Sunday of Saint John Climacus
By St. Justin Popovich
Why does the Church place this Saint in the middle of the Fast, as the most holy image, so that all would behold him?
Saint John of the Ladder. Who is he? He is the man who experienced and wrote the Ladder of Paradise, who experienced the ascent of man from hell to heaven, to paradise. He experienced the ladder from earth to heaven, the ladder that extends from the bottom of the hell of man to the peak of paradise. He experienced and wrote. A very educated man, well studied. A man who led his soul along the path of Christ, entirely leading it from hell to paradise, from the devil to God, from sin to sinlessness, and who in a divinely wise way recorded this journey, namely what takes place when a man fights with each devil that is behind sin.
The devil fights us with sin, both you and I, my brothers and sisters. He fights against you with every sin. Do not fool yourself, do not think that a small and weak force attacks you. No! He attacks you! Even if it is a grimy thought, only a thought, know that he is rushing on you. A thought of pride, a thought of desire, a thought of avarice, an innumerable multitude of thoughts come upon you from every side. And you, what are you?
O, Ladder of Paradise! How, Father John, were you able to make this ladder from paradise stand between earth and heaven? Did not the demons tear it down, cut it or break it? No! His fasting was a flame, a fire, an inferno. What devil could endure it? All fled panic stricken, all the demons fled being chased away by his glorious and divine prayers, all the demons fled terrified by his fasting, all the demons disappeared by his fiery and fervent prayer.
The Ladder of Paradise! What is it? It is the holy virtues. The holy evangelical virtues: humility, faith, fasting, gentleness, patience, kindness, goodness, compassion, truthfulness, the love for Christ, the confession of Christ, suffering for the sake of Christ. These and many other New Testament holy virtues. Every command of Christ, my brethren, is a virtue. Do you keep them? Do you apply them? Fasting is a holy virtue, it is a step on the ladder from earth to heaven. Fasting, blessed fasting, like the entire ladder leads from earth to heaven.
Each virtue is a small paradise. Each virtue nourishes your soul, making it blessed, and brings down into your soul divine, heavenly rest. Each virtue is a gold and diamond step on the ladder of salvation, the ladder that unites earth and heaven, that stretches out from your own hell to your own paradise. This is why none of them are ever on their own. Faith in our Lord Jesus Christ is never on its own. It is manifested by prayer, by fasting, by almsgiving, by humility, by suffering on behalf of ones neighbor. Not only does it manifest itself this way but it also lives every virtue, because the other virtue exists. Faith lives with prayer, prayer lives with fasting, fasting is nourished by prayer, fasting is nourished by love, love is nourished by compassion. Thus every virtue is alive through the other. And when one virtue resides in your soul, all the others follow, all will slowly emerge and grow through it and with it.
Yes, the ladder of paradise depends on you. Let's say I fast with fear of God, with reverence, with mourning, with tears. But then I give up on it. There, I began to built the ladder and I myself tore it down, I broke it. And you, you fast often, and are temperate with every physical food. But, at the time of fasting, you allow sin to dwell in your soul, and allow various unclean thoughts and desires sprout in your soul. It belongs to you to immediately chase them far away with prayer, with mourning, with reading or with any other exercise. If you, however, although you physically fast, nourish your soul with some sin or some hidden passion, then you, although you began to build each step one by one with fasting from earth to heaven, you yourself will pull it down and destroy it.
Fasting requires compassion, humility and gentleness. They all go together. It is like a group of builders, whose head is prayer. This is the master builder, the architect, the chief engineer of our spiritual life, our spiritual desire, the ladder that we will make stand between earth and heaven. Prayer occupies the first place. When prayer becomes established in your heart, and it is inflamed with an unquenchable thirst for the Lord, when it continuously sees Him, continuously senses Him, then with prayer you import into your soul all the other virtues. Then the engineer (prayer) has excellent craftsmen, and quickly builds marvelous ladders from earth to heaven, the ladders of your gradual ascent to God, towards your perfection. When you have power, powerful prayer, then no type of fasting will be difficult for you, no type of love will be impossible. Holy evangelical love!
Prayer sanctifies everything within you, your every exercise, your every thought, your every feeling, your every mood. Prayer! A divine power, which the Lord gave us to sanctify whatever is within us, in our souls. Prayer will unite you with the Most Compassionate Lord, and He will pour into your heart compassion for every person, for the sinner, for the brother who is weak like you, that falls like you, but also can get up like you; who yet needs your help, your brotherly help, your prayerful help, your ecclesiastical help. Then, when you give help, without a doubt you will build your own ladder, the ladder that leads from your hell to your paradise; then, with certainty in your heart you will ascend step by step, from virtue to virtue, and you will arrive at the top of the ladder, Heaven, and you will step down onto Heaven, you will step down onto heavenly Paradise.
We have everything, you and I: nine Beatitudes, nine holy evangelical virtues. This is the gospel of fasting, the gospel of Saint John of the Ladder. Virtues, my brethren, great virtues. The difficult ascetic practices of fasting, prayer and humility, were presented by the Lord in the Beatitudes. "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven" (Matt. 5:3).
Humility! This is the beginning of the Christian life, the beginning of our faith, the beginning of our virtues, the beginning of our ascent to Heaven, the foundation of our ladder. Lord, I am a nothing. You are everything! I nothing, You everything! My mind is nothing before Your Mind, my spirit is nothing before Your Spirit, my heart, my knowledge... O nothing, nothing before Your knowledge Lord! I, I, nothing, nothing, and behind it countless nothings. This is what I am before You, Lord. Humility! This is the first holy virtue, the first Christian virtue. Everything begins from this.
But the Christians of this world, who build this ladder of our salvation, are always in danger from unclean forces. What are these? Sins, our sins, our passions. And behind these are the devil. Just as the holy virtues build the heavenly ladder between earth and heaven, so do our sins build a ladder to hell. Every sin. If there are sins in your soul, be careful. If you hold hate in your soul for one, two, three, five days, notice into what kind of a hell your soul has changed into. It is the same if you hold anger, avarice, obscene desire. And what are you doing? Indeed, you are making for yourself a ladder to hell.
But the Good Lord gives us an amazing example. Here, in the middle of the Fast, is displayed the great and wondrous Saint John of the Ladder. He entirely shines with the holy evangelical virtues. We see him ascend quickly and wisely the ladder of paradise, which he made to stand between earth and heaven. As a teacher, as a holy guide, he gives us Christians his Ladder as a model so that we may ascend from hell to Paradise, from the devil to God, from earth to Heaven.
I pray that our merciful and great Holy Father John of the Ladder, will influence us in our struggles against all our sins with the aim of the holy virtues; that we may also build with his help our own ladder and following him we will arrive at the Kingdom of Heaven, Paradise, where there exists all heavenly rests, all eternal joys, where together with him we will glorify the King of all those good things, the Eternal King of the Heavenly Kingdom, our Lord Jesus Christ, to Whom belongs all glory and honor now and forever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.
Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.