I have heard that many lay people are talking about dreams and making their various conjectures about them. Some of our own respected father-monks believe in dreams and make their interpretations.
On receiving letters from laymen about dreams, some monks, because of their inexperience in the spiritual life read these letters with approval and show them to their brother-monks as something edifying. Such wrong notions about dreams prompted me to make notes from some of the Holy Fathers.
'The demons of vainglory are prophets in dreams. Being sly, they guess the future from present circumstances and foretell it to us. When these visions come true we are amazed; and we are indeed elated with the thought that we are already near to the gift of foreknowledge. A demon is often a prophet to those who believe him, but he is always a liar to those who despise him. Being a spirit, he sees what is happening in the air, and noticing that someone is dying, he foretells it to the more credulous types of people through dreams. But the demons know nothing about the future from foreknowledge, but it is known that even doctors can foretell death. He who believes in dreams is completely inexperienced, but he who distrusts all dreams is a wise man. Therefore he who believes in dreams is like a person running after his own shadow and trying to catch it', (St John of the Ladder on dreams, ch. 3,28). The blessed Diadochos writes: 'However, let us rather observe as a great virtue the rule not to believe in any dreams. For dreams are for the most part nothing but idols of thoughts, the play of imagination, or again, as I have already said, demonic sneering and mockery of us' fch. 38].
St Symeon the New Theologian writes: 'Only those can have true visions in sleep (they should not be called dreams but visions), whose mind has been made simple by the grace of the Holy Spirit, and freed from the pressure of passions and from slavery to them. These are men whose only care is things Divine, whose only thought is of future rewards and blessings, whose life is above ordinary life, free of care, not dispersed, serene, pure, full of mercy, wisdom, heavenly knowledge and other good fruits tended in them by the Holy Spirit. In people who are not like this, dreams are disorderly and false, and everything in them is sheer deceit and illusion.'31
The wise Sirach writes: 'Vain hopes delude the senseless, and dreams give wings to a fool's fancy. It is like clutching a shadow, or chasing the wind, to take notice of dreams. Divination, omens and dreams are all futile' [Ecclus. 34]. Dreams have led many astray and ruined those who built their hopes on them. There are many examples in the writings of the Fathers, of people perishing through believing in dreams. The Optina staretz priest-monk Leonid said to his pupil: 'One should not believe in dreams even though they may be real in their own way, for many have gone astray through belief in dreams. The philosopher staretz Theosterik, who wrote the canon of consolation to the Most Holy Mother of God, trusted in dreams and finally became so misled that he perished.'
In the Prologue32 there is this story. 'A Mesopotamian monk amazed everyone with his strict ascetic life, but because he began to believe in dreams he perished. He had a dream that the holy Moses and the other prophets and Jews went to Paradise, but the apostles and martyrs, bishops and holy men went to hell. After this dream the monk took the Jewish faith, married a Jewess and began to enter into polemics with the Orthodox.' Many such stories can be told, but these are enough. If God's holy people did have prophetic dreams, like those of the Old Testament Joseph [Gen. 37:5], of St Joseph who was betrothed to Mary [Matt. 1:20, 2:13], of the Holy Mother of God, and other saints, it was inwardly announced to them by God. We are told well and clearly in Holy Scripture how to be saved, but our limited and inquisitive little minds are not satisfied with this and want to know something more about the future from dreams. Is it not better for us to be guided by Holy Scripture and the advice of the Holy Fathers than to be carried away by dreams and put our trust in them?
Lord, teach us to follow in each and every thing the path of thy commandments.
31. Writings from the Philokalia on the Prayer of the Heart, p. 140.
32. A collection of instructive stories from the lives of the Fathers. "