This is the sixth in a series of posts that focuses on the Sundays of Great Lent (and Holy Week and Pascha). Each week we will share ideas of ways to help your Sunday Church School students learn more about that particular Sunday’s focus. We will share each blog early, so that you have time to read it before the forthcoming Sunday, in case you find any of those ideas helpful for your particular class.
Here’s a meditation on the Sunday of St. John Climacus for you to ponder before you create a lesson for your students:
Today we commemorate St. John Climacus and his work “The Ladder of Divine Ascent,” both of which have had a great impact on the Holy Orthodox Church through their influence on the monastic community and on the Church at large.
St. John was given the name “Climacus” because of his writings. “Climacus” means “ladder” and thus his name is a nod to the work by that name. From a very young age, John desired to serve God with all of his heart. He became a monk at the Mt. Sinai Monastery when he was only 16 years old, and he served there faithfully for years before going into the desert to live a hermit’s life.
The fight against the devil and his passions was difficult, but John faithfully prayed and focused on Christ, and over time he became holier because of his refusal to give in to those passions. His holiness drew people to John, and even monks would come to him to ask for advice. God gave him the gift to be able to help people who were severely tempted and/or upset to be at peace.
God used John to work some miracles during his lifetime. For example, one time his disciple Moses was far from their dwelling, searching for dirt for their garden, when he got very hot and tired, so he took a rest under a big rock. As this was happening, John was back at his cell, praying, when he had a revelation that Moses was in danger. John began to pray fervently for his disciple. Later in the evening, when Moses returned home, he told John that while he had been sleeping under the rock, he heard John calling him, so he woke up and moved quickly, just as the huge rock crashed down right where he had been sleeping! God had heard John’s prayers and saved Moses with this miracle.
Many years passed, and John continued to faithfully pray and read from the lives of the saints. He continued to live a holy life. At age 74, he was made the abbot at the Mt. Sinai Monastery. The monks there asked him to write down all of the rules that he’d followed for his whole life, so that they could follow his example. He wrote about thirty steps that can lead monks (and any Orthodox Christian) closer to God. He called the steps “The Ladder of Divine Ascent.” Although this book was written about 1,400 years ago, it is still considered the ultimate guide to the Christian ascetic life.
St. John Climacus, please intercede for our salvation!
Here are a few suggestions of ways that you and your students can learn about St. John Climacus, if you choose to teach a lesson about him and/or the ladder of Divine Ascent.
“The ascetic example of this great Saint of the Church inspires us in our Lenten journey.” Before teaching your class about him, you may want to read this thorough account of the life of St. John Climacus here: https://www.goarch.org/sunday-stjohnclimacus
Teachers of young children may want to incorporate this art idea into a lesson on St. John Climacus and his Ladder of Divine Ascent: http://www.creativehandscreativeminds.com/2014/03/st-john-of-ladder.html
Find ideas of ways to help your students learn from St. John Climacus’ life, and from his “Ladder of Divine Ascent” (including craft ideas) here: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2015/03/20/lenten-learning-st-john-climacus/
Middle-years students (and older ones) will benefit from reading or listening to this article by Fr. Andrew Lemeshonok from St. Elizabeth Convent: http://orthochristian.com/102249.html Here is a sample from the article:
“The forthcoming week is devoted to a great ascetic – Saint John Climacus. Spiritual life is a ladder, which leads to the Heavenly Kingdom. We climb it, we fall down, we hit the ground, we stand up and we fall again. The thing is, we need to stand up over and over again… The main thing is to humble yourself – to acknowledge your own weakness and to let God enter your life. You do not need to surprise people with your feats and talents. The Lord speaks simply in the Gospel: ‘Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls’ (Matthew, 11:29).”
After reading the article, discuss it together as a class. Talk together about ways that we fall from the ladder, and what should be our response when we do fall (get back up and start climbing again). Encourage each other to get back up and climb again. You may want to close this class with an art activity: consider allowing your students to create a poster that reminds them of this lesson. Perhaps it could be an encouragement to keep trying, to keep climbing the ladder, even when they fall; or a reminder that they are on a ladder in the first place; or a quote from St. John Climacus himself. Encourage them to hang the poster in their room or to give it to someone who needs encouragement to keep climbing.
Have you ever read “The Ladder of Divine Ascent” by St. John Climacus? It is available as a pdf here: http://www.prudencetrue.com/images/TheLadderofDivineAscent.pdf
Consider printing off a step (or two) that could be the most beneficial to your older Sunday Church School students, and engage them in a discussion about that step. How does St. John recommend that we climb towards God in that way? Has anything changed in the years since he wrote this, or is this step still relevant to us today? How can we, right now, work towards climbing that step of the ladder?
Classes of older middle school students or older could benefit from reading this article, “Why Do We Need the Ladder?” The article offers reasons from a deacon, a priest, and an archpriest of why it is important for modern-day Orthodox Christians to read and learn from St. John Climacus’ “Ladder of Divine Ascent.” After a quick review of the life of St. John (which the students may be able to contribute, depending on their previous studies), divide the class into three groups. Give one interview from the article to each of the three groups. Allow the groups some time to read their interview/portion of the article and come up with a few main points to share with the other groups. Encourage them to come up with a creative way to share their points with the rest of the class. Allow time for each group to present their portion of the article with the rest of the classroom, so that you can all learn together how we can benefit from St. John’s writings. http://orthochristian.com/102181.html
This three-minute video takes a closer look at the icon of the Ladder of Divine Ascent and could be a helpful addition to a lesson on St. John Climacus. http://orthochristian.com/92323.html
Teachers and older students will benefit from listening to this talk on the life and teachings of St. John of the Ladder: https://orthodoxlivonia.org/files/Adult-Ed-Classes/2018-03-18-Ad-Ed-Class.mp3 (The talk is 33 minutes long.)