St. John Climacus, whom we remember today, writes in The Ladder: “When our soul leaves this world we shall not be blamed for not having worked miracles, or for not having been theologians, or not having been rapt in divine visions. But we shall certainly have to give an account to God of why we have not unceasingly mourned.”1
What is there in sin which should cause us such broken-heartedness that all our life should be not darkened, but inspired, by this pain in our hearts? We tend to define sin as breaking of the moral law, or acting in a way which is contrary to our duty or to what is right, but there is something more fundamental in sin, which should indeed cause us sadness and more than sadness: a deep pain.2
Indeed, a pain that should cause us to weep!
Sin is disloyalty, sin is unfaithfulness, sin is a failure to love; it is unfaithfulness, disloyalty and lack of love towards God because it means that whatever He says matters little to us, although when He spoke to us, He spoke with all His human love and all His divine love; and indeed, to show us how much we matter to Him, how deeply He values us, He gave all of His life…
Christ gave even to the point of death to save us, so that we might come to believe in His great love for us! Greater love than this, hath no man, than to lay down his life for his friends (John 15:3).
And what do we do in the face of this love, this incredible love that caused Our Savior to become incarnate for us and to walk among us and even to suffer and die for us? We turn away from Him, from His love; Sometimes this turning away is just a disinterest in Christ, a boredom with Christ!And this turning away, “means by implication that His life and death are too little for us, too little for us to respond to by love, to respond by faithfulness and loyalty.”
This disinterest in Christ, this boredom with Christ, results in our breaking of a multitude of commandments and our alienation from our brothers and sisters, it results in our ultimate separation from God and mankind. Our Savior says, if you love Me, keep my commandments (John 14:15).
These concrete sins which we commit all the time, this coldness to one another, this indifference, the ease with which we judge and condemn our brothers, the way in which we turn away from the needs of others, the way in which we care nothing for the love which is offered us: all this results from the indifference and coldness of our hearts [towards God]…
We should be, with regard to God in the condition of one who is in love.
The one who loves is always thinking of his beloved and is “aware that his heart is filled with a love that fills him to the brim, that is joy, that is peace and serenity, and strength, and courage, and a love that allows us to look around and see everyone in a new light, that allows us to see the image of God shining [in our brothers and sisters] and each person we meet.”
St. John Climacus and many other monastic saints had such great love for God that they went to great lengths to focus all their life and their energy on this love, to spend every minute of every day cultivating this love through prayer and silence. They lived in caves and atop pillars, they went out into the desert and the wilderness, all this out of their intense love for God so that they could be alone with God and speak with God and delight in His presence.
And when their disciples found these great lovers of God, they were in awe of their peace and spiritual beauty, they clung to them like a drowning man clings to a life preserver. Looking into the faces of these holy monastics, they saw the face of God and experienced His great love and mercy.
If we ask ourselves how far we are from God, and cannot measure the istance between us because our experience of being close to Him is so small, then let us ask ourselves, “[How close am I to my brothers], how far am I from the people who surround me? How little love, how little loyalty, how little gift of self, how little rejoicing in my neighbor there is in me! How much there is of judgment, of indifference, of coldness, of forgetfulness!”
Until we draw close to God and try to love Him and serve Him and be with Him then we will be separated from those around us, we will be unable to love them. Our world will be centered only around ourselves. “This is why St. John Climacus calls us to give absolute centrality to the way in which we relate to God, because everything else will depend upon it.”
Loving God and being with God is not something extra in our lives, it is not one of many options in a consumer society, God is absolutely essential for our lives, essential for us to be truly loving and caring human beings. “God is like the key of harmony that allows a tune to be read and sung.”
Let us also turn to God in repentance as St. John Climacus saw it: not an empty moaning about our past, not a useless self-pity that we have not accomplished what we desired with our life, but instead let us cry to God, Come, Lord Jesus, and convert my hardened heart and help me to love you above all else, help me to be truly the human being that You created—made in Your image and likeness. Help me Lord to so love you that I will turn away from all those things that keep me from You that I may then be united to You and then finally to be able to love all those around me as You love them.
—A sermon delivered at Holy Cross Monastery on April 1/14, 2013, Fourth Sunday of Great Lent (commemoration of St. John Climacus).