I am not much of a dreamer. I either dream of things that make no sense or things that I would rather not be dreaming about. Furthermore, I am an infrequent dreamer and I do not usually see vivid images.
Nevertheless, I just had a dream last night which I felt is worth writing down. Sadly, the imagery of the dream I was not worthy to see in any great detail. The ending only came as an idea–I only saw the building and the faintest glimpse of the inside. I really did not see it. Here is the dream:
Father Paul and I are standing down an imaginary hill from where the actual grounds of Holy Trinity monastery are. We see a beautiful church building, its architecture of this world but different than other Orthodox churches. It was most similar to Saint Basil’s in Moscow’s Kremlin, but with stone instead of brick. Further, it has western styled spires touching the skies instead of the familiar, Russian onion domes.
We approach the church and an angel, who’s appearance is like that of a white clothed man and not particularly brilliant, stops us.
“You cannot enter the church yet,” said the angel. “You must go through the buildings of the monastery, talk to who you see there, and return.”
Father Paul, who always does the tours at Holy Trinity, must have thought that this was a strange request. He has toured the grounds with pilgrims countless times. I presume this is what he was thinking, but being a dream, I obviously do not know what was really going through the mind of a shade.
As for my thinking, being an incomplete dream as it is, I cannot make it out. I myself have been involved in three different tours, two of which with Father Paul, when I have taken guests to the monastery. Once Arthur, the local Russian barber, took me down to the basement church which also serves as an the reliquary and explained to me everything. I honestly do not remember many details. Unlike Father Paul, though I have been given several “tours,” another probably would not hurt.
In any event, in obedience with the angel’s command, we walk up the hill (the geography of this dream is not terribly realistic, there is no large hill down the street from the monastery) and tour the grounds. Unlike what people popularly think, everyone at Holy Trinity is friendly.
We speak a little with everyone we see. Several priests rotely give their blessings. We look at the buildings, though they are not extravagant, and admire their beauty. Inside the church building as well as other rooms throughout the grounds where the liturgy is performed, we admire the iconography. We cross ourselves in front of the altars, because Jesus Christ is bodily present in the pre-sanctified Eucharist. This too is all rote, but not in a bad way.
Feeling a bit, I imagine, invigorated we feel a sense of simple joy from our little tour and we return back to the new church down the hill without a sense of urgency. I expect the angel to stop us or greet us about 50 feet before the church, but he is nowhere to be seen. We approach the door and it is a crack ajar, allowing it to be opened without an exertion of exceptional force.
Sadly, I am not worthy of seeing the following with my eyes or maybe just a glimpse. The ending was only given to me as an idea the moment I awoke, or the moment before–I honestly do not know which.
Father Paul and I enter the building and see heaven itself. Instead of icons on the walls there are angels and saints, defying the laws of gravity, all in worship. From their bodies emanantes a bright white light. The room, similar to a renaissance painting, employs linear persepective, with convergence lines like shining gold all coming together into the center of the church. There is an iconostasis with no imagery, as the prototypes stand in place of the types. Where the altar is can be seen Jesus Christ Himself, with a far more brilliant white light as He is the Light that illuminantes the saints and angels. One is instantly blessed by simply being in the presence of God and His heavenly hosts.
Father Paul and I fall prostate onto the ground with a sense of overwhelming terror and joy. I only lament that the thought of this comes to me and not the actual action of doing it in the dream.
“I am not worthy,” we cry with a sense of trepidation. “What have we done to deserve witnessing this heavenly worship, to see the beauty of the angels and saints–to see God Himself and dwell with Him?”
Jesus Christ’s answer, which I can only imagine for I was sincerely not deserving of actually hearing it from Him, was:
“When you walked up to the monastary and entered the church, its basement church, the buildings, and their small rooms of worship–did you not speak with the saints? Were you not blessed by His priests? Did you not see the icons belonging to these same angels and saints? Did you not cross yourself in front of the altars, because you knew I was there?”
“Yes,” we reply with no less fear. “We have done all these things.”
“Then why are you overwhelmed here? The saints and angels you see here are not mere images, but actually dwell in your churches. The blessings of this church are the exact same you receive from your priests. The altar where I am present in your Church does not contain My presence any less than Me standing in front of you right now.”
At this moment, all we feel was a sense of immense dread. We hate ourselves for our faithlessness. We look up to Christ and I have the gumption and stupidity to say in my own defense that, in not so many words, “Of course, we believe these things but we just do not see it happening in the same way. So, it is not as overwhelming.”
God responded, “If you had spiritual eyes, you would be overwhelmed. For those without spiritual eyes, everything from the foibles of the people, the imperfections in the paintings, and the subdued presence that bread and wine convey are all for your benefit. Your earthly eyes could not handle the inward holiness of the saints, the presence of their invisible angels, the immanency of the prototypical saints and angels from their iconographic types, and the Creator of the universe standing right in front of you. So, out of great mercy, those with earthly eyes are given an earthly vision, instead of overwhelming joy that they cannot handle without a sense of terror. That way they can experience a modest joy that they can grasp. To those who attain spiritual eyes, all of these earthly mirages will disappear and their heavenly reality will take their place.”
At this moment, I understood that my church, with its stock iconography, sheet-rocked iconostasis, flawed people, flawed priests, and simple altar had all the same blessings as the heavenly church. In fact, it is the heavenly church. It was because of my own unworthiness, that nothing in it conveyed the complete reality of what was inside.
Therein ends my dream. I feel compelled to write it, as I think it conveys a simple theological point: we are always in the presence of God, our guardian angels, and the saints. If we are not overwhelmed with joy in our good moments and fear in our bad, this is because of our own wickedness. I hope that this gives us all pause to repent and to have a sincere gratitude for God’s condescension and patience with all of us.
Finally, my apologies to Father Paul. I do not know why you made it into my dream!