St John Climacus, Author of “The Ladder of Divine Ascent”

St John Climacus, Author of “The Ladder of Divine Ascent”

The Christian church commemorates numerous saints who devoted their lives to the study of the Sacred Scriptures and preaching. One of them is St John Climacus who is venerated not only by the Eastern Orthodox Church but also by the Roman Catholic Church. Although very little is known about his life, his literary legacy greatly influenced the development of Christianity. 

Biography of Saint John Climacus

John Climacus was born in 523 into a wealthy family in Syria. He received the proper education and became a monk in a monastery on Mount Sinai. According to some sources, he was only 16 years old when he became a novice. After the death of the elder Martyrius, who was his mentor, St John Climacus decided to lead an ascetic life at the foot of the mountain. He lived there in seclusion for about 20 years.

Literary heritage

His literary work, The Ladder of Divine Ascent,” which was written in the early 7th century, made an enormous contribution to Christian dogma. In his work, St John described the path to spiritual enlightenment, which can be reached by every believer. For example, “The Ladder” tells about the importance of carrying a notebook to record thoughts and observations during prayer and contemplation. There are references to the Bible, in particular to the vision of Jacob’s ladder leading to heaven. Overall, this treatise represents a detailed exposition of the wisdom of both the saint himself and many other ascetics.  

The iconography of St John Climacus

Religious icons of John Climacus are not widespread among Christians. However, there are several significant examples that allow us to identify some common features. Traditionally, Christian icons of the saint depict him alone as an elder. He has a slim face with distinctive features, a high forehead, and a wedge-shaped beard. St John Climacus is dressed in a chiton, mantle, and schema. In his hands, he usually holds a cross, a scroll, or a book, which are the symbols of a preacher and ascetic.

Icons of St John Climacus are believed to help strengthen the faith and purify the soul of a Christian believer. The Russian Orthodox Church commemorates the saint on April 12.