Known for his pithy sayings

Egyptian saint stayed close to Mount Sinai

The name of the 6th-century’s John Climacus is more a description, coming from his book, “The Ladder (Climax) of Paradise.” The abbot of Raithu asked him to write a guide for monks to reach religious perfection. The book was translated into several languages and popular during the Middle Ages.

John was probably born in Syria or Palestine and, after an excellent education, entered the monastery at Mount Sinai at age 16 under the guidance of Martyrius. In Antioch, St. Anastasius predicted that John would be abbot at Mount Sinai.

That was many years away. After nearly 20 years together, his teacher, Martyrius, died and John became a hermit at the base of Mount Sinai. He practiced contemplation and studied Scripture and the writings of church fathers. Like other desert monks, he fasted, spent nights in prayer and ate no meat or fish. Occasionally he sought guidance and instruction from other hermits.

John soon attracted so much attention from those seeking spiritual advice and consolation that he sometimes hid in a cave. After some monks criticized him for talking too much, he was silent for a year until they begged him for advice. He normally went to the monastery only for Saturday and Sunday Mass.

In 600, when John was about 70, he was unanimously elected abbot despite his objections. Once, during a drought, people begged him to pray for rain; it came immediately. Pope Gregory the Great held him in such regard that he sent him money for his hospital.

While abbot, John wrote his book, mainly a collection of aphorisms, such as:

“Rule you own heart as a king rules over his kingdom, but be subject above all to the supreme ruler, God himself.”


Sources: “Butler’s Lives of the Saints”;;; “The Catholic Encyclopedia”; “Lives of the Saints” by Msgr. Paul Guérin;; and


Staley is a retired editor of The Compass.

St. John Climacus

When: c. 625-c. 705

Where: Egypt

What: Abbot

Feast: March 30