Sunday of St John Climacus

The past few weeks I have been reading The Ladder of Divine Ascent by St John Climacus (“ladder” in Greek). In the Orthodox Church, each Sunday of Great Lent is designated for veneration of a particular saint or (last Sunday) the Precious Cross. Today’s saint is John of the Ladder, so I was right on that page. One morning last week I was reading Step 22, On Vainglory, and the following passage loomed large, so I copied it into my journal. The next day, on in a program on the saints we remember during Lent, the discussion was on John of the Ladder. Out of the whole book, nearly 300 pages, the passage she chose to offer as a selection was this same paragraph. So it must be potent.

Like the sun which shines on all alike, vainglory beams on every occupation. What I mean is this: I fast, and turn vainglorious, I stop fasting so that I will draw no attention to myself, and I become vainglorious over my prudence. I dress well or badly, and am vainglorious in either case. I talk or hold my peace, and each time I am defeated. No matter how I shed this prickly thing, a spike remains to stand up against me.

This is only discouraging when I am preoccupied with my own sinfulness or self-righteousness in the image of some spiritually appealing or “correct” rules or precepts. It definitely reminds me that I am tossed about–hopelessly defeated without Christ–not some interpretation of His “teachings”, but His PERSON. So that any righteousness that I ever “attain” will not belong to me, but to Him, so it’s back to boasting only of my weakness through which He reveals Himself to me. It is ONLY CHRIST that helps us “do better”, so then, it is not to rack up points, but only to magnify Him (“for His sake”, “according to His will”).

I can’t resist including a few more passages which I copied. As always, it seems the truth is revealed in the paradox, the irony, the seeming contradictions.

When those who praise us, or, rather, those who lead us astray, begin to exalt us, we should briefly remember the multitude of our sins and in this way we will discover that we do not deserve whatever is said or done in our honor.

I think this is pretty interesting in the light of conventional wisdom–“stand up for yourself”, “don’t let anyone put you down,” “pamper yourself, you deserve it,” fighting for recognition, position, measuring ourselves by achievements, rank, etc. Surely it is the great and essential truth of Christianity that the only real glory is in losing our life (“the old man”, the idea of self we have fabricated according to our own will and imagination) for His sake, whereby we are transformed into His image and likeness. Because in the Cross His glory is revealed. In His death he defeated death.

The following are from Step 23, On Pride. John puts Pride and Vainglory next to each other because they are similar. Vainglory is the beginning, where Pride is the extremity.

…it is sheer lunacy to imagine that one has deserved the gifts of GOD.

Pride is utter poverty of soul disguised as riches, imaginery light where in fact there is darkness.

A proud man needs no demons. He has turned into one, an enemy to himself.

The strongest opposition to us [pride and vainglory] comes from the contrition of heart that grows out of obedience.

In a monastery, obedience is to the abbott or abbess and to the others with whom one lives, not because they are “right” or we agree with them or like them, but because we trust that GOD is using them for our salvation.
Sometimes it seems hard to discern “in the world” in what sense I am to be “obedient”–to whom, in what context, and perhaps more so without the more obvious structure of living in a family. I can’t give an answer. But I think the key is in I Thessalonians 5:16-18:

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.


1 Response to “Sunday of St John Climacus”

  1. 1 Etsuko February 22, 2013 at 2:27 pm

    This is my first time pay a visit at here
    and i am genuinely pleassant to read everthing at single place.

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