Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
Christ is in our midst! He was and is and ever shall be. Ο Χριστός εν τώ μέσω ημών και ήν και έστι και έσται.
FROM THE DIVINE LITURGY OF SAINT BASIL THE GREAT
Our God, the God Who saves, teach us how to thank You worthily for the benefits You have granted us and grant us still. Having accepted these Gifts, Lord, cleanse us of all taint, both of body and spirit, and teach us how to achieve holiness in reverence for You, so that with the witness of a clear conscience, as we receive a portion of Your Hallowed Gifts, we may be united to the Holy Body and Blood of Your Christ and, receiving them worthily, may possess Christ indwelling in our hearts, and so become a temple of Your Holy Spirit. Lord, find none of us guilty of profaning these Your awesome and heavenly Mysteries, nor let us be enfeebled in soul and body by receiving them unworthily; but grant that to our very last breath we may receive a portion of Your Sacred Gifts as the way to Eternal life, for an acceptable defense at the dread judgment seat of Your Christ; that we too, with the Saints who have pleased You through the ages, may share in Your Eternal blessings, prepared for those who love You, O Lord. Amen.
On March 30th Our Holy Orthodox Christian Church commemorates, honors and entreats the holy intercessions of the following Saints, Forefathers, Fathers, Patriarchs, Prophets, Apostles, Preachers, Evangelists, Martyrs, Confessors, Ascetics, Teachers of the Holy Orthodox Christian faith: Saint John the author of "The Divine Ladder of Ascent"; Saint Sosthenes, St. Apollos, St. Cephas St. Caesar and Epaphroditos, (Apostles of the 70); Saint Zacharias the New holy Martyr.
OUR HOLY FATHER JOHN CIIMACUS (of the Laddder). The author of the famous "Ladder", he came from an unknown place to Mount Sinai as a sixteen-year-old boy and remained there, firs as a novice, then as a hermit and finally as Abbot (Geronda and Egoumenos) of Sinai, until he died at the age of eighty, in about 649 A.D. His biographer, the monk Daniel, says of him: "He broth his body up to Mount Sinai, but his spirit he brought to the Mount of Heaven". He spent nineteen years in obedience to his spiritual father, Martyrios, Anastasius of Mount Sinai, who saw John once as a young man, foretold that he would be Egoumenos (Abbot) of Saint Katherine's Monastery of Mount Sinai. After the death of his spiritual father, Saint John took himself off to a cave, where he lived for twenty years in strict asceticism. His disciple, Moses, fell asleep one day in the cool shade of a huge rock. Saint John was at prayer in his cell, and, perceiving that his disciple was in danger, began to pray for him. Moses came up to him later, fell to his knees and began to thank him for saving him from certain death. And he related how he had heard St. John calling him in his sleep and had jumped out of the way, the rock would certainly have killed him. At the importunate urging of the brethren, Saint John accepted the Abbacy, and guided their souls to salvation with loving zeal. He once heard a monk reproach him for being too verbose. He was not in the least angered, but was silent for an entire year, not uttering a single word until the brethren begged him to speak. He then began to instruct them with the wisdom with which God had endowed him. Once 600 pilgrims came to Saint Katherine's at Mount Sinai. At supper they all noticed an agile young man dressed as a Jew who was serving the table and giving orders to the other servants, taking charge of everything. Suddenly, he disappeared. While everyone was pondering this and asking questions among themselves, Saint John said: "Do not bother to look for him; that was the Prophet Moses serving you in his own home." During the time that he was silent in his cave, St. John wrote many instructive books, or which the most famous, "The Ladder or Divine Ascent", is much read to this day. It describes the way to raise the soul to God as if on a ladder. Before his death, Saint appointed his own brothers, George, to the Abbacy, but George began to grieve greatly at the approaching parting with St. John. Then St. John said that, if he were found worthy to stand close to God in the next world, he would pray that George be taken up to heaven in the same year. And so it came to pass. After ten months, George also fell asleep and departed to take his place among heaven's citizens alongside his brother John.
+By the holy intercessions of Your Saints and Holy Fathers, O Christ Our God have mercy on us and save us. Amen.
TODAY'S SACRED SCRIPTURAL READINGS ARE THE FOLLOWING:
Orthros (Matins) Old Testament: Isaiah 45:11-17
Esperinos (Vespers) Old Testament 1: Genesis 22:1-18
Esperinos (Vespers) Old Testament 2: Proverbs 17:17-18:5
FOR YOUR PERSONAL REFLECTION AND CONTEMPLATION
"The quality and the grace of prayer which is done, as it should, with fervent love and desire for God, has so much great power, that it unites human beings with their Creator and raises their mind to be inseparably bonded with Him. The energy of such prayer, moreover, can hold the world together and keep it from being annihilated by the many sins done each day" [Saint John of the Ladder).
"THE LADDER OF DIVINE ASCENT"
by Saint John Climacus
EXCERPTS FROM "THE LADDER OF DIVINE ASCENT":
The Ladder: Purpose and Structure
Saint John's Audience
The audience that St. John has in view is monastic. He begins his book, however, with a clear affirmation of God's loving care for the entirety of mankind. Salvation is offered to all alike:
"God is the life of all free beings. He is the salvation of believers or unbelievers, of the just or the unjust... of monks or those living in the world, of the educated or the illiterate, of the healthy or the sick, of the young or the very old. He is like the outpouring of light, the glimpse of the sun, or the changes of the weather, which are the same for everyone without exception. 'For God is no respecter of persons' (Romans 2:11).
Step 1: On Renunciation of Life
"When writing to the servants of God, one should begin with our God and King Himself, the good, and supremely good, the All-Good. Of all created and rational beings, endowed with the dignity of free will, some are friends of God, some are His true servants, some are useless servants (cf. St. Luke 17:10), some are entirely estranged, and there are some who, for all their weakness, take their stand against Him...His true servants are all those who have done and are doing His will without hesitation or pause. His useless servants are those who think of themselves as having been worthy of the gift of baptism, but have not at all guarded their covenant with Him; while, it seems to us, the strangers from God, His opponents, are the unbelievers or heretics. His enemies are those who not only contravene and repudiate the commands of the Lord, but make stern war against all who obey him…
In this world when an emperor summons us to obedience, we leave everything aside and answer the call at once without delays or hanging back or excuses. We had better be careful then not to refuse, through laziness or inertia, the call to the heavenly life in the service of the King of kings, the Lord of lords, the God of gods. Let us not find ourselves unable to defend ourselves at the great tribunal of judgment. Someone caught up in the affairs of the world can make progress, if he is determined. But it is not easy. Those bearing chains can still walk. But they often stumble and are thereby injured. The man who is unmarried and in the world, for all that he may be burdened, can nevertheless make haste toward the monastic life. But the married man is like someone chained hand and foot."
Step 2: On Detachment
"It would be a very great disgrace to leave everything after we have been called-and called by God, not man--and then to be worried about something that can do us no good in the hour of our need, that is, of our death. This is what the Lord meant when He told us not to turn back and not to be found useless for the Kingdom of heaven. He knew how weak we could be at the start of our religious life, how easily we can turn back to the world when we associate with worldly people or happen to meet them. That is why it happened that when someone said to Him, 'Let me go away to bury my father.' He answered, 'Let the dead bury the dead' (St. Matthew 8:22). There are demons to assail us after our renunciation of the world. They make us envy those who remain on the outside and who are merciful and compassionate. They make us regret that we seem deprived of these virtues. Their hostile aim is to bring us by way of false humility either to turn back to the world or, if we remain monks, to plunge down the cliffs of despair."
Step 3: On Exile
"There is such a thing as exile, an irrevocable renunciation of everything in one's familiar surroundings that hinders one from attaining the ideal of holiness. Exile is a disciplined heart, unheralded wisdom, an unpublicized understanding, a hidden life, masked ideals. It is unseen meditation, the striving to be humble, a wish for poverty, the longing for what is divine. It is an outpouring of love, a denial of vainglory, a depth of silence...Exile is a separation from everything, in order that one may hold on totally to God. It is a chosen route of great grief. An exile is a fugitive, running from all relationships with his own relatives and with strangers."
Step 4: On Obedience
"As flower comes before every fruit, so exile of body or will precedes all obedience. On these two virtues, as on two golden wings, the holy soul rises serenely to heaven. Perhaps it was of this the Prophet sang when, filled with the Holy Spirit, he said, "Who will give me the wings of a dove?" and, "The active life will give me flight and I will be at rest in contemplation and lowliness" (Psalm 54:7).
Obedience is a total renunciation of our own life, and it shows up clearly in the way we act. Or, again, obedience is the mortification of the members while the mind remains alive. Obedience, is unquestioned movement, death freely accepted, a simple life, danger faced without, an unprepared defense before God, fearlessness before death, a safe voyage, a sleeper's journey. Obedience is the burial place of the will and the resurrection of lowliness. A corpse does not contradict or debate the good or whatever seems bad, and the spiritual father who has devoutly put the disciple's soul to death will answer for everything. Indeed, to obey is, with all deliberateness, to put aside the capacity to make one's own judgemetn."
Step 5: On Penitence
"Once John outran Peter, and now obedience is placed before repentance. For the one who arrived first represents obedience, the other repentance. Repentance is the renewal of baptism and is a contract with God for a fresh start in life. Repentance goes shopping for humility and is ever distrustful of bodily comfort. Repentance is critical awareness and a sure watch over oneself. Repentance is the daughter of hope and the refusal to despair. The penitent stands guilty--but undisgraced. Repentance is reconciliation with the Lord by the performance of good deeds which are the opposite of sins. It is the purification of conscience and the voluntary endurance of affliction. The penitent deals out his own punishment, for repentance is the fierce persecution of the stomach and the flogging of the soul into intense awareness."
Step 6: On Remembrance of Death
"To be reminded of death each day is to die each day; to remember one's departure from life is to provoke tears by the hour. Fear of death is a property of nature due to disobedience, but terror of death is a sign of unrepented sins. Christ is frightened of dying but not terrified, thereby clearly revealing the properties of His two natures (human and divine).
The man who lives daily with the thought of death is to be admired, and the man who gives himself to it by the hour is surely a Saint. And yet not every desire for death is good. A habitual sinner prays humbly for death, but the man who does not want to change his ways may, in sheer despair, actually long for death...If your remembrance of death is clear and specific, you will cut down on your eating; and if, in your humility, you reduce the amount you eat, your passions will be correspondingly reduced."
Step 7: On Mourning
"Mourning which is according to God is a melancholy of the soul, a disposition of an anguished heart that passionately seeks what it thirsts for, and when it fails to attain it, pursues it diligently and follows behind it lamenting bitterly.
Those making some progress in blessed mourning are usually temperate and untalkative. Those who have succeeded in making real progress do not become angry and do not bear grudges. As for the perfect--these are humble, they long for dishonor, they look out for involuntary sufferings, they do not condemn sinners and they are inordinately compassionate. The first kind are acceptable, the second praiseworthy, but blessed surely are those who hunger for suffering and thirst for dishonor, for they will be filled to abundance with the food that cannot satiate them.
When the soul grows tearful, weeps, and is filled with tenderness, and all this without having striven for it, then let us run, for the Lord has arrived uninvited and is holding out to us the sponge of loving sorrow, the cool waters of blessed sadness with which to wipe away the record of our sins. Guard these tears like the apple of your eye until they go away, for they have a power greater than anything that comes from our own efforts and our own meditation.
True compunction brings consolation while that which is bogus produces self-esteem. Like the fire that consumes the straw, so do real tears consume impurity of body and soul."
Step 8: On Placidity and Meekness
"Freedom from anger is an endless wish for dishonor, whereas among the vainglorious there is a limitless thirst for praise. Freedom from anger is a triumph over one's nature. It is the ability to be impervious to insults, and comes by hard work and the sweat of one's brow.
Meekness is a permanent condition of that soul which remains unaffected by whether or not it is spoken well of, whether or not it is honored or praised.
The first step toward freedom from anger is to keep the lips silent when the heart is stirred; the next, to keep thoughts silent when the soul is upset; the last, to be totally calm when unclean winds are blowing.
Anger is an indication of concealed hatred, or grievance nursed. Anger is the wish to harm someone who has provoked you...Just as darkness retreats before the light, so all anger and bitterness disappears before the fragrance of humility."
Step 9: On Malice
"Remembrance of wrongs comes as the final point of anger. It is a keeper of sins. It hates a just way of life. It is the ruin of virtues, the poison of the soul, a worm in the mind. It is the shame of prayer, a cutting off of supplication, a turning away from love, a nail piercing the soul. It is a pleasureless feeling cherished in the sweetness of bitterness. It is a never-ending sin, an unsleeping wrong, rancor by the hour. A dark and loathsome passion, it comes to be but has no offspring, so that one need not say too much about it.
The man who has put a stop to anger has also wiped out remembrance of wrongs, since offspring can come only from a living parent. A loving man banishes revenge, but a man brooding on his hatreds stores up troublesome labors for himself."
Step 10: On Slander
"Slander is the offspring of hatred, a subtle and yet crass disease, a leech in hiding and escaping notice, wasting and draining away the lifeblood of love. It puts on the appearance of love and is the ambassador of an unholy and unclean heart. And it is the ruin of chastity.
You can always recognize people who are malicious and slanderous. They are filled with the spirit of hatred. Gladly and without a qualm they slander the teaching, the doings and the virtues of their neighbor. I have known men who secretly had committed very grave sins and had not been found out, yet cloaked in their supposed goodness they lashed out against people who had done something minor in public. To pass judgment on another is to usurp shamelessly a prerogative of God, and to condemn is to ruin one's soul."
Please note: There are many more steps in "The Ladder of Divine Ascent" and it would be wonderful if all of you were able to purchase this most inspirational book of Saint John Climacus and turn to it from time to time and strengthen your understanding of Orthodox Christian spiritual life. If you truly are interested we can order this book through our parish bookstore.
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God