American Orthodox Catholic Christianity

Faith Of Our Fathers Series

  Holy Fathers – St. John Climacus

c 525-c. 610
Commemorated March 30 

Kontakion, Tone 1

As ever-blossoming fruits thou offerest teachings from thy book, O most wise one, and delightest the hearts of those who accept them in sobriety, O blessed one; for a ladder is it, leading up from earth to heavenly and enduring glory the souls of those who venerate thee with faith.


    One of the Greatest monastic fathers of all times is St. John surnamed Climacus in honor of his book Klimax (the Ladder). From the time of its writing in the sixth century, this book has been held as a fundamental text on the ascetic life. While originally written for monastics, it is a work of universal significance whose lasting popularity stems from its practical and psychologically penetrating counsel. In recognition of its importance to the whole of the faithful, the Church dedicates the Fourth Sunday of Great Lent to the memory of its author.

     St. John was born about 525, most likely in Constantinople. He received a good education for which he was subsequently called Scholasticus. But for all his learning, he always taught the conceit of human wisdom. At the age of 16 he chose a life of. absolute surrender to Christ and entrusted his soul to the spiritual guidance of the Elder Martyrius. Four years later, he was tonsured into the monastic or "angelic" life, as it is called. Already it was prophesied that he would become a great luminary and the abbot of the Mt. Sinai monastery.

     After the death of his elder, with whom he had lived in strict obedience for 19 years, St. John entered upon a life of solitude. For the next 40 years he struggled in the desert, unraveling the mysteries of the human heart. His experience in the contemplative life was highly esteemed by the Sinai monks who chose him, a man already old, to be abbot of their monastery. It was a wise choice, for his unexampled love for God and labor of unceasing prayer had gained for him the gift of healing the invisible wounds of the soul, as well as working other miracles. One early account of his life, written by a monk of the Mt. Sinai monastery, relates the foilowing:

    "Once there was a drought in Palestine. At the request of the local inhabitants, Abba John prayed and there was a heavy rainfall. But there is nothing extraordinary in that, for the Lord will do the will of them that fear Him, and He will hear their prayer." From the same account we read:

    "On the very day that John was made our abbot, and when there had come to us about 600 visitors and they all sat eating, John saw a man with short hair, dressed in the Jewish fashion in a white tunic, who walked about everywhere like some kind of manager and gave instructions, to the cooks; economi, cellarers, and other officials. When the people had dispersed and the officials sat at table, they looked for this man who had been walking everywhere and giving instructions, but found him nowhere. Then the slave of God, our Father John, said to us: 'Let him go; lord Moses did nothing strange in serving in his own place.'"

      Indeed, for his spiritual height, St. John was himself regarded as a newly-appeared Moses. And not only by his own brethren. Two days' journey from Mt. Sinai there existed in St. John's day the Monastery of Raithu. The abbot and brethren of this monastery wrote a letter entreating St. John as an "incomparable teacher," to write a book "tike the divinely written tablets of Moses, for' the instruction of the New Israel," to "guide truly and surely all who wish to follow Christ," a book which, like a ladder set us (Gen.28:12), will lead aspirants to the gates of heaven... For if Jacob, who was a shepherd of sheep, saw by means of a ladder such a dread vision, surely we can expect the director of spiritual sheep to show to all not only in vision, but in. truth, the sure ascent to God?''

     It was in answer, nay, in obedience, to their request that St. John wrote the Ladder. St. John died sometime after the year 600, but his memory is guarded by generations of Christians who have received immeasurable spiritual benefit from reading his soul penetrating work.

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