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).

 

Lent is fast approaching and I'm not 100% set on my spiritual goals, but of course I have more in mind than just following the Whole30 and working on health goals.

Lent  begins during Vespers on Forgiveness Sunday, also known as Cheese-Fare Sunday.  This year it falls on February 26.  LIke I said, it's FAST approaching!

Forgiveness Vespers is one of my favorite services of the season.   It begins with a solemn Vespers service and when the announcement of the evening Prokeimenon is made (usually symbolizing the end of one day and the beginning of another), it symbolizes  the beginning of Lent. At the end of the service, all of the faithful go up to the priest, one by one, and the parishioner and the priest  ask one another for mutual forgiveness, and, then, the person gets in line and will continue around the church asking each person present for mutual forgiveness.  It's a lovely service and is a splendid approach to bringing repentance to mind for the Lenten season.

Each Lent I make goals for the Lenten Season with the idea of focusing on my relationship with God even more than I do during the rest of the year.  Really the idea is to build better habits that will last throughout the year and the remainder of our lives.  Some years are more successful than others.  Last  year, I didn't fare so well.  Hopefully this year will be better.  My personal goals always involve reading -  I  started my  reading this past week to allow myself enough time to complete the book I chose: Thirty Steps to Heaven by Vassilios Papavassiliou, an interpretation of the Ladder of Divine Ascent for the ordinary layman.  My goal is five pages a day, and I reach that by not allowing myself to read anything else (besides my morning devotion and bible readings) through the day until I do.  I can probably achieve this on most mornings during my regular devotion time, a habit I just recently began in the last two months or so.

I have another goal that will be difficult.  I am going to try to steer away from the social media pull.  I admit I spend too much time with it as I easily get pulled into discussions and what not and catching up on the post of my friends and family.  While I still believe that this is a good thing in and of itself, it is also tempting to spend too much time with it.  So while I can't avoid it completely as that is my main source of communicating for this blog and my Lemongrass Spa business, I do intend to curb my time spent on reading post after post after post of others and commenting back and forth.  This is the goal I am most concerned with...as just jumping on there to post my latest Lemongrass Spa update or a quote on the blog Facebook page, I see headlines of posts and am just pulled in so easily at times. So I'm not aiming for perfection, but am certainly  placing more limits on myself.  I just haven't figured out how to do it yet...wish me luck!

Most of my other goals involve my youngest son.  He is 6 (almost 7- oh how the time flies!) and I would like to make this a year that really helps him learn what Lent and Pascha (the word Orthodox Christians use for the day we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord rather than Easter, a term that began to use much later in history) are all about!  I plan on using at least one of my books from my post on children's books for Lent with my 6 year old ( From I-ville to You-ville), and will have a stack of Orhtodox Picture books in the living room for my husband to read to him when opportunity knocks.  And of course, we will be extra vigilent to be sure that the bible and our lesson from The Law of God is read before any additional school work is done and hopefully will be done even on days we elect to skip the formal 'school' lessons, of which I'm beginning to do more of and feel less guilt as I travel between more of an unschooling method while still maintaining lovely concepts from my days of studying Charlotte Mason.

We will also be revisiting Psalm 50.  This will be the first for my six year old, but the rest of us memorized this psalm about 5 or 6 years ago during Lent.  I'm afraid most of it has escaped my memory, though "Create in me a clean heart, O Lord, and renew a right spirit within me" is a favorite prayer of mine and never far from my mind.

And most of all, we are striving to get back in the habit of saying our morning and evening prayers, something we do but is not at all a daily habit at this time.  Hopefully this season will reinstill that important habit of an Orthodox family life.

I will leave you now with the words of psalm 50 - perhaps you'd like to revisit it yourself for Lent.

What are YOUR goals for Lent this year?

Psalm 50 (51)

Have mercy on me, O God, according to Thy steadfast love;  according to Thy abundant mercy.      Blot out my transgressions.  Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!

For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.  Against Thee, Thee only have I sinned, and done that which is evil in Thy sight, so that Thou art justified in Thy sentence and blameless in Thy judgment.

Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.  Behold, Thou desirest truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.

Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me and I shall be whiter than snow.  Fill me with joy and gladness; let the bones which Thou hast broken rejoice.

Hide Thy face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.  Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.

Cast me not away from Thy presence, and take  not Thy Holy Spirit from me.  Restore to me the joy of Thy salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.

Then I will teach transgressors Thy ways, and sinners will return to Thee.

Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, Thou God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of Thy deliverance.

O Lord, open Thou my lips, and my mouth shall show forth Thy praise.  For Thou hast no delight in sacrifice; were I to give a burnt offering, Thou wouldst not be pleased.

The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart Thou wilt not despise.  Do good to Zion in Thy good pleasure; rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, then wilt Thou delight in right sacrifices, in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings; then bulls will be offered on Thy altar.

 

 

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