The Fourth Sunday

st john climacus icon
Icon of St. John Climacus, Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral, Pittsburgh, PA

During my drive to church this morning, I reflected on a puzzling dream I had. In short, I remember flipping through a sizable text. I scored the pages, turning them quickly. I was searching for something affirmative, assuring. Whatever I was looking for had something specific to do with God’s existence. I can’t remember exactly what.

After I thought through the dream, I was reminded of some things a few peers have disclosed to me. Doubts, mostly. Individuals have told me that they have trouble believing in some of the more fantastic Biblical events. They believe Jesus Christ was the Son of God, but they struggle to understand, for example, how the virgin birth was possible. These individuals are Christians who are still working on believing in everything that the Bible says. Honestly, I think the majority of Christian people are right there with them. We spend entire lifetimes trying to wrap our minds around the concepts of God, mercy, and miracles. The Christian who can say he’s read the Bible through and through and still has no questions– is a rarity.

I am certainly no better than any of my peers at dismissing doubt. We each can think of some part of our religion that we get stuck on, or often wonder about. But at the end of my dream, I remember I had reason to smile. I was pleased to find what I was looking for in that text. I felt assured. And, coincidentally, I found additional, similar assurance when I got church.


Today is the Fourth Sunday of Lent, annually commemorated by the icon of St. John Climacus.

St. John, a monk, lived in the sixth century, and he wrote about lifestyle/behavioral trends to be cautious of. These behaviors that he expounded upon were ones he said could/would bring abiders closer to God. By pilgrimage, by prayer, by detachment, for example. By freedom from anger, by silence, by holy stillness of mind and body, one could “ascend” past some of life’s trivialities. One could feel closer to God. St. John’s writing is called The Ladder of Divine Ascent, and his icon is similarly themed.

In relation, we were reminded of some Christ’s words, according to Mark, during Liturgy.

From Mark 10:

 … Jesus looked around and said to His disciples, “How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were astonished at His words. But Jesus answered again and said to them, “Children, how hard it is for those who trust in riches to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” And they were greatly astonished, saying among themselves, “Who then can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said, “With men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible.”

Some people do struggle to believe in the virgin birth. Some people struggle to believe Jesus walked on water. But there’s one “struggle” that every Christian does share. That is, comprehending the vastness of God’s ability. None of us living, imperfect humans will ever be able to understand it, no matter how long we live, or how fastidiously we study our religious texts. We have no inkling of God’s power, nothing to relate it to. It’s so beyond anything we do, or ever will, know.

Unlike in my dream, no one series of sentences on a page is ever going to affirm God’s existence for us, or give us proof of his power. It’s part of what St. John Climacus expressed in his works. It is possible to ascend past some doubt, some deterrent. But we’re always going to be climbing. And we’re always going to need to help and reassure each other along the way.


The Orthodox Study Bible. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2008. Print.




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