St. John of the Ladder
St. John of the Ladder (Climacus) was born in the year 524 or thereabouts. When he was sixteen years old he left the world and joined the Monastery on Mt. Sinai. In the monastery he came under the spiritual direction of Abba Martyrios. He was tonsured as a monk at the age of twenty. He remained in the monastery for nearly twenty years until the death of his Elder, Martyrios. Now aged thirty-five he went to live the solitary life and thus withdrew to live as a hermit in a nearby cell, in the area of "Tholas" eight kilometers from the Monastery's main Church. He remained here for about forty years and was visited by a large number of ascetics, who sought his advice and counsel. There was a time when he was silent for a short while, this is because he was unjustly accused of being "a loose-tongued chatterer" by certain envious people.
Later, at the advanced age of seventy-five, he was chosen as abbot of the Monastery of Mount Sinai. He remained as abbot until his death. It was during this time that he wrote his famous book The Ladder of Divine Ascent (Greek: Klimax tou Paradeisou). This work was to become a classic of monastic writing.
St. John's "Ladder" takes its symbolism from the Old Testament patriarch, Jacob's dream of a climb to heaven:"Then he dreamed, and behold, a ladder was set up on earth, and its top reached heaven; and there the angels of God were ascending and descending on it." Genesis 28:11. The Ladder is divided into 30 chapters, which represent the 30 years of Christ's life on earth before He began His public ministry. Each chapter or step on the Ladder describes a virtue. Together they describe the progress of spiritual struggle, which leads to glorification. This spiritual journey towards perfection is not something that can be achieved in one go,"for no-one can climb a ladder in one stride," it requires time and patience "The sea wastes with time, as Job says. And with time and patience, the things of which we have spoken are gradually acquired and perfected in us." (Step 7).
It is most apparent that this book is the fruit of St. John's long experience of ascetic struggle in the desert. This can be seen in the Ladder, where he stresses the importance of the virtue of humility in conjunction with obedience and with complete denial of one's own will. In additiion to this, an ascetics whole day should be filled with prayer. Daniel the monk tells us that "His whole life was unceasing prayer and unexampled love for God." This is clearly seen in the Ladder where noetic prayer or prayer of the heart plays a central role. St. John of Sinai's authority as an ascetic writer is clearly seen by the position given to him within the Church calender. His feast day is celebrated twice: once on the day of his birth in heaven, the 30th of March and a second time on the Fourth Sunday of Great Lent.
For further information about The Ladder see Fr. John Mack's excellent introduction to the Ladder.
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