense concentration, trying to replicate as much as possible the monastic life. Yet it can also be read in its individual steps as well. The bottom line is that a spiritual father should be there as a guiding hand with this work.