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St. John of the Ladder

On April 12th (March 30th by the old calendar) the Church commemorates St. John of the Ladder.

St. John of the Ladder

St. John of the Ladder is called thus in honor of his major spiritual writing, “The Ladder of Paradise,” and is venerated by the Church as a great ascetic. There is very little information on St. John’s origins. According to tradition he was born circa A.D. 525, and leaving the world at the age of 16, he entered the Sinai monastery, where the elder Martirius became his spiritual father. Four years later St. John became a monk. The elder Strategius, who was present at the tonsure, prophesied that John would be a great luminary of the Church.

For 19 years John toiled at his obedience. After the death of the elder Martirius the saint went away into the desert near Mount Sinai, where he spent 40 years in the spiritual labors of silence, fasting, and prayer. Word of St. John’s holiness spread far and wide, and many who were seeking salvation came to join him. Later he was summoned by the Sinaite monastics, who chose him as their abbot at the age of 75. For four years St. John served as abbot of the Sinai monastery, and then once again returned to a life of solitude until his very end.

It was during his rule over the monastery that St. John wrote his famous “Ladder of Paradise.” This book provided instruction on monastic life, which St. John envisaged as a path of continuous ascent to heaven along a ladder of spiritual improvement, which required a person to engage in difficult self-renunciation and intense spiritual labor. The “Ladder” presupposes, firstly, the cleansing of spiritual impurities and the uprooting of vices and passions, and secondly, the reconstruction of God’s image in man.

The content of the “Ladder” is accordingly divided into two sections: the first speaks of vices that are contrary to Christian life, and the second reveals the concept of moral and religious virtues. Many pillars of spiritual life consider the “Ladder” to be the best book of spiritual guidance. The “Ladder” was especially venerated in Russia.

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Excerpts from St. John’s “Ladder”

  • A Christian is one who imitates Christ as much as possible in word, deed, and thought, and who believes in the Holy Trinity correctly and purely.
  • Adam, as long as he retained his childlike innocence, did not see his nakedness; blessed is natural innocence, but more glorious is the reward for innocence that is acquired through much sweat and labor, for it is the source of the greatest humility and meekness.
  • Illness is sometimes sent to us for the cleansing of sins and sometimes to temper our vanity.
  • The Lord sojourns in the hearts of the meek, while a rebellious soul is the seat of the devil.
  • Earnest prayer eliminates even despair.
  • May the entire fabric of your prayer consist of few words, for both the publican and the prodigal son attracted God’s mercy by their brief words.
  • If you lean continuously on the staff of prayer, you will not stumble, but even if this should happen – you will not fall completely.
  • Ill thoughts that are not confessed to one’s spiritual father turn into deeds.
  • When embarking upon spiritual life, we must remember that among demons there are those who even “interpret” the Holy Scriptures for us; they do this usually in the hearts of the vain, especially among learned (educated) people, and by gradually seducing them, they finally bring them to a state of heresy and blasphemy.
  • Knowing that your neighbor reproached you in your absence or presence, show your love by praising him.
  • He shows humility who does not lessen his love for others when reproached by them, and not he who engages in self-reproach.
  • We have not been invited into this world to attend a wedding feast, but to weep over ourselves...
  • Chastity is the comprehensive name for all virtues.
  • Purity and chastity are the desirable abode of Christ and heaven on earth for the soul.
  • An unbridled tongue can in a short while waste the fruit of many labors.
  • By earnestly offering Christ the labors of your youth, in old age you will rejoice in the wealth of dispassion, for that which is amassed in youth nourishes and comforts in the fatigue of old age.
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