The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Psalm 111:10). This fear descends on us from on High. It is a spiritual feeling, firstly of God and then of us ourselves. We live in a state of awe by virtue of the presence of the Living God together with awareness of our own impurity. This fear places us before the Face of God to be judged by Him. We have fallen so low that our distress over ourselves turns into profound suffering, more painful than the torments of seeing ourselves in the darkness of ignorance, in the paralysis of non-feeling, in slavery to the passions. The dread is our awakening from the age-old sleep in sin. It brings us the light of perception – on the one hand, of our fatal condition and, on the other, of the holiness of God. It is an astonishing phenomenon – without its naturally purificative action the way to perfect love of God will not be opened to us. It is not only ‘the beginning of wisdom’ but of love, too. It will also alarm our soul with a revelation of ourselves, as we are, and bind us to God in longing to be with Him.
From We Shall See Him As He Is by the Elder Sophrony.
I remember the intense joy of waking up on Christmas morning as a child. The anticipation of the surprise to come was overwhelming. My father could be quite creative when my older brother and I were very young. I recall that my brother had once asked for a “stalk of Bananas,” something we had only seen in books. That my father actually found one and had it under the tree was beyond belief that Christmas Day. Every house in the neighborhood had a share in that surplus!
As years have gone by, waking up has taken on many different and more profound meanings – and increasing difficulty. The sleep that a child tosses aside so easily in anticipation of the joy that awaits him is a very light blanket indeed compared to the heaviness of delusion in which we so easily rest in later years.
Orthodox theology rests, finally, in the utter certainty of the knowledge of God. We do not simply speak about God – we knowHim. Anything less than such a knowledge would be an emptiness and speculation. No dogma is secure if it rests merely on bald assertion.
It is for this same reason that perhaps the most important spiritual discipline in the Orthodox life is to be freed from delusion. If you read the Philokalia, or, better yet, Branchaninov’s The Arena, you will hear the repeated chorus of warnings against spiritual delusion. It matters because there is such a thing as being awake and not being deluded.
None of us lives free from all delusion – none other than perhaps the greatest saints. But the process of awakening is itself the beginning of the spiritual life. It is the fear of God in the sense used by Fr. Sophrony and in the Scriptures that marks that awakening. Indeed, it begins with believing that there actually is a God, which strangely, is far less common than you would think.
The entrance of Christ into the world on that first Christmas morning was also an awakening. Mary was awake and understood what it meant to be the handmaiden of the Lord. Joseph, that good man, was awake and understood what it meant to act in obedience. The wise men were awake and found the Daystar from on High. The Shepherds were awake and heard the night sing.
But Herod slept, and doubtless dreamed. The soldiers who kept his orders slept with the peace that comes from a mission accomplished. The better part of the whole world slept, though there were some, like watchful children, who knew that joy was coming. The lightest footfall will arouse such sleepers.
Awake, O Sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.
This is a difficult but excellent blog for the first day of a new year, Father Stephen. If we are really ‘good’ at delusion, then we can delude ourselves from thinking we’re deluded. Thank you for pointing us in the right direction.
On your previous recommendations, I read Branchaninov’s ‘The Arena’, which is one of the best books I have ever read. Branchaninov is straighforward (we must be indebted to Archimandrite Lazarus’s translation), and the main points are effectively repeated or reiterated. The most impressive thing is his continual advice to take heed of others’ counsel but, at the same time, to emphasize the reader’s spiritual responsibility. This book has not eradicated my self-delusion, but it has opened my eyes to the right path.
Your blog also serves to keep some of us readers headed in the right direction. Thank you, Father Stephen, for your faithfulness.
I’ll echo the sentiment “Thank you for your faithfulness.”
Thank you for this blog!
Happy New Year!
a very happy new year to you and your loved ones.
Thank you for your advice and patience.
WIth prayers and best wishes.
Happy New Year to you, Father Stephen. I look forward to more insightful, thought provoking, tender hearted, and convicting posts in this new year.
May each of us grow in imitating our Lord Jesus, both in our love for our brothers and sisters in Christ and our neighbors, and yes, even our enemies.
Fr, thank you..yes our goal for this whole year is to know God through Christ and just knowledge and talk. What I wrote couple of days back about my wife´s disease makes me all the more realize it is knowing God. I read that one old monk made it all the more true when he realized that it is just beyond the curtain. I truly sensed this when I had the precious Body and Blood this morning in church.
What a wonderful post. A person does not become a person because he has attained to some abstract concept of personhood (whatever that may be) but because he has been remembered by God.