What Is a Prophetic Dream, and What Does the Church Think about It?

Sleep is a natural process, vital for every human’s body. The Book of Ecclesiastes claims that “a dream cometh through the multitude of business” (Eccl. 5:3), thus linking the presence and contents of dreams to the activity of the brain.

However, the Holy Scripture contains other information on dreams, too. The Old Testament mentions multiple times that the Lord revealed His will to prophets and other chosen people through dreams. We can name Abraham (cf. Gen. 15:12), Jacob (cf.: Gen. 28:12), Joseph (cf.: Gen. 37:6), and at a later time Prophet Daniel (cf.: Dan. 7:1). The point of those visions is explained pretty well in the Book of Job, which emphasizes their extraordinary importance for the person whom the visions are given to. The Lord speaks “in a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falleth upon men, in slumberings upon the bed; then he openeth the ears of men, and sealeth their instruction, that he may withdraw man from his purpose, and hide pride from man. He keepeth back his soul from the pit, and his life from perishing by the sword.” (Job 33:15–18). There are mentions of dreams sent by God in the New Testament, too. First of all, the visions of the Righteous Joseph who saw an Angel in his dream inform him about the imminent attempt to murder Baby Jesus, as well as the dream of Pontius Pilate’s wife who, according to Holy Evangelist Matthew, “suffered many things that day in a dream because of him.” (cf. Matthew 27:19).

At the same time, the Divine Revelation doesn’t always have the same positive attitude to human dreams. It warns people against blind acceptance of everything they see in a dream. The Book of Prophet Jeremiah states, “Behold, I am against them that prophesy false dreams, saith the Lord, and do tell them, and cause my people to err by their lies, and by their lightness; yet I sent them not, nor commanded them: therefore they shall not profit this people at all, saith the Lord.” (Jer. 23:32), and further continues, “Let not your prophets and your diviners, that be in the midst of you, deceive you, neither hearken to your dreams which ye cause to be dreamed” (Jer. 29:8).

According to Saint Philaret of Moscow, the “plot” of a dream doesn’t have benign origins sometimes. This is what he writes, “…dreams are different. They can be rooted in various bodily states, especially the nerves, in the heart, in one’s thoughts and fantasies, whence come waking dreams, and finally, in the influences of the spiritual realm, be they pure, mixed, or impure. You’ve got to check your dreams several times to determine what they are worth.” Saint Isaac of Syria goes into even more detail, “Sometimes, the enemy shows a dream to a person, pretending that it is a revelation from God… he does everything he can in order to grab at any chance to persuade that person and to make him just for a little while agree with the enemy so as to fall into his trap.” Consequently, trusting your dreams blindly may lead to a disastrous outcome.

According to the Holy Fathers, one must always inspect the thoughts that come from outside, including those that come in dreams. Unfortunately, due to the imperfection of his spiritual and moral nature, a human being is unable to distinguish a God-sent dream from a devil-inspired one. That is why, according to Blessed Diadochos of Photiki, we should not trust any dream at all, “If we adhere to this rule and fail to accept a dream sent to us by God, the all-loving Lord won’t be angry with us, knowing that we do so for fear of the devil’s snares.”

Furthermore, the Holy Tradition unanimously condemns attempts to interpret dreams and predict the future based on them. If one pays too much attention to his dreams, he will sooner or later drift towards superstition, and then, as a result, will lose his faith in God. Sadly, for this kind of people the defining factor in their lives isn’t God’s will expressed by the Church but their own dreams. If onetrusts his own dreams more than God, he will continue to get farther and farther from the only path leading to salvation. He will bring his actions in line with the interpretations of his dreams, thus essentially becoming a puppet in the hands of the evil forces.

Translated by The Catalog of Good Deed

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