Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015. The Prayer Team now has its own dedicated website! Fr. Stavros has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany”: “https://amzn.to/2t1rXwh and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.” https://amzn.to/2WAcfG0
We will now be including the daily reading of Epistle and Gospel with The Prayer Team.
Scriptures of the Triodion
Fourth Sunday of Great Lent–St. John of the Ladder
You said in your heart, “I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God I will set my throne on high; I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will make myself like the Most High.” Isaiah 14: 13-14
Good morning Prayer Team!
On the fourth Sunday of Lent, we commemorate St. John of the Ladder. St. John wrote his treatise called “The Ladder of Divine Ascent” in about the year 600 AD. It was addressed to monastics (monks) in order to present to them a path to the highest degree of spiritual perfection that can be attained in this life. The ladder consists of thirty chapters or rungs, as you would have on a ladder, leading from each to heaven.
The very first step of the ladder is “renunciation of the world.” And so our reaction to this is probably a collective, “I think I’ll stop reading the book at chapter one because I very much live in the world.” The next chapter is on “detachment” the third chapter is on “exile” and the fourth chapter on “obedience.” Wow, that’s a lot and that’s only four steps up the ladder—even mastering detachment and obedience still leaves us 26 of the 30 steps to go.
The concept of a ladder is an important one for our Christian lives. The concept of ascending to God is also important. We should aspire to grow closer to God as we get older. We should be able to look back at our life and see some spiritual progress. A small child will say that God is good, and will probably think of God as some kind of Santa Claus or grandfather-type figure. Perhaps this is the first step on a ladder towards salvation, understanding that God is good. Another step is recognizing that we are sinful and are in need of saving by God. Another step is the faith to ascend higher. Some other steps might include daily prayer, worship, trusting in tough times, repentance, sacrifice, joy, evangelism, commitment, obedience, etc.
The icon of the Ladder of Divine Ascent shows people ascending from earth to heaven, by living a life of virtue. At the top of the ladder is our Lord Jesus Christ, waiting for us at the gate of heaven together with all the angels. Demons also attack the ladder, seeking (and sometimes succeeding) in pulling people down from the ladder of divine ascent.
So, here is some practical advice to make the ladder part of your life.
- Write down some things in your spiritual life that you have mastered. Maybe it’s only one or two things, like daily prayer, or weekly worship, or daily encouragement of others, sacrifice, etc. Next write down some spiritual disciplines which you have not mastered, perhaps reading of scripture, or sincere repentance or impatience with others, or lack of trust in God. Make a ladder and write down where you think you are on your ladder—what rungs are below you, and what rungs are immediately above you. Write down one goal on the rung above where you are and focus on that for the rest of Lent and beyond. Spend this next year mastering that ONE rung, and then come back next year and add something to the rung above that. If you keep this ladder for many years, you’ll see that you too can make a divine ascent.
- The higher you go on the ladder, the harder it gets. So, as you seek to climb with enthusiasm and optimism, know that the devil and his angels will try to pull you off, so be vigilant.
- You can see from the icons that many people are making the divine ascent. The ones below look to the ones above for example and encouragement. The ones above should help and encourage the ones below. There is not only an individual role while climbing but a communal role. We are supposed to encourage each other to climb.
Many people dismiss the Ladder of Divine Ascent and today’s feast as something only for monastics. It isn’t. Perhaps we will not climb a monastic ladder, renouncing the world, but at the same time, we can’t be so obsessed with the world that we aren’t obedient to the commandments of God. We can’t so much joy in our own achievements that we don’t leave room for the joy of the Lord. And we can’t ascend to God if we are unwilling to climb towards Him.
You have rendered yourself God’s true abode, O Father, by your divine virtue, adorning it lucidly, as with gold that glitters from afar. You set forth faith, hope and true charity as divine axioms. As with angelic self-control, you practiced prudence, courage, and temperance. You acquired humility, by which you were exalted. Hence, you were enlightened by prayer unfailing, and you attained the mansions of heaven, as our professor and mentor, O Father John. (Oikos from the Orthros of the Fourth Sunday of Lent, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Make a ladder for yourself, and a plan to ascend the ladder to God.
These readings are under copyright and is used by permission. All rights reserved. These works may not be further reproduced, in print or on other websites or in any other form, without the prior written authorization of the copyright holder: Reading © Holy Transfiguration Monastery – Brookline, MA, Apolytikion of Abbot Marcellus © Narthex Press, Kontakion of Abbot Marcellus © Holy Transfiguration Monastery – Brookline, MA.
The Revised Standard Version of the Bible is copyrighted 1946, 1952, 1971, and 1973 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. and used by permission. From the Online Chapel of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.
Photo Credit: Catholic Herald
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