THE FOURTH SUNDAY OF THE GREAT FAST: SAINT JOHN OF THE LADDER (CLIMACUS)

My beloved brothers and sisters in Christ God,

CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE.

ON THE FOURTH SUNDAY OF THE GREAT FAST, THE HOLY CHURCH
COMMEMORATES OUR HOLY FATHER AMONG THE SAINTS,
HEGUMEN OF MOUNT SINAI, JOHN, THE AUTHOR OF THE LADDER (CLIMACUS).

Couplet

John who lived in the flesh, was dead to the world,
though he appeareth breathless and dead, yet he
liveth forever. By leaving his writings, the Ladder
of Ascent, he indicateth his own path of ascent.

Our Venerable Father reposed on the 30th of the month of March. The biography of the blessed John, the Abbot of Mount Sinai, subsequently called "Scholastikos" or "Sinaites" was recorded by Daniel, a monk of Raithu. He is also surnamed Klimakos (Climacus) or of the Ladder, as the author of this edifying and inspiring book. He is deemed one of the great ascetics and monastic writers who flourished during the 6th century. The Saint’s composition, entitled The Ladder of Paradise or The Heavenly Ladder or Ladder of Divine Ascent, is placed side by side with the ladder seen in a vision by Patriarch Jacob. The ladder was fixed on the earth, but the top reached heaven, and the Angels of God ascended and descended on it. The Lord also stood upon it and made promises to the Patriarch. And Jacob said, "The Lord is in this place, and I knew it not."

The city of John’s birth is unknown to us. Our Saint had received a general education but took monastic vows at the age of 16. He took himself to Mount Sinai where he rejoiced to take up the yoke of Christ in the eremitical life. After he was assimilated into monastic life, he completely banished his own will. John, therefore, bowed his neck in submission and entrusted himself to a godly spiritual father and teacher, namely, Abba (Father) Martyrios. The latter took the young John, then about 20 years old, and tonsured him on the holy peak of Mount Sinai. The spiritual father lived for another fifteen years and was translated to his much-desired Lord.

Then John, as a true disciple, with deep sorrow and shedding warm tears, buried Abba Martyrios. Thereafter, John entered THE STADIUM OF SOLITUDE, bearing, as mighty arms, the prayers and commands of his late elder (Geronda). By these weapons, he would defeat the passions and overturn the power of the wicked rebelliousness and provocations of the demons. He then hastened to dwell in a cell about five miles from the main church of the monastery, in a place that is known today as Thola. John was then about 35 years old.

Here he would spend some 40 years without ever relaxing his regimen. John partook of all edibles, that is, whatsoever the land thereabout yielded and the monastic rule permitted. He ate very little–certainly never to satiety–just enough the support life. In a word, he ate so sparingly that it was a matter of tasting rather than of eating. Thus, he extinguished the flame of carnal desires. He had no association with human society. He strived not to succumb to the acquisition of things. Oftimes, he was bereft of the necessities of life. From unceasing remembrance of death, he thereby engaged himself only with godly works.

Which of the virtues did the Saint receive from God for his self-restraint and steadfastness of spirit? IT WAS HUMILITY, which IS ABOVE ALL AND IS PARAMOUNT FOR THE PURIFICATION OF A MAN. He also possessed THE GIFT OF TEARS. He exercised tremendous self-control in the matter of sleep, so much so that he resembled an earthly Angel or heavenly man. John would sleep one hour during the night, but the remainder of the day ws devoted TO WORK AND PRAYER. Before he retired for the night, he prayed for many hours, and then he would read.

On account of his manner of life, there were those who desired to hear his soul-benefitting exhortations. The Monk Moses sought the help of many fathers to intercede with John on his behalf that he might be accepted as a disciple. Therefore, after being greatly importuned by their entreaties, John yielded and received Moses. John, who was endowed WITH CLAIRVOYANCE, saved his disciple, who was on an errand, from being crushed to death by a teetering boulder.

The man of God was also an excellent physician who brought to light THE WOUNDS OF THE HEART. On one occasion, the Monk Isaac asked Abba John to deliver him from being troubled by the demon of flesh-loving fornication. The divine father wondered at Isaac’s faith and profound humility, and said to him, "Let us stand, brother, and pray together; for the good and most compassionate Lord does not wish to overlook our humble entreaty, but He wills to grant what we request." Indeed, the favor was procured by the Saint’s intercession.

John, an experienced teacher, was a man endowed with much good reason. However, certain brethren, envious and malignant, pierced with the arrow of jealousy, sought to hinder John in any way they could manage. They slandered John, accusing him of being a prattler and of merely talking foolishness. The Saint knew that it was possible, by the grace of God, to bear all temptations; for they work to one’s profit. The holy man remained silent for about twelve months. The sweet waters, therefore, of his teachings ceased flowing, so that he might cut short the aversion of the miscreants that sought a pretext. Consequently, those of ill-intent were censured by the silence and utter patience and humility accomplished by the Saint. They came to acknowledge the damage and injury they ushered in. They then besought John to resume again and open the fountain of his teachings and water the thirsty souls. They also asked for forgiveness for their sin. And John, who never learned to gainsay or contradict, straightway hearkened and again commenced his salutary and saving teachings, even as earlier.

John was judged to be another Moses, revealed by God in their days. They, therefore, compelled him to accept the office of governing them. John was already in his seventies when this took place. On the very day that John became HEGOUMENOS, there came to the monastery about six hundred visitors. While all were sitting and eating, John noticed a man with short hair. He was dressed like a Hebrew, in a white tunic. He walked about like a manager, giving instructions to the cooks, stewards, cellarers, and others. When the pilgrims departed and the servants were sitting at the table, they looked for this man who had walked about giving instructions. But he had disappeared. Then the slave of God, John said, "Cease looking! Our lord Moses, the holy Prophet, and lawgiver, has done nothing stranger by serving in his own place!"

The blessed John, as did Moses, ascended the mountain and entered into the unapproachable darkness. He crossed over the heavenly degrees with his mind, drawing near to God through ineffable contemplation. For, after purifying his soul and constantly cleansing its eye, he perceived the vision of God. In the future, as Moses of old, he would come down to his fellows, bearing the tables of God’s law, his Ladder. John had attained the heights of perfection in this life, guiding those new Israelites, the monks of Sinai. He resembled Moses in every way, save one: Moses was unable to attain to the earthly Jerusalem, but this new Moses was vouchsafed to reach the Jerusalem above.

Now when the people of the congregation asked Moses for water to drink, Moses cried to the Lord. Moses was then instructed to take the rod and smite the rock. Water then gushed forth from the barren rock. In like manner did Abbot (Egoumenos) John call upon the Lord and make the sign of the Cross; for there had been a drought in Palestine. At the request of the inhabitants, Abbot John prayed and heavy rains fell. He, thereupon, provided not only spiritual drink but also water during a drought.

"In truth, like Moses we have thee as a lawgiver of asceticism, and like David as
a rule of meekness of the monastics, and we bless thee, O father."

About two day’s journey from Mount Sinai, there was the Monastery of Raithu. The two monasteries were in constant and close contact. The Abbot of Raithu, whose name also was John, perceived the spiritual height of John of Sinai. John of Raithu begged John of Sinai to write a book, like the divine-written tablets of Moses, for the instruction of the new Israelites who had escaped from the spiritual Egyptians and from the sea of life.

John, conspicuous for his humility, responded by letter, calling himself a pauper and beggar as regards the virtues. Yet, pressed by obedience, he compiled with John of Raithu’s holy order. He then asked the Abbot of Raithu if he would embellish the work afterward. Thereupon, the one preeminent in virtue composed the book in sentences wherein much is said with few words.

The language is simple and contains many comparisons drawn from the world, together with proverbs and sayings. He quotes Holy Scripture and the God-inspired Fathers. The book comprises 30 Steps, corresponding TO THE THIRTY YEARS OF OUR SAVIOR’S EARTHLY AGE WHEN HIS PUBLIC MINISTRY COMMENCED. It deals with the VICES and VIRTUES, directions for both the active and contemplative life, and then concludes with a homily to pastors.

The Venerable John governed the brotherhood for about four years. Since he desired his former solitude, he, therefore, left his brother George in his place. Soon after, as the Saint was dying, George entreated him that they not b separated. The holy John assured George that their prayers were heard. When John attained the age of fourscore years he passed away in the little hermitage of his youth, a retreat which had been so precious to him. Indeed, Geroge followed his master within a few days. our Holy Father John left behind a memory flowering, flourishing, abiding forever, sufficing to profit those who wish to emulate him.

By the intercessions of Saint John, have mercy on us
and save us, O God. Amen.

[Source: The Great Synaxaristes of the Orthodox Church]

________________

"Glory Be To GOD
For
All Things!"

– Saint John Chrysostomos

+ + +

With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia (Ministry),
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+ Father George

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