Saints and Feasts: Cyril, Patriarch of Jerusalem, Trophimos & Eukarpion, Monk-martyrs of Nicomedea, Edward the Martyr, King of England
Fast Day (Wine and Oil Allowed)
Plagal of the Fourth Tone
Eighth Orthros Gospel
Epistle Reading: St. Paul’s Letter to the Hebrews 6:13-20
BRETHREN, when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore to himself, saying, “Surely I will bless you and multiply you.” And thus Abraham, having patiently endured, obtained the promise. Men indeed swear by a greater than themselves, and in all their disputes an oath is final for confirmation. So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he interposed with an oath, so that through two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible that God should prove false, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to seize the hope set before us. We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner shrine behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek.
Gospel Reading: Mark 9:17-31
At that time, a man came to Jesus kneeling and saying: “Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a dumb spirit; and wherever it seizes him it dashes him down; and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid; and I asked your disciples to cast it out, and they were not able.” And he answered them, “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him to me.” And they brought the boy to him; and when the spirit saw him, immediately it convulsed the boy, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth. And Jesus asked his father, “How long has he had this?” And he said, “From childhood. And it has often cast him into the fire and into the water, to destroy him; but if you can do anything, have pity on us and help us.” And Jesus said to him, “If you can! All things are possible to him who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” And when Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You dumb and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him, and never enter him again.” And after crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse; so that most of them said, “He is dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose. And when he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?” And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer and fasting.” They went on from there and passed through Galilee. And he would not have any one know it; for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of man will be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him; and when he is killed, after three days he will rise.”
St. John Climacus.
St 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.
St 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.
Dismissal Hymn. Third Tone:
Having raised up a sacred ladder by thy words, thou wast shown forth unto all as a teacher of monastics; and thou dost lead us, O John, from the purification that cometh through godly discipline unto the light of Divine vision. O righteous father, do thou entreat Christ that we be granted great mercy.
Kontakion, Fouth Tone:
On the height of abstinence did the Lord establish thee as a true and unerring star, guiding the ends of the world by thy light, O John, our instructor and father.
Like the lofty ladder which Jacob saw reaching to the Heavens, even so, by thy godly works, thou hast raised a ladder that bringeth all the faithful unto the heights of virtue, O blessed Father John.
The ladder to Heaven. (Northern wall of the church of the Monastery Sucevitsa, Romania (17th Century)
According to St. John Climacus, the ladder to Heaven has the following steps:
- On renunciation of the world
- On detachment
- On exile or pilgrimage; concerning dreams that beginners have
- On blessed and ever-memorable obedience (in addition to episodes involving many individuals)
- On painstaking and true repentance which constitutes the life of the holy convicts; and about the Prison
- On remembrance of death
- On joy-making mourning
- On freedom from anger and on meekness
- On remembrance of wrongs
- On slander or calumny
- On talkativeness and silence
- On lying
- On despondency
- On that clamorous mistress, the stomach
- On incorruptible purity and chastity, to which the corruptible attain by toil and sweat
- On love of money, or avarice
- On non-possessiveness (that hastens one Heavenwards)
- On insensibility, that is, deadening of the soul and the death of the mind before the death of the body
- On sleep, prayer, and psalmody with the brotherhood
- On bodily vigil and how to use it to attain spiritual vigil, and how to practise it
- On unmanly and puerile cowardice
- On the many forms of vainglory
- On mad pride and (in the same Step) on unclean blasphemous thoughts; concerning unmentionable blasphemous thoughts
- On meekness, simplicity, and guilelessness which come not from nature but from conscious effort, and about guile
- On the destroyer of the passions, most sublime humility, which is rooted in spiritual perception
- On discernment of thoughts, passions and virtues; on expert discernment; brief summary of all aforementioned
- On holy stillness of body and soul; different aspects of stillness and how to distinguish them
- On holy and blessed prayer, the mother of virtues, and on the attitude of mind and body in prayer
- Concerning Heaven on earth, or Godlike dispassion and perfection, and the resurrection of the soul before the general resurrection
- Concerning the linking together of the supreme trinity among the virtues; a brief exhortation summarizing all that has said at length in this book