The Fourth Sunday of the Great Fast

St. John Climacus

Icon of St. John the Ladder by Iconographer Vasileios Tomaras, Byzantine Design Works

Our holy Father among the Saints St John Climacus is the author of a powerful spiritual work that is divided into about thirty chapters, called “steps”, as part of the overall book entitled, “The Ladder of Divine Ascent.” As the Great Fast is about our ascending to the things of Heaven, it is entirely appropriate that the Church focus on the ascetical enterprise as presented by this work and on the person of its author who is celebrated on the Fourth Sunday of the Fast. The Ladder reflects the ancient Orthodox perspective on spirituality as being our personal transformation in Christ our God.  We do not “imitate” Christ as if He were little different from ourselves. As God Incarnate, we seek to have Communion with Him, to participate in His Life in adoration and worship. We seek to become Temples of the Holy Spirit through His Grace. THE LADDER begins with the rejection of worldliness, and ends with God, Who is love. As we climb the ladder of virtues while making our way toward Christ, we must remember that our focus must remain on the Person and power of our Saviour.  As we advance in the spiritual life slowly, taking it one “step” at a time, we need to be in a state of constant prayer, especially the “Jesus Prayer”. It is easy to become diverted in this spiritual path of inner struggle. There is a kind of self-delusion, known as “prelest”, where we are convinced that what we are doing is that which God wants for us. It is easy to think of ourselves as being “good” in the religious sense.  We attend Church on Sunday; we don’t do bad things to others; and we pray once in a while.  Isn’t it obvious that we are on our way to Heaven?   St. John assures us that we have accepted certain sinfulness as “part of nature” and refuse to do spiritual battle with them.  We need to identify and correct these areas of our lives. Nothing is accomplished without some hard work; we need to entrust our life to God in Christ.  We need the Divine Grace of the Holy Spirit through Christ in order to become one with the Father.   The acquisition of the Holy Spirit is a life-long struggle.  Our commitment to this process is made firm during the Great Fast and is the reason of the Great Fast in the first instance. It is now that we look at our purposes for being here and our responsibilities as Christians with the eyes faith and trust in God.

  • A Christian is one who imitates Christ in thought, word, and deed, as far as is possible for human beings.
  • Follow Christ without anxiety or hesitation, always looking heavenward and expecting help from there.
  • I do not know whether we must all teach others: but teach yourselves at all costs.
  • Do not be surprised that you fall every day; do not give up, but stand your ground courageously.
  • If anyone could see their own vices accurately without the veil of self-love, they would worry about nothing else in this life.
  • If the Holy Spirit is peace of soul, then nothing so prevents the presence of the Spirit in us as anger.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 -The Ladder of Divine Ascent From the book: A Year of the Lord

    Icon from the collection of Saint Catherine’s Mount Sinai Monastery                          – used with permission

    Icon of the Ladder of Divine Ascent

    – This is a very vivid icon of the Ladder of Divine Ascent. It shows people ascending toward heaven with angels helping them. It also shows demons pulling people off the ladder, causing them to fall into the pits of hell. It can be a great discussion starter, especially for teenagers. Consider making copies of this icon for each family member to keep as a reminder of their spiritual ascent and the demons that will be trying to prevent it.In today’s Gospel passage, we are shown that through faith in Christ all things are possible. We too need to cry as the father in today’s Gospel, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.” Furthermore, this passage reveals that faith to conquer our demons comes only from prayer and fasting. At this point, Christ begins to reveal to the disciples about His upcoming suffering.

    Resource: Orthodox Christian Community of the Archangel Gabriel, Glasgow