Sunday, July 26
It was a pleasure to attend the OCA Diocese of the South Assembly in Atlanta this past week as an observer. I had two main objectives: 1) meet Metropolitan Jonah; 2) sing in the choir. Both were met.
Beyond this was the making of several new friendships. Three were choir directors, one a Lutheran minister and the other a recent convert like myself. I look forward to deepening these friendships over the next months and years.
Of particular interest to me is Metropolitan Jonah's Keynote address on Wednesday evening. In the Question and Answer period someone asked him a question about dreams. I did not understand his response, since the acoustics of the room were too reverberating. I have yet to finish listening to the recorded address where that subject was addressed.
In discussing this with local priest Fr. John Hennies, who was also at the Assembly but did not attend the keynote address, he advised me to write a letter directly to the metropolitan if I did not understand or agree with his comments. This I will do.
Thursday, July 30
Today I spoke to Fr. Jacob of St. John the Wonder Worker Parish in Atlanta, after having listened to Metropolitan Jonah's keynote address as recorded on their website. When I explained that I couldn't find Met. Jonah's response to the question about dreams, Fr. Jacob said he could tell me directly what was said and did so, since he heard everything clearly from the front row.
He said that Met. Jonah did not express his personal opinion, but referred to the tradition fathers, who apparently did not generally think much of dreams. When I explained that I have had a deep interest in dreams for more than 30 years and their importance in our lives and that I intended to write to Met. Jonah directly, Fr. Jacob suggested I wait and read several Orthodox publications in order to put my letter into context. He then offered to send reference reading, specific to the subject, which I agreed was good counsel.
On August 2 To begin our discussion Fr. Jacob sent me a quote from St. John the Ladder, who wrote from a monastery in the 5th century.
25. It is impossible to hide the fact that our mind, which is the organ of knowledge, is extremely imperfect and full of all kinds of ignorance. The palate distinguishes different foods, the hearing discerns thoughts, the sun reveals the weakness of the eyes, and words betray a soul's ignorance. But the law of love is an incentive to attempt things that are beyond our capacity. And so I think (but I do not dogmatize) that after a chapter on exile, or rather in this very chapter, something should be inserted about dreams, so that we may not be in the dark concerning this trickery of our wily foes.
26. A dream is a movement of the mind while the body is at rest. A phantasy is an illusion of the eyes when the intellect is asleep. A phantasy is an ecstasy of the mind when the body is awake. A phantasy is a vision of something which does not exist in reality.
27. The reason we have decided to speak about dreams here is obvious. When we leave our homes and relatives for the Lord's sake, and sell ourselves into exile for the love of God, then the demons try to disturb us with dreams, representing to us that our relatives are either grieving or dying, or are held captive for our sake and are destitute. But he who believes in dreams is like a person running after his own shadow and trying to catch it.
28. The demons of vainglory prophesy in dreams. Being unscrupulous, they guess the future and foretell it to us. When these visions come true, we are amazed; and we are elated with the thought that we are already near to the gift of foreknowledge. A demon is often a prophet to those who believe him, but he is always a liar to those who despise him. Being a spirit, he sees what is happening in this lower air, and noticing that someone is dying, he foretells it through dreams to the more light-minded.But the demons know nothing about the future from foreknowledge. For if they did, then the fortunetellers would also be able to foretell our death.
29. Demons often transform themselves into angels of light and take the form of martyrs, and make it appear to us during sleep that we are in communication with them. Then, when we wake up, they plunge us into unholy joy and conceit. But you can detect their deceit by this very fact. For angels reveal torments, judgments and separations; and when we wake up we find that we are trembling and sad. As soon as we begin to believe the demons in dreams, then they make sport of us when we are awake too. He who believes in dreams is completely inexperienced. But he who distrusts all dreams is a wise man. Only believe dreams that warn you of torments and judgments. But if despair afflicts you, then such dreams are also from demons.
When I replied that I thought this quote was made from ignorance, Fr. Jacob became offended, declaring that this saint's writings are revered by Orthodox believers to be second only to the scriptures. When I further explained that, while I honored the Orthodox tradition, I did not worship it and would not kneel to anyone or institution other than the Christ, our communication broke down and he ceased writing.
Before Fr. Jacob sent his final message, I listened carefully to Metropolitan Jonah's recorded answer about dreams in the Q&A section of his keynote address. He began by quoting St. John the Ladder as saying “He who pays attention to his dreams is a fool” and continued to say that the ancient fathers generally had a negative view of dreams. But, as Fr. Jacob said, Metropolitan Jonah did not express his own opinion except to warn that some dream content could be troubling. I replied to Fr. Jacob that if Jonah's quote of St. John the Ladder was true, then I, myself, was definitely a fool! But if this was so, I hoped that I could be viewed as God's Fool.
There now seems to be a need to begin a new posting on the subject of dreams from the Orthodox view. Hopefully others besides Fr. Jacob will comment. Let's call it "Orthodoxy and dreams".