Last Sunday was, in the Byzantine rite, the fourth Sunday of Lent and the commemoration of the great seventh century ascetic St. John Climacus, or St. John of the Ladder. I commented last week on the icon written to illuminate the meaning of his book The Ladder of Divine Ascent, but said little about the book itself. To save both you, fair reader, and I some time I will simply share some of the more memorable lines, aphorisms, and nuggets of holy wisdom from the great Sinai saint.
" The Christian is one who imitates Christ in thought, word, and deed, as far as is possible for human beings, believing rightly and blamelessly in the Holy Trinity." (Step 1, Section 4)
"Some people living carelessly in the world have asked me: 'We have wives and are beset with social cares, and how can we lead the solitary life?' I replied to them: 'Do all the good you can; do not speak evil of anyone; do not steal from anyone; do not lie to anyone; do not be arrogant towards anyone; do not hate anyone; do not be absent from the divine services; be compassionate to the needy; do not offend anyone; do not wreck another man's domestic happiness, and be content with what your own wives can give you. If you behave in this way, you will not be far from the Kingdom of Heaven.' " (Step 1, Section 21)
"To admire the labors of the saints is good; to emulate them wins salvation; but to wish suddenly to imitate their life in every point is unreasonable and impossible." (Step 4, Section 42)
"A servant of the Lord is he who in body stands before men, but in mind knocks at Heaven with prayer." (Step 4, Section 102)
"To judge others is a shameless arrogation of the Divine prerogative to condemn is the ruin of one's soul." (Step 10, Section 14)
"The sun shines on all alike, and vainglory beams on all activities. For instance, I am vainglorious when I fast; and when I relax the fast in order to be unnoticed, I am again vainglorious over my prudence. When well-dressed I am quite overcome by vainglory, and when I put on poor cloth I am vainglorious again. When I talk I am defeated, and when I am silent I am again defeated by it. However I throw this prickly-pear, a spike stands upright." (Step 22, Section 5)
"An angel fell from heaven without any other passion except pride, and so we may ask whether it is possible to ascend to Heaven by humility alone, without any other of the virtues." (Step 23, Section 12)
"In all your undertakings and in every way of life, whether you are living in obedience, or are not submitting your work to anyone, whether in outward or in spiritual matters, let it be your rule and practice to ask yourself: Am I really doing this in accordance with God's will?" (Step 26, Section 91)
"Do not be surprised that you fall every day; do not give up, but stand your ground courageously. And assuredly, the angel who guards you will honor your patience."
"The forgetting of wrongs is a sign of true repentance. But those who dwell on them and think that they are repenting are like a man who dreams he is running while he is actually asleep...."