PATRISTICS/ John Climacus
Saint John Climacus (c. 525 - March 30, 606), also known as John of the Ladder, John Scholasticus and John Sinaites, was a 6th century Christian monk at the monastery on Mount Sinai. He is revered as a saint by the Roman Catholic, Oriental Orthodox , Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic churches.
LIFE St. John was born in Syria (though other sources say Constantinople), and came to Saint Catherine's Monastery at Mount Sinai and became a novice when he was about 16 years old, and was taught about the spiritual life by the Igumen (abbot) Martyrius. After the death of Martyrius, John, wishing to practice greater asceticism, withdrew to a hermitage at the foot of the mountain. In this isolation he lived for some twenty years, constantly studying the lives of the saints and thus becoming one of the most learned Church Fathers. In 600, when he was about seventy-five years of age, the monks of Sinai persuaded him to become their Igumen. He acquitted himself of his functions as abbot with the greatest wisdom, and his reputation spread so far that pope Gregory the Great wrote to recommend himself to his prayers, and sent him a sum of money for the hospital of Sinai, in which the pilgrims were wont to lodge. Four years later he resigned his charge and returned to his hermitage to prepare for death.
WRITINGS St. John wrote a number of instructive books, the Climax (Latin: Scala) or Ladder of Divine Ascent, composed at the request of John, Abbot of Raithu, a monastery situated on the shores of the Red Sea; and his shorter work To the Pastor (Latin: Liber ad Pastorem). Often these two are found printed together.
The Ladder describes how to raise one's soul and body to God, as if on a ladder, the goal of which is theosis (mystical union with God). This book is one of the most widely-read among Orthodox Christians, especially during the season of Great Lent which immediately precedes Pascha (Easter). It is often read in the trapeza (refectory) in Orthodox monasteries, and in some places it is read in church as part of the Daily Office on Lenten weekdays. Climacus uses the analogy of Jacob's Ladder as the framework for his spiritual teaching. Each chapter is referred to as a "step", and deals with a separate spiritual subject. There are thirty steps of the ladder, which correspond with the age of Jesus at his baptism and the beginning of his earthly ministry. The first 23 steps give instruction on overcoming the vices and the remainder speak of building of the virtues. The Ladder holds dispassionateness (apatheia) as the ultimate contemplative and mystical good in a Christian. One should be advised that reading this book is usually reserved for Monastics or laymen who have progressed far enough spiritually, this book also should only be read with the permission and guidance of a Spiritual Father.
ICONOGRAPHY An icon known by the same title, Ladder of Divine Ascent, depicts a ladder extending from earth to heaven (cf. 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.
Image: A Slavonic-language manuscript of The Ladder of Divine Ascent, Russia, 1560.