One of the great teachers of spirituality in the Easter Church was ST. JOHN CLIMACUS. Having been born in the 6th century, his life is closely associated with the Monastery of Mt. Sinai. Located in an isolated area, his monastic community traces its history back to the Old Testament, for it is said that there God appeared to Moses in the Burning Bush. During the days of St. John, however, the monk’s lived in cells scattered throughout the desert places and would come together Saturday evening for all night prayer, and then assemble in the monastery church built buy Empress, St. Helena to receive the Holy Mysteries.
It was at the request of the neighboring Monastery of Raithu, that John drew up the spiritual work for which he is most noted. This book, called “The Ladder of Divine Ascent,” contains in its thirty chapters the rules for attaining the thirty steps in growth to spiritual perfection. The thirty steps correspond to the thirty years of Christ’s life.
The Ladder has been a treasured book for ages. There is a 12th century copy in existence. It contains many instructive anecdotes which reflect the monastic life of the times. The work contains aphorisms – short phrases of rich meaning. John writes, for instance, “Humility is the door to the Kingdom of Heaven, and it leads there those who draw near to it.” “Beat the foes with the name of Jesus, for there is no stronger weapon whether in heaven or on earth.” It is written in a simple style, drawing from Scriptural, ecclesiastical and secular sources. One can recognize the influence of the spiritual fathers of the Church, yet John’s own experiences add color and intimacy to the work.
Its title might have come from the initial request that such a work be written. It is said that the head of the neighboring monastery, in asking John for such a guide, requested “a book like the divinely written tables of Moses, for the instruction of the New Israelites, “a work which “like a ladder set up, will lead aspirants to the gates of Heaven.”
The Orthodox Weekly Bulletin - Cliffwood, NJ