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St. John Climacus

St. John Climacus (579 - 649)

Read freely text sermons and articles by the speaker St. John Climacus in text and pdf format. Also known as John of the Ladder, John Scholasticus and John Sinaites, was a 6th-7th-century Christian monk at the monastery on Mount Sinai. He is revered as a saint by the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic churches. Of John's literary output we know only the Κλῖμαξ (Latin: Scala Paradisi) or Ladder of Divine Ascent, composed in the early seventh century at the request of John, Abbot of Raithu, a monastery situated on the shores of the Red Sea, and a shorter work To the Pastor (Latin: Liber ad Pastorem), most likely a sort of appendix to the Ladder. It is in the Ladder' that we hear of the ascetic practice of carrying a small notebook to record the thoughts of the monk during contemplation.

The Ladder describes how to raise one's soul and body to God through the acquisition of ascetic virtues. Climacus uses the analogy of Jacob's Ladder as the framework for his spiritual teaching. Each chapter is referred to as a "step", and deals with a separate spiritual subject. There are thirty Steps of the ladder, which correspond to the age of Jesus at his baptism and the beginning of his earthly ministry. Within the general framework of a 'ladder', Climacus' book falls into three sections. The first seven Steps concern general virtues necessary for the ascetic life, while the next nineteen (Steps 8–26) give instruction on overcoming vices and building their corresponding virtues. The final four Steps concern the higher virtues toward which the ascetic life aims. The final rung of the ladder—beyond prayer (προσευχή), stillness (ἡσυχία), and even dispassion (ἀπάθεια)—is love (ἀγάπη).

showing from 1 to 32 of 32 articles

On Prayer
      Prayer is by nature a dialog and a union of man with God Its effect is to hold the world together. It achieves a reconciliation with God. Prayer is the mother and daughter of tears. It is an expiation of sin, a bridge across temptation, a bulwark again ... read more

Step 1 On renunciation of the world
      1. Our God and King is good, ultra-good and all-good (it is best to begin with God in writing to the servants of God). Of the rational beings created by Him and honoured with the dignity of free-will, some are His friends, others are His true servants, so ... read more

Step 10 On slander or calumny.
       1. No sensible person, I think, will dispute that slander is born of hatred and malice. Therefore it comes next in order after its forebears. 2. Slander is an offspring of hatred, a subtle yet coarse disease, a leech lurking unfelt, wasting and drain ... read more

Step 11 On talkativeness and silence.
       1. In the preceding chapter we spoke briefly of how extremely dangerous it is to judge others and of how this vice steals into even the most apparently spiritual people; and how it is better to subject oneself to condemnation and punishment by the tongu ... read more

Step 12 On lying.
      1. The offspring of flint and steel is fire; and the offspring of chatter and joking is lying. 2. A lie is the destruction of love, and perjury is a denial of God. 3. Let no one with right principles suppose that the sin of lying is a small matter, ... read more

Step 13 On despondency.
       1. As we have already frequently said, this—we mean despondency—is very often one of the branches of talkativeness, and its first child. And so we have given it its appropriate place in this chain of vices. 2. Despondency is a slackness of soul, ... read more

Step 14 On the clamorous , yet wicked master—the stomach.
       1. We have been attacking ourselves in everything that we have said, but this is specially so when we speak about the stomach. For I wonder if anyone has got free of this master before settling in the grave. 2. Gluttony is hypocrisy of the stomach; f ... read more

Step 15 On incorruptible purity and chastity to which the corruptible attain by toil and sweat.
      We have heard from that raving mistress gluttony who has just spoken, that her offspring is war against bodily chastity. And this is not surprising since our ancient forefather Adam teaches us this too. For if he had not been overcome by his stomach he wo ... read more

STEP 16 On love of money or avarice
       1. Many learned teachers treat next, after the tyrant just described, the thousand-headed demon of avarice. We, unlearned as we are, did not wish to change the order of the learned, and we have therefore followed the same convention and rule. So let us ... read more

Step 17 On poverty (that hastens heavenwards).
       1. Poverty is the resignation of cares, life without anxiety, an unencumbered traveller, alienation from sorrow, fidelity to the commandments. 2. A poor monk is lord of the world. He has entrusted his cares to God and by faith has obtained all men as ... read more

Step 18 On insensibility, that is, deadening of the soul and the death of the mind before the death of the body.
       1. Insensibility both in the body and in the spirit is deadened feeling, which from long sickness and negligence lapses into loss of feeling. 2. Insensibility is negligence that has become habit; benumbed thought; the birth of presumption; a snare fo ... read more

Step 19 On sleep, prayer, and psalm-singing in chapel.
       1. Sleep is a particular state of nature, an image of death, inactivity of the senses. Sleep is one, but, like desire, its sources and occasions are many: that is to say, it comes from nature, from food, from demons, or perhaps, sometimes, from extreme ... read more

Step 2 On detachment
      1. The man who really loves the Lord, who has made a real effort to find the coming Kingdom, who has really begun to be troubled by his sins, who is really mindful of eternal torment and judgment, who really lives in fear of his own departure, will not lo ... read more

Step 20 On bodily vigil and how to use it to attain spiritual vigil and how to practise it.
       1. Some stand before earthly kings without weapons and without armour, others hold staffs of office, and some have shields, and some swords. The former are vastly superior to the latter, for they are usually personal relations of the king and members of ... read more

Step 21 On unmanly and puerile cowardice.
       1. If you pursue virtue in a monastery or community, you are not likely to be attacked much by fear. But the man who spends his time in more solitary places should make every effort to avoid being overcome by that offspring of vainglory, that daughter o ... read more

Step 22 On the many forms of vainglory
       1. Some like to distinguish vainglory from pride and to give it a special place and chapter. And so they say that there are eight capital and deadly sins3. But Gregory the Theologian and other teachers have given out that there are seven; and I am stron ... read more

Step 23 On mad2 pride, and, in the same Step, on unclean blasphemous thoughts.
       1. Pride is denial of God, an invention of the devil, the despising of men, the mother of condemnation, the offspring of praise, a sign of sterility, flight from divine assistance, the precursor of madness, the herald of falls, a foothold for satanic po ... read more

Step 24 On meekness, simplicity, guilelessness which come not from nature but from habit, and about malice
       1. The morning light precedes the sun, and the precursor of all humility is meekness. Therefore let us hear in what order the Light arranges these virtues, for He says: Learn of Me, for I am meek and humble in heart.4 So then before looking at the sun, ... read more

Step 25 On the destroyer of the passions, most sublime humility, which is rooted in spiritual feeling
       1. He who thinks that it is possible to use the visible word in order to describe the sensation and effect of the love of the Lord exactly, holy humility gracefully, blessed purity truly, divine enlightenment clearly, the fear of God honestly, assurance ... read more

Step 26 On discernment of thoughts, passions and virtues
       1. Discernment in beginners is true knowledge of themselves; in intermediate souls it is a spiritual sense that faultlessly distinguishes what is truly good from what is of nature and opposed to it; and in the perfect it is the knowledge which they poss ... read more

Step 27 On holy solitude2 of body and soul
      1. We are like bought serfs under contract to unholy passions; we therefore know to some extent the whims, ways, will and wiles of the spirits that rule over our poor souls. But there are others who through the action of the Holy Spirit, and by reason of ... read more

Step 28 On holy and blessed prayer, mother of virtues, and on the attitude of mind and body in prayer
       1. Prayer by reason of its nature is the converse and union of man with God, and by reason of its action upholds the world and brings about reconciliation with God; it is the mother and also the daughter of tears, the propitiation for sins, a bridge ove ... read more

Step 29 Concerning heaven on earth, or godlike dispassion and perfection, and the resurrection of the soul before the general resurrection
       1. Here are we who lie in the deepest pit of ignorance, in the dark passions of this body and in the shadow of death, having the temerity to begin to philosophize about heaven on earth. 2. The firmament has the stars for its beauty, and dispassion ha ... read more

Step 3 On exile or pilgrimage
      1. Exile means that we leave forever everything in our own country that prevents us from reaching the goal of the religious life. Exile means modest manners, wisdom which remains unknown, prudence not recognized as such by most, a hidden life, an invisibl ... read more

Step 30 Concerning the linking together of the supreme trinity among the virtues
       1. And now, finally, after all that we have said, there remain these three that bind and secure the union of all, faith, hope, love; and the greatest of these is love,10 for God Himself is so called.11 2. And (as far as I can make out) I see the one ... read more

Step 4 On blessed and ever-memorable obedience - Part 1
      1. Our treatise now appropriately touches upon warriors1 and athletes of Christ. As the flower precedes the fruit, so exiles2 either of body or will always precedes obedience. For with the help of 1 Gk. puktai, ‘prizefighters’. 2 Exile appears to ... read more

Step 4 On blessed and ever-memorable obedience - Part 2
      54. When in the absence of the superior we imagine his face and think that he is always standing by us, and avoid every meeting, or word, or food, or sleep, or anything else that we think he would not like, then we have really learnt true obedience. Base- ... read more

Step 5 On painstaking and true repentance which constitute the life of the holy convicts; and about the prison.
      Once John outran Peter;1 and now obedience precedes repentance. For the one who came first is a symbol of obedience, and the other of repentance. 1. Repentance is the renewal of baptism. Repentance is a contract with God for a second life. A penitent i ... read more

Step 6 On remembrance of death.
      1. Every word is preceded by thought. And the remembrance of death and sins precedes weeping and mourning. Therefore, this subject comes in its proper place in this chapter. 2. The remembrance of death is a daily death; and the remembrance of our depar ... read more

Step 7 On mourning which causes joy.
      1. Mourning, according to God, is sadness of soul, and the disposition of a sorrowing heart, which ever madly seeks that for which it thirsts; and when it fails in its quest, it painfully pursues it, and follows in its wake grievously lamenting. Or thus: ... read more

Step 8 On freedom from anger and on meekness.
      1. As the gradual pouring of water on a fire completely extinguishes the flame, so the tears of true mourning are able to quench every flame of anger and irritability. Therefore we place this next in order. 2. Freedom from anger, or placidity, is an in ... read more

Step 9 On remembrance of wrongs
       1. The holy virtues are like Jacob’s ladder, and the unholy vices are like the chains that fell from the chief Apostle Peter. For the virtues, leading from one to another, bear him who chooses them up to Heaven; but the vices by their nature beget and ... read more

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