Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
The Prologue from Ohrid
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1. THE VENERABLE JOHN CLIMACUS
John Climacus is the author of "The Ladder of Divine Ascent." John came to Mt. Sinai as a sixteen year old youth and remained there, first as a novice under obedience, and afterwards as a recluse, and finally as abbot of Sinai until his eightieth year. He died around the year 563 A.D. His biographer, the monk Daniel, says about him: "His body ascended the heights of Sinai, while his soul ascended the heights of heaven." He remained under obedience with his spiritual father, Martyrius, for nineteen years. Anastasius of Sinai, seeing the young John, prophesied that he would become the abbot of Sinai. After the death of his spiritual father, John withdrew into a cave, where he lived a difficult life of asceticism for twenty years. His disciple, Moses, fell asleep one day under the shade of a large stone. John, in prayer in his cell, saw that his disciple was in danger and prayed to God for him. Later on, when Moses returned, he fell on his knees and gave thanks to his spiritual father for saving him from certain death. He related how, in a dream, he heard John calling him and he jumped up and, at that moment, the stone tumbled. Had he not jumped, the stone would have crushed him. At the insistence of the brotherhood, John agreed to become abbot and directed the salvation of the souls of men with zeal and love. From someone John heard a reproach that he talked too much. Not being angered by this, John however remained silent for an entire year and did not utter a word until the brothers implored him to speak and to continue to teach them his God-given wisdom. On one occasion, when six-hundred pilgrims came to the Monastery of Sinai, everyone saw an agile youth in Jewish attire serving at a table and giving orders to other servants and assigning them. All at once, this young man disappeared. When everyone noticed this and began to question it, John said to them, "Do not seek him, for that was Moses the Prophet serving in my place." During the time of his silence in the cave, John wrote many worthwhile books, of which the most glorious is "The Ladder." This book is still read by many, even today. In this book, John describes the method of elevating the soul to God, as ascending a ladder. Before his death, John designated George, his brother in the flesh, as abbot. George grieved much because of his separation from John. Then John said to him, that, if he [John] were found worthy to be near God in the other world, he would pray to Him, that, he, [George], would be taken to heaven that same year. And, so it was. After ten months George succeeded and settled among the citizens of heaven as did his great brother, John.
2. MEMORIAL TO A MONK WHO JOYFULLY DIED AND WHO NEVER JUDGED ANYONE IN HIS LIFE
This monk was lazy, careless, and lacking in his prayer life; but throughout all of his life, he did not judge anyone. While dying, he was happy. When the brethren asked him how is it that with so many sins, you die happy? He replied, "I now see angels who are showing me a letter with my numerous sins. I said to them, Our Lord said: `stop judging and you will not be judged' (St. Luke 6:37). I have never judged anyone, and I hope in the mercy of God that He will not judge me." And the angels tore up the paper. Upon hearing this, the monks were astonished and learned from it.
HYMN OF PRAISE
SAINT JOHN OF THE LADDER (CLIMACUS)
As a kind of torch on Sinai, the Mount,
John was glowing in heavenly light
Subduing the body, subdued his thoughts,
Thirty steps, he numbered toward victory.
Miraculous strategy, wonderful tactic
As a legacy, to the spiritual warrior he gave
The spiritual warfare, who desires to learn
And in this warfare to gloriously conquer.
"The Ladder," all miraculous, by the Spirit written,
After the dreadful strife was ended,
When John the Victor, the world from himself shed,
As a precious gift, to the brethren he brought it.
An epic poem, that is the soul of man,
When from dust, toward heaven it desires to climb,
An awesome epic poem of struggle and suffering,
A sparkling epic poem of faith and hoping.
This, John, to us gave, illumined by God,
Weapons, all-glowing, to you and to me.
And now before the Lord, John prays
That the Lord be pleased to send us help
When, to Him, by the Ladder we climb.
That to us, His hand He extends, that we
May to Him arrive.
If humility before men is necessary for the sake of being exalted before God and temporal effort for the sake of eternal life, what do you care if someone wags their head and laughs at your humility? John the Silentary [the Hesychast] was a bishop in Ascalon for ten years. Seeing that the honors of men hindered him, he disguised himself as a simple monk and entered the Monastery of St. Sabas the Sanctified, where he was assigned to gather wood and to boil lentils for the laborers. When he was recognized, he closed himself in a cell, where he lived for forty-seven years, feeding on vegetables only. This is how the Fathers avoided worldly honors, for which many in our day, in neck-breaking struggle, squander their souls away to dust and ashes.
To contemplate the Lord Jesus in death:
1. How His body is taken down from the cross by Joseph of Arimathea;
2. How Joseph and Nicodemus wrapped the Body of the Lord in a pure linen cloth, anointed Him with ointments and placed Him in a new tomb;
3. How faithful and unafraid were these two distinguished men among the many enemies of Christ in the midst of general fear and denials.
About recognizing the Son of Man among the common darkness
"Truly, this was the Son of God" (St. Matthew 27:54).
These words were spoken by the captain who carried out his duties conscientiously as a soldier. Under orders of his superiors, he had to guard the body of Christ on Golgotha. Externally, like a machine, but internally, a soul wide awake.
He, a Roman soldier, a pagan, and an idolater, saw all that had occurred at the time of the death of Christ the Lord, and cried out: "Truly, this was the Son of God." Not knowing about the One God and not knowing the Law and the Prophets, he immediately comprehended that which the priests of the One God and authorities of the Law and the Prophets were unable to comprehend! On this occasion, the word of God came true. "I came into this world for judgment, so that those who do not see, might see, and those who do see, might become blind" (St. John 9:39). Truly, he who was blind in the spirit saw and those who thought they could see were completely blinded. Was it not possible that the elders of the Jews did not see the darkened sun, did not feel the earthquake, did not notice how the rocks were split, did not see that the veil in the Temple was rent, did not recognize many of the saints who came out from opened graves and appeared in Jerusalem? They saw all of this and all of them accurately witnessed all of this. Nevertheless, their spirits remained blind and their hearts, stony. All of these manifestations, the awesome and the unusual, they probably interpreted as the unbelieving would do today - accidents and illusions. The pagans of all times interpret everything as accidents or self-deceptions whenever the finger of God appears to reprimand men, to direct or to inform them. The Roman captain Longinus, which was the soldier's name, saw all that occurred without prejudice and beneath the cross confessed his faith in the Son of God. His exclamation was not wrested accidentally from his frightened heart. But that was his confession of faith, for which he later on laid down his life to embrace a better life in the Kingdom of Christ.
O brethren, how great is this Roman captain, who upon seeing the lifeless Lord between thieves crucified on the dunghill of Golgotha, recognized Him as God and confessed Him as God. O brethren, how petty are those Christians who recognize the Lord as resurrected, as Glorified, as the Victor and the Victor-bearer through thousands of His saints but, nevertheless, retain in their hearts doubt like a poisonous serpent who poisons them every day and buries their lives in eternal darkness.
O crucified and resurrected Lord, have mercy on us and save us!
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