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Mar 30 – St John of the Ladder (d. 649)

30 March, 2012

The Name 'John of the Ladder' comes from a classic in ascetical literature which he wrote entitled 'The Ladder of Divine Ascent.'

john of the LadderJohn was a 7th century Christian monk on Mount Sinai. His nick-name (“of the Ladder”, Greek τῆς Κλίμακος, Latin Climacus) comes from a classic in ascetical literature which he wrote entitled The Ladder of Paradise or The Ladder of Divine Ascent. As the image implies, the “ladder” by which one reached Paradise had 30 rungs – or difficult stages – one had to deal with and at every stage there would be a devil ready and willing to pull you down, especially if you were in any way complacent or presumptuous. The Ladder of Paradise is read in Orthodox monasteries during Lent. Patrick Duffy researches what is known of John’s life and work.

Early life
Little is known for definite about John’s early life. He was born in Palestine. Some say that he became a monk on Mt Sinai at the age of sixteen and afterwards lived as a solitary in different places in the Arabian Desert. Others say he was married in early life and became a monk on the death of his wife and that after some years in community, he then became a hermit, coming together with other hermits to church only on Saturday and Sunday.

Abbot of Mt Sinai
John was already seventy when he was made abbot of Sinai,  and four years later he resigned to prepare in solitude for his death.

The Ladder to Paradise
John’s fame comes mainly from a work he wrote that was much read in East and West entitled The Ladder to Paradise. This work treats of the way to union with God and moral perfection to be reached by a ladder of the following thirty “rungs” into which the book is divided:

  1. Renunciation of the world
  2. Detachment
  3. Exile
  4. Obedience
  5. Penitence
  6. Johns book of the way to union with God and moral perfection

    Johns book of the way to union with God and moral perfection

    Remembrance of death

  7. Mourning
  8. Placidity and meekness: dealing with anger
  9. Malice
  10. Slander
  11. Talkativeness and silence
  12. Falsehood
  13. Despondency
  14. Gluttony
  15. Chastity
  16. Avarice
  17. Poverty
  18. Insensitivity
  19. Sleep, prayer and the singing of psalms in church
  20. Alertness
  21. Unmanly fears
  22. Vainglory
  23. Pride
  24. Meekness, simplicity, guilelessness, and wickedness
  25. Humility
  26. Discernment
  27. Stillness
  28. Prayer
  29. Dispassion (Apatheia, or “passive disinterestedness”)
  30. Faith, hope, and love

The ladder as inspiration and emblem
The idea of the spiritual life as a ladder has inspired artists to develop interesting illustrations to motivate those on the spiritual journey and as an emblem of the saint himself. His feast is on 30th March.