I greet you on this the 4th Sunday of Great Lent dedicated to the memory of St. John of the Ladder, who lived in the late 6th century and the early 7th century.
St. John was tonsured a monk at the Monastery of St. Catherine located at the foot of Mount Sinai, where Moses received the Ten Commandments from Almighty God. St. John spent most of his life in complete solitude and unceasing prayer not too far from the main monastery itself. He is the supreme example of the Orthodox monastic tradition of continuous prayer, perpetual fasting and most of all unwavering faithfulness to God and His Kingdom. His was a radical call to uncompromising obedience to the teachings of Jesus.
The underlying theme of this Sunday, in its many hymns and readings, is that of faithfulness. The Gospel lesson from this day in Mark 9:17-31 emphasizes the necessity of faith on man’s part in order to receive God’s blessing.
The hymns of this day further point out to us that our genuine faithfulness to God is expressed through repentance, prayer and fasting and one step further in the practice of Christian virtues, which leads us to a Paschal renewal.
Remember God’s promise to Abraham, the father of us all, who had shown his faith in God by his willingness to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice. God seeing this made a solemn vow to Abraham to bless him and his descendants. St. Paul states, “the blessing which God promised Abraham was given to the Gentiles (us), by means of Christ Jesus, so that through faith we might receive the spirit promised by God”. Galatians 3:14.
Towards the latter part of his life, St. John Climacus of the Ladder became the abbot of St. Catherine’s Monastery where he wrote his famous work, entitled, The Ladder of Divine Ascent. In this work he offers his wisdom on spiritual and moral perfection through a life in union with God, the high point of the human quest for true life and fulfillment. Jesus said to his disciples, “you must be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect” Matthew 5:48.
Simply stated we are to live just as Jesus did so that we may become mature people reaching to the very height of Christ’s full stature (Ephesians 4:13).
Our life, according to St. John, is a spiritual ascent through Christ, a Jacob’s ladder which brings us to the very presence of God. In conclusion St. John says, “do not be surprised that you fall every day; do not give up but stand your ground courageously”. This is the meaning of the ascent we as Christians need to follow.
May Almighty God grant us the strength and courage to ascend the Ladder of Divine Ascent in our lives.