St. John Klimakos, the author of The Ladder of Divine Ascent is celebrated on the Fourth Sunday of Great Lent (yesterday), and today on his feast day. The following are a few quotes from the Ladder, Step 5, "On painstaking and true repentance which constitutes the life of the holy convicts; and about the Prison". In this chapter on the virtue of repentance, St. John tells of a group of penitent monks who have devoted their whole lives and beings to repentance because of their great contrition and love for God. May we, even in a small way, emulate their repentance as we approach Holy Week and the Lord's Pascha. Note: the translation used is from the Holy Transfiguration Monastery edition of The Ladder of Divine Ascent.
The first quote is from some of the penitent monks:
"Some often expressed their doubts to each other and said: 'Are we accomplishing anything brothers? Are we obtaining our requests? Will the Lord accept us again? Will He open to us?' And to this others would reply: 'Who knows, as our brothers the Ninevites said, if God will repent and will deliver us even from great punishment? In any case, let us do our part. And if he opens the door, well and good. And if not, blessed is the Lord God who, in His justice, has closed the door to us. At least let us persist in knocking at the door till the end of our life. Perhaps He will open to us for our great assiduity and importunity.' Therefore they exhorted one another, saying: 'Let us run, brothers, let us run. For we need to run, and to run hard, because we have fallen behind our holy company. Let us run, and not spare this our foul and wicked flesh, but let us kill it as it has killed us.'"
[Note: This does not hint at all of masochism or suicidal intentions, but fighting and ultimately conquering the sinful passions of the flesh, a struggle which all Orthodox Christians are called to pursue. The following quote is from the introduction of this edition of the Ladder: "For the character of the Church has always been heroic, one of struggles and asceticism. 'The Kingdom of the Heavens suffereth violence' (Matt. 11:12), it is constrained. Saint John said it most beautifully in the Ladder: "Angels are a light for monks, and the monastic life is a light for all men" (Step 26:31)" (http://fr-d-serfes.org/orthodox/divine.htm). This quote also vividly shows the deep love for God and philotimo of these monks, as they maintain their love and devotion to God whether He would forgive them or not (though Christ forgives all who return to Him with repentance).]
The second quote is St. John's perception of the penitents, told to his Spiritual Father after visiting "the Prison":
"'I saw them, Father, and I was amazed; and I consider those fallen mourners more blessed than those who have not fallen and are not mourning over themselves; because as a result of their fall, they have risen by a sure resurrection.' 'That is certainly so,' he said."
The final quote is from St. John's Spiritual Father:
"'All things are possible to him that believeth, said the Lord. I have seen impure souls raving madly about physical love; but making their experience of such love a reason for repentance, they transferred the same love to the Lord; and, overcoming all fear, they spurred themselves insatiably on to the love of God. That is why the Lord does not say of that chaste harlot [Luke 7:36-50]; 'Because she feared,' but: 'Because she loved much,' and could easily expel love by love.'"