St. Mary Orthodox Church

Cambridge, MA

The Sunday of St. John Climacus

By Fr. Antony Hughes

Sermon Preached on Sunday, April 6th 2003

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Glory to Jesus Christ!

We have navigated four weeks of fasting and prayer together. We have heard marvelous messages in the hymns and services of the Church. We have heard five great sermons from five of our own people stressing in one way or another the invitation to heed the call of the Bridegroom and fill our lamps with oil for the Marriage Feast only three weeks away. Each of us has received our invitation addressed by the hand of God himself and today St. John Climacus comes to remind us that there is work yet to be done so that when the Bridegroom comes we will not find ourselves locked out of the feast without a lighted lamp in the darkness with the foolish virgins.

The image of God is buried within each and every one of us, as Origen says, in a well chocked with mud and debris. Now is the time for digging so that the spring can once again flow freely from the depths of our souls. “The Kingdom of God is within you!”

…but rid by the Word of God of that great pile of earth that was
weighing us down let the ‘image of the heavenl’y shine out in you now…
the maker of this image is the Son of God. He is a craftsman of such
surpassing skill that his image may indeed be obscured by neglect,
but never destroyed by evil. The image of God remains in you always.

Origen

St. John of the Ladder is a singular voice in the chorus of the saints. He is one of the greatest teachers of how to be rid of the weight of rubbish choking the soul. He has taught millions of Christians over the centuries how to give voice to the true self hidden under the weight of sin and the fear of death. The way is not only mental because humanity is made up not only of soul, but of flesh. The way is also physical.

The aim of asceticism is to free the buried image, to set free the river of living water, the cleanse and scrub the temple of God, to make an appropriate place for the Heavenly King to dwell, to acquire the Holy Spirit, to make peace in our hearts so that thousands around us can be saved.

It is needful in this time of war to remind ourselves that no amount of marching and protest and certainly no war can ever bring true peace. The enemy may be subdued and may disappear for awhile, but unless the evil residing in the hearts of men is rooted out by prayer and fasting, it will simply arise in another form next time bringing seven devils worse than itself. If everyone in the world heeded the Gospel of Jesus Christ and did the necessary work of setting free the image of God within there would be true and lasting peace. But, as you can see, this is not happening and those of us who have heard the Gospel do not follow it. The Gospel goes unheeded, the mute boy of the Gospel story remains mute, and we allow ourselves to fall into the same morass that brings about such tragedies as this awful war.

The invitation has been issued. The Marriage Feast is now in preparation. The Master of All calls us to cleanse ourselves with his divine help from all stain as we draw near to the pivotal moment in all of history when death is put to death and salvation shines from the empty tomb. Ready your wedding garment. Let nothing stand in your way. We must put aside the weight that weighs us down and dig out the choked well of our hearts. Call out to Him, for He is always near and ready to come at a moment’s notice to do miracles for us the greatest of which is not raising the dead, or healing the sick, but the making of my poor flesh into a glorious temple of the all Holy and Divine Spirit.

If you have not yet lifted your shovel there is still time to get busy and dig.