August 28, 2013

“I have a dream”

“For a great and effective door has opened for me and there are many adversaries”
(1 Cor 16:9)

“I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places shall be made plain, and the crooked places shall be made straight and the glory of the Lord will be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.”
Martin Luther King (Isaiah 40:4)

MLK, Abp Iakovos
Martin Luther King and Archbishop Iakovos in Selma, Alabama, Life Magazine, March 26, 1965

Today marks the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther king’s famous “I have a dream” speech during the 1963 civil rights march on Washington. Looking at our Orthodox calendar for today I’m struck by two coincidental facts. First, our commemoration of Saint Moses the Black, the fifth century ascetic, and Saint Paul’s decision to stay on in Ephesus to continue his work, not in spite of the “many adversaries” but because of them.

In rereading the speech I’m reminded too of King’s deeply Christian eschatological vision. He and the civil rights movement were determined to improve conditions and bring justice for blacks in this world, but at least for King this vision was rooted in the dream of life in God’s kingdom far beyond the battles and suffering of the present. As he reassured the battle-scarred, “You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.”

Those words sound very much like those of Saint Isaac the Syrian, which I came across accidentally yesterday as I was unpacking boxes of books from my recent move. One of the books was Pilgrimage on Sinai, a 1998 book in Russian by Valeria Alfeeva, mother of Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeev), to whom she dedicated the book. She had given me the book in 2002 when I was still living in England. Her inscription included a quotation from Saint Isaac: “If your soul is weak and asks the Lord to deliver it from trials, God will hear and deliver it. But you should know that according to the measure of trials you undergo God sends His Gifts.”