In the lead up to Pascha, we are slowly but steadily initiated into the Orthodox way of life through the period of Great Lent. Throughout these six weeks preceding Holy Week we are encouraged to: fast in order to detach from our desires; give alms so that we may connect with our neighbour; and, pray more than we usually do to be filled with the grace of God.
As Pascha is the greatest feast on the liturgical calendar, it is also the best time to grow spiritually and to use each and every lead-up opportunity to step up to new heights. The Ladder of Divine Ascent is the perfect guide for this journey. This masterpiece is held in such high esteem by the Church that it honours its author on the fourth Sunday of Great Lent.
It was composed by St John of Sinai who is commonly referred to as St John Climacus (from the Greek word ‘κλίμαξ’ for ladder). He describes the spiritual life as a thirty step ladder. Each step is one chapter describing a virtue and how to cultivate it or a passion and how to overcome it. As each is mastered, the disciple is raised one step closer to Christ who awaits at the top of the ladder.
The Ladder is a very powerful weapon which arms its reader with invaluable spiritual wisdom. It does this by providing an in depth analysis of the causes and effects of the common passions and shows how they are interrelated and how they develop into more severe passions, thus educating the reader to diagnose the symptoms of each passion and empowering them to defeat their weaknesses before they develop.
Just as we require someone to hold a ladder to provide us with confidence to climb up, we similarly need the direction of a good spiritual father, who is familiar with this work, to prop us up. This is because its original audience were people wholly devoted to God in a monastic community whilst receiving daily guidance.
As the Ladder proved to be a treasure for monastics, it has also become beneficial for Christians in the world and has been incorporated into the daily readings of Great Lent. This Lenten Ladder is read from start to finish in small sections with reading plans easily found on the internet. However it can also be read chapter by chapter in any order.
The Ladder is one of the most highly influential works used by the faithful for centuries. It is the most direct and proven guide to enable us to take our spiritual struggle to the next level as we ascend through Lent to the peak of Pascha.
Source: Lychnos Feb 2019 / Mar 2019