t is no secret that, after the Sacred Scriptures, my favorite book is The Ladder of Divine Ascent by St. John Climacus (Climacus means ‘of the Ladder’). And due to his holiness of life and the book he authored, the Church honors him with hymns and commemorates him on the Fourth Sunday of Great Lent (he is also commemorated on March 30, the day of his repose).
Now, he is lifted up as an example to us in order for us to imitate his godly life, to strive in the way of the virtues, to combat the passions, and to grow in love for Christ. This divine love that he had is reflected in one of the hymns from last night’s Great Vespers:
O devout Father, when you heard the message of the Gospel of the Lord, you left the world behind, reasoning that wealth and glory are of no account. Then you began saying to everyone, “Love God, and you will find eternal grace. Do not prefer anything to His love, so that when He comes in His glory you may find rest with all the Saints.”
How do we love God? How do we prefer Him above everything else? It comes chiefly from prayer, brothers and sisters, from spending precious time with God. We display our preference for Him when we set everything aside and enter into a relationship with Him, converse with Him, pour our hearts out before Him. And then, growing in love for our God, we manifest that love in our life by observing the holy commandments and ultimately laying down our life for our fellow man through selfless acts of service. “If you love me,” said Jesus, “you will keep my commandments” (John 14:13).
We have the opportunity to transfigure this trying time into a time of growth in love for God and neighbor, especially through prayer. “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you,” writes St. James (4:8). And we draw near to Him and pull down His divine grace through prayer.
Here is the wisdom of St. John Climacus:
“Prayer by nature is conversation and union of man with God, and its activity upholds the world and brings about reconciliation with God. Prayer is the mother and also the daughter of tears, the propitiation for sins, a bridge over temptations, a wall against afflictions, a crushing of conflicts, the work and food of angels, gladness, the spring of virtues, the source of graces, food of the soul, the enlightening of the mind, an axe for despair, a demonstration of hope, the annulling of sorrow, the reduction of anger, the mirror of progress, the proof of one’s condition.
Have all courage, and you will have God for your teacher in prayer. Just as it is impossible to learn to see by word of mouth because seeing depends on one’s own natural sight, so it is impossible to realize the beauty of prayer from the teaching of others. Prayer has a Teacher all its own – God – who teaches man knowledge, and grants the prayer of him who prays, and blesses the years of the righteous. Amen.”
(Ladder, Step 28.1, 64)