Monday, November 12, 2018

Struggles Against the Sexual Passions ( STS. BARSANUPHIUS AND JOHN )



The question of Abba Dorotheus to the Great Elder: 
 
-- Q: I am being strongly attacked by sexual passion; I am afraid that I may fall into despondency, and that from the infirmity of my body I will not be able to restrain myself; pray for me, for the Lord’s sake, and tell me, my Father, what I should do? 
 
A: Brother! The devil, out of envy, has raised up warfare against you. Guard your eyes and do not eat until you are full. Take a little wine for the sake of the body’s infirmity of which you speak. And acquire humility, which rends all the nets of the enemy. And I, who am nothing, will do what I can, entreating God that He might deliver you from every temptation and preserve you from every evil. Do not yield to the enemy, O brother, and do not give yourself over to despondency, for this is a great joy to the enemy. Pray without ceasing, saying: “Lord Jesus Christ, deliver me from shameful passions,” and God will have mercy on you, and you will receive strength by the prayers of the Saints. Amen. 
 
-- Q: The same brother, being attacked by the same sexual passion, asked the same Great Elder to pray for him and to tell him how to distinguish whether a man is being tempted by his own lusts or by the enemy. 
 
A: Brother! Without labor and contrition of heart no one can be delivered from passions and please God. When a man is tempted by his own lust, this may be known from the fact that he is careless about himself and allows his heart to reflect about what he has done before; and then a man himself draws passion unto himself through his own lust. His mind, being little by little blinded by passion, begins, unnoticeable for himself, to pay attention to someone for whom he feels attraction, or to speak with him, and he finds occasions on which to converse with him or to sit with him, and by all means he strives to fulfill his desire. If one allows thoughts to pay heed in this, warfare will increase until a fall, albeit not in body but in spirit, in agreement with thoughts; and it turns that such a man lights the fire himself in his own substance. But a sober and prudent man who desires to be saved, when he sees from what it is that he suffers harm, carefully preserves himself from evil remembrances, is not drawn into passionate thoughts, avoids meetings and conversations with those for whom he feels attraction and avoids every occasion for sin, fearing lest he himself ignite a fire within himself. This is the warfare which proceeds from one’s own lust, which a man brings on himself . . .
Tame your steed with the bridle of knowledge, lest, looking here and there, he become inflamed with lust towards women and men and throw you, the horseman, to the ground. Pray to God, that He may turn “your eyes, lest they see vanity” (Psalms 118:37). And when you will acquire a manful heart, warfare will depart from you. Cleanse yourself, as wine cleanses wounds, and do not allow stench and filthiness to accumulate in you. Acquire weeping, so that it might remove from you freedom (looseness) in your relations, which destroys the souls that adopt it. Do not throw away the implement without which fertile land cannot be worked. This implement, made by the Great God, is humility: it uproots all the tares from the field of the Master and gives grace to those who dwell in it. Humility does not fall, but raises from a fall those who possess it. Love weeping with all your heart, for it also is a participant in this good work. Labor in everything to cut off your own will, for this is accounted to a man for sacrifice. This is what is meant by: “For Thee we are mortified all the day, we are accounted as sheep for slaughter” (Psalms 43:22). Do not weaken yourselves by conversations, for they will not allow you to prosper in God. Firmly bridle the organs of your senses: sight, hearing, smelling, taste, and feeling, and you will prosper by the grace of Christ. Without tortures no one is a martyr, as the Lord also has said: “In your patience possess ye your souls” (Luke 21:19), and the Apostle says, “in much endurance, in sorrows” (II Corinthians 6:4). 
 
-- Q: Pray for me, my Father, I am very much disturbed by thoughts of sexual sin, despondency, and fear; and a thought says to me that I should converse with a brother to whom I feel attracted when I see him, lest by my silence I give him occasion for suspicion. I feel likewise that the demons are somehow pressing me, and I fall into fear. 
 
A: Brother! You are not yet instructed in warfare with the enemy, which is why there come to you thoughts of fear, despondency, and sexual sin. Stand against them with a firm heart, for combatants, unless they labor, are not crowned, and warriors, unless they show the King their skill in battles, do not become worthy of honors. Remember what David was like. Do you not also sing: “Test me, O Lord, and try me, kindle my inwards parts and my heart” (Psalms 25:2). And again: “If a regiment arm itself against me, I will hope in Him” (Psalms 26:3). Likewise, concerning fear: “For if I should go in the midst of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me” (Psalms 22:4). And concerning despondency: “If the spirit of the powerful one should come upon thee, do not leave thy place” (Ecclesiastes 10:4).
Do you not wish to be skilled? But a man who is not tested by temptations is not skilled. It is battles that make a man skilled. The work of a monk consists of enduring battles and opposing them with manfulness of heart. But since you do not know the cunning traps of the enemy, he brings thoughts of fear and weakens your heart. You must know that God will not allow against you battles and temptations above your strength; the Apostle also teaches this, saying: “Faithful is the Lord, Who will not leave you to be tempted more than you can bear” (I Corinthians 10:13).
Brother! I also in my youth was many times and powerfully tempted by the demon of sexual sin, and I labored against such thoughts, contradicting them and not agreeing with them, but presenting before my own eyes eternal tortures. For five years I acted thus every day, and God relieved me of these thoughts. This warfare is abolished by unceasing prayer with weeping.
And the fact that the demons are pressing you proceeds from their envy; if they could, they would chase you out of your cell also; but God does not allow them to take possession of you, for they do not have authority for this. God could swiftly relieve you, but then you would not begin to oppose another passion (when it comes). May the demons not weaken you so as to turn your attention to a brother (to whom you are attracted), or to converse with him; but If you should happen unexpectedly to come together with him, against your desire, restrain your glance with fear and decency and do not listen attentively to his voice. And if this brother, out of ignorance, should himself begin to speak with you or sit next to you, then skillfully avoid him, but not suddenly, rather with decorum. Say to your thought: “Remember the terrible Judgment of God and the shame which will then overtake those who are attracted by these shameful passions.” Compel your thought, and you will receive help, by the prayers of the Saints, and God will have mercy on you. Do not be a child in mind, “but a child in malice” (I
Corinthians 14:20); in mind, O brother, be perfect. Pay heed to yourself, as to how you will meet God. Amen.
-- If you wish to be delivered from shameful passions, do not behave with anyone familiarly, especially with those toward whom your heart is inclined by a lustful passion; through this you will be delivered also from vainglory. For in vainglory is involved the pleasing of men, in the pleasing of men is involved familiarity of behavior, and familiarity of behavior is the mother of all passions. 
 
-- Q: What should I do, my Father? I suffer from sexual passion. 
 
A: As much as you can, wear yourself out, but according to your strength; and have hope not in this, but in love from God and in His protection, and do not give yourself over to despondency, for despondency serves as the beginning of every evil. 
 
-- Q: What do the words you have spoken mean: 
 “See to it, lest you be drawn away by a thought of sexual sin?” 
 
-- A: This happens not only with regard to sexual passion, but in other cases also. The mind is subjected to this as a consequence of distraction, and when this happens a man should cry out to himself, saying: “O Lord! Forgive me for the sake of Thy holy Name; I have been subjected to this for my negligence. Deliver me from distraction and from every net of the enemy; for Thine is the glory unto the ages. Amen.” And let the following be for you the sign by which you may know that you are drawn away: if one is speaking with others and his mind is distracted here and there, it happens that when he speaks of one thing his thought passes over to something else; this is what it is to be drawn away. Likewise, if anyone is doing something and passes over in thought to something else; in his forgetfulness he either ruins what he is doing or does something more than necessary, and this is likewise (a case of) being drawn away. In the same way a sexual thought draws us away. It happens that one is conversing with another, and if the enemy succeeds in drawing his mind away from God-pleasing sobriety, then, as a consequence of distraction, a sexual desire appears in the mind. And this is likewise a drawing away, because it has happened not from reflection or remembrance, but a man is drawn away by it out of forgetfulness. And such a one is like a traveller who, by reason of grief that comes upon him, goes away from the straight road and finds himself on another road. But coming back to himself, a man should call out to himself, according to what has been said above, and hasten to God’s mercy. The Lord is merciful and will accept him like the prodigal son; we know with what mercilessness He accepted the latter. But when this warfare arises in the mind even without distraction, one must be sober, not take enjoyment of such thoughts, no tarry in them, but all the sooner hasten to God the Master.

from “Saints Barsanuphius and John: Guidance Toward Spiritual Life,” trans. by Fr. Seraphim Rose, (Platina, California: St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 1990), pp. 71 - 76, 113, 126-127 (selections).

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

A plea from the newly established Three Hierarchs Academy ( Florence, AZ )






The Three Hierarchs Academy, located in the beautiful deserts of Florence, AZ was founded in March 2018 by local families. Led by Headmaster, Fr. Peter Heers, and offering a K-12th grade program, its mission is to initiate its students into the Way, Truth and Life Incarnate, Who is Christ, the Light of the world. 
For more exciting information about this new Orthodox School please see: https://www.threehierarchsacademy-az....
 
To provide much needed support for the Academy please consider offering a donation at: https://threehierarchsacademy-az.org/....

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

There are three stages for salvation ( Elder Ambrose of Optina )



"There are three stages for salvation. St. John the Golden Tongue states: a) Do not sin. b) If you have sinned, repent. c) Those who repent inadequately, have to bear their sorrows as they find them."

Elder Ambrose of Optina

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Our intercessors in Heaven , Orthodox veneration of Saints



During baptism a person receives a name in honor of a saint, who from that time becomes his heavenly protector. Every Orthodox Christian should be acquainted with the life of his heavenly protector and should appeal to him in prayer for help and guidance. Our righteous ancestors always tried to mark the day of commemoration of their saint – their “Namesday” – by partaking of the Holy Mysteries, and celebrated this day with greater ceremony than their birthday.

What is the reason for the Orthodox worship of God’s saints? Do the saints in heaven know of our needs and difficulties, and do they show any interest in us? Do they hear our prayers and do they try to help us? Should we appeal to the saints for help at all, or does it suffice to pray only to God? Members of sects, who have lost the apostolic tradition, do not understand the essence and the purpose of Christ’s Church and, therefore, reject the need to pray to the saints in heaven. We will briefly expound the Orthodox teaching on the subject.

The Orthodox veneration of God’s saints stems from the belief that all of us, both those who are working on their salvation and those who have already achieved salvation, both the living and the reposed, make up a single divine family. The Church is a great society which encompasses both the visible and invisible worlds. It is a huge, universal organization, built on the principal of love, in which each individual must not only take care of himself, but also be concerned with the benefit and salvation of other people. The saints are those people who, more than others, showed love for their neighbors during their life on earth.

We, Orthodox Christians, believe that when a righteous person dies, he does not break off his tie with the Church, but enters its higher, celestial domain – enters the triumphant Church. Having attained the spiritual world, the soul of a righteous person does not cease to think, desire, feel. On the contrary, these qualities of the soul unfold here more fully and perfectly.

Contemporary non-Orthodox Christians, having lost their living tie with the heavenly-earthly Church, have the vaguest and conflicting notions of the other world. Some of them believe that a man’s soul goes to sleep after death and becomes disconnected from everything; others believe that even if a man’s soul continues its activity after death, it no longer has any interest in the world which it has left. Still others believe that one should not pray to the saints in principle, since Christians are in direct communion with God.

What is the teaching of the Holy Scriptures in regard to the righteous ones who have departed from this world and the power of their prayers? In apostolic times the Church was regarded as a single heavenly-earthly spiritual family. Apostle Paul wrote to newly-converted Christians: “But ye are come unto mount Sinai, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the first-born, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect” (Hebrews 12:22-23). In other words, you, having become Christian, have merged with a great family and have come into close contact with the heavenly family and the righteous ones therein. Apostle Peter’s words of farewell to the Christians of Asia Minor – “Moreover I will endeavour that ye may be able after my decease to have these things always in remembrance” (2 Peter 1:15) – clearly confirm that he promises to continue to take care of them when he departs for the other, spiritual world.

The ancient practice of appealing to the holy martyrs and saints for help is based on the realization of live contact between the heavenly and the earthly Church and on belief in the power of their prayers.

We know that the most earnest and righteous people were still in their lifetime called by God His friends and were glorified by Him with gifts of the Holy Spirit and with miracles. Thus, Christ said to His apostles at the Mystic Supper: “Ye are My friends!… For whosoever shall do the will of My Father Who is in heaven, the same is My brother, and sister, and mother” (John 15:14; Matt. 12:50). The Holy Scriptures provide many examples of the saints’ spiritual nearness to God and power of intercession before Him. Thus, for example, Abraham asked God to have mercy upon the denizens of Sodom and Gomorrah, and God was ready to fulfill his request if at least ten righteous people could be found in those cities. Another time God refrained from punishing Abimelech, king of Gerar, because of Abraham’s prayers for the latter. The Bible tells us that God spoke with the Prophet Moses face to face, “as a man converses with his friend.” When Miriam, Moses’ sister, sinned and was punished with leprosy, Moses was able to obtain forgiveness for her from the Lord. There are many other examples of the special power of the saints’ prayers.

The saints do not replace God and do not decrease the need to appeal to the Heavenly Father. After all, adult members in a family do not lessen the authority of the parents when they take care of their children together with them. Moreover, nothing gives greater joy to parents than to see older brothers taking care of younger ones. In the same manner our Heavenly Father rejoices when the saints pray for us and try to help us. God’s saints have a stronger faith than we do and are closer to God because of their righteousness. Therefore, let us appeal to them as to our older brothers who intercede for us before the throne of the Almighty.

It is noteworthy that the righteous ones, while still living on earth, saw and knew much of what is inaccessible to general comprehension. Even more so are these gifts inherent to them in the celestial realm, where they have gone after shedding their mortal flesh. During their life on earth, the saints were able to penetrate into the celestial realm by means of their spirit, and some saw hosts of angels, others were worthy enough to contemplate the image of God, still others were raised up to the third heaven and heard mysterious indescribable words there, as, for example, Apostle Paul. Now, residing in heaven, they are even more capable of knowing what takes place on earth and of hearing those who appeal to them, because the saints in heaven are “equal to angels.” From the Lord’s parable of the rich man and Lazarus we learn that Abraham, while being in heaven, could hear the cry of the rich man suffering in hell, despite the “great abyss” which divided them. Abraham’s words: thy brothers have Moses and the prophets, let them heed them, – clearly show that Abraham knew of the life of the Jewish people after his repose, knew of Moses and his law, of the prophets and their writings. The spiritual vision of the righteous ones’ souls in heaven is, undoubtedly, greater than it was on earth. Apostle Paul writes: “For now we see through a glass, darkly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then shall I know even as also I am known” (1 Cor. 13:12).

The saints’ nearness to the throne of God and the power of their prayers for the faithful living on earth is evident in the book of Revelation, in which Apostle John writes: “And I beheld, and I heard the voice of many angels round about the throne, and the beasts and the elders: and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands.” Further on he describes a vision of the righteous ones, praying in heaven for people suffering on earth: “And another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel’s hand” (Rev. 5:11; 8:3-4).

Great is the power of prayer! “Pray for each other, so that ye may be healed: the earnest prayer of the righteous can do much,” – instructs us Apostle James. Prayer for others is an expression of love for them; thus, by praying for us, the saints in heaven show their brotherly love and care for us.

In the Gospel and in other New Testament books we find numerous instances which testify to the power of prayer for others. Thus, for example, the Lord healed the son of a courtier in response to the latter’s plea; the entreaty of the woman of Canaan resulted in her daughter being freed from possession by demons; at the request of a father the Lord healed his possessed son, while at the request of friends He forgave and healed a man sick of the palsy, whom the friends had lowered down from the roof on ropes; the faith of the Roman centurion led to the healing of his servant. Moreover, the Lord performed the majority of His miracles from afar, without actually seeing the sick person.

Thus, if the prayers of plain people had such power, then even more powerful are the prayers of saints who stand before the throne of God. “And this is the confidence that we have in Him, that, if we ask any thing according to His will, He heareth us,” – assures us Christ’s beloved disciple (1 John 5:14).

For this reason from ancient times the Church expounded a teaching on the benefit of prayerful appeals to saints. We see this, for example, in ancient liturgies and other written testimonials. In the liturgy of the Apostle James we read: “We especially commemorate the Holy and Glorious Virgin, the blessed Theotokos. Remember Her, Lord God, and by Her pure and holy prayers have mercy upon us and save us.” In commenting on the liturgy of the church of Jerusalem, St. Cyril of Jerusalem remarks: “We also commemorate (at the liturgy) the previously reposed – primarily the patriarchs, prophets, apostles, and martyrs, – in order that by their prayers and intercession God would accept our own appeal.”

The testimonies of the Church Fathers and teachers on the Church’s veneration of the saints are numerous, especially starting with the 4th century. But even from the beginning of the 2nd century there is direct written testimony of early Christians on their faith in the prayers of saints in heaven for their brothers on earth. Witnesses of the martyric end of St. Ignatius the God-bearer (early 2nd century) say: “Returning home in tears, we served an all-night vigil… Afterwards, having slept a bit, some of us saw the blessed Ignatius arising and embracing us, while others also saw him praying for us.” Similar records referring to the martyrs’ prayers and intercession for us can also be found in other narratives dating from this epoch of the persecution of Christians.

Belief in the holiness of a departed person can be confirmed by special testimonials, such as: martyrdom for Christ, a fearless confession of one’s faith, selfless service to the Church, the gift of healing, etc. This is especially true when the Lord affirms the holiness of a departed person through miracles occurring after the latter’s death and upon prayer to him.

Besides the assistance of prayer, the saints help us achieve salvation by the example of their lives. An acquaintance with the lives of the saints enriches a Christian through the spiritual experience of those who had embodied the Gospel in their lives more earnestly than others. We see here so many vivid examples of living faith, courage, patience. Being people just like us, and having overcome most difficult temptations, they encourage us to travel along the path of our life with patience and humility.

Apostle James urged Christians to imitate the patience of the ancient prophets and of Job the Long-suffering, and to acquire the strong faith of people like the prophet Elias. Apostle Peter instructed Christian wives to take an example of modesty and obedience from the righteous Sarah, wife of Abraham. The holy Apostle Paul exhorts Christians to imitate the spiritual labors of ancient saints, beginning with Abel and ending with the Maccabees. At the end of a detailed instruction on this subject he writes: “Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us” (Heb. 12:1).

The Lord says: “Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 5:15-16). The saints are the bright stars which show us the way to the Heavenly Realm.

Let us treasure the saints’ nearness to God and let us appeal to them for help, bearing in mind that they love us and are concerned for our salvation. An acquaintance with the lives of the saints is especially important in our times, when the concept of the Christian ideal has become so shallow and distorted among the wide mass of “Christians” of the most different varieties.

Bishop Alexander (Mileant)

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Explaination of dreams ( Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos )


What are Dreams?
St John Climacus gives a definition of dreams: “A dream is a movement of the nous while the body is at rest.” When the body is immobilised by sleep at night, the nous – not the rational faculty – continues working. This activity of the nous is what we refer to as dreams. Whereas dreams are an activity of the nous while the body is at rest, fantasy and imagination are an illusion of the eyes “when the mind is asleep. Fantasy is ecstasy of the nous, when the body is awake. Fantasy is the vision of something which does not exist in reality.” In other words, imagination is active while a person is awake, whereas dreams come into action during sleep.

There is a distinction between dreams and visions. “A vision is something seen more or less consciously when awake. A dream is something imagined during sleep” (St John Climacus). A person perceives visions by means of his senses, but he sees dreams through the action of his nous when his body is asleep.

In addition, the saints distinguish between dreams, visions and revelations occurring during sleep. According to St Nikitas Stithatos, we can see dreams, visions and revelations while asleep, and he examines the difference between them.

Dreams are images that do not remain unchanged in the imaginative faculty of the nous. They present a confused picture with constantly-altering scenes and forms.

Visions remain constant. They do not change, “but remain imprinted on the nous unforgettably for many years.” They benefit the soul by bringing compunction and revealing fearful wonders. As a result they keep the beholder reflective and in awe.

Revelations are theorias granted to the purified and illumined soul, “in a way that transcends normal sense perception”. They reveal the mysteries of God.

St Nikitas Stithatos goes on to explain that dreams are seen by “materialistic and sensually-minded people”, whose nous is darkened by passions and whose imagination is mocked by the demons. Visions are associated with “those well advanced on the spiritual path, who have cleansed the soul’s organs of perception.” Those who purify the soul’s senses and have progressed to a high level behold visions. Revelations are for perfect Christians, “who are activated by the Holy Spirit, and whose soul is united to God through theology.”

I think these clarifications are essential in order to make a distinction between dreams and theorias of God. We shall look at this issue in the next section, when we set out the factors that distinguish dreams coming from the devil from visions and revelations sent by God during sleep. It needs to be stressed at this point that dreams mainly affect man’s imagination. They are an action of the nous while the body is asleep, and most of them are the work of demons.

Types of Dreams

As we saw above, the Fathers make a distinction between dreams, on the one hand, and visions and revelations on the other. There are, however, many Fathers who speak about dreams in general. When we study their writings we realise that the dreams we see at night, while our body and senses are inactive, have many causes. Some dreams are the result of our natural physical state and impressions made on us during the day. Others are due to passions, in other words, to unnatural impulses of the soul. Some are clearly the work of demons. There are, however, dreams that come from God and are revelations bestowed by God, or the angels as God’s messengers.

The first category encompasses those dreams which are the result of the thoughts, reflections and impressions of the day. St Basil the Great, in response to the question, “Where do shameful nocturnal fantasies originate?”, teaches that, “They result from alien movements of the soul during the day.” These alien impulses of the soul and the impressions of the day are stored in our memory and create dreams. Many dreams also originate from physical reactions.

The second category includes dreams that arise from passions, which are actions of the soul contrary to nature. When the soul’s powers are corrupted and are motivated by the impressions provided by the senses, they provoke this type of dream. We can therefore see from our dreams which passions dominate us. More will be said on this subject in the next section.

The third category of dreams, so-called demonic dreams, is horrendous. Although the devil can also exploit the other two categories of dreams, he sometimes acts independently of them. St Diadokos of Photiki states succinctly that for the most part dreams are nothing more than “images reflecting our wandering thoughts or…the mockery of demons.” The demons trick those whom they have in their power. When they gain control of someone they appear to him both sleeping and waking in the form of angels or martyrs, and grant him a revelation of purported “mysteries” and bestow supposed “spiritual gifts” on him (St John Climacos).

But how do the demons act? What is it that they stir up during sleep? Evagrios Pontikos observes that the demons “make an imprint on the nous by arousing the memory, while the activity of our bodily senses is suspended during sleep.” The demons act mostly through our memory to provoke dreams.

We know from the patristic tradition that the majority of dreams are the work of Satan and fall into the third category. The demons transform themselves into angels of light or prophets and foretell the future. However, as St John Climacus remarks, the demons know nothing about the future from foreknowledge, because if they did, they would be able to foretell our death.

The demons attack monks more than anyone else by means of dreams, because they want to provoke them to abandon their sacred task. In particular, the demons attempt to disturb novices, who have left their homes and families, “representing to [them] that [their] relatives are either grieving or dying, or are captive for [their] sake and destitute” (St John Climacus). Of course no one should pay any attention to such dreams, because they are demonic deceptions intended to lead the monk to reject and abandon the monastic way of life.

The fourth category of dreams is those coming from God. Such dreams are sometimes called revelations and are associated with inner purity. Many such dreams are recorded in Holy Scripture. I should mention in particular the dreams of Joseph, the Betrothed of the Most Holy Mother of God, concerning Christ’s conception, birth and protection. St Isaac the Syrian says that the holy angels take the likenesses of saints “and show themselves in these likenesses in dreams to the soul while its thoughts are drifting, for joy, preservation and delight.”

So there are many kinds of dream and they are due to many causes. Christians should distinguish between dreams and examine where they come from. We shall now set out some factors that indicate the origins of dreams.

In general, as St John Climacus says, if we wake up from sleep peaceful this shows that we have been comforted by the angels unawares. If, on the other hand, we wake up troubled, “we are suffering as a result of evil dreams and visions.” A dream’s origin is indicated by whether it disturbs us or brings peace. This is not, however, absolute proof, as there is a sort of joy mingled with pride which comes from the devil.

St Diadochos of Photiki says that dreams that originate from the devil do no keep the same shape, but change from one form to another, alarm the senses, resound with laughter or “suddenly become threatening.” The figures that appear in the dreams sent by demons shout and menace, transform themselves into soldiers and sometimes “screech at the soul.” By contrast, dreams that come from God do not change shape or provoke fear and horror, but bring inexpressible joy and gladness.

St John Climacus teaches that demonic dreams usually show torments, judgments and separations, and make us frightened and miserable. This is a sign of delusion. It is possible, however, for us to see torment and judgment in dreams sent by God to make us repent. The difference is that in the first case such dreams bring despair, which is a sign of demonic deception, whereas in the second case, they give rise to intense prayer, repentance and a willingness to change.

Visions during sleep, according to St Nikitas Stithatos, are not all true, nor do they all leave an imprint on the nous. True visions are seen “only by those whose nous is purified, who have cleansed the soul’s organs of perception and who are advancing towards natural theoria.” Such people have purified themselves through prolonged fasting and exercise self-control in every aspect of their lives. They do not worry about day-to-day matters and are not concerned about this present life. They live like angels and “through exertion and hardship pleasing to God they have attained the sanctuary of God, the spiritual knowledge of created beings and the wisdom of the higher world.”

In general it should be stated that dreams that come from God (which are called visions and revelations) are as far removed from dreams that come from the devil (which have a strong imaginative element) as heaven is from earth. Just as there is no similarity between created and uncreated things, there is no similarity at all between diabolic and divine dreams.

According to patristic teaching, satanic dreams are characterised by colour and change, whereas dreams from God have no colour and are unchanging. This is how we can tell the difference between those sent by God and those which result from physical illness or satanic energy. Anthropocentric psychoanalysis, which does not make this distinction between created and uncreated, and does not accept the existence of demons and their energy, is unable to distinguish between different types of dreams. Thus it goes seriously wrong, because it can categorise divine visions as delusions and hallucinations. Only someone completely integrated into the Orthodox Tradition, who has the mind of Christ and has tasted heavenly things, is able to make this distinction and heal the illnesses of his spiritual children.

Dreams and Passions

We saw earlier that one category of dreams originates from passions, whether of the body or the soul. This issue will now be examined more closely, because by studying our dreams we can observe which passions dominate us, in order to fight against them.

St John Climacus writes that the heart of gluttons dreams of food and nourishment, but the heart of those who mourn dreams of judgment and condemnation. We know from the teaching of the Fathers that the human soul has three powers or aspects: the appetitive (desiring) aspect, the incensive aspect and the rational aspect. St Symeon the New Theologian writes about how we can understand from dreams which passions dominate us the most. When the soul’s appetitive aspect is stirred up by social contact, food and enjoyment, it sees the same things in dreams. When the incensive aspect of the soul is enraged against its fellows, it dreams of attacks by wild animals and reptiles, of wars and battles. When the soul’s rational faculty is elated with arrogance and pride, it imagines itself being caught up into the air, or seated on a high throne, or in command of the nation.

St Symeon’s disciple, St Nikitas Stithatos, is more revealing. He writes that someone who has made progress in the spiritual life can see the impulses of the soul by examining dreams. If the soul loves material things and pleasure, “it dreams of acquiring possessions and having lots of money, of female figures and passionate involvements, all of which lead to the soiling and defilement of soul and body.” If someone’s soul is grasping and avaricious, “he dreams of gold everywhere, and imagines himself acquiring it, lending it out at interest and storing it up in his treasuries. And he is condemned for his callousness.” If someone is hot-tempered and vicious, “he imagines himself pursued by wild beasts and poisonous snakes and is overwhelmed with fear and cowardice.” If his soul is full of self-esteem, “he will dream of acclamation and being feted by the people, of holding positions of power and authority. ” Even when awake he imagines that what is non-existent actually exists. If someone’s soul is full of pride and arrogance “he sees himself being carried along in a splendid coach and sometimes even flying through the air on wings, while everyone trembles at his great power.” Thus we can recognise the passions in our soul from the type of dreams we have.

We ought to note, however, that not everyone can make this distinction, only someone who has been trained in this struggle and has the precious gift of discernment.

Just as the impassioned person sees dreams that correspond to his passion, so the person who loves God and is diligent in practising virtue sees good dreams. According to St Nikitas Stithatos, if someone is sincere in his struggles for godliness, he sees in his sleep the outcome of events and awe-inspiring visions are revealed to him. He prays even when asleep and he awakes with tears on his cheeks and “words addressed to God” on his lips. When a person lives all through the day with noetic prayer and has learnt to converse with God, he does the same during sleep. His dreams and revelations are linked with God and prayer. It is possible for him to say the Jesus prayer with his lips even when asleep. He feels his heart praying continuously. His nous prays without ceasing. He wakes up aware of having prayed all night. It often happens that he is attacked by the devil. Then his nous automatically begins its converse with God (noetic prayer) and the devil vanishes. Such events do not make him afraid, in spite of the devil’s appearance, but bring him joy and gladness. All day long, even for days on end, he rejoices in God’s power and in the fact that the devil was driven off by the energy of the praying nous.

Dealing with Dreams

The holy Fathers were familiar with this sacred struggle and they describe how to deal with dreams. We shall look at some aspects of their teaching. First of all, preventive action is required. Because most dreams are connected with passions and every-day impressions, we have to struggle against the passions. The more we fight against passions, or rather, the more we strive to transform the passions and powers of the soul, the more we are freed from the dreadful state of dreaming. Our liberation from dreams is linked with dispassion and purification of the heart. St John Climacus writes that, “As a mass of dung breeds a mass of worms, so a surfeit of food breeds a surfeit of falls, and evil thoughts, and dreams.” We must therefore limit our food.

As many dreams result from alien impulses of the soul, avoiding such impulses helps us to get rid of awful dreams. If we purify our soul through being in a state of hesychia, so that it “is continuously musing on things that are good and pleasing to God”, it will dream of such things at night (St Basil). Our nous should be occupied during the day in musing on God’s name. Then our dreams will bring joy and gladness because, as St Symeon the New Theologian says, “What occupies the soul and enters it while it is awake, still occupies its imagination and thoughts during sleep.”

We should also pray before going to sleep. If we fall asleep after praying, we shall have corresponding dreams. Abba Philemon exhorts, “Before going to sleep, say many prayers in your heart, and resist thoughts and the attempts of the devil to lead you where he wills…as far as you can, take care to sleep only after reciting psalms and attentive reading; and do not let your mind accept alien thoughts through negligence.” Praying before sleep and striving to cut off thoughts is a good way of dealing with bad and demonic dreams.

Then we need a good means of countering dreams after we have seen them. The most effective method of confronting dreams is to stop them abruptly. We should avoid thinking about them when we wake up. Many people examine the dreams of the previous night, which leads to many errors. The holy Fathers recommend that we reject them completely and hold them in utter contempt.

St John Climacus describes the person who totally rejects dreams as “a wise man”, whereas he calls someone who examines them and believes in them “completely inexperienced”. The demons aim to defile us through dreams, so the same Saint advises us “never to think about the fantasies that have occurred to you during sleep.”

From the same standpoint, St Diadochos of Photiki says that not believing at all in dreams is sufficient to ensure our progress in virtue. “We can achieve great virtue just by never trusting our imagination.” In fact he teaches that, even if we were to reject dreams coming from God, for fear that they might be from the devil and we could be deceived, this is a good thing. God will not be angry with us in that case, because He sees that we are being careful. A servant who refuses to open the door at night to the master of the house, when he returns after a long absence, for fear that a deceiver may have the same voice as him and seize his goods, is praised by his master. The same happens when a Christian or monk does not accept dreams. God praises His servant because He knows that he acts in this way for fear of being deceived by the devil, who “transforms himself into an angel of light.”

We have to reject dreams and try to forget them, because by remembering them our hearts are filled with sadness, anxiety, despair and impurity. St John Climacus knows that many people, by continuously accepting dreams, have gone mad. When someone is constantly subject to the influence of the demons, the devil gains a hold over him and he becomes insane: “…so that these unfortunates are deceived and completely lose their wits.” This mainly happens in the case of demonic revelations. Many people get into such a state that, when they accept revelations and satanic dreams, they are mocked by the demons and “then they make sport of us even when we are awake.” The devil appears when we are awake and we become his servants. This results in the eternal death of the soul, as well as all sorts of other physical and psychological disorders.

The overall conclusion is that the type of dreams we have indicates what state we are in: whether we are enslaved to the passions, servants of the devil or servants of God. Dreams disclose our health or sickness, whether or not we are ill. On the one hand, confession, repentance and epitimion are necessary to cleanse us from passions. On the other, we must put no trust at all in dreams. In this way we shall be delivered from the tyranny of the devil, who desires our eternal death and wants to distance us from God.