Christ the Savior-Holy Spirit Orthodox Church
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St John of the Ladder ~ The Fourth Sunday


The Hymnography for the Fourth Sunday of Great Lent

By Sergei V. Bulgakov

In the Church services for the fourth Sunday the Holy Church offers us a great example of the life of fasting in the person of the Venerable John of the Ladder, who, "having overcome the flesh through fasting" and "by the sweat of his ascetic efforts quenched the fiery arrows of the enemy" and "renewed the strength of souls " and, "ascending to the height of virtues", "received in his soul the divine wealth of the Spirit, undefiled prayer, chastity, modesty, continuous vigil", "was deified through heavenly glory", "was revealed as a physician to those sick through sin" and was the author of The Ladder of Paradise. According to the expression of the Holy Church, how the profoundly granted ascetic life of the Venerable John "gives us a pleasure sweeter than honey", and so his Ladder "brings to us the ever flowering fruits of his teaching, pleasing the heart with vigilant heeding: for souls are rising up the ladder from earth to heaven and abiding in glory". Approving fasting with the example of the Venerable John, the Holy Church offers us a new consolation in the Gospel and Epistle readings of this Sunday. In the first she shows that fasting and prayer defeats the very spiritual enemy of the salvation of man, and predicted this victory in the circumstances of suffering, the death and the resurrection of Christ; and in the second she reminds us of the inalterability of God's will for the salvation of man, in order that we have a firm hope.

Besides the hymns praising the Venerable John, during the fourth week other hymns are chanted, in which the repentant soul resembles the man, who fell into the hands of the thieves, and whom both the priest and the Levite passed by, not offering help. Testing one's conscience the Holy Church inspires the soul to turn to the Lord with prayer: He cleans off the sinful scabs.

Having concentrated in the hymns of the fourth Sunday on the diverse motives for the zealous bearing of the lenten spiritual struggle, the Holy Church at the end of the Matins service with a tender voice appeals to her children:

"Come, let us work in the mystical vineyard, making fruits of repentance work in it, let us not labor for food and drink, but through prayer and fasting let us gain virtue. And the Lord of the vineyard, pleased by our labor, will provide the denarii by which He delivers souls from the debt of sins, for He alone is rich in mercy".


Apolytikion in Plagal of the Fourth Tone
With the rivers of your tears, you have made the barren desert fertile. Through sighs of sorrow from deep within you, your labors have borne fruit a hundredfold. By your miracles you have become a light, shining upon the world. O John, our Holy Father, pray to Christ our God, to save our souls.


Kontakion in First Tone
As ever-blooming fruits, you offer the teachings of your God-given book, O wise John, most blessed, while sweetening the hearts of all them that heed it with vigilance; for it is a ladder from the earth unto Heaven that confers glory on the souls that ascend it and honor you faithfully.


The Ladder of Divine Ascent
The Ladder of Divine Ascent
The Ladder of Divine Ascent

Synaxarion for the Fourth Sunday
of Great Lent

By Nikephoros Kallistos Xanthopoulos

On the Fourth Sunday of the Fast,
we celebrate the memory of our Holy Father John,
the author of The Ladder.

John, who when alive in the flesh was dead,
Liveth eternally, though he appeareth a breathless corpse.
He left a writing, in which he showeth a
Ladder of Ascent, the journey of his own ascent.


This Father, at the age of sixteen, and being shrewd of mind, offered himself as a most sacred sacrifice to God, after making the ascent to Mount Sinai. He then arose after nineteen years and entered the arena of hesychasm, five semeia away from the place where Saint Kyriakos had struggled in asceticism. He took over a monastery by the name of Thola, where he spent forty years in perpetual yearning, ever ablaze with the fire of Divine love. He would eat everything that was permitted, without reproach, by the monastic profession, but in very small quantities and not to satiety, and in this way, I reckon, he very wisely broke the horn of vanity. But what mind could recount the fountain of his tears? He partook of sleep as much as was necessary to avoid damaging the fabric of his mind by keeping vigil; his way of life consisted of unceasing prayer and unimaginable longing for God. Having lived a God-pleasing life by all these accomplishments and written The Ladder, in which he set forth most beneficial teachings, he reposed worthily in the Lord at the age of eighty, in the year 603 A.D., leaving behind many other writings.

His memory is celebrated on the 30th of March; but it is also celebrated today, perhaps because in monasteries it is customary to read The Ladder from the beginning of the holy Fast.

By his intercessions, O God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.
On Repentance That Leads to Joy

From an article on St John Klimacos on

Our acts of repentance and our life of asceticism are, to St John, our personal efforts at the transfiguration of our person.

The fallen humanity which is our ‘flesh’, is trained and conditioned in the great athletic ‘race’ of life, that it might shed its fallen condition and return once again to be our healthy, divine body. In other words, the ascetic labours form, for John, our human contribution to the process of deification, which is the living focus of the life of salvation. He is not writing a treatise to educate men about some future salvation, but to instruct them in the active life of the present, of theosis and transfiguration of the body—of the person—into that which is pure and divine. John Chryssavgis writes:

John has not analysed any particular person, let alone a sick person. He has analysed, observed and examined, in his cell in the Sinai desert, the deified, transfigured sinner, the genuine human person. And he assures us that we are all like Christ on Mount Tabor. It is Christ who is a fully healthy man because he is God-Man.

This is a noteworthy comment, for it identifies St John’s perception of the ascetic life as one of deification and transfiguration, but also because it shows him to be squarely in the tradition of the Fathers in speaking of the deification of man as a return to humanity’s natural state. Our salvation is not an ascent to some supernatural realm or mode of existence, but rather our elevation out of our self induced sub-existence, back into the nature that is properly ours. And John makes an original point when he professes that this lifting of humanity out of its fallen death is not something that is afar off, not merely a promise awaiting reality at the Second Coming. Speaking of transfiguration in terms of dispassion, he writes, ‘dispassion is the resurrection of the soul before the body.’ It is a process of deification that happens in the here and now, where in our struggle against a fallen nature we attain once again to our true nature, and become properly human.

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