The ladder is Christ.
Homily 402 – March 29, 2020, St. John Climacus
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
March 29, 2020
Epistle: (314) – Hebrews 6:13-20 and (229) – Ephesians 5:9-19 (St John Climacus)
Gospel: (40) – Mark 9:17-31 and (10) – Matthew 4:25-5:12 (St John Climacus)
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God.
We remember today the Ladder. Not just any ladder, the ladder by which we reach God. The Ladder of Divine Assent, by St. John Climacus, or St. John of the Ladder, whichever you may prefer.
I know I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating. The first rung of the ladder, the first step, is detachment from the world.
Detachment, meaning, being in the world but not of the world. The things of this world should have no meaning at all for us as followers of Christ.
Throughout the Gospel, the words of our Lord describe how seriously we take that commandment. Even life itself is included in this detachment.
We accept our life, all life, as a gift from God, and allow Him to determine when that life begins and ends. In our service to others, however, we can do anything, including offering our own life, to benefit them. Just as Christ offered his own life.
Some things are somewhat easy to avoid. Big houses, cars, the marks of great wealth. I say “somewhat” easy because the world treasures those things, that wealth, and sees that as a sign of God’s blessing and approval.
But that would be wrong.
Our Lord had only the clothes on his back. That was the limit. And we, his followers, are to emulate him.
Rest assured, this extreme detachment isn’t easy at all. However, we can’t make excuses about how God will allow us to have this or that when the most prevalent commandment to his disciples was “leave everything and follow me.”
Some things are even more difficult to leave. Our status. The respect we receive. Our reputation.
And even further – our family. That is one we justify a lot – we have an obligation to care for our family, but that isn’t entirely true. God has an obligation to care for them, not us.
Christ is explicit in places – the apostles left wives, homes, presumably children, businesses. Everything.
The man who asked to return to care for his family until their death, Christ rebuked.
Even further, and even more difficult – is leaving our understanding behind. Let me explain that.
Sometimes we have definite ideas and opinions about the things of God and the things of the Church. There were others who held those views quite strongly – the Pharisees.
Before Great Lent we remembered that the Pharisee was not of the correct understanding of what God desired, nor of how to pray.
We have to be willing to let those ideas and opinions go. Our knowledge is limited, our ability to comprehend is limited. Compared to the reality of God, our knowledge and comprehension is truly next to nothing.
Not to mention, our faith is not one that is “understood rationally”. Our faith is revealed. We can and should reason and try to understand, but the object of that study is the revelation of God, which is a hard boundary for us. The totality of God cannot be contained in creation.
So we receive the revelation of God about himself, in the activity of the Spirit that we saw in Gregory Palamas on the Second Sunday of Great Lent, and in the person of Christ, the incarnation of God.
We have to observe. Not speculate. Even those observations that make no sense. Like how can the creator of the Cosmos be contained in the womb of a young Jewish virgin?
Because we understand the incarnation to be a revelation of God. We can’t reason ourselves into that. We can’t reason ourselves into the crucifixion or the resurrection.
We accept them – we contemplate them – but we have to be prepared to have our understanding changed. We have to be willing to let it go.
So, taking the first step on the ladder – who is Christ Himself – is difficult. Detachment from the world. Leaving the world, yet continuing in it.
Thanks be to God, we are not left to climb this ladder on our own. We need only take the step, and then God reaches to us. The ladder is Christ.
But we must leave the world to ascend the ladder.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Glory to Jesus Christ!