St. John Climacus is named after the famous book that he wrote in the 7th century that deeply describes thirty steps of ascent from earth to Heaven for both the monastics and the Faithful where Christ awaits to receive us with joy. This icon is a 12th c. masterpiece from St. Catherine’s Monastery at the foot of Mt. Sinai, the site of the Burning Bush where Moses heard a Heavenly voice guiding him to bring the Hebrew nation out of Egypt.
The little black figure of demons in this icon shoot their arrows, or stab with their forks, or pull with their hooks the monks seen here trying to climb towards Christ Who is waiting above. Some monks are still climbing, and some monks are falling down into the pit of Hades below. These monks represent all monks and laity who make efforts to climb above a selfish and merely worldly life on earth. Only two monks are attaining Heaven for sure, and have their names inscribed in this icon: St. John of the Ladder himself at the top and Archbishop Antonios of Sinai standing behind him. The book that St. John wrote is one of the greatest classics of spiritual life and is still read each year in Orthodox monasteries.