Venerable John Climacus of Sinai, Author of “the Ladder”



Saint John of the Ladder is honored by Holy Church as a great ascetic and author of the renowned
spiritual book called THE LADDER, from which he is also called “of the Ladder” (Climacus).
There is almost no information about Saint John’s origins. One tradition suggests that he was born in
Constantinople around the year 570, and was the son of Saints Xenophon and Maria (January 26).
John went to Sinai when he was sixteen, submitting to Abba Martyrius as his instructor and guide.
After four years, Saint John was tonsured as a monk. Abba Strategios, who was present at Saint
John’s tonsure, predicted that he would become a great luminary in the Church of Christ.
For nineteen years Saint John progressed in monasticism in obedience to his spiritual Father. After
the death of Abba Martyrius, Saint John embarked on a solitary life, settling in a wild place called
Thola, where he spent forty years laboring in silence, fasting, prayer, and tears of penitence.
It is not by chance that in THE LADDER Saint John speaks about tears of repentance: “Just as fire
burns and destroys the wood, so pure tears wash away every impurity, both external and internal.”
His holy prayer was strong and efficacious, as may be seen from an example from the life of the God-
pleasing saint.
Saint John had a disciple named Moses. Once, the saint ordered his disciple to bring dung to fertilize
the vegetable garden. When he had fulfilled the obedience, Moses lay down to rest under the shade
of a large rock, because of the scorching heat of summer. Saint John was in his cell in a light sleep.
Suddenly, a man of remarkable appearance appeared to him and awakened the holy ascetic,
reproaching him, “John, why do you sleep so heedlessly, when Moses is in danger?”
Saint John immediately woke up and began to pray for his disciple. When Moses returned in the
evening, Saint John asked whether any sort of misfortune had befallen him.
The monk replied, “A large rock would have fallen on me as I slept beneath it at noon, but I left that
place because I thought I heard you calling me.” Saint John did not tell his disciple of his vision, but
gave thanks to God.
Saint John ate the food which is permitted by the monastic rule, but only in moderation. He did not
sleep very much, only enough to keep up his strength, so that he would not ruin his mind by
unceasing vigil. “I do not fast excessively,” he said of himself, “nor do I give myself over to intense
all-night vigil, nor lay upon the ground, but I restrain myself…, and the Lord soon saved me.”
The following example of Saint John’s humility is noteworthy. Gifted with discernment, and attaining
wisdom through spiritual experience, he lovingly received all who came to him and guided them to
salvation. One day some envious monks reproached him for being too talkative, and so Saint John
kept silence for a whole year. The monks realized their error, and they went to the ascetic and
begged him not to deprive them of the spiritual profit of his conversation.
Concealing his ascetic deeds from others, Saint John sometimes withdrew into a cave, but reports of
his holiness spread far beyond the vicinity. Visitors from all walks of life came to him, desiring to
hear his words of edification and salvation. After forty years of solitary asceticism, he was chosen as
igumen of Sinai when he was seventy-five. Saint John governed the holy monastery for four years.
Toward the end of his life, the Lord granted him the gifts of clairvoyance and wonderworking.

At the request of Saint John, igumen of the Raithu monastery (Commemorated on Cheesefare
Saturday), he wrote the incomparable LADDER, a book of instruction for monks who wished to attain
spiritual perfection.
Knowing of the wisdom and spiritual gifts of Saint John of Sinai, the igumen of Raithu requested him
to write down whatever was necessary for the salvation of those in the monastic life. Such a book
would be “a ladder fixed on the earth” (Gen. 28:12), leading people to the gates of Heaven.
Saint John felt that such a task was beyond his ability, yet out of obedience he fulfilled the request.
The saint called his work THE LADDER, for the book is “a fixed ladder leading from earthly things to
the Holy of Holies….” The thirty steps of spiritual perfection correspond to the thirty years of the
Lord’s age. When we have completed these thirty steps, we will find ourselves with the righteous
and will not stumble. THE LADDER begins with renunciation of the world, and ends with God, Who is
love (1 John 4:8).
Although the book was written for monks, any Christian living in the world will find it an unerring
guide for ascending to God, and a support in the spiritual life. Saints Theodore the Studite
(November 11 and January 26), Sergius of Radonezh (September 25 and July 5), Joseph of
Volokolamsk (September 9 and October 18), and others relied on THE LADDER as an important guide
to salvation.
The twenty-second step of THE LADDER deals with various forms of vainglory. Saint John writes:
“When I fast, I am vainglorious; and when I permit myself food in order to conceal my fasting from
others I am again vainglorious about my prudence. When I dress in fine clothing, I am vanquished by
vanity, and if I put on drab clothing, again I am overcome by vanity. If I speak, vainglory defeats me.
If I wish to keep silence, I am again given over to it. Wherever this thorn comes up, it stands with its
points upright.
A vain person seems to honor God, but strives to please men rather than God.
People of lofty spirit bear insult placidly and willingly, but only the holy and righteous may hear
praise without harm.
When you hear that your neighbor or friend has slandered you behind your back, or even to your
face, praise and love him.
It is not the one who reproaches himself who shows humility, for who will not put up with himself? It
is the one who is slandered by another, yet continues to show love for him.
Whoever is proud of his natural gifts, intelligence, learning, skill in reading, clear enunciation, and
other similar qualities, which are acquired without much labor, will never obtain supernatural gifts.
Whoever is not faithful in small things (Luke 16:10), is also unfaithful in large things, and is
It often happens that God humbles the vainglorious, sending a sudden misfortune. If prayer does not
destroy a proud thought, we bring to mind the departure of the soul from this life. And if this does
not help, let us fear the shame which follows dishonor. “For whoever humbles himself shall be
exalted, and whoever exalts himself shall be humbled” (Luke 14:11). When those who praise us, or
rather seduce us, start to praise us, let us recall our many sins, then we shall find that we are not
worthy of what they say or do to honor us.”
In THE LADDER Saint John describes the ascent toward spiritual perfection, which is essential for
anyone who wishes to save his soul. It is a written account of his thoughts, based on the collected

wisdom of many wise ascetics, and on his own spiritual experience. The book is a great help on the
path to truth and virtue.
The steps of THE LADDER proceed gradually from strength to strength on the path of perfection. The
summit is not reached suddenly, but gradually, as the Savior says: “The Kingdom of Heaven suffers
violence, and the violent take it by force” (Mt.11:12).
Saint John is also commemorated on the fourth Sunday of Great Lent.



Source: Orthodox Church of America










Venerable John Climacus of Sinai, Author of “the Ladder”