The above picture shows monks climbing the ladder to reach Jesus and heaven. Jesus awaits them with open arms. There are
demons (in black) who fly and try to overthrow the climbers, in some cases demons succeed. Up in the left corner angels pray for the monks. Down in the right corner Saint John and other monks also pray for the salvation of the climbing monks.
This article is for advanced believers. It is a summary (extracts copied) of a brilliant book
the ladder by Saint John of Sinai. It is a ladder with 30 steps. As you climb the ladder the importance increases.
The lowest step is renunciation of the world and the highest is love. Love is to keep the commands 2 John 1:6
Each step is a virtue or a vice(a fault, bad habit) you have to conquer it to move on to the next step.
1. Renunciation of the world
(Renunciation: the formal rejection of something, typically a belief, claim, or course of action)
All who have willingly left the things of the world, have certainly done so either for the sake of the
future Kingdom, or because of the multitude of their sins, or for love of God. If they were not moved by
any of these reasons their withdrawal from the world was unreasonable. But God who sets our contests
waits to see what the end of our course will be.
The man who has withdrawn from the world in order to shake off his own burden of sins, should
imitate those who sit outside the city amongst the tombs, and should not discontinue his hot and fiery
streams of tears and voiceless heartfelt groanings until he, too, sees that Jesus has come to him and
rolled away the stone of hardness from his heart, and loosed Lazarus, that is to say, our mind, from the
bands of sin, and ordered His attendant angels: Loose him from passions, and let him go to blessed
dispassion(freedom from passions(bad habits, sins)). Otherwise he will have gained nothing.
(a condition in which something has become separated from something else)
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 love, care or worry about money, or possessions, or
parents, or worldly glory, or friends, or brothers, or anything at all on earth. But having shaken off all
ties with earthly things and having stripped himself of all his cares, and having come to hate even his
own flesh, and having stripped himself of everything, he will follow Christ without anxiety or
hesitation, always looking heavenward and expecting help from there, according to the word of the
holy man: My soul sticks close behind Thee, and according to the ever-memorable author who said: I
have not wearied(grow tired of or bored with) of following Thee, nor have I desired the day (or rest) of man, O Lord.
3. Exile or pilgrimage
(pilgrimage: a journey or search of moral or spiritual significance)
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(care, caution, good judgment, wisdom)
not recognized as such by most, a hidden life, an invisible intention, unseen meditation, desire for
humiliation, longing for hardship, constant determination to love God, abundance of charity,
renunciation of vainglory, depth of silence.
4. Blessed and ever-memorable obedience
(do not follow your will but follow the will of your confessor(spiritual father))
Obedience is absolute renunciation of our own life, clearly expressed in our bodily actions. Or,
conversely, obedience is the mortification(putting your sin to death) of the limbs(hands and legs) while the mind remains alive. Obedience is
unquestioning movement, voluntary death, simple life, carefree danger, spontaneous defence by God,
fearlessness of death, a safe voyage, a sleeper’s progress. Obedience is the tomb of the will and the
resurrection of humility. A corpse does not argue or reason as to what is good or what seems to be bad.
For he who has devoutly put the soul of the novice to death will answer for everything. Obedience is
an abandonment of discernment(the ability to judge well) in a wealth of discernment.
5. Painstaking and true repentance which constitute the life of the holy convicts
Repentance is the renewal of baptism. Repentance is a contract with God for a second life. A
penitent(a person who repents their sins and (in the Christian Church) seeks forgiveness from God) is a buyer of humility. Repentance is constant distrust of bodily comfort. Repentance is selfcondemning
reflection, and carefree self-care. Repentance is the daughter of hope and the renunciation(rejection)
of despair. A penitent is an undisgraced convict(a person found guilty of a crime and sentenced by a court). Repentance is reconciliation with the Lord by the
practice of good deeds contrary to the sins. Repentance is purification of conscience. Repentance is the
voluntary endurance of all afflictions. A penitent is the inflicter of his own punishments. Repentance is
a mighty persecution of the stomach, and a striking of the soul into vigorous awareness.
6. Remembrance of death
As of all foods bread is the most essential, so the thought of death is the most necessary of all
works. The remembrance of death amongst those in the midst of society gives birth to distress and
frivolity(lack of seriousness), and even more—to despondency(depression of spirits from loss of courage or hope). But amongst those who are free from noise it produces the
putting aside of cares, and constant prayer and guarding of the mind. But these same virtues both
produce the remembrance of death and are also produced by it.
7. Mourning which causes joy
(mourning: grief or sadness over the death of someone)
Mourning, according to God, is sadness of soul, and the disposition(tendency) 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: mourning is a golden spur in a soul which is
stripped of all attachment and of all ties, fixed by holy sorrow to watch over the heart. 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.
8. Freedom from anger and meekness
(meekness: being relaxed, gentle, kind)
Freedom from anger, or placidity, is an insatiable(impossible to satisfy) appetite for dishonour, just as in the vainglorious
there is an unbounded desire for praise. Freedom from anger is victory over nature and insensibility to
insults, acquired by struggles and sweat.
Meekness is an immovable state of soul which remains unaffected whether in evil report or in good
report, in dishonour or in praise.
The beginning of freedom from anger is silence of the lips when the heart is agitated; the middle is
silence of the thoughts when there is a mere disturbance of soul; and the end is an imperturbable(unable to be upset or excited;) calm
under the breath of unclean winds.
9. Remembrance of wrongs
Remembrance of wrongs is the consummation(the end) of anger, the keeper of sins, hatred of righteousness,
ruin of virtues, poison of the soul, worm of the mind, shame of prayer, stopping of supplication,
estrangement of love, a nail stuck in the soul, pleasureless feeling beloved in the sweetness of
bitterness, continuous sin, unsleeping transgression, hourly malice(desire to inflict injury, harm, or suffering on another). Remedy
: The remembrance of Jesus’ sufferings cures remembrance of wrongs which is mightily shamed by
His forbearance(patient self-control; restraint and tolerance).
10. Slander or calumny
(a false or malicious claim that may harm someone's reputation)
Slander is an offspring of hatred, a subtle yet coarse(rude) disease, a leech(a kind of worm that feeds by sucking blood from other animals) lurking unfelt, wasting and
draining the blood of charity. It is simulation of love, the patron of a heavy and unclean heart, the ruin
of chastity. Remedy
: Do not condemn, even if you see with your eyes, for they are often deceived.
11. Talkativeness and silence
Talkativeness is the throne of vainglory on which it loves to show itself and make a display.
Talkativeness is a sign of ignorance, a door to slander, a guide to jesting, a servant of falsehood, the
ruin of compunction(a feeling of uneasiness or anxiety of the conscience caused by regret for doing wrong or causing pain), a creator of despondency(depression of spirits from loss of courage or hope), a precursor of sleep, the dissipation(the process of slowly disappearing or becoming less) of recollection(the action or faculty of remembering or recollecting something), the
abolition of watchfulness, the cooling of ardour(intense feeling of love), the darkening of prayer.
: Deliberate silence is the mother of prayer, a recall from captivity, preservation of fire, a supervisor
of thoughts, a watch against enemies, a prison of mourning, a friend of tears, effective remembrance of
death, a depicter of punishment, a meddler(the one who interferes to other people matters without invitation or right) with judgment, an aid to anguish, an enemy of freedom of
speech, a companion of quiet, an opponent of desire to teach, increase of knowledge, a creator of
contemplation, unseen progress, secret ascent.
The offspring of flint(a very hard, fine-grained quartz that sparks when struck with steel) and steel is fire; and the offspring of chatter and joking is lying.
A lie is the destruction of love, and perjury(the intentional act of swearing a false oath) is a denial of God.
Let no one with right principles suppose that the sin of lying is a small matter, for the All-Holy
Spirit pronounced the most awful sentence of all against it above all sins. If Thou wilt destroy all who
tell lies, as David says to God, what will they suffer who stitch an oath on to a lie? Remedy
: He who has become merry with wine involuntarily speaks the truth on all subjects, and he who is
drunk with compunction(a feeling of uneasiness or anxiety of the conscience caused by regret for doing wrong or causing pain) cannot lie.
(depression of spirits from loss of courage or hope)
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
Despondency is a slackness of soul, a weakening of the mind, neglect of asceticism, hatred of the
vow made. It is the blessing of worldlings(persons absorbed by the concerns and interests and pleasures of the present world). It accuses God of being merciless and without love for men.
It is being languid(weak) in singing psalms, weak in prayer, stubbornly bent on service, resolute in manual
labour, indifferent in obedience. Remedy
: ‘Tell me, you nerveless, shuffling fellow, who viciously spawned(produced) you? Who are your offspring?
Who are your foes? Who is your destroyer?’ And despondency, under compulsion, may be thought to
reply: ‘Among those who are truly obedient I have nowhere to lay my head; but with those amongst
whom I have a place for myself, I live quietly. I have many mothers: sometimes insensibility of soul,
sometimes forgetfulness of the things above, sometimes excessive troubles. My offspring who abide
with me are: changing from place to place, disobedience to one’s spiritual father, forgetfulness of the
judgement, and sometimes breach of the vow. And my opponents, by whom I am now bound, are
psalmody and manual labour. My enemy is the thought of death. What completely mortifies me is
prayer with firm hope of future blessings. And who gave birth to prayer? Ask her.’
14. Clamorous, yet wicked master—the stomach
Gluttony(excessive eating and drinking) is hypocrisy of the stomach; for when it is glutted it complains of scarcity, and when it is
loaded and bursting it cries out that it is hungry.
Gluttony is a deviser of seasonings, a source of sweet dishes. You stop one jet, and it bobs up
elsewhere; you plug this too, and you open another.
Gluttony is a delusion of the eyes which receives in moderation but wants to gobble(to swallow or eat hastily or hungrily in large pieces) everything at
Satiety(fullness) in food is the father of fornication; but mortification of the stomach is an agent of purity. Remedy
: When sitting at a table laden with food, remember death and judgment, for even so you will only
check the passion slightly. In taking drink, do not cease to imagine the vinegar and gall of your Lord.
And you will certainly either be temperate, or you will sigh and humble your mind.
15. Incorruptible purity and chastity to which the corruptible attain by toil and sweat
(chastity: sexual purity, it means not having any sexual relations before marriage. It also means complete fidelity to husband or wife during marriage)
(corruptible: the one who looses quality or strength) (toil: hard work)
Purity means that we put on the angelic nature. Purity is the longed-for house of Christ and the
earthly heaven of the heart. Purity is a supernatural denial of nature, which means that a mortal and
corruptible body is rivalling the celestial spirits in a truly marvellous way.
He is pure who expels love with love and who has extinguished the material fire by the immaterial
Chastity is the name which is common to all the virtues.
He is chaste who even during sleep feels no movement or change of any kind in his constitution.
He is chaste who has continually acquired perfect insensibility to difference in bodies.
16. Love of money or avarice
Avarice, or love of money, is the worship of idols, a daughter of unbelief, an excuse for infirmities,
a foreboder (forebode:to foretell or predict) of old age, a harbinger(something that comes before and that shows what will follow in the future) of drought(not enough rainfall), a herald(a sign of things to come) of hunger.
The lover of money sneers(smiles with an extreme lack of respect) at the Gospel and is a wilful transgressor(sinner). He who has attained to love
scatters his money. But he who says that he lives for love and for money has deceived himself.
He who mourns for himself has also renounced his body; and at the appropriate time he does not
Do not say that you are collecting money for the poor; with two mites the Kingdom was
A hospitable man and a money-lover met one another, and the latter called the former
: I have seen how men of scanty(small or insufficient in quantity or amount) means enriched themselves by living with the poor in spirit, and
forgot their first poverty.
17. Poverty (that hastens heavenwards)
(hastens: be quick to do something)
Poverty is the resignation of cares, life without anxiety, an unencumbered(free of baggage) traveller, alienation from
sorrow, fidelity to the commandments.
A poor monk is lord of the world. He has entrusted his cares to God and by faith has obtained all
men as his slaves. He will not tell his need to man, and he receives what comes to him, as from the
hand of the Lord.
The poor ascetic is a son of detachment and thinks of what he has as if it were nothing. When he
becomes a solitary(loner), he regards everything as refuse. But if he worries about something, he has not yet
18. Insensibility, that is, deadening of the soul and the death of the mind before the death of the body
Insensibility both in the body and in the spirit is deadened feeling, which from long sickness and
negligence lapses into loss of feeling.
Insensibility is negligence that has become habit; benumbed(uninterested) thought; the birth of presumption(assumption that is taken for granted); a
snare(a trap, usually for small animals, and using a noose) for zeal( dedication or enthusiasm for something); the noose(a loop with a running knot, tightening as the rope or wire is pulled and used to trap animals or hang people) of courage; ignorance of compunction; a door to despair; the mother of
forgetfulness, which gives birth to loss of the fear of God. And then she becomes the daughter of her
He who has lost sensibility is a brainless philosopher, a self-condemned commentator, a selfcontradictory
windbag, a blind man who teaches others to see. He talks about healing a wound, and
does not stop irritating it. Remedy
: I was astounded at the words of this raving creature and asked her about her father, wishing to
know her name, and she said; ‘I have no single parentage; my conception is mixed and indefinite.
Satiety(a state of fullness) nourishes me, time makes me grow, and bad habit entrenches(secure something firmly) me. He who keeps this habit will
never be rid of me. Be constant in vigil, meditating on the eternal judgment; then perhaps I shall to
some extent relax my hold on you. Find out what caused me to be born in you, and then battle against
my mother; for she is not in all cases the same. Pray often at the coffins, and engrave an indelible(not able to be forgotten) image
of them in your heart. For unless you inscribe(write something in a permanent or formal way) it there with the pencil of fasting, you will never conquer
19. Sleep, prayer, and psalm-singing in chapel
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 and prolonged fasting, through which the flesh is
weakened and at last longs for the consolation of sleep.
The really obedient man often suddenly becomes radiant and exultant during prayer; for this
wrestler was prepared and fired beforehand by his sincere service.
It is possible for all to pray with a congregation; for many it is beneficial to pray with a single
kindred spirit; solitary prayer is for the very few.
In singing with many it is impossible to pray with the wordless prayer of the spirit. But your mind
should be engaged in contemplation of the words being chanted or read, or you should say some
definite prayer while you are waiting for the alternate verse to be chanted. Remedy
: He who
realizes that he is standing before God will be as still as a pillar during prayer and will pray with heartfelt
feeling; and none of the aforesaid demons will make sport of him.
A vigilant eye makes the mind pure; but much sleep binds the soul.
A vigilant monk is a foe(enemy) to fornication but a sleepy one mates with it.
Vigil is a quenching of lust, deliverance from dream phantoms, a tearful eye, a softened heart, the
guarding of thoughts, the dissolving of food, the subduing of passions, the taming of spirits, the
bridling of the tongue, the banishment of phantasies.
A monk who denies himself sleep is a fisher of thoughts, and in the stillness of the night he can
easily observe and catch them.
21. Unmanly and puerile cowardice
(fear that makes you unable to do what is right or expected)
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 of unbelief, cowardice.
Cowardice is a childish disposition in an old, vainglorious soul. Cowardice is a falling away from
faith that comes of expecting the unexpected.
Fear is a rehearsing of danger beforehand; or again, fear is a trembling sensation of the heart,
alarmed and troubled by unknown misfortunes. Fear is a loss of conviction.
A proud soul is a slave of cowardice; it vainly trusts in itself, and is afraid of any sound or shadow
of creatures. Remedy
: In the presence of an invisible spirit the body becomes afraid; but in the presence of an angel the
soul of the humble is filled with joy. Therefore, when we recognize the presence from the effect, let us
quickly hasten to prayer, for our good guardian has come to pray with us.
(seeking nice comments and love from people)
With regard to its form, vainglory is a change of nature, a perversion of character, a note of blame.
And with regard to its quality, it is a dissipation(the process of slowly disappearing or becoming less) of labours, a waste of sweat, a betrayal of treasure, a
child of unbelief, the precursor of pride, shipwreck in harbour, an ant on the threshing-floor which,
though small, has designs upon all one’s labour and fruit. The ant waits for the gathering of the wheat,
and vainglory for the gathering of the riches of virtue; for the one loves to steal and the other to
: When we invite glory, or when it comes to us from others uninvited, or when out of vainglory we
decide upon a certain course of action, we should remember our mourning and should think of the
holy fear with which we stood before God in solitary prayer; and in this way we shall certainly put
shameless vainglory out of countenance—if we are really concerned to attain true prayer. If this is
insufficient, then let us briefly recollect our death. And if this is also ineffective, at least let us fear the
shame that follows honour. For he who exalts himself will be humbled not only there, but certainly
here as well.
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 possession, source of anger, door of hypocrisy, the support of
demons, the guardian of sins, the patron of unsympathy, the rejection of compassion, a bitter
inquisitor, an inhuman judge, an opponent of God, a root of blasphemy.Where a fall has overtaken us, there pride has already pitched its tent; because a fall is an indication
of pride. Remedy
: He who despises(hates) this foe is delivered from its torture. But he who contrives some other way to
wage war with it will end by submitting to it. He who wishes to conquer the spirits with words is like
one trying to lock up the winds.
24. Meekness and simplicity
(meekness: being relaxed, gentle, kind)
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. So then before looking at the sun, which is humility, we must be illumined by the
light, which is meekness, and then we can look with a clear gaze at the sun. For it is impossible,
absolutely impossible, to gaze upon the sun before we have experienced that light, as we have learnt
from the order in which the Lord has put these virtues.
Meekness is an unchangeable state of mind, which remains the same in honour and dishonour.
Meekness consists in praying calmly and sincerely for a troublesome neighbour.
Meekness is a rock overlooking the sea of irritability(being easily annoyed), which breaks all the waves that dash against it
yet remains completely unmoved. Simplicity is a constant habit of soul that has become immune to evil thinking.
(low opinion of one self, lack of pride)
The appearance of this sacred vine is one thing during the winter of the passions, another in the
spring of fruit-blossom, yet another in the actual harvest of the virtues. Yet all these different stages
concur(happen at the same time) in gladness and fruit-bearing, and therefore they all have their own signs and sure evidence of
fruit to come. For as soon as the cluster(a small group of people or things) of holy humility begins to blossom within us, we at once begin,
though with an effort, to hate all human glory and praise, and to banish from ourselves irritation and
anger. In proportion as this queen of virtues makes progress in our soul by spiritual growth, so we
regard all the good deeds accomplished by us as nothing, or rather as an abomination, assuming that
every day we add more and more to the unknown burden of our dissipation. We suspect the very
abundance of the divine gifts showered upon us to be beyond our deserts and to aggravate our
punishment. So our mind remains unrifled, reposing securely in the casket of modesty, only hearing
the knocks and jeers of the thieves, without being subject to any of their threats; because modesty is an
inviolable(never to be broken) safe.
26. Discernment of thoughts, passions and virtues
(discernment: the ability to judge well)
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 possess by divine illumination, and which can enlighten
with its lamp what is dark in others. Or perhaps, generally speaking, discernment is, and is recognized
as, the assured understanding of the divine will on all occasions, in every place and in all matters; and
it is only found in those who are pure in heart, and in body and in mouth.
27. Solitude of body and soul
(solitude: loneliness, isolation)
Solitude of the body is the knowledge and reduction to order of the habits and feelings. And
solitude of soul is the knowledge of one’s thoughts and an inviolable mind.
A friend of solitude is a courageous and unrelenting power of thought which keeps constant vigil at
the doors of the heart and kills or repels the thoughts that come. He who is solitary(loner) in the depth of his
heart will understand this last remark; but he who is still a child is unaware and ignorant of it.
A discerning solitary will have no need of words, because he expresses words by deeds.
The beginning of solitude is to throw off all noise as disturbing for the depth (of the soul). And the
end of it is not to fear disturbances and to remain insusceptible(not affected) to them. Though going out, yet without
a word, he is kind and wholly a house of love. He is not easily moved to speech, nor is he moved to
anger. The opposite of this is obvious.
A solitary is he who strives to confine his incorporeal being within his bodily house, paradoxical(two different opinions collide in one statement or action) as
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(an action meant to regain someone's favor or make up for something you did wrong) for sins, a bridge over temptations, a wall against afflictions, a
crushing of conflicts, work of angels, food of all the spiritual beings, future gladness, boundless
activity, the spring of virtues, the source of graces, invisible progress, food of the soul, the enlightening
of the mind, an axe for despair, a demonstration of hope, the annulling of sorrow, the wealth of monks,
the treasure of solitaries, the reduction of anger, the mirror of progress, the realization of success, a
proof of one’s condition, a revelation of the future, a sign of glory. For him who truly prays, prayer is
the court, the judgment hall and the tribunal of the Lord before the judgment to come.
(freedom from passions(bad habits, sins))
The firmament has the stars for its beauty, and dispassion has the virtues for its adornments(decorations); for by
dispassion I mean no other than the interior heaven of the mind, which regards the tricks of the
demons as mere toys.
And so he is truly dispassionate, and is recognized as dispassionate, who has made his flesh
incorruptible, who has raised his mind above creatures and has subdued all his senses to it, and who
keeps his soul in the presence of the Lord, ever reaching out to Him even beyond his strength.
Some say, moreover, that dispassion is the resurrection of the soul before the body; but others, that
it is the perfect knowledge of God, second only to that of the angels.
30. Love, hope and faith
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, for God Himself is so called.
And (as far as I can make out) I see the one as a ray, the second as a light, the third as a circle; and in
all, one radiance and one splendour.
The first can make and create all things; the divine mercy surrounds the second and makes it
immune to disappointment; the third does not fall, does not stop in its course and allows no respite(a short period of rest or relief from something difficult or unpleasant) to
him who is wounded by its blessed rapture(a state or feeling of great happiness, pleasure, or love).
God is love. So he who wishes to define this, tries with bleary eyes to measure the sand in the
ocean. Love, by reason of its nature, is a resemblance to God, as far as that is possible for mortals; in its
activity it is inebriation(drunkenness) of the soul; and by its distinctive property it is a fountain of faith, an abyss of
patience, a sea of humility.
Love is essentially the banishment of every kind of contrary thought for love thinks no evil. If the face of a loved one clearly and completely changes us, and makes us cheerful, gay and
carefree, what will the Face of the Lord not do when He makes His Presence felt invisibly in a pure
soul? He who loves the Lord has first loved his brother, because the second is a proof of the first.
One who loves his neighbour can never tolerate slanderers, but rather runs from them as from fire.
He who says that he loves the Lord but is angry with his brother is like a man who dreams that he
The power of love is in hope, because by it we await the reward of love.
In conclusion, I urge you to ascend, brothers, ascend eagerly, and be resolved in your hearts to ascend and hear Him who says:
Come and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord and to the house of our God, who makes our feet
like hind’s (hind: female red deer) feet, and sets us on high places, that we may be victorious with His song.
Run, I beseech you, with him who said: Let us hasten(be quick to do something) until we attain to the unity of faith and of the
knowledge of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, who,
when He was baptized in the thirtieth year of His visible age, attained the thirtieth step in the spiritual
ladder; since God is indeed love, to whom be praise, dominion, power, in whom is and was and will be
the cause of all goodness throughout infinite ages. Amen.
People should imitate monks and monks should imitate angels.
Saint John of Sinai
Saint John Climacus (Greek: Ἰωάννης τῆς Κλίμακος; Latin: Ioannes Climacus), also known as John of the Ladder, John Scholasticus and John Sinaites, was a 7th-century Christian monk at the monastery on Mount Sinai. He is revered as a saint by the Roman Catholic, Oriental Orthodox, Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic churches.
There is almost no information about John's life. There is in existence an ancient Vita (life) of the saint by a monk named Daniel of Raithu monastery. Daniel, though claiming to be a contemporary, admits to no knowledge of John's origins—any speculation on John's birth is the result of much later speculation, and is confined to references in the Menologion(a calendar of the Greek Orthodox Church containing biographies of the saints). The Vita is generally unhelpful for establishing dates of any kind. Formerly scholarship, on the basis of John's entry in the Menologion, had placed him in the latter 6th Century. That view was challenged by J.C. Guy and others, and consensus (such as there is) has shifted to a 7th Century provenance. If Daniel's Vita is trustworthy (and there is nothing against which to judge its accuracy), then John came to the Vatos Monastery at Mount Sinai, now Saint Catherine's Monastery, and became a novice when he was about 16 years old. He was taught about the spiritual life by the elder monk Martyrius. After the death of Martyrius, John, wishing to practice greater asceticism, withdrew to a hermitage at the foot of the mountain. In this isolation he lived for some twenty years, constantly studying the lives of the saints and thus becoming one of the most learned Church Fathers. When he was about seventy-five years of age, the monks of Sinai persuaded him to become their Igumen. He acquitted himself of his functions as abbot with the greatest wisdom, and his reputation spread so far that, according to the Vita, Pope Gregory the Great wrote to recommend himself to his prayers, and sent him a sum of money for the hospital of Sinai, in which the pilgrims were wont to lodge.
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 (ἀπαθεία)—is love (ἀγάπη).
Originally written simply for the monks of a neighboring monastery, the Ladder swiftly became one of the most widely read and much-beloved books of Byzantine spirituality. This book is one of the most widely read among Orthodox Christians, especially during the season of Great Lent which immediately precedes Pascha (Easter). It is often read in the trapeza (refectory) in Orthodox monasteries, and in some places it is read in church as part of the Daily Office on Lenten weekdays, being prescribed in the Triodion.
St. John's feast day is March 30 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. John Climacus was also known as "Scholasticus," but he is not to be confused with St. John Scholasticus, Patriarch of Constantinople.
Several translations into English have been made, including one by Holy Transfiguration Monastery (Boston, 1978). This volume contains the Life of St. John by Daniel, The Ladder of Divine Ascent, and To the Pastor, and provides footnotes explaining many of the concepts and terminology used from an Orthodox perspective, as well as a General Index.
Go to the Home page.
Go to the Early Jewish Writings.