By His Eminence Metropolitan Jeremiah of Gortynos
1. On the Fourth Sunday of the Fast our Church has established the commemoration of Saint John of the Ladder. In fact, the feast of this Saint is on March 30th. But since this feast often falls mid-week, and a Divine Liturgy is not permitted on weekdays during Great Lent, this is why the Church, in order to not lose out on this feast, moved it to the Fourth Sunday of the Fast. This means that he is a great saint for the Church to care that his feast not be lost. And truly, my brethren, Saint John of the Ladder is a great saint. He is an ascetic father of the sixth century, who wrote only one, yet very famous, treatise, which he called The Ladder to Paradise (Κλίμαξ του Παραδείσου). From this book he received the surname "John Climacus" or "John of the Ladder".
The fox, says one fable, would make fun of the lioness because she gave birth to only one lion. But she said to the fox: "Yes one, but it is a lion!" There are many authors of many books. John of the Ladder wrote only one book, but he "is a lion!" It is a strong book, powerful, gigantic! Such books you should read, my Christian brethren, to be educated theologically, as well as to be saved. Truly, the Ladder of Saint John has important remedies for the therapy of our soul. Saint John called the book the Ladder based on the vision of Jacob, as we read in Genesis (28:12). There we read that the Patriarch saw a ladder in his dream, which reached from earth to heaven. This book of Saint John has thirty chapters. These are the thirty steps of his Ladder that reach Heaven. Purposely John made the chapters of his book to number thirty, which is based on the years of the maturity of Jesus Christ, when He began His divine work.
2. In my sermon today, my Christian brethren, I will speak to you briefly, very briefly, from the tenth chapter of this book, which refers to the sin of slander and condemnation. This is a sin to which we all fall, some more than others. And yet, as the Saint tells us, this is a very serious sin this passion, and everyone must absolutely fight it, and with the Grace of God to cut it off. I will tell you some of the things Saint John, whom we celebrate today, says about slander.
a) The Saint likens slander to a "a fat leech, wasting and draining the blood of love". Indeed, my Christians, whoever accuses another, does not have love, which is why Saint John finds that slander is "an offspring of hatred".
b) Saint John calls slander "a shameless arrogation of the divine right". This is how it is, my Christians. The judgement of humanity will take place at the Second Coming of Christ, because God the Father "gave all judgement to the Son" (Jn. 5:22). Therefore, those who accuse others take from Christ His divine right and they, the slanderer, becomes the judge of others. Therefore, very rightly does Saint John say that slander is "a shameless arrogation".
c) But why blame another? Yes, we saw them sin. But do we know how much they will repent of that sin they did, how many sighs they will pull from their breast and how many tears they will shed for the evil hour that made them sin? We saw the sin of another, and blame them for this. Yet God saw their repentance and justifies them and makes them holy. As Saint John says in his book, we call them "immoral" for their sin, but God declares them "pure" for their repentance.
d) Saint John considers slander and condemnation the worst sin, so that whoever is weighed down by this sin will not be saved. Let us remember the Pharisee of the parable of the Lord (c.f. Lk. 18:10). He fasted and prayed, but because he condemned the sinful publican, he was not justified and not condemned.
e) My brethren! Let us not blame others for their sins, because as Saint John says, those who sin are not blameworthy. The devil is the cause of evil, though certainly a person is not exempt from the sins they commit, because it is the devil who incites. But we are primarily to blame the devil and curse him, and not our brother or sister who sins. Otherwise, how can we blame others for their sins, when we ourselves sin? We are all sinners. And if, my Christians, we think of our own sins and hurt for them, this brings us to repentance, and we will not be in the mood to lift our heads and open our mouths to place blame on others for their sins. They who truly live in repentance do not blame others. This is why Saint John of the Ladder says that slander is opposed to repentance: "Fire and water are incompatible; and so is judging others in one who wants to repent." Let us not blame anyone, brethren, for their sins, because if we blame others, God will will take away His Grace from us, and we will fall into the same thing or worse than what we are blaming others for.
3. Having no more time to say more, my Christian brethren, I will tell you a delicious narrative from the Gerontikon concerning slander:
In a certain monastery there was a monk who seemed negligent in his duties. He was not diligent at the divine services and his other ministries. This monk became ill and his end was near. The Elder of the monastery went to advise him to show repentance, so that his soul would be saved. In a good way he told him that he was negligent in his duties and he had to repent of this to find God's mercy. But the monk asked him a strange question:
"Elder, is the Gospel true?"
At this I suppose the Elder thought: "I'm talking to him about repentance, and he's asking me about whether or not the Gospel is true!" The Elder responded:
"The Gospel is true, my child."
"Well Elder," said the monk again, "if the Gospel is true, then I will not be condemned by Christ. Because Christ said: 'Judge not, and you shall not be judged.' It is true that I was negligent in my duties, but in my entire monastic life, I never accused another brother. And because I didn't judge anyone, I will not be judged by Christ."
"My, my!," said the Elder, "we struggle hard for our salvation and this monk, whom we call negligent, found the easier and better path by which to obtain salvation. And he will succeed!"
Then all the brothers remembered that this brother, who appeared as a negligent monk, never ever accused anyone. And by this everyone learned a lesson that above all things they must be careful of slander and condemnation, and that they should first look at the log in their own eye and not blame another who has a splinter in their eye (c.f. Matt. 7:3).
Brethren, let us not blame anyone, that we may find mercy on the day of judgement.
Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.