Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Cave of Saint John of the Ladder

St. John Climacus lived in the late sixth century and the first half of the seventh century; he is remembered by Christians everywhere especially during the Great Fast, for the purity of his life dedicated entirely to Christ. St. John Climacus was born around or before the year 579 and lived until 649. At age of 16 he entered the Sinai Monastery under the supervision of abbot Martyrium. After the death of his abbot, St. John Climacus withdrew into the desert to a cave located at the foot of Mount Sinai, living in meditation, prayer and study for nearly 40 years. In 639 he was named abbot of the monastery of Sinai, but not long after he retired in his old cave where he struggled until falling asleep.

The tradition mentions a cave located in the Valley of Tholas (Wadi Et-Tlah) approximately 8 km from Saint Catherine’s Monastery of Mt. Sinai, as the place where St. John led his ascetic struggle.

The first written document where this cave is mentioned, also remembers it as a place of pilgrimage. In the twentieth century, a monastic settlement was raised near this cave, belonging to the Monastery of Saint Catherine.

Named after the Monastery of Sinai, St. John was also called the Climacus or scholar because of his vast culture, but mostly he was called ‘the Ladder’, due to his work, ‘the Ladder of Divine Ascent’.

“The Ladder of Divine Ascent” or the ladder towards Heaven is the most important work of Blessed John, which became an ascetical model for both monks and laymen. In this book St. John describes the spiritual ascent towards heaven as going through 30 steps, a clear reference to the 30 years of the life of Christ, before beginning His public ministry. ‘The Ladder’ begins with an introduction on monasticism, focusing on renouncing the world and on self-denial. The following 23 chapters of this book deal with sins and virtues in a successive order. St John affirms that these steps are not to be regarded as steps that can be left behind, but as spiritual states that need to be maintained and deepened, and to the extent of this understanding, one can advance further.

St. John Climacus is commemorated every year on March 30th, and on the fourth Sunday of Great Lent.