From the Holy Fathers

St John Climacus on Repentance

“The Ladder of Divine Ascent” by St John Climacus is one of the most studied books in Orthodoxy. St John (579-649 AD) entered the monastic life at a young age, later becoming abbot of the central monastery on Mt Sinai. He wrote the “Ladder” as a spiritual guide for monks in a neighbouring monastery, which helps explain the uncompromising tone of the “Ladder”. Although written for monks, it has nonetheless been treasured by lay people for hundreds of years. The “Ladder” is divided into 30 steps, or chapters, to guide the spiritual life.  Step 1 is the renunciation of worldly life, whilst step 30 pertains to faith, hope and love.

The “Ladder” is not a manual or formula, but a way of life: a path of initiation into the spiritual life. It emphasises what is natural and unnatural, what is immortal and corrupt. Step 5 on repentance is a challenging chapter for many contemporary readers. It portrays the “prison” at an Alexandrian monastery, where repentant monks voluntarily submitted to harsh measures as a means of correcting spiritual faults. The images are harsh and confronting. However, in its entirety, repentance is not negative, but positive.  The following words of St John from Step 5 demonstrate this point:

Repentance is the daughter of hope and the refusal to despair. Repentance is reconciliation with the Lord by the performance of good deeds which are the opposite of the sins. It is the purification of conscience and the voluntary endurance of affliction”.

It seems

[to me] that those who have fallen and are penitent are more blessed than those who have never fallen and who do not have to mourn over themselves”.

Do not be surprised if you fall every day … do not surrender. Stand your ground bravely. And you may be sure that your guardian angel will respect your endurance”.

He who really keeps track of what he has done will consider as lost every day during which he did not mourn, regardless of whatever good he may happen to have done”.

Nothing equals the mercy of God or surpasses it. To despair is therefore to inflict death on oneself.”

St John emphasises that repentance is a renewal of our baptism and a source of hope in God.


Source: February-March 2015 Lychnos Edition