St John of the Ladder, the 4th Sunday of Great Lent

Today, we observe the the Fourth Sunday of Great Lent and our Byzantine Catholic Church commemorates our Father among the saints, John Climacus of the 7th century. He is also called St. John of the Ladder. In addition to the commemoration made today his other feast day is March 30.

As you know, he is called Climacus due to his authorship of the great spiritual work, The Ladder of Divine Ascent. In this work, St. John posits describes how we can ascend to God, like the Ten Commandments or the Eight Beatitudes tells us how we will find order in our lives. Chaos –disorder– will never lead us to God but to further chaos and anxiety. Thus, the book outlines 30 steps of the spiritual life as rungs of a ladder leading to heaven. As we climb and gain a new understanding of what it means to live the virtuous life through God’s help and grace, we ascend further towards the Kingdom of God. You can understand why The Ladder of Divine Ascent is required reading for the season of Lent. Hence, now is an excellent time to approach the priest to receive the graces attained in the sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession of sins).

St. John’s commemoration on one of the Sundays of Lent is given to us, after the Sunday of the Holy Cross, as a bearer and proponent of Christian asceticism. The ascetic example of the great Saint John inspires us in our Lenten journey.

Sister Vassa explores in this video the meaning of remembering St. John Climacus:

Third Sunday of the Great Fast –Sunday of the Holy Cross

On this the Third Sunday of the Great Fast, St. Michael’s faithful honored and venerated the Holy and Life giving Cross of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. At the Divine Liturgy, we venerated the Cross as we arrived at Mid-Lent.

Fr. Iura reminded us in homily that we must, as the Lord has authoritatively taught, take up our cross. The cross is THE path to salvation.

Lazarus Saturday

Friday evening we sing, “Having completed the forty days to the profit of our souls.” What profit, indeed, should we have earned from the holy and great forty-day fast? The virtue of humility should be first. We have learned that no matter how much we fast, no matter how much we pray, no matter how much we give to the poor, it is not enough to redeem us. As finite being, we cannot “earn merit” with the infinite God.

So TODAY it all changes. Christ takes control of our lives. When his friend Lazarus dies, Jesus comes to raise him from the dead. In a flash of lightning, in a thunderclap, all at once the Lord destroys the power of death. We understand this not only in regard to physical death, but also to our spiritual death. The two have meaning for one another. So at Matins, we chant, “You raised Lazarus by your divine word, O Christ; I have been put to death by my many faults; I beseech you to also raise me up.”

The stench that would come from a four-day dead body is not mentioned lightly, we must also deal with the stench of our evil passions, our sins and our failures. However, we see today what is the greatest profit of all – to be friends with God. “You are my friends if you do what I command you. I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father. (John 15:14-15)”

There can be no greater blessing than to be a friend of Jesus, our Lord and Savior and God.
“O Christ, the joy of all, the Truth, the Light, the Life, the Resurrection of the world, has appeared to those on earth because of his goodness. He became the pattern of our resurrection, granting divine forgiveness to all.
(Kontakion, Lazarus Saturday).”

Meditation by Archpriest David Petras

Fifth Tuesday of the Great Fast

Fifth Tuesday of the Great Fast: Isaiah 40:18-31

Our faith begins with creation. We say, “I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, and of all things both visible and invisible.” The reading from Isaiah today tells us, “The Lord is God from of old, creator of the ends of the earth.” God indeed is the Creator, not only of our physical bodies and the world in which we live, but of our hearts and minds and souls and of all the values that we hold dear.

The journey of the Great Fast brings us to this understanding: all that we are comes not from ourselves, but from God. All that we have, the very qualities that make us who we are come from God, not from ourselves. To believe otherwise is idolatry, as Isaiah reminds us, “To whom can you liken God? With what likeness can you confront him? An idol?” If we do not put our complete trust in God, who is not some far away Creator, who makes everything and leaves it on its own, but the lover of his creation, by our side in everything we do, we become idol-worshippers. Worshippers of ourselves, or worshippers of our money or possessions or worshippers of some other created human beings, or, I think most often, of ourselves. We do not call celebrities “idols” for nothing. Isaiah gives us a physical image of “the one who is enthroned above the vault of the earth, its inhabitants like grasshoppers,” but this is only an image.

We know in faith that God is everywhere, in our inmost being, in the center of our souls, and is guiding us to life and love, but we are sometimes deaf to his voice. The Great Fast tries to make us become less deaf, to hear God, who as Mary said, “The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is from age to age to those who fear him. He has shown might with his arm, dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart. He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones but lifted up the lowly, (Luke 1:49-52)” and who Isaiah tells us today “brings princes to nought and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing.”

Enough of idols, away with idols! In this journey, we must put our complete trust in the Lord, who “gives power to the faint, abundant strength to the weak …. They that hope in the Lord will renew their strength.”

Meditation by Archpriest David Petras

4th Sunday of Lent, Sunday of St John of the Ladder

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. (Kontakion)

Here are the resources for the Sunday of St John Climacus (or, known as “of the Ladder”), the 4th Sunday of Lent. In particular, we ought to listen to the resurrection hymn and the gospel reflection by Father Hezekias and Sebastian.

Do yourself a favor, spend time with the Word of the Lord in preparation for Sunday Liturgy.

A 7th century monk of Mount Sinai of Egypt. He is the author of a famous text of spiritual discipline. He spent 40 years as a hermit and later abbot. He is famous for his book, The Ladder of Divine Ascent, which was written with the presumption of a monastic context. That is, the contents speaks of how to raise the soul to God by the acquiring virtues and rejecting specific sins. The ascent is of the soul is described in 30 steps (think of the image of a ladder with 30 steps) and the number 30 corresponds with the age that Jesus began his public ministry. A widely read book in Byzantine spirituality.

Why are we celebrating a famous monk and his book when we are not monks? The activity that St John Climacus speaks about, just like the gospel passage read today, that of the Lord’s Transfiguration, is what we followers of Jesus desire, too. That is, we desire to be personally transfigured from someone not too acceptable, into someone beautiful and desirable. Just as Moses who saw God on the mountain and came back to his followers to convey what he is seen. The connection with the gospel of the Transfiguration and St John Climacus comes in the line, “Lord, I believe but help my unbelief.” Prayer and asking for help. Faith is strengthened in prayer and fasting.

We ought to read daily a spiritual book, first starting with a passage of Scripture and then a good spiritual book. Place yourself in the presence of the Lord, so that you can cast out demons. Have faith!

Sunday of the Holy Cross

Today in the Byzantine Catholic Church it is the Sunday of the Holy Cross. It is a day on which we recall that wood heals wood, the wood of the cross heals the wood that tree in paradise we were told not to eat from. Today we venerate the Holy Cross and it signals mid-Lent. As members of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem we are keenly aware that the cross is intimately connected with the Lord’s victory over death, and thus our salvation.

St John Chrysostom teaches us:

“Therefore, no one should be ashamed of the venerable symbols of our salvation: of the cross, which is the summit of our goods, for which we live and are what we are. Instead, let’s carry the cross of Christ like a trophy everywhere! All things, among us, reach their fulfillment by means of the cross. When we have to be reborn, the cross becomes present; when we feed on the mystical food; when we are consecrated ministers of the altar; when other mysteries are fulfilled, this symbol of victory is always present there.”

Homily on Matthew 54, 551B-552A.

Third Week of the Great Fast

During this week, at Vespers, we read the story of the flood and the salvation of the righteous man Noah and his family. At first, this might seem to be the dark side of God, and on Friday, we heard: “When the Lord saw how great the wickedness of human beings was on earth, and how every desire that their heart conceived was always nothing but evil, the Lord regretted making human beings on the earth, and his heart was grieved. So the Lord said: I will wipe out from the earth the human beings I have created, and not only the human beings, but also the animals and the crawling things and the birds of the air, for I regret that I made them.”

The story of the flood may have some historical basis, as a great flood in the Mediterranean basin in pre-history, but the story is iconic. (Noah could not have brought all the animal species on the ark.) The story tells us that the “wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Christian faith has seen a positive image in the flood: it is the waters of baptism, which wipes out all sin (pride and rebellion against the divine plan) from the earth. It is these waters which carry us to salvation.

On the third Friday, then, we hear: “Then Noah built an altar to the Lord, and choosing from every clean animal and every clean bird, he offered burnt offerings on the altar. When the Lord smelled the sweet odor, the Lord said to himself: Never again will I curse the ground because of human beings, since the desires of the human heart are evil from youth; nor will I ever again strike down every living being, as I have done,” and on Tuesday of the fourth week, the day before Mid-lent, “This is the sign of the covenant that I am making between me and you and every living creature with you for all ages to come: I set my bow in the clouds to serve as a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.”

The Great Fast is the coming of the Redeemer.

Meditation by Archpriest David Petras

First Sunday of the Great Fast: the Witness of Phillip

The original title of this Sunday was the Sunday of the Prophets.

Today it is the Sunday of Orthodoxy because we celebrate the victory of the true faith in icons in A.D. 843. We can depict our Lord in icons because he has become a human being, with a human body that we can see, and in this way see in him the glory of God’s love for us.

It is interesting then that this Sunday also celebrates the memory of the holy Apostle Phillip. He brings Nathanael to Jesus with the words, “Come and see!” (John 1:46). Then, later in the same Gospel, he will lead us to see God as much as we can with our bodily eyes, asking the Lord, ““Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us” (John 14:8). Jesus replies, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. (John 14:9)”

This is what is revealed to us this Sunday.

Meditation by Archpriest David Petras