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Apologies for not posting anything last week. Medical emergencies on top of preparation for the Feast Day of our parish prevented us from having Bible Study and me from having any time to post my own thoughts.

The fourth Sunday of Lent is dedicated to St. John Climacus, author of the Divine Ladder of Ascent, an ascetical treatise that uses the image of a ladder to describe ways of avoiding vice and embracing virtue in order to obtain salvation. The icon of the Ladder of Divine Ascent depicts Christians climbing a ladder towards Christ while demons use various tools to try to pull them off.

Orthodox Icon of the Ladder of Divine Ascent

It is in this context that we examined both the Epistle Reading (Hebrews 6:13-20) and Gospel Reading (Mark 9:17-31) for this coming Sunday. We began by struggling through the Hebrews pericope, trying to understand how it was related to St. John Climacus. The image around which we were able to do this was Christ as “a sure and steadfast anchor” (Hebrews 6:19):

  • Anchors in the ancient world were made of stone.
  • This brought forth the image of both the rock in the desert that gushed forth water (Exo 17:6) and that Jesus equates Himself with (John 7:37) as well as the rock of faith that Jesus built His Church upon (Matt. 16:18).
  • One of the uses of anchors in times prior to engines was the help steer. By setting an anchor out away from the boat, one could pull themselves toward the position of the anchor.
  • God does not change. When He makes a promise, that promise will be fulfilled because God does not change, therefore neither will that promise.
  • Thus, we can safely place our hope and faith in Christ as an anchor because He will not change where He is — we always know that He is in the same place (seated at the right Hand of the Father with our humanity intact). Thus, we can pull ourselves toward where He is knowing with certainty where it is that we are going.
  • This is similar to the image of the Ladder.
  • Note that it was not we who placed the ladder nor the anchor — it was God.

Our discussion of the Gospel was a little less focused:

  • We discussed possession by demons — whose fault is it? God said to Cain as he was contemplating the murder of Abel, “Sin is crouching at the door hungry to get you. You can still master him” (Gen. 4:7). We are not inherently evil, rather we choose evil.
  • However, it was noted that the focus of Christ’s admonition “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you?” (Mark 9:19) is not aimed at the possessed boy, but rather at the Disciples and the father of the boy.
  • The Disciples were unable to cure the boy because they and the father had no faith. This is shown by the father’s request, “if you can do anything, have pity on us and help us” (Mark 9:22). Note where Christ takes the father: “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24).
  • Thus, the father has taken his first step upon the Ladder.
  • It was noted that one can doubt and still have faith.
  • This pericope shows us that our actions, whether we are sinning or working towards our salvation, affects those around us. The possessed boy was negatively impacted by his father’s disbelief and cured through his belief.
  • If we accept that we are created in the image and likeness of God and that God is one in essence and three in persons, than humanity is also one in essence and many in persons. What one person does, then, can affect all of humanity.
  • Thus, we come to the necessity of prayer and fasting — these are tools that we can use to help us climb the Ladder and bring us closer to Christ — and through us others.