Posted by: Fr Chris | March 10, 2013

Climacus, Two Good Sources to Follow, and Eastern Catholics in the Conclave

Today the Byzantine Rite commemorates a monk from the Sinai desert, John of the Ladder, or John Climacus.  Here is what I wrote in our parish bulletin for today:



Fourth Sunday of Great Lent: The Sunday of Saint John Climacus

John came to the Vatos Monastery at Mount Sinai, now Saint Catherine’s Monastery, and became a novice when he was about 16 years old. He was taught about the spiritual life by the elder monk Martyrius. After the death of Martyrius, John, wishing to practice greater asceticism, withdrew to a hermitage at the foot of the mountain. In this isolation he lived for some twenty years, constantly studying the lives of the saints and thus becoming one of the most learned Church Fathers. When he was about seventy-five years of age, the monks of Sinai persuaded him to become their hegumen (superior or abbot). He acquitted himself of his functions as abbot with the greatest wisdom, and his reputation spread so far that, according to the Vita, Pope Gregory the Great wrote to recommend himself to his prayers, and sent him a sum of money for the hospital of Sinai, in which the pilgrims were wont to lodge.

Of John’s literary output we know only the Ladder of Divine Ascent, composed at the request of John, Abbot of Raithu, a monastery situated on the shores of the Red Sea, and a shorter work To the Pastor (Latin: Liber ad Pastorem), most likely a sort of appendix to the Ladder.

The Ladder describes how to raise one’s soul and body to God through the acquisition of ascetic virtues. Climacus uses the analogy of Jacob’s Ladder as the framework for his spiritual teaching. Each chapter is referred to as a “step”, and deals with a separate spiritual subject. There are thirty Steps of the ladder, which correspond to the age of Jesus at his baptism and the beginning of his earthly ministry. Within the general framework of a ‘ladder’, Climacus’ book falls into three sections. The first seven Steps concern general virtues necessary for the ascetic life, while the next nineteen (Steps 8-26) give instruction on overcoming vices and building their corresponding virtues. The final four Steps concern the higher virtues toward which the ascetic life aims. The final rung of the ladder—beyond prayer (προσευχή), stillness (ἡσυχία), and even dispassion (ἀπαθεία)–is love (ἀγάπη).

Originally written simply for the monks of a neighboring monastery, the Ladder swiftly became one of the most widely read and much-beloved books of Byzantine spirituality. This book is one of the most widely-read among Eastern Christians, especially during the season of Great Lent. It is often read in the trapeza (refectory) in Orthodox monasteries, and in some places it is read in church as part of the Daily Office on Lenten weekdays, being prescribed in the Triodion.


The Conclave begins on Tuesday, after Mass and with the intoning of the beautiful hymn “Veni Creator Spiritus”, or Come Creator Spirit. With that ancient prayer to the Holy Spirit, the cardinals go in, the doors are locked and their retreat and voting begin after days of meetings, conferences, and as one cardinal pointed, a lot of prayer.

EWTN will be carrying a lot of coverage, with Raymond Arroyo and Robert Royal leading and Joan Lewis and Colleen Campbell giving special reports.

In addition, you can follow Robert Royal’s insightful musings at   which I highly recommend and his regular postings are at

Colleen Campbell hosts Faith & Culture on EWTN, andwill anchor a live daily news show from St. Peter’s Square in Rome. Show airs on EWTN television at 9 a.m. ET on March 8 and 9, and re-airs at 5 p.m. ET.  Her website is

 Both of these Catholic authors are people to follow after the conclave. Their books are solid, and Colleen’s shows give you meat, not pablum.


Pope Paul VI began the practice of including Eastern Catholic leaders in the College of Cardinals in 1965 in his motu proprio Ad Purpuratorum Patrum.  

The youngest cardinal is Mar Baselios Cleemis, the Major Archbishop of the Syro-Malankara Church of India, who was elevated at the age of 53. The other Eastern cardinals are the Patriarchs emeritus of the Maronites ,Chaldeans, and  Copts and the Patriarch of the Maronites. The patriarchs emeritus are all prelates who resigned because of age or health, a practice which Benedict XVI imitated with his surprise announcement last month.  His Beatitude Major Archbishop Lubomyr Husar, former leader of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, is now too old to vote in the conclave, having just turned 80 on February 26.

One would think that at this stage of development in the Catholic Church, all the Eastern Catholic Patriarchs and Major Archbishops would automatically be able to vote in a conclave, but sadly, that is not the case.  Maybe I will write to the new pope and suggest that.

Regardless, let us pray for the College’s deliberations to be fruitful for the good of the Church, and to bring souls to Christ!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: