Waking Up

yuri_orlov-baptism_1997The 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 know Him. 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, St. Ignatius 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.

Reprint from December 2006

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a retired Archpriest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Storey Universe, and Face to Face: Knowing God Beyond Our Shame, as well as the Glory to God podcast series on Ancient Faith Radio.


11 responses to “Waking Up”

  1. Deb Seeger Avatar

    Reading this, reminds me of the movie “The Awakening”, which is a stretch but if you stay with me, I will show you the relationship. In the movie the establishment did not embrace the awakening of the people…. the patient could no longer be easily controlled/ herded. In many churches, I see the same, one is only encouraged to wake up oh sleeper in word only because only the leader (priest, pastor, elder, deacon) is not deluded.

    Any ideas on the artist in your insert?? it is rather caravaggio istic.

  2. Fatherstephen Avatar

    The artist is the Russian, Yuri Orlov, the painting dates 1997.

  3. Ben Avatar

    The picture is beautiful. I love the expressions on everyone’s faces. . . Priceless!. . .

  4. Moses Avatar

    Its interesting to note that we all have our own delusions… never really thought of it like that before. Thanks for the article!

  5. Lewis Avatar

    Is not delusion the opposite of Truth? Jesus call himself “the Truth” (John 14:6). In Revelation 12, Satan is called “the deceiver of the whole world” (ESV). No wonder the struggle exceeds our human strength.

  6. fatherstephen Avatar

    I would add a slight nuance. Nothing can be the opposite of God because He is without compare. Things can be opposed to Him, but never rise to the level of being His opposite. Delusion obscures the Truth, but is not it’s opposite – generally only it’s distortion.

    But I agree, the struggle exceed human strength. Grace alone, the uncreated Divine Energies, can save and heal.

  7. Eric Neubauer Avatar

    Thank you Father Stephen for your thoughts – always honest and humble. I wanted to agree with the assertion:

    “Indeed, it begins with believing that there actually is a God, which strangely, is far less common than you would think.”

    How many, in this day, actually believe that – there is a God. And if society / culture and the people who make societies up believed – what would be the implications? Wouldn’t our eyes be opened? Wouldn’t we treat oursleves, our family and our neighbors differently?

    Not saying I have all the answers but I don’t hear / read of many bold enough to ask the really tough questions…Do we believe???

    Thank you…

  8. Bruce Avatar

    Eric has highlighted a very important sentence in Father Stephen’s thoughts about how uncommon belief in God really is. I can talk alot about what I believe, but I prove what I believe by what I do…my actions speak clearly what my words often attempt to obscure. I might say I believe in electricity, but if I’m always carrying around candles and not using the light switch…do I really believe in electricity.

    The interesting question for me is how am I acting differently today, right now, because of my belief in a Living Christ whose Timeless Body can manifest itself in me if I am willing to cooperate with His instructions for me….simple messages like “Repent”,”Follow me” and “If you love me, obey my commands”. Can I really believe in who God is and ignore His commands by failing to constantly praise Him and become ‘right sized’ in humbly relying and depending upon Him? Don’t my actions often reveal my true god to be in small letters centered in me rather than large ones centered in Him?

  9. Moses Avatar

    The demons even believe according to St. James… I guess we just have to keep trying and not despair. Sorta like “waking up” (turning back to God) everytime we “fall asleep” (turning away from God) which from experience happens more often than we like to admit.

  10. Theodora Elizabeth Avatar
    Theodora Elizabeth

    That painting puts me in mind of Norman Rockwell!

  11. Andrew Avatar

    That painting is amazing. It really has an authentic feel of Russian Orthodox culture.

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