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.
Lord Jesus Christ, I am the darkness. You are the Light.
Lord Jesus Christ, fill the darkness that I am and make me the Light.
Lord Jesus Christ, I am the waywardness. You are the Way.
Lord Jesus christ, fill the waywardness that I am and make me the Way.
Lord Jesus Christ, I am the lie. You are the Truth.
Lord Jesus Christ, fill the lie that I am and make me the Truth.
Lord Jesus Christ, I am the death. You are the Life.
Lord Jesus Christ, fill the death that I am and make me the Life.
These words resonate to a deep part of my soul. Thank you for posting once again.
Thank you for this post Father (also for the image) :).
“The Arena” by Bishop Branchaninov is one of the best books I have ever read.
Thank you, Fr. Stephen for words that are very relevant for me right now!
Welcome back! I, for one, look to this website for calm when the confusion of the world sets in. I have printed many of your posts and keep them in a binder for reference. I always liked your thought that “90% of Orthodoxy is just showing up.” God bless you and all your readers this year.
Thank you, and thank the Good Lord, for your observations about the many manefestations of the “sacrament of the present moment”. Each day may we awake to a new vision of understanding and the grace to become a more humble friend and servant of our God.
Dear Father Stephen,
Somehow I missed this entry of yours until today. I must contemplate on what you have written, and Elder Sophrony’s message.
Mornings are the most difficult time of the day for me. Frequently I battle with an overwhelming, intense sadness. It is a presence that I don’t quite comprehend, and it eventually disappears, only to return another morning.
You said that, “None of us lives free from delusion…” Orthodoxy revealed this truth to me, and the hubris that often overtakes me. At one time I was blind to this hubris and thought myself to be confident in the Lord. Now I know better. Many of my judgments and assessments about various situations in life are inaccurate and careless, often revealed later to originate from stubborn pride and misguided by a sense of self-congratulatory conceitedness.
How do I deliver myself from me, often my worst enemy? Well, I can’t. And thus I must submit to Step 1 – a power greater than myself, Who is Christ. Thanks be to God that He is merciful and gracious to deliver me time and again from delusion. May humility win over these other passions, and wisdom lead me on the path to eternal life!
I have to start my day with Step 1 as well.
Thank you all for your comments here!