Prologue of Ohrid


March 30


John Climacus is the author of The Ladder of Divine Ascent. John came to Mount Sinai as a sixteen-year-old youth and remained there, first as a novice, later as a recluse, and finally as abbot of Sinai until his eightieth year, when he reposed, in about the year 649 A.D. His biographer, the monk Daniel, says about him: "His body ascended the heights of Sinai, while his soul ascended the heights of heaven." He remained under obedience to his spiritual father, Martyrius, for nineteen years. Anastasius of Sinai, seeing the young John, prophesied that he would become the abbot of Sinai. After the death of his spiritual father, John withdrew into a cave, where he lived a life of strict asceticism for twenty years. His disciple, Moses, fell asleep one day under the shade of a large stone. John, at prayer in his cell, saw that his disciple was in danger and prayed to God for him. Later, when Moses returned, he fell on his knees and gave thanks to his spiritual father for saving him from certain death. He related that in a dream he had heard John calling him, and that he had jumped up at the moment the stone had fallen. Had he not jumped, the stone would have crushed him. At the insistence of the brotherhood, John agreed to become abbot, and he directed the salvation of the souls of men with zeal and love. Certain people reproached John for talking too much. Not at all angered by this, John nevertheless remained silent for an entire year. He did not utter a word until the brothers implored him to speak, and to continue teaching them his God-given wisdom. On one occasion, when six-hundred pilgrims came to the Monastery of Sinai, everyone saw an agile youth in Jewish attire serving at table, giving orders to other servants and assigning duties. Suddenly, this young man disappeared. When everyone noticed this and began to ask questions, John said to them: "Do not seek him, for that was Moses the Prophet serving in his own place." During his silence in the cave, John wrote many worthwhile books, of which the most glorious is The Ladder. This book is still read by many, even today. In this book, John describes the method of raising the soul to God, comparing it to the climbing of a ladder. Before his death, John designated George, his brother in the flesh, as abbot. George grieved much because of his separation from John. Then John said to him that, if he were found worthy to be near God in the other world, he would pray to Him that George would be taken to heaven that same year. And so it came to pass. After ten months George fell asleep and settled among the citizens of heaven as his great brother, John, had done.


This monk was lazy, careless, and lacking in his prayer life; but throughout all of his life he did not judge anyone. While dying, he was happy. When the brethren asked him how it was that with so many sins he could die joyfully, he replied: "I now see angels who are showing me a page containing my numerous sins. I said to them, 'Our Lord said: Judge not, and ye shall not be judged (Luke 6:37). I have never judged anyone, and I hope in the mercy of God that He will not judge me.'" And the angels tore up the paper. Upon hearing this, the monks were astonished and learned from it.



As a kind of torch on Mount Sinai,

John was shining with heavenly light.

Having subdued his body, he subdued his thoughts.

Thirty steps he numbered toward victory:

A miraculous strategy, a wonderful tactic.

As a legacy he gave spiritual warfare

To the spiritual warrior who desires to learn,

And in this warfare to gloriously conquer:

The Ladder, most miraculous, written by the Spirit,

After the dreadful strife was ended.

When John the Victor shed the world from himself,

He brought it as a precious gift to the brethren.

An epic poem--such is the soul of man,

When from dust it desires to climb toward heaven;

An awesome epic poem of struggle and suffering;

A sparkling epic poem of faith and hope.

This is what John, illumined by God, gave us--

He gave all-radiant weapons to you and to me.

And now John prays before the Lord,

That the Lord be pleased to send us help

When we climb to Him by the Ladder;

That He might extend His hand to us, that we might reach Him.


If humility before men is necessary for the sake of being exalted before God, and temporal effort is necessary for the sake of eternal life, what do you care if someone wags his head and laughs at your humility? John the Hesychast [Silentary] was a bishop in Ascalon for ten years. Seeing that the honors of men hindered him, he disguised himself as a simple monk and entered the Monastery of St. Sava the Sanctified, where he was assigned to gather wood and boil lentils for the laborers. When he was recognized, he closed himself in a cell, where he lived for forty-seven years, eating only vegetables. This is how the Fathers avoided worldly honors, for which many in our days, in reckless struggle, squander their souls for dust and ashes.


Contemplate the Lord Jesus in death:

1. How His body was taken down from the Cross by Joseph of Arimathea;

2. How Joseph and Nicodemus wrapped the body of the Lord in a pure linen cloth, anointed Him with spices, and placed Him in a new tomb;

3. How faithful and unafraid were these two distinguished men in the midst of Christ's many enemies and amidst general fear and denials.


on recognizing the Son of Man amidst overwhelming darkness

"Truly this was the Son of God" (Matthew 27:54).

These words were spoken by the centurion, who carried out his duties conscientiously as a soldier. Under orders of his superiors, he had to guard the body of Christ on Golgotha. Outwardly, he acted like a machine, but inwardly his soul was wide awake. He--a Roman soldier, a pagan and an idolater--saw all that had occurred at the time of the death of Christ the Lord, and cried out: Truly this was the Son of God. Not knowing about the One God and not knowing the Law and the Prophets, he immediately comprehended that which the priests of the One God and authorities of the Law and the Prophets were unable to comprehend! On this occasion, the word of God was realized: For judgment I am come into this world, that they which see not might see; and that they which see might be made blind (John 9:39). Truly, he who was blind in the spirit saw and those who thought they could see were completely blinded.

Was it possible that the Jewish elders neither saw the darkened sun, nor felt the earthquake, nor noticed how the rocks were split, nor saw that the veil in the Temple was rent, nor recognized many of the saints who came out of opened graves and appeared in Jerusalem? They saw all of this, and all of them accurately witnessed everything. Nevertheless, their spirits remained blind and their hearts stony. All of these manifestations, awesome and extraordinary, they probably interpreted as the unbelieving would do today--as coincidences and illusions. The pagans of all times interpret everything as coincidence or self-deception whenever the finger of God appears to reprimand men, to direct, or to inform them.

The Roman centurion Longinus, who was that soldier, saw all that occurred without prejudice, and beneath the Cross he confessed his faith in the Son of God. His exclamation was not wrested accidentally from his frightened heart; rather, it was his confession of faith, for which he later laid down his life in order to embrace a better life in the Kingdom of Christ.

O brethren, how great is this Roman centurion, who upon seeing the lifeless Lord cruicified between thieves on the dunghill of Golgotha, recognized Him as God and confessed Him as God. O brethren, how petty are those Christians who recognize the Lord as resurrected, as glorified, as the Victor and the Victory-bearer through thousands of His saints, but who nevertheless retain in their hearts doubt like a poisonous serpent which poisons them every day and buries their lives in eternal darkness.

O Crucified and Resurrected Lord, have mercy on us and save us!

To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.
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