JOHN of the LADDER/JOHN CLIMACUS (579-649AD)
The world’s most famous monastery is the one on Mt Sinai in modern Egypt – Saint Catherine’s. And its most famous resident and Abbot was undoubtedly Saint John Climacus, or John of the Ladder – named as such for his famous book The Ladder of Divine Ascent. This Sunday we celebrated his memory.
Climacus is one of the greatest minds the world has ever known, a sort of mediaeval Tony Robbins. The Ladder is the first, and maybe even the only, book you will ever need on living the Christian life. With it, he practically invented the “self help” book, and it to this day probably still remains the greatest “self help” book ever written. Much Christian thought and dialogue is based on the person of Christ and His acts, which is as it should be, but too little is expended on the human response – how should we live with this knowledge of Christ’s gospel – His nika – His victory? The Ladder, while primarily written for monks, provides us with answers in this regard, of how we unite ourselves to that victory, in a set of thirty “steps”, which Climacus likens to a “ladder” which we ascend to meet Christ. This is not, of course, “works based salvation”, but Orthodox synergia – a daily putting on of Christ and humbling ourselves. It is salvation viewed as a journey, not as a legal status, and it is a book that is realistic about human nature and the deceits that our brains run past us when we are striving to be more like Christ.
You can read, download, or print The Ladder of Divine Ascent here. Of course, the book is written for monastics, and ordinary people should not expect to work on the steps therein with the same vigour, but nonetheless there is plenty that can be applied to ordinary believers “in the world”. As John himself says: “To admire the labours of the saints is good; to emulate them wins salvation; but to wish suddenly to imitate their life in every point is unreasonable and impossible.”
PATRICK of IRELAND (390-461AD, 17th March)
Patrick, while not the first Christian missionary to visit Ireland, is definitely the most important. He founded many monastaries and converted many of the pagan Irish to Christ. The legend that he drove the snakes from Ireland probably refers to the pagan druids that many a village made redundant following Patrick’s preaching.
In the Orthodox Church, Patrick is known as the Enlightener of Ireland, and is commemorated as such. Far more than just some mythical man that liked shamrocks and green beer, he is a real Saint of the Church who did great things for Christ in Ireland.