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The raising of Lazarus"  Mosaic (6th) Sant Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna, Italy

“With the holy man wilt Thou be holy… and with the perverse wilt Thou be Perverse (cf. Ps 17)” or “Tell me who’s your friend so I may see who you are,” says a proverb.

The Lord called Lazarus, His friend. The kind of friends you have is of great matter.

Avoid evil. If you see that your friend leads your soul to perdition, end that relationship. Do not partake with the man that speaks evil, with him that judges or slanders. Make friendship with the righteous, the humble, the wise and the good. Thus was Lazarus, a friend of Christ. May your friend be a help to your salvation! “

(From father Valentine Mordashov, the elder of Pskov)

Christ loves Lazarus, Martha and Mary. Yet in His divine wisdom that transcends ages, He chooses to come a bit late to his friend’s bed where he’s lying seriously ill. He waits for the disease to follow its course, although He hurts at the pain of Lazarus death. He feels his friend pain and sees his soul ascending to heaven. Jesus knows everything about Lazarus as He knows about us… every word whispered, every thought, every tear, the moment of our death and our whole life.

Then going to the tomb, Jesus weeps before calling the spirit of the one dead for four days. The eyes of God shed tears for the human death. Through Him, the pain of all those dead throughout history is heard. In front of Lazarus tomb, Christ feels the universal death, the earth that has became a huge graveyard, a field flooded with tears, a tomb of life. It is from this pain that flow the tears from the eyes of the Lover of mankind. It is the pain of Him who loves infinitely, Him who was abandoned by the man lost in sin. It is the lamentation of the Father Who sees His only Son, begotten to be immoral but Who returns to the grave. Because of human perdition, the whole universe became a great sarcophagus. But the King of life, eternally in love with the human soul will do everything to turn man from his own destruction.

Then, through tears, Christ utters the words that abolish death: Lazarus, come out! It is the calling of man from death, of all mankind from the womb of nothingness; from the tomb of Lazarus who is born again shaking off the miasma of death and coming to light.

The raising of Lazarus from the dead is the ultimate prophecy of the resurrection of the Son of God and the tomb becomes a womb for eternal life.

The tomb of Christ is the ontological matrix of the new aeon of a humanity deified by grace. And the resurrection of Lazarus is the practice, the training to enter immortality, the beginning of the Kingdom of God.

St. John Climacus lived in the late sixth century and the first half of the seventh century; he is remembered by Christians everywhere especially during the Great Fast, for the purity of his life dedicated entirely to Christ. St. John Climacus was born around or before the year 579 and lived until 649. At age of 16 he entered the Sinai Monastery under the supervision of abbot Martyrium. After the death of his abbot, St. John Climacus withdrew into the desert to a cave located at the foot of Mount Sinai, living in meditation, prayer and study for nearly 40 years. In 639 he was named abbot of the monastery of Sinai, but not long after he retired in his old cave where he struggled until falling asleep.

The tradition mentions a cave located in the Valley of Tholas (Wadi Et-Tlah) approximately 8 km from Saint Catherine’s Monastery of Mt. Sinai, as the place where St. John led his ascetic struggle.

The first written document where this cave is mentioned, also remembers it as a place of pilgrimage. In the twentieth century, a monastic settlement was raised near this cave, belonging to the Monastery of Saint Catherine.

Named after the Monastery of Sinai, St. John was also called the Climacus or scholar because of his vast culture, but mostly he was called ‘the Ladder’, due to his work, ‘the Ladder of Divine Ascent’.

the cave of St John Climacus

“The Ladder of Divine Ascent” or the ladder towards Heaven is the most important work of Blessed John, which became an ascetical model for both monks and laymen. In this book St. John describes the spiritual ascent towards heaven as going through 30 steps, a clear reference to the 30 years of the life of Christ, before beginning His public ministry. ‘The Ladder’ begins with an introduction on monasticism, focusing on renouncing the world and on self-denial. The following 23 chapters of this book deal with sins and virtues in a successive order. St John affirms that these steps are not to be regarded as steps that can be left behind, but as spiritual states that need to be maintained and deepened, and to the extent of this understanding, one can advance further.

Sy John Climacus

St. John Climacus is commemorated every year on March 30th, and on the fourth Sunday of Great Lent.

Motto:

“One can climb – at once – to the 30th step by practicing humility and love. Because, love and humility surpass any virtue”.

(Metropolitan Anthonie Plamadeala)

Found mostly in older churches and monasteries, “The Ladder to Heaven” is the iconographic image of St. John Climacus book called “The Ladder of Divine Ascent”. The book and the icon are also known as “Leastvita,” in Slavonic “the ladder”.

 St. John Climacus lived between 579-649 in the monastic community of St. Catherine of Mount Sinai; for many struggles he took on in this monastery, he is also called “St. John of Sinai”.

 St. John entered the Sinai community at the age of 16, after having been instructed in many sciences of the time. For about nineteen years, the saint had as holy confessor, the Blessed Martyrios of Sinai. After the passing away of his elder, St. John withdraws into the desert, in the cell called Thola(s), few kilometers from the monastery of Sinai. In this solitary place, Saint John will continue his ascetic struggle for forty years.

 At the request of the monastic community of Mt. Sinai, St. John became the abbot and spiritual instructor of the convent. Later, at the request of Blessed John form Raitt, saint John will write “The Latter of Divine Ascent”, a book divided into thirty chapters or steps necessary for salvation. This work was translated into many languages and became an important part of the Philokalia.

The Ladder of Divine Ascent in iconography

 According to the writings of Dionysius of Furnas, recorded in his book “The Erminia of Byzantine painting”, the icon often called “The ladder of/to Heaven” is closely related to the work of St. John of the Ladder. It should be noted that the ladder of salvation does not pertain only to the monastics, but also to the Christians in the world, whether married or not (see commentaries of St. Theophan the Recluse on The Ladder, Instructions for the layman).

 A monastic community is depicted at the bottom of the icon, on both the right and the left sides. Monks of different ages are represented standing at the gate of the monastery and looking towards the ladder. The Ladder of Divine Ascent, shows thirty steps by the number of chapters (stages) written in St. John Climacus’ book. In some iconographic representations, the Ladder has 33 steps according to the number of years Christ lived on earth.

 The Ladder is placed in an inclined position with its lower-end supported on the ground and its upper-end touching the Heaven. Monks are represented on the entire length of the ladder, climbing towards Heaven. These monks are an imagine of the spiritual life: some are just reflecting, others set foot on the first step, some are climbing slowly, others rise more quickly, some other fall off the ladder (from all levels), while others reach its end where Christ awaits them.

 The top of the ladder depicts many angelic figures, each helping one monk on his way to salvation; while some monks are just guided by the angels, others are taken by the hands. At the bottom of the ladder, we can see more or less creepy figures, which represent the devils, each striving to pull down a soul. Some monks look unhindered towards Christ, while others barely keep one foot on every single step. Few angels are working to remove the demons with long spears.

 At the last portion of the ladder, our Savior is portrayed in a bright medallion/ light. The monk on the last rung of the ladder is depicted as being old and wise, clothed in humility and looking towards Christ. In return, our Savior catches him by the hand, while crowing his head with the crown of victory.

 At the bottom of the icon, a terrifying dragon with its mouth wide open imagines hell. Between the sharp teeth of the dragon is a fallen monk, while others are about to fall.

 In some iconographic representations, St. John Climacus himself is painted directing the monks towards salvation, while holding a paper roll in his hands that reads: “My brother struggle with all thy power so you may be pardoned from your many wretched sins. With many hard labors and good deeds on those steps rise up, awaking your mind with exhausting vigils.”

gerontas-moisis

By Hieromonk Moses the Hagiorite, Vatopaidi Monastery, Mt.Athos 

Many people ignore or do not will to acknowledge the true meaning of these days (of fast), consuming themselves with their routine (monotonous) everyday life. The modern man complains that life is tiring him, yet makes no step towards a fundamental change. He takes on strict diets sometimes, yet disregards the fast. He can make time for a counseling psychologist, can spend hours in front of television, but finds no time for a spiritual father or for the church.

  Today’s man does not want to offer but he’d rather receive with not much effort or personal sacrifice. Too afraid to look himself in the eyes, he runs away from himself and struggles in his inner emptiness.

  The Great Fast works like an X-Ray, like a (video) camera or like a mirror. In a certain way, we do not welcome it because it reveals our hidden reality.

  Today’ spirit of consumerism, comfort and pride leaves man a prisoner of the many unnecessary things that have filled his life. The Great Lent is a halt in the routine rush of life and an opportunity for transfiguration. The prayer of blessed Ephraim the Syrian that in this period it is said hundreds of times during the religious services, urges us to abandon sloth, a lot of care, love of power and idle talk and gain purity, humble thoughts, patience and love. This beautiful and meaningful prayer ends by asking God: “Grant me to see my own faults and not to judge my brother…”

  Let’s abandon gossip, judgment of others that continually stain our soul and let’s move the focus on ourselves correcting our fallings.

  The Great Lent urges us to return to one-self and it contributes to our healing from the spiritual diseases that darken our minds and make our lives difficult and bitter.

  If we manage to reach this self-knowledge and repentance, then the Great Lent will not be a gloomy and barren time for us, or a simple time to fulfill the “moral duties”, but an opportunity to soften our hardened hearts, which will lead us to the love of people and the love for God.

  The excessive rationalism of the difficult time we live in, strives to keep us away from what is mystical, from all that is holy – unspeakable and beyond nature – mystery.

  And the result of this state comes to light. Everywhere melancholy and despair reigns, wounding the soul. It is time to see from the depth of our hearts, that we have become estranged and, the time is ripen to return to the cradle of Crucified Love.

  Often during the time of Great Lent, temptations, trials, tribulations and failures occur. These will come for us to mature, to acquire balance and a child like nature. Let’s not forget that the life of the Christian is one with the Cross. Without crucifixion comes no resurrection.

  The Great Lent is a beautiful time for preparation, a semi-darken corridor leading us to the chamber full of light. The members of this preparatory time are prayer and fasting. But prayer and fasting without humility and love, bares no fruit. The fasting and prayer aim to temper our selfishness.

  Let’s not loose this opportunity offered once again by the Great Fast, as we’re slowly approaching its end. In the Church, our problems find their solution. The cold winter is followed by spring. Following the clouds, the sunny weather is even more beautiful. The Triodion is followed by the Pentecostarion. And now, as a wonderful hymn says, is the “time of repentance and the hour for prayer.”

(Translated by blog author).

A prayer composed by Rev Fr Eusebius Vittis (+2009) 

“O Lord my Jesus, meek and humble in heart, I wholeheartedly beg and beseech You:

From the desire to be admired by others, release me.
From the desire to be loved by others, release me.
From the desire to be sought out by others, release me.
From the desire to be honored by others, release me.
From the desire to be praised by others, release me.
From the desire to be preferred by others, released me.
From the desire to give advise to others, release me.
From the desire to be commended by others, release me.
From the desire to be cared for by others, release me.

Release me from the fear that they will humiliate me.
Release me from the fear that they scorn me.
Release me from the fear that they will reject me.
Release me from the fear that they will slander me.
Release me form the fear that they will forget me.
Release me form the fear that they will offend me.
Release me from the fear that they will suspect me.

Lord, grant me to desire that others be loved more than me.
Lord, grant me to desire that others be esteemed more than me.

Lord grant me to desire that the good view of others increase, and that my own decrease.

Lord, grant me to desire that others be put to use more than me.

Lord, grant me to desire that others be praised more than me.

Lord, grant me to desire that others be remembered, and not me.

Lord, grant me to desire that others be preferred and chosen over me.

Lord, grant me to desire that others make progress in virtue more than me, if of course I could achieve something like that on my own.

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