Saint of the Day – 30 March – St John Climacus (c 525-606) aged 80-81 – Anchorite Monk, Mystic, Poet, Writer, Ascetic – also known as St John of the Ladder, John Scholasticus, John the Sinaita. John made, while still young, such progress in learning that he was called the Scholastic.
A native of Palestine, at sixteen, John entered a monastery in the Palestinian desert. After four years of training in a community, he took the vows and an aged abbot foretold that he would some day be one of the greatest lights of the Church.
Nineteen years later, on the death of his director, he withdrew into a deeper solitude, where he studied the lives and writings of the Saints and was raised to an unusual height of contemplation. The fame of his holiness and practical wisdom drew crowds around him for advice and consolation. For his greater profit he visited the solitudes of Egypt. He lived forty years as a hermit. Like other desert fathers, he broke his near-total solitude only on Saturdays and Sundays to worship with other hermits and counsel his followers.
Early in his monastic career John decided that as a mark of submision to God he would receive all criticism as true. Once, for example, some monks reproached him for wasting time in idle conversation. So, to correct what he regarded as a serious fault, for a year John observed absolute silence. Only when his disciples insisted that they needed his spiritual teaching did the saint start speaking again.
He was induced by a brother abbot to write the rules by which he had guided his life and his book called the Climax, or Ladder of Perfection/The Ladder of Divine Ascent, has been prized in all ages for its wisdom, its clearness and its unction. He took his name Climacus or “ladder” from his book . The reader who climbed The Ladder ascended thirty steps to holiness. According to St John, the goal was to reach a state of apatheia or passive disinterestedness in earthly life, so as to anticipate the wonders of heaven.
Each step communicates some practical insight into Christian living that twenty-first-century readers will still find beneficial. 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 down the climbers, 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 shown, gesturing towards the ladder, with rows of monastics behind him.
When John was seventy he was elected abbot of the monastery at Mount Sinai. That was an appropriate choice, for many monks saw John as a Moses who had received Christian commandments from God and recorded them in his Ladder. After four years in office, John retired to his cell and died there c 606 at around eighty years of age.
St John’s feast day is 30 March in both the East and West. The Eastern Orthodox Church and the Byzantine Catholic Churches additionally commemorate him on the Fourth Sunday of Great Lent. Many churches are dedicated to him in Russia, including a church and belltower in the Moscow Kremlin.