Saint John Climacus of Sinai accepted the ascetical life from the age of about sixteen and was tonsured as a monk three or four years later. Then, at the age of 35, he isolated himself from the world and lived as a hermit for 40 years at a monastery church called Thola, about 10 kilometres from the Mount Sinai monastery.
While living an ascetical life he is reported to have received the gift of tears and the grace of continual prayer. Fellow monks in large numbers began to seek him out for spiritual guidance. When criticized for making a mockery of his hermitage by entertaining so many people there, he decided to keep total silence. After a year or so of this, those who had criticized him pleaded with him to resume guiding others.
Experienced both in the solitary life of the hermit and in the communal life of cenobitic monasticism, he was appointed Abbot of the Monastery at Mount Sinai (built at the site of the burning bush where Moses spoke to God). The day he was made Abbot of Sinai, the Prophet Moses was seen giving commands to those who served at the table.
Saint John wrote a book containing thirty homilies. Each homily deals with one virtue, and progressing from those that deal with holy and righteous activity (praxis) unto those that deal with divine vision (theoria), they raise a man up as though by means of steps unto the height of Heaven; thus the book is called “The Ladder of Divine Ascent”, and the saint is know as “Climacus”.
“The Ladder of Divine Ascent” is so greatly is this God-inspired book esteemed in the Orthodox Christian Church that its author, St. John Climacus, is celebrated twice a year – on 30th March (the day of his repose), and the Fourth Sunday of the Great Lent. Each monastic community of the Orthodox Church reads “The Ladder of Divine Ascent” during each day of the Great Lent, in their common dining hall (or refectory) during the daily meal. This is a period of strict fasting, struggle, prostration and extensive prayers; when only one meal is eaten in the day and after 3 pm, and water is only consumed during 3-6pm.
The book, by means of thirty steps (or logoi), calls us to the spiritual life; it inspires, instructs, speeds the reader towards the “things on high”, and points-out the dangers and pitfalls. Each step describes the origin of a certain virtue or passion and the path it can take us. The Ladder does not offer us a formula to accomplish salvation, for “the life you have is hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:3), but:
“Let us try to learn Divine truth more by toil and sweat than by mere word, for at the time of our departure it is not words but deeds that will have to be shown” (Step 26:36). Saint John reposed in 603 AD, at eighty years of age.
Like that lofty ladder which Jacob was reaching to the Heavens, even so, by your godly words, you have raised a ladder that brings all the faithful unto the heights of virtue, O blessed Father John.
Dismissal Hymn. Plagal of Fourth Tone
With the streams of your tears, you cultivated the barrenness of the desert; and by your sighing, from the depths, you produced fruit a hundredfold in labours; and you became a luminary, shining with miracles upon the world, 0 John our righteous Father. Intercede with Christ God that our souls be saved.
Kontakion. First Tone
The soldiers standing guard
As ever blooming fruits, you offer the teachings of you God-given book, 0 wise John, most blessed, while sweetening the hearts of all them that heed it with vigilance; for it is a ladder from the earth unto Heaven that confers glory on the souls that ascend it and honour you faithfully.