John of the Ladder
701 Augusta Arbor Way
Piedmont (Greenville), SC
of St. John of the Ladder
John of the Ladder
is honored by the Church as a great ascetic and author
of the reknowned spiritual book called THE LADDER,
from which he is name, St John of the Ladder"
(or St John Klimakos in Greek).
is almost no information about St John's origins. One
tradition suggests that he was born in Constantinople
around the year 570, and was the son of Ss Xenophon and
went to Sinai when he was sixteen, submitting to Abba
Martyrios as his instructor and guide. After four years,
St. John was tonsured as a monk. Abba Strategios, who
was present at St John's tonsure, predicted that he would
become a great luminary in the Church of Christ.
nineteen years St. John progressed in monasticism in obedience
to his spiritual Father. After the death of Abba Martyrios,
St. John embarked on a solitary life, settling in a wild
place called Thola, where he spent forty years laboring
in silence, fasting, prayer, and tears of penitence.
is not by chance that in THE LADDER St John
speaks about tears of repentance: "Just as fire burns
and destroys the wood, so pure tears wash away every impurity,
both external and internal." His holy prayer was
strong and efficacious, as may be seen from an example
from the life of the God-pleasing saint.
John had a disciple named Moses. Once, the saint ordered
his disciple to bring dung to fertilize the vegetable
garden. When he had fulfilled the obedience, Moses lay
down to rest under the shade of a large rock, because
of the scorching heat of summer. St John was in his cell
in a light sleep. Suddenly, a man of remarkable appearance
appeared to him and awakened the holy ascetic, reproaching
him, "John, why do you sleep so heedlessly, when
Moses is in danger?"
John immediately woke up and began to pray for his disciple.
When Moses returned in the evening, St John asked whether
any sort of misfortune had befallen him.
monk replied, "A large rock would have fallen on
me as I slept beneath it at noon, but I left that place
because I thought I heard you calling me." St John
did not tell his disciple of his vision, but gave thanks
John ate the food which is permitted by the monastic rule,
but only in moderation. He did not sleep very much, only
enough to keep up his strength, so that he would not ruin
his mind by unceasing vigil. "I do not fast excessively,"
he said of himself, "nor do I give myself over to
intense all-night vigil, nor lay upon the ground, but
I restrain myself..., and the Lord soon saved me."
following example of St John's humility is noteworthy.
Gifted with discernment, and attaining wisdom through
spiritual experience, he lovingly received all who came
to him and guided them to salvation. One day some envious
monks reproached him for being too talkative, and so St
John kept silence for a whole year. The monks realized
their error, and they went to the ascetic and begged him
not to deprive them of the spiritual profit of his conversation.
his ascetic deeds from others, St John sometimes withdrew
into a cave, but reports of his holiness spread far beyond
the vicinity. Visitors from all walks of life came to
him, desiring to hear his words of edification and salvation.
After forty years of solitary asceticism, he was chosen
as igumen (abbot) of Sinais St Catherines
Monastery when he was seventy-five. St John governed the
holy monastery for four years.
the request of the abbot of the Raithu monastery, St John
wrote the incomparable Ladder, a book of instruction for
monks who wished to attain spiritual perfection.
his wisdom and spiritual gifts the abbot requested St
John to write down whatever was necessary for the salvation
of those in the monastic life. Such a book would be "a
ladder fixed on the earth" (Gen. 28:12), leading
people to the gates of Heaven.
John felt that such a task was beyond his ability, yet
out of obedience he fulfilled the request. The saint called
his work THE LADDER, for the book is "a
fixed ladder leading from earthly things to the Holy of
Holies...." The thirty steps of spiritual perfection
correspond to the thirty years of the Lord's age. When
we have completed these thirty steps, we will find ourselves
with the righteous and will not stumble. THE LADDER begins
with renunciation of worldliness, and ends with God, Who
is love (1 Jn 4:8). Although the book was written for
monks, any Christian living in the world will find it
an unerring guide for ascending to God, and a support
in the spiritual life.
twenty-second step of THE LADDER deals with various forms
of vainglory. St John writes:
I fast, I am vainglorious; and when I permit myself food
in order to conceal my fasting from others I am again
vainglorious about my prudence. When I dress in fine clothing,
I am vanquished by vanity, and if I put on drab clothing,
again I am overcome by vanity. If I speak, vainglory defeats
me. If I wish to keep silence, I am again given over to
it. Wherever this thorn comes up, it stands with its points
vain person seems to honor God, but strives to please
men rather than God.
of lofty spirit bear insult placidly and willingly, but
only the holy and righteous may hear praise without harm.
you hear that your neighbor or friend has slandered you
behind your back, or even to your face, praise and love
is not the one who reproaches himself who shows humility,
for who will not put up with himself? It is the one who
is slandered by another, yet continues to show love for
is proud of his natural gifts, intelligence, learning,
skill in reading, clear enunciation, and other similar
qualities, which are acquired without much labor, will
never obtain supernatural gifts. Whoever is not faithful
in small things (Lk 16:10), is also unfaithful in large
things, and is vainglorous.
often happens that God humbles the vainglorious, sending
a sudden misfortune. If prayer does not destroy a proud
thought, we bring to mind the departure of the soul from
this life. And if this does not help, let us fear the
shame which follows dishonor. "For whoever humbles
himself shall be exalted, and whoever exalts himself shall
be humbled" (Lk 14:11). When those who praise us,
or rather seduce us, start to praise us, let us recall
our many sins, then we shall find that we are not worthy
of what they say or do to honor us.
THE LADDER St John describes the ascent
toward spiritual perfection, which is essential for anyone
who wishes to save his soul. It is a written account of
his thoughts, based on the collected wisdom of many wise
ascetics, and on his own spiritual experience. The book
is a great help on the path to truth and virtue. With
the exception of the scriptures themselves and St Athanasius
Life of Anthony, it is the most copied and influential
book in Christian history.
steps of THE LADDER proceed gradually from
strength to strength on the path of perfection. The summit
is not reached suddenly, but gradually, as the Savior
says: "The Kingdom of Heaven suffers violence, and
the violent take it by force" (Mt 11:12).
John of the Ladder is commemorated on the fourth Sunday
of Great Lent and on March 30th.