April 11, 2021

Saint John Climacus and the Fourth Sunday of Great Lent (Archimandrite George Kapsanis)

 By Archimandrite George Kapsanis,
Former Abbot of Gregoriou Monastery on Mount Athos

(Delivered in 2008)

Saint John Climacus, whom our Church especially honors today, is a precious gift of God to our Church, because he left us a valuable legacy, the Ladder, with which he teaches us two great things.

First, progress in the spiritual life must be made like a science, not without a plan, not impromptu, not without consistency, but with care and effort to strive to shake off the passions and become acquainted with the virtues.

And secondly, in this struggle one cannot reach perfection from one moment to the next, but one must gradually ascend the virtues, pursue them, desire them, pray for them until one reaches the highest virtue, which is love.

And Saint John presents to us thirty steps on the ladder of virtues, which the struggling monk and Christian must climb.

It is an important message not only for monks, but also for struggling Christians in the world, that we must not forget, by being carried away by the cares of life, that the main purpose of our life is our perfection. It is our union with God. It is our purification from passions. It is the spiritual struggle. And it must be done, as I said, consistently, with daily struggle, with the desire for God.

And this is the main task for monks and we must not forget it, especially those of us who went out into the wilderness. It is for this struggle that we went out. And the Christians in the world, those with the conditions they are in, who of course do not have the comfort that the monks have, nor the time that the monks have, but they can also dedicate some time in their lives to deal with the their spiritual progress and cultivation and purification from the passions and illumination by God.

And there are Christians in the world today who are doing this struggle with the help of God and who are not carried away by the temporary and perishable to forget the eternal and the abiding, but can and do struggle in the world for their salvation and union with God. And they will have a very high reward.

Because it is a very difficult thing, at a time when everything is competing to divide man, to take him out into an extroversion, not to love the introversion of the inner man, but to be constantly worn out by the attachment to the terrestrial, the secondary, the earthly, the vain; and yet there are Christians today, who out of love for God struggle and overcome this extroversion and this attachment to the earthly and perishable, for their salvation, for the love of Christ, for their union with God.

We monks also have this sole goal. We must not forget "where we come from", and we must make this struggle every day. Let not the day pass without us doing this struggle. The struggle of purification from passions, and the struggle of acquiring virtues and illumination. Because if a day passes in our lives that we did not do this struggle, that day was lost. That is why we see in the Gerontikon and in the Lives of the Saints that the Saints had an unquenchable interest in their souls to do this struggle, until their last moment.

And remember Abba Sisoes whose time came to leave this world and begged God to let him repent for another half hour. He repented all his life, but it was not enough for him. He asked for another half hour to repent. And then came the chorus of the Prophets, the Apostles, Christ Himself to take his blessed and struggling soul.

Let us pray to God, because indolence makes us dull many times and we forget the "where we come from", the vigilance and the spiritual search for our ascent on the ladder of virtues, since the word of the Lord says: "Watch and pray, that you enter not into temptation."

This is the ethos of the monk and the Orthodox Christian. It must be vigilance, because at any moment we risk falling into the vanity of the perishable things of the world and forgetting our eternal destiny and our mission, which is our rest in the bosom of the Holy God.

For this I pray, with the blessing of Saint John Climacus, the great teacher of our Church, whose book the Ladder is the most read and the favorite book for the most perfect Christian and monk. You do not need another book for the first class, nor another book for the last class of the spiritual university, because the Ladder has it all.

It is also the Alphabet Book for beginners, but it is also the book of the perfect, because it contains spiritual wisdom, which the Saint received from his personal experience and struggle in the spiritual life, but also from his experience as an elder and abbot of brother monks, which he captured in his book.

That is why I said that the Ladder, which we even read during Great Lent in monasteries, this Ladder is a great precious gift from God to our Church and, if we did not have it, we would be poorer. That is why the Providence of God made sure that there are such great divinely inspired aids, so that from them we can be educated and be led to salvation.

With the blessing of Saint John Climacus, may we be strengthened to continue the struggle until we celebrate Holy Easter, but also after Holy Easter, always watching and praying. Amen.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.