Troparion of St John Tone 3
Thou hast set up a holy ladder by thy words/ and hast shone forth as a teacher of monks;/ thou dost lead us, O John, from the purification that comes from discipline/ to the light of the Divine Vision./ O righteous Father, pray to Christ our God to grant us His great mercy.
Kontakion of St John Tone 1
From thy book thou dost offer teachings as everlasting fruits, O wise one,/ and dost sweeten the hearts of those who watchfully attend to them, O blessed one./ For it is a ladder that from earth to heavenly glory/ leads souls who honour thee with faith.
Another Kontakion of St John Tone 8
We have found thy God-given virtues to be a divine ladder to heaven./ For thou, O holy Father John, wast a model of the virtues.
Fr. Demetrios Serfes’ Introduction to The Ladder of Divine Ascent by St. John Climacus
The icon of the ‘Ladder of Divine Ascent’, sometimes known as ‘The Ladder of Paradise’ or simply ‘The Ladder’, is an iconic symbol of the ascetic struggle, based on the imagery of the ladder drawn from scripture where it is seen in a dream by Jacob (see Genesis 28.10-22), and the classic ascetical text, The Ladder of Divine Ascent, by St John of the Ladder.
The icon depicts the struggle of the faithful to ‘work out their salvation in fear and trembling’ (see Philippians 2.12), ascending as if by a ladder the various stages of renunciation, humility and obedience to Christ. The icon often depicts (though in the above example this is unclear) the base of the ladder as the Church, the entry-point into the ascetical journey; and almost always depicts (as here) Christ at the summit, welcoming the ascetic strugglers into the Kingdom.
The icon also portrays the interrelation of the earthly and spiritual in the ascetic struggle: on the one hand are seen the angels and the communion of the saints offering encouragement and support to those ascending the ladder, while on the other hand are seen the demons, working actively to throw the ascetics off their course, leading to the ‘jaws of Hades’, often represented (as here) by the gaping mouth of a dragon or other beast. The reality of ascetic obedience as required throughout the whole of the journey is represented by the image of individuals being torn from the ladder not only at its lower steps, but also at the very highest rungs. In traditional icons, both the ascetics who are still on course, and those who have been dislodged by the demons, are a mixture of laity and clergy, monastics and married, relating the teaching that victory in the ascetic struggle is not granted by office or status, but obedience, humility and perseverence.
This icon is especially reverenced during the fast of Great Lent, during which the fourth Sunday of the fast is dedicated to the memory of St John of the Ladder.
Text by M.C. Steenberg, 2006