So much of my personal journey in Orthodoxy has been a growing understanding of the Body of Christ, including the interconnectedness I have with each person around me as a fellow human created in God’s image. Equally part of this journey has been my study of Saint John Climacus’ The Ladder of Divine Ascent.
In The Ladder, Saint John Climacus calls each of us to a life long journey, always moving toward Christ. This journey includes breaking our connection to the worldly cares, tackling our physical and spiritual passions that distract us, and refocusing our attention on attaining the fundamental virtues that propel us up “the ladder” toward the revelation of the eternal love and peace that can only be found in Christ.
As humans striving to live in the world, but not become part of the world, reflecting on the message of Saint John Climacus can be challenging – or even daunting. Often, when we face our own shortcomings, we can become harsh and fail to treat ourselves with the compassion that Christ would extend to us. This, at least, has been my experience.
As my experiences have grown in the Church, I now see that my journey is not unique. The Church has taught me that every human is created in the image and likeness of Christ – a living Icon worthy of veneration. The words of Saint John Climacus, however, remind me that we all are still human. We are all still subject to temptation and sin, and we often need each other when we are climbing up (and trying not to fall off) the ladder.
As part of the Body of Christ, I am surrounded by individuals who struggle with similar weaknesses, fallacies, and passions as I do. None of us, as an individual, is strong enough to climb the ladder alone. For this reason, we climb the ladder together… we climb together as the Church.
When I succumb to my weaknesses and passions, I separate myself from the strength of the Church and those brothers and sisters with whom I share this journey. However, I cannot become so focused on my own journey to ignore when my brother or sister has fallen. Even though my neighbor may be struggling with a different physical or spiritual passions than me at any given time -some of us with slander, others with lust, others with vainglory – we must each see that these passions of my neighbor are not any less or worse than my own. It is that spirit that it becomes very important that we should not seek to fix or help each other, for this suggests an imbalance. Instead, as fellow climbers in the Body of Christ, we must serve each other in Christ’s example.
Are we willing to see in each person we encounter, even those we do not know, or even like? This is our challenge… to serve the sick, the naked, the imprisoned, the stranger, and to welcome them in the Body of Christ, for the sake of each of our salvation. As we climb together, we strive to obtain the virtues of meekness, humility, and discernment, so that together, as the Body of Christ, we might all attain the unity found only in His Love at the top of the ladder.
Kenneth Kidd, Executive Director
FOCUS North America