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Dream-interpretation basics from the Orthodox perspective

What does Orthodox Christianity have to say about the meaning of dreams? How should we interpret dreams in which God seems to reveal things to us? Amelia skims the surface of these topics.
From a Facebook post by Amelia on January 21, 2014:

While home from work today, I was flipping through TV channels and saw a commercial with an 800-number to call to learn how God is speaking to you in your dreams. I just wanted to weigh in on this as both an Orthodox person and a psychological researcher.

From a scientific perspective, there are multiple explanations as to where dreams come from. For the most part, those explanations share a common assumption that dreams are basically "leftover" thoughts—either useless thoughts/memories that are being "burned off" while we sleep because we don't need them, or else that they are miscellaneous thoughts about things that are actually important or meaningful to us in some way; those thoughts can have elements of truth or they can be completely random. Thus, the content of our dreams doesn't necessarily have any profound psychological meaning.

From the Orthodox perspective, we also should assume that in many instances dreams do not carry any profound meaning. The Scriptures say that trying to understand dreams is like clutching shadows or chasing wind.

However, we also have to be careful, especially if we consider ourselves "spiritual" in any way, because demons can easily appear in our dreams as prophets. They make all kinds of guesses about things that they know we care about but cannot see, and they make us fall into sins of vanity and pride, leading us to the delusion that we are holy and worthy enough to receive visitation by angels in our sleep.

The Fathers warn us to test all spirits. We also have to test ourselves: If we are truly visited by a holy spirit for whatever reason, we will tremble in fear of God and recognize our unworthiness of being present in such company. Dreams that involve authentic visits from angels or saints will ALWAYS leave us repentant, contrite of heart, and imminently concerned for our own salvation. Fear of God is holy and good, but it is still fear nonetheless. If a spiritual revelation in a dream ever leaves us feeling anything other than fear of God, it is a "revelation" (i.e., a guess) from an evil spirit.

So, the takeaway points from this post are:

1. Most dreams are merely cognitive waste, or at best a by-product of things that we are thinking about, either consciously or subconsciously.

2. Dreams that are actually Godly and prophetic are typically frightening and make us aware of our unworthiness of salvation.

3. Other dreams that seem to reveal truths about spiritual things are often guest-appearances by demons who at best are guessing (as they are not omniscient), or at worst intentionally deceiving us.

The moral of the story: pray, focus on your salvation according to our Church's teachings, and forget about your dreams as soon as you wake from them. If God or an angel is trying to reveal something to you, they will keep trying until you get the message. You will know the message is authentic when it fills you with holy fear and trembling—i.e., repentance and an insatiable desire to strive for holiness and purity.


Permanent link to the original post on Facebook