I am not sure how many of you believe in the power of dreams. Interpretation of dreams is as old as the world itself. We read in the Hebrew Scriptures about different people who had dreams and even visions and what they meant. The Prophet Samuel is visited in a dream and in the New Testament Joseph, the stepfather of Jesus, is visited in a dream by the Angel to tell him to take the child and his mother to Egypt. So dreams have a long history with us.
This may sound crazy to all of you, and I know it does to me, but recently I had one of these dreams. In my dream I was visited by Saint John Maximovitch. St. John is a saint of the Church here in America and died in July of 1966. He is known as the Wonderworker and this is part of what he does. Very clearly in my dream St. John visited with me, and as the usually do, gave me a message. He said to me that the future was going to be okay, and that it is not complicated. And as is true to form just when you are about to ask what this means, you wake up. But when I awoke, there was this intense smell of roses in the room. As you know that is a sign of sanctification.
I asked several people what they thought this meant and they all agreed that indeed the saint had visited and spoke these words.
On Thursday I had the honor of speaking to a group of Congregational Ministers about the situation with the Coptic Church in Egypt. This association of minsters has been meeting yearly since 1638 so I was a little hesitant to speak to them since they have such a long history. The meeting was in Dedham, Massachusetts and during the hour drive these words kept rolling around in my head, it’s not complicated, it’s not complicated. Then it hit me, it’s about our spiritual life, our spiritual life is not complicated, or at least it should not be but we make it far more complicated than it needs to be.
So this lead to me to think about all of this and what does it really mean. What is our spiritual life supposed to be like and how are we supposed to live this life in this crazy world that we now find ourselves in. So I returned literally to the beginning, the Book of Genesis. All during the Great Lent we read from Genesis, the story of creation, the fall of man, Cain and Able, Noah and the flood and all those stories that we think we really know. But I was drawn to the garden, the place where God and humanity walked together and that is where I found the answer.
You see, prior to the fall, or whatever we want to call it, humanity lived in a perfect state if union with God. They existed in a symbiotic relationship where humanity lived in the will and in the actually presence of the Creator. We Orthodox believe that this is what awaits us in the Resurrection when we will be returned to that state of perfection and we will once again be worthy of being in the actual presence with the Creator. What a beautiful image. Man and God, the Creator and His creation living together.
But what of our spiritual life and how does this all fit in? You see in Orthodoxy we have this term called Theosis. The idea here is that God became man so that man might become God. God, in the person of Jesus Christ, became a human so that we frail humans can become god’s (small “g”). This process is called Theosis. It takes a lifetime and much work but it is a journey that we are called to take as that is our primary reason for being here.
Our relationship with God should be one of intense intimacy, one that dare I say, is the same as you might have with a lover. An intimacy where we share everything in such a way that no one else can enter the relationship, this is why Christ is called the Bridegroom, there should exists such a deep and lasting love that we cannot stand to be separated from Him and His will for us. It should be such a relationship that even for a day, we cannot stand to be separated from and if we are we cannot wait to get back! It should be out first thought upon rising and our last thought before we fall off to sleep. That is the relationship, and it is not complicated.
So how do we live out this life that is not complicated? It is very simple. In the Gospel, a man comes and asks Jesus what the first and greatest commandment is and his reply is to love God with all your heart, mind and soul and to love your neighbor as yourself. He ends this story with the words on these two hang all the law and the prophets. In other words if we can do these two things, we will fulfill all of the other commands. But we cannot do this alone and that is the reason community, the church community, exists. When we come here, to this hospital of souls, each week. God gives us what we need for the journey that lies ahead and the difficulties we will face. When we approach the chalice to take into ourselves the actual Bod and Blood of Jesus Christ we, not in a mystical sense but in a very real sense become one with our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ. Through the action of rising from our seat, stepping out into the aisle, and walking that walk, we say Yes to Jesus, yes to what is being asked if us, and we make a commitment to live our life the way He intends for us to live it. It’s not complicated but we have to make the decision to do it, and then never look back.
I have often spoken about Mother Maria of Paris. She was not the greatest of saints while she walked here on earth, but it was her actions and her absolute love for the other that made her the great saint that she came to be. It gave her the strength to give up her life for another in a concentration camp.
One of my favorite quotes of hers is, “At the Last Judgment I shall not be asked whether I was successful in my ascetic exercises, nor how many bows and prostrations I made. Instead I shall be asked, did I feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and the prisoners.” These are the things that Christ commanded of us, and we have to ask are we doing it, really doing it, or are we just paying lip service to it. Are we living for ourselves or are we living for the other. Do we go through the day without one conscious thought of God or another person, are we so self-centered that we cannot see anyone but ourselves?
We spend many hours wondering whether what we are doing is the right thing. We worry about making the sign of the cross right, and get all upset when someone is not doing it right. Is this the place we stand or kneel, is this when I say this prayer or that prayer. Can I eat this today or not. And during all of this we completely miss the reason why we do it. Sometimes I think we are more concerned with the externals of our faith then we are with the internals of our faith. How much time do we spend with God in such a way that our relationship with Him is getting stronger verses how much time do we spend talking about politics and what the latest celebrity is up to. How many times has church taken a back seat to everything?
Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh of blessed memory once said that, “We should try to live in such a way that if the Gospels were lost, they could be re-written by looking at us.” Can that be said of us?
We have made this life of ours in the Church and with God so very complicated that we give up sometimes. We make it so much about the externals of our faith, trying to live up to some image we have of what it truly means to be an Orthodox Christian, all the while missing on the work that should be done on the inside. It’s time to start the inward journey.
St. John Maximovitch lived a very simple, uncomplicated life. Mother Maria of Paris came to the realization that there is something larger in this world that we need to be concerned about and threw off her past life and chose a radical life of service to the Church and her fellow man. We do not have to do that, we do not have to be radical Christians who sell all we have and give it to the poor, but we need to live as the Gospel is calling us to live. We need to live a life that is not centered on this world, but a life that is centered on the next. All of the material world will become corrupt and pass away. All of the material world is subject to the moth and to rust and to decay, even our bodies will face this in the end. Our soul is the only thing that will remain and that is what is important.
When was the last time you spent some quality time, real quality time, with God. The hymns of Holy week tell us that Adam and Eve sat outside the garden weeping and lamenting after their expulsion. They so grieved what they lost that they were incapable of moving or doing anything. We do not want to lose, as Adam and Eve did, the inheritance that is promised to us. But in order to keep it we have to take hold of it, really take hold of it, and never let it go. We have to stop paying lip service to our church and to our faith and get serious about our spiritual life.
It’s not complicated St. John told me and he is right. A journey of a million miles begins with that first step. Take that first step today. Make this day, this hour, this minute, the time when you say that the journey will being and then never look back.
I will leave you with a quote from one of my favorite saints, Saint Herman of Alaska. “From this day forth, from this hour, from this minute, let us love God above all, and strive to do His holy will.”
God bless us on our journey!