Sunday, March 14, 2010

On The Sunday of Saint John of the Ladder

Today we commemorate Saint John of the Ladder who lived in the sixth and seventh centuries. He was a monk for 64 years at the monastery of Saint Catherine at the foot of Mount Sinai where Moses received the Ten Commandments. He is most known for his book called the "Ladder" where he describes step-by-step, how we can lift ourselves up to union with God.

In this book one he describes our life in a Christian spiritual community analogous to a bunch of rough stones out into a jar. When stones are first put into the jar they have many sharp edges, but when they are shaken together over time the stones interact with each other, rubbing and bumping, knocking off the sharp edges so they become smoother and smoother. Eventually they are highly polished like stones on the seashore.

He is highlights for us the importance of our work together in our Christian family following the direction lad down for us n the Church. Much of our development comes through our dealing with all the difficulties we face as we interact with others. This coupled with our own self-development, God helps us grow closer to him.

We can also gain insight from Saint John's image of a ladder that we must climb to become one with God. Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow compares our spiritual climb to throwing a stone in the air. With the force of our throw the stone continues upward until the force of gravity becomes stronger. The stone then begins to fall back to earth. This is similar to our spiritual ascent. When we engage in our ascetical works we are applying a force that brings us closer to God. Jesus told us the path is not an easy one and that we must "strive". He said, "Strive to enter through the narrow gate." He is reminding us that we need to work on ourselves to enter His kingdom. We must make an effort. This effort makes up the rungs of the Ladder Saint John describes for us in his book. Like the stone thrown in the air, we can climb this ladder a ways, but, if we fail to continue to make effort to improve ourselves, we too will fall back like the stone. The final steps on the ladder are also the most difficult. Often we forget that ascetic labor is necessary. Ascetic efforts are not intended just for monastics, they are necessary for all of us.

In the Gospel lesson for last Sunday we heard Jesus telling us: "He that would come after Me, let him take up the cross, deny himself, and follow Me." Christ suffered through His crucifixion, but the reward was His victory over death in His Resurrection. We too must be crucified for our own resurrection and salvation. Jesus Christ opened the door for us and showed us the way. We must follow. Our ascetic efforts are part of our bearing that cross. We need to continually force ourselves to move up this Ladder or else we will pulled back by opposing forces and be consumed by earthly desires.

We are nearing the end of the Great Fast. Keep the fast. As we approach the Passion of Christ we experience during Holy Week, as we feel our own crucifixion along with Christ's on Holy Thursday evening, we will then feel the Resurrection on that glorious day of Pascha.

Saint John describes for us the nature of our spiritual ascent. This is an ascent that all Christians must make.



  1. My wife has always preferred this version:

    She says the original just causes her to despair that there is no help for those who climb.

    I can't help but agree with her. That icon has caused me much trouble in the past.

  2. I see what you mean. The angels are there but a bit in the distance. The one you suggest is much more comforting with the angels right there to assist us.

  3. Sometimes the fathers in seeking to evoke watchfulness in me, rather incite me to panic.

    Of course 20th century post-protestant pathology wasn't really their milieu.

    I think having grown up with "fire and brimstone" preaching this icon looks very differently than it would have to them.


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