March 21, 2009

Sunday of St. John Climacus

The fourth Sunday of Great Lent is dedicated to Saint John Climacus. He is celebrated today because his book, The Ladder of Divine Ascent, is a sure guide to the ascetic life, written by a great man of prayer experienced in all forms of the monastic polity; it teaches the seeker after salvation how to lay a sound foundation for his struggles, how to detect and war against each of the passions, how to avoid the snares laid by the demons, and how to rise from the rudimental virtues to the heights of Godlike love and humility. It is held in such high esteem that it is universally read in its entirety in monasteries during the Great Fast.
The Icon known by the same title, Ladder of Divine Ascent, depicts a ladder extending from earth to heaven (referencing Jacob's Ladder in Genesis 28:12) Several monks are depicted climbing a ladder; at the top is Jesus, prepared to receive them into Heaven. Also shown are angels helping the climbers, and demons attempting to shoot with arrows or drag the climbers down, no matter how high up the ladder they may be. Most versions of the icon show at least one person falling. Often, in the lower right corner St. John Climacus himself is depicted, gesturing towards the ladder, with rows of monastics behind him.

Dweller of the desert and angel in the body,
You were shown to be a wonder-worker, our God-bearing Father John.
You received heavenly gifts through fasting, vigil, and prayer:
Healing the sick and the souls of those drawn to you by faith.
Glory to Him who gave you strength!
Glory to Him who granted you a crown!
Glory to Him who through you grants healing to all!

The Lord truly set you on the heights of abstinence,
To be a guiding star, showing the way to the universe,
O our Father and Teacher John.