Lenten Learning: St. John Climacus

The fourth Sunday of Great Lent is called “The Sunday of St. John Climacus.” This blog will help us learn more about the life of St. John and why we commemorate him on this day, so that we can better teach our Sunday Church School students about his life. Here are two ways that we can begin to learn about him:

  1. Watch a 2-minute video about St. John of the Ladder, which introduces him and his book as well as the icon inspired by the book. The video ends with a challenge to young people to keep climbing! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8VTtpllgQTk.
  2. Read this blog about his life and see pictures of the cave where he lived: https://orthodoxword.wordpress.com/2013/04/14/the-cave-of-saint-john-of-the-ladder/ or here: http://myocn.net/blessings-desert-st-john-ladder-climacus/

Would you believe that we do not actually even know St. John Climacus’ family name?!? Climacus is a Greek word that means “of the Ladder.” He is so named because of the book that he wrote primarily for ascetics. The book is also both challenging and helpful to lay people, and it is called The Ladder of Divine Ascent. St. John Climacus is known for what he lived, taught, and passed on; not for where (or who) he came from.

We do know that St. John was a monk who chose to live his life to the fullest for Christ, beginning at an early age. He was only 16 years old when he went to live at St. Catherine’s Monastery. When he was 20, he was tonsured a monk. One source mentioned that his elder waited those four years to tonsure him in order to test his humility. He lived as a monk for more than 70 years, many of those years in solitude, in a “cave” which was actually a small shelter formed by boulders: a truly humble dwelling. He lived a life of humility.

We also know that St. John’s pursuit of holiness has influenced the lives of Orthodox Christians for every century since he walked on earth. His words in The Ladder of Divine Ascent (which he wrote because the abbot of another monastery asked him to do so) encourage all of us to continue our journey towards the Kingdom of God. His entreaty that we “let the remembrance of Jesus be present with each breath” has challenged Orthodox Christians to live their lives in hesychasm, or the quietness that leads a person to God through constant prayer. (This constant prayer has come to be known as the “Jesus Prayer.”) He humbly led his monks and all Orthodox Christians since then, passing down tools that we can use to grow deeper in our faith.

So, what can we learn from what we know about St. John Climacus? How can we apply that learning and teach our Sunday Church School children to do so, as well?

1. Perhaps we can begin by emphasizing to our students how important it is for Orthodox Christians to live in a way that leads others towards God. Each family’s name is important to that family, but how much more important is the name which all of us bear, “Christian?” Let us evaluate how well we live up to that name, consider how our life is impacting those around us and those who will follow after us, and take steps to “kick it up a notch.” Let us encourage our students to do the same!

2. Another thing we can do after studying the life of St. John Climacus is encourage our students to live godly lives wherever they are! We need to support them in their pursuit of the Faith, doing all that we can to encourage their spiritual growth. We must encourage our students to incorporate themselves into the life of the Church, to continue to be involved with the Sunday Church School and JOY/SOYO, etc. We should encourage our students to attend Orthodox Christian summer camp so that they can meet other Orthodox kids and be strengthened in their faith. We can invest in icons, books, music, etc. to give as gifts to our Sunday Church School students, that will help to point them towards the Faith. We also need to work to inspire our students to offer themselves to God for His service, whether that happens now (serving in the altar, choir, etc.) or later in life (as short- or long-term missionaries, as monastics, or as clergy). Regardless of their age, when our Sunday Church School students take steps like this, whether they are small or large steps, let us support them, release them, and pray for them.

3. We can pursue holiness together as a Sunday Church School class by using the tools that St. John Climacus left for us. We should be praying constantly, pursuing hesychasm with more fervor. We can read The Ladder of Divine Ascent and study the steps with our students. (Download the book here: http://www.prudencetrue.com/images/TheLadderofDivineAscent.pdf. Listen to Fr. Thomas Hopko’s podcast about it here: http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/hopko/4th_sunday_of_lent_st_john_of_the_ladder. Or read this new book that takes a look at each of the steps of St. John Climacus’ Ladder of Divine Ascent: http://store.ancientfaith.com/thirty-steps-to-heaven. Print a copy of the basic steps of the ladder to hang in your classroom as a reminder: http://saintannas.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/30-Steps-of-Ladder.pdf. Read about the icon of the Ladder of Divine Ascent here: http://saintannas.org/sunday-of-the-ladder-of-divine-ascent/.) As we practice constant prayer and daily continue our ascent of the ladder, we will become more like Christ.

“Ascend, brothers, ascend eagerly, and be resolved in your hearts to ascend and hear Him who says: Come and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord and to the house of our God, who makes our feet like hind’s feet, and sets us on high places, that we may be victorious with His song.

Run, I beseech you, with him who said: Let us hasten until we attain to the unity of faith and of the knowledge of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, who, when He was baptized in the thirtieth year of His visible age, attained the thirtieth step in the spiritual ladder; since God is indeed love, to whom be praise, dominion, power, in whom is and was and will be the cause of all goodness throughout infinite ages. Amen.” St. John Climacus, The Ladder of Divine Ascent, p. 129


Here are a few ideas of ways to teach about St. John Climacus:

This blog suggests ways to teach about the life of St. John Climacus, and also offers directions for a “ladder” craft to help children remember his book: http://kellylardin.com/activities/2014/03/20/fourth-sunday-of-lent-st-john-climacus/


Send a copy of this page home with each child, so that their family can discuss St. John and the ladder, as well as Sunday’s Gospel reading: http://saintanna.org/assets/forms/st_john_climacus.pdf


Give each child a copy of an icon of St. John Climacus for them to color and hang up in their home, to remind them of him and his holiness: http://www.ocf.org/OrthodoxPage/icons/clip/johnclim.gif or http://www.ocf.org/OrthodoxPage/icons/clip/climacus.gif


Let younger Sunday Church School students color this icon of the ladder while you read to them a few of the steps on “the ladder” from St. John Climacus’ book The Ladder of Divine Ascent: http://www.ocf.org/OrthodoxPage/icons/clip/ladder.gif


Provide materials for students to create their own artistic version of the “ladder of Divine Ascent” as suggested here: http://illumination-learning.com/main/2014/04/23/st-john-of-the-ladder-craft/


Read some of these quotes from St. John Climacus with older Sunday Church School students, and discuss their meanings and application together: http://orthodoxchurchquotes.com/category/sayings-from-saints-elders-and-fathers/st-john-climicus-of-the-ladder/page/2/

2 thoughts on “Lenten Learning: St. John Climacus

  1. Pingback: On the Liturgical Year for Teachers: Great Lent (part 4 of 7) | Orthodox Christian Sunday Church School Teachers

  2. Pingback: Lenten Sundays Series: The Sunday of St. John Climacus | Orthodox Christian Sunday Church School Teachers

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