Ladder of Divine Ascent

I stated in a previous post that I would be reading Thirty Steps to Heaven for Lent this year.  I've always enjoyed the vision of the Ladder as it offers us as Orthodox a visual of steps to take on our journey in becoming closer to God.  For my readers who are not Orthodox, Saint John Climacus, also known as Saint John of Sinai and St. John of the Ladder, wrote a document for the monastic at Sinai in which has been known as wonderful guidance to not only monastics, but to the layman as well. Vassilios Papavassiliou has written a guide for us average person to go along with the Ladder of Divine Ascent-  a little more easily understood and relative to those of us not taking monastic vows so to speak.  In other words, ordinary folk living within the world that may have some difficulty understanding the words of Saint John or how to apply it to our daily lives as spouses,  mothers, homemakers, homeschoolers and parishioners can now more easily learn and accept the challenges offered by the words of St. John.

The author does well to remind us that the climb is not necessarily in order rung by rung.  So those of us that have not obtained the mastery of renunciation, the first step, do not have to feel we are stuck forever on the first rung.  In reading the book, I must admit I'm probably stuck on them all thus far- and I'm only halfway through. The author goes on to say that very few people will be able to climb all 30 steps of the ladder.  In fact, if you think you have, he says, you probably need to go back to the beginning.

I could probably write an entire blog on just this book alone.  I have a feeling it will be a starting point for many future posts. It will definitely be on my shelf of books to reread.  This one may become well worn in time.

In the meantime, if you haven't read it yet, I urge you to do so-  Orthodox or not.  It is packed of great wisdom on how to live this life always thinking of our relationship with God and keeping in mind that all we do or don't do affects that relationship.

God wants us to have a child's heart.  Thus St. John tells novices of the monastic life to look to infants as their example.  We can take this to apply equally to adult converts or nominal Christians who have only now decided to make a beginning of spiritual life.  God ants us, though grown up with adult minds, having knowledge, wisdom, and understanding , to be like children:  "Unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 18:3).

 

Readings of the Day:   Hebrews 6:13-20  &    Mark 9: 17-31

Today's gospel reading  describes the healing of  a boy who had a mute spirit and was suffering seizures at the hand of this spirit.  The reading  includes that infamous line "Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!"  So often have I thought these same lines, cried out this verse in tears.  We all do, don't we?  As much as we believe, we have those moments of weakness - but while we remain uncertain, we maintain our basis of faith.  We believe....we are just unsure of the details-unsure of His will. But we must continue our struggle; we must continue to climb the ladder, so to speak,  in our faith!

St. John of the Ladder

St. John Climacus (570-649 AD), known as St. John of the Ladder, was a monk of Sinai

Ladder of Divine Ascent
Ladder of Divine Ascent

and became the Abbot of Sinai Monastery.  He wrote a book titled The Ladder of Divine Ascent.  Read by many even today, it may be, according to Fr. Thomas Hopko, the most widely read book among Orthodox Christians after the bible itself.  The Ladder of Divine Ascent describes monastic virtues, monastic life, and the nature of being free from passions. The book contains 30 chapters.  Every chapter represents a step leading up to a faithful and pious life as the ultimate goal of a Christian life. The spiritual struggle of the Christian is a real one, daily, and St. John's writings encourages us to continue with that struggle. The feast day of Saint John Climacus is actually on March 30, however, as the Orthodox do not practice Divine Liturgies during the weekdays of Great Lent (other than The Annunciation of the Most Holy Theotokos -the day we commemorate the appearance of the Archangel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary announcing the conception of Christ who's birth we celebrate 9 months from this date ) the Church commemorates this particular Saint on this, the fourth Sunday of Lent.

*This book does tend to be difficult for the laity to read as it was written with monastics mostly in mind.  There is a newer book, Thirty Steps To Heaven, that is written to aid the laity in reading the wisdom offered by St. John.  I have often been tempted to read this book myself  (as I haven't even thought of attempting the original) and would love to hear from anyone that has!  There is an Amazon link below for both books.

 

 O John our father, saint of God, you who were revealed as a citizen of the desert, an angel in a body and a worker of miracles.  Through fasting, prayer, and vigils you have received heavenly gifts of grace and have healed the sick and the souls of those who turn to you with faith.  Glory be to Him who gave you strength; glory to Him who crowned you; glory be to Him who through you grants to all men healing. 

    ~ Orthros - Hymn to St. John of the Ladder

 

References and Sources of Information:

A Journey Through Great Lent - Edited by The Very Rev. Stephen Belonick

Daily Lenten Meditations for Orthodox Christians by Presbytera Emily Harakas

Fr. Thomas Hopko - Ancient Faith Radio

The Fourth Sunday of Lent: The Sunday of St. John Climacus

 

5

I enjoy reading books on Orthodoxy.  I should probably write a few book reviews on them to support the reading of my Orthodox followers.  I did write about one in particular a few weeks ago, The Ascetic Lives of Mothers by Annalisa Boyd.  But sometimes I don't have time to read a long book.  Yet I still need the uplifting words of our saints or spiritual fathers.  For those moments, a few short quotes can bring peace to my soul and reflection throughout the day.

"Love every person regardless of his sinful state.  Sin is sin but the basis of a human being is one and only - the image of God."  - St. John of Kronstadt
"Through the prayer, man is cleansed, brightened, sanctified. " -Elder Amphilochios of Patmos

"The first step toward freedom from anger is to keep the lips silent when the heart is stirred; the next to keep thoughts silent when the soul is upset; the last to be totally calm when unclean winds are blowing."   - St. John Climacus

"Leave all human justices to the Lord for God is the Judge.  But as for yourself, be diligent in loving everybody with a pure heart.  You must remember that you yourself are a great sinner and in need of God's mercy.  But in order to deserve God's mercy, we must forgive in every way.  The Lord is everything to all;  He is the Judge as well as the generous Giver of gifts and mercy and cleansing from sins and the light, the peace, the joy and the strength of the heart."   -St. John of Kronstadt

"Let us not forget the words of Scripture that say, 'God's power is made perfect in weakness!' (2 Cor. 12.9). And let us not forget that whenever insurmountable hardships are overcome; whenever turmoil is replaced by tranquility; whenever persistent doubts are put to rest; whenever smoothing comes to be out of nothing at all -- there we can clearly discern the indiscernible Right Hand of God, we witness firsthand the unmistakable Will of God!"  - St. Raphael of Brooklyn

"I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."  - Philippians 4:13