The Orthodox Pages



27th OCTOBER 2012















































































































































Last week we spoke about what angels and demons are, how and when they were created, their nature and activities. Today we will continue on the same subject looking closer at angelic and demonic visions, demonic possession and if and how the church performs exorcisms.
We know from scripture that angels have appeared to people and conversed with them. Angels do not just appear for no reason or to just say a quick hello, they are always sent by God to warn someone or give a message to humanity as when the angel Gabriel appeared to the Virgin Mary with the glad tidings that she was to give birth to the Saviour of the world or at Jesus' tomb to inform the Myrrh-bearers that Christ had risen from the dead.
For most people today visions of angels sound like fantasy tales, and often are received with great scepticism. But that is because they do not understand the nature of man. In the past we have spoken many times of how God originally created man before the fall. His body was immortal, a stranger to infirmities, a stranger to its present crudeness and heaviness, a stranger to the sinful and fleshly feelings that are now natural to it. His senses were incomparably more subtle, their activity was incomparably broader and totally free. Being clothed with such a body, with such organs of sense, man was capable of the sensuous perception of spirits, to which rank he himself belonged in soul; he was capable of communion with them, and of communion with God, which is natural to holy spirits. The holy body of man before the fall did not separate him from the world of spirits. Man was capable of dwelling in paradise.

After the fall man's body went through a transformation. In Genesis we read that in pronouncing sentence on Adam and Eve before banishing them from paradise, God made for them garments of skins, and clothed them. (Gen. 3:20) The garments of skins signify our coarse flesh which, at the fall, was altered: it lost its subtlety and spiritual nature and received its present crudeness. Although the original reason for this change was the fall, still the change occurred under the influence of the Almighty Creator, in His unutterable mercy towards us, and for our great good. Through the crudeness of our body we have become incapable of the sensuous perception of the spirits into whose realm we have fallen. The wisdom and goodness of God has placed an obstacle between men, cast down to earth from paradise, and the evil spirits who had been cast down to earth from heaven; this obstacle is the coarse materiality of the human body. At the General resurrection when our bodies will be reunited to our souls, a transformation will again happen and our bodies will again become spiritual and will manifest in themselves those qualities which were given them at their creation. Then we will again enter the rank of the holy spirits and will be in open communion with them.
But until that time, our bodies are coarse and our bodily senses are incapable of communion with spirits, they do not see them, do not hear them, and in general do not sense them. The holy spirits avoid Communion with men who are unworthy of such communion, while the fallen spirits, who have drawn us into their fall, have mingled with us and so as to hold us by reason of the fall, in captivity the more easily, strive to make both themselves and their chains unnoticeable to us. And if they do reveal themselves, they do it in order to strengthen their dominion over us. The fallen spirits act on men, bringing them sinful thoughts and feelings; but very few men attain to the sensuous perception of spirits.
Communion with holy angels is unnatural to us by reason of our estrangement from them by the fall; but for the same reason, that which is natural to us is communion with the fallen spirits, to whose rank we belong. Men who are in a state of sinfulness do not see holy angels. If they have a vision of an angel, more than likely it is a demon appearing as an angel of light. Holy angels appear only to holy men who have restored communion with God and with them by a holy life.
Demons assume the appearance of bright angels in order to deceive men more easily. Sometimes they also appear as the human souls of dead men in order to persuade men that they are the souls of loved ones. This manner of deception in our present age is in special fashion among demons, due to the particular disposition of contemporary men to believe it. They come with messages foretelling the future; and sometimes revealing mysteries, but one must not trust them in any way whatsoever. With them truth is mixed with falsehood; truth is used at times only for a more convincing deception. The Apostle Paul says: Satan is transformed into an angel of light, and his ministers as the servants of righteousness. ‘A general rule for all men is by no means to trust the spirits when they appear in sensuous form, not to enter into conversation with them, not to pay any attention to them, to acknowledge their appearance as a great and most dangerous temptation. At the time of this temptation, one should direct one’s mind and heart to God with a prayer for mercy and for deliverance from temptation. The desire to see spirits, curiosity to find out anything about them and from them, is a sign of the greatest foolishness and total ignorance of the Orthodox Church’s traditions and teachings concerning the world of spirits. Knowledge of spirits is acquired quite differently than is supposed by the inexperienced and careless experimenter. Open communion with spirits for the inexperienced is the greatest misfortune.
There are two kinds of Perception; sensuous perception and spiritual perception. Sensuous Perception, means seeing spirits with the bodily sense of the eye and Spiritual Perception, means perceiving with the spiritual eyes of the soul. Only those who have trained themselves by the study of God’s law and acquired the capability to distinguish good from evil are granted the spiritual perception of spirits. Once this has been acquired, sensuous perception may also follow since delusion and deception for the spiritual ascetic are now much less dangerous and in conformity with the purposes of God, the experience and knowledge of them will be profitable to him.
Men become capable of seeing spirits by a certain alteration of the senses, which is accomplished in a way that is unnoticeable and inexplicable to a man. He only notes in himself that he has suddenly begun to see what before this he had not seen and what others do not see, and to hear what before this he had not heard. For those who experience in themselves such an alteration of the senses, it is very simple and natural, even though not explainable to oneself and others; for those who have not experienced it, it is strange and not understandable. In the same way, men fall into sleep; but what kind of phenomenon sleep is, and in what way, we pass over from a condition of wakefulness to a condition of sleep and self-forgetfulness: this remains a mystery for us.
The alteration of the senses by which a man enters into sensuous communion with the beings of the invisible world is called in Sacred Scripture the opening of the senses. Scripture says: Then the Lord opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the way, with his drawn sword in his hand (Numbers 22:31). Being surrounded by enemies, the Prophet Elisha, in order to calm his frightened servant, prayed and said: Lord, open his eyes that be may see. And the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and be saw; and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha (IV Kings 6:17-18).”
From the quoted passages of Sacred Scripture it is clear that the bodily organs serve, as it were, as doors and gates into the inner chamber where the soul is, and that these gates are opened and closed at the command of God. Most wisely and mercifully, these gates remain constantly closed in fallen men, lest our sworn enemies, the fallen spirits, burst in upon us and through fear bring about our perdition. This measure is all the more essential in that we, after the fall, find ourselves in the realm of fallen spirits, surrounded by them, enslaved by them. Having no possibility to break in on us, they make themselves known to us from outside, causing various sinful thoughts and fantasies, and by them enticing the credulous soul into communion with them. It is not permitted for a man to remove the supervision of God and by his own means to open his own senses and enter into visible communion with spirits. But this does happen. It is obvious that by one’s own means one can attain communion only with fallen spirits. It is not characteristic of holy angels to take part in something not in agreement with the will of God, something not pleasing to God.
What attracts men into entering into open communion with spirits? Those who are light-minded and ignorant of Christianity are attracted by curiosity, by ignorance, by unbelief, without understanding that by entering into such communion they can cause themselves the greatest harm. Sensuous perception without spiritual perception does not provide a proper understanding of spirits; it provides only a superficial understanding of them. Very easily, it can provide the most mistaken conceptions, and this indeed is what is most often provided to the inexperienced and to those infected with vainglory and self-esteem. The spiritual perception of spirits is attained only by true Christians, whereas men who lead a depraved life are the most capable of the sensuous perception of them. A few people are capable of this by their natural constitution, or by an inheritance and to a very few the spirits appear because of some special circumstance in life. In our times many allow themselves to enter into communion with fallen spirits by means of magnetism (spiritism) in which the fallen spirits usually appear in the form of bright angels and deceive and delude by means of various interesting tales, mixing together truth with falsehood; they always cause an extreme disorder to the soul and even to the mind. Those who see spirits, even holy angels, sensuously, should not have any fancies about themselves: this perception alone, in itself, is no testimony whatever of the merit of the perceivers; not only depraved men are capable of this, but even irrational animals.
One who perceives spirits sensuously can easily be deceived to his own harm and perdition. If, on perceiving spirits, he shows trust or credulity towards them, he will unfailingly be deceived, he will unfailingly be attracted, he will unfailingly be sealed with the seal of deception, not understandable to the inexperienced, it will cause a frightful injury to his spirit; and the possibility of correction and salvation is often lost. This has happened with a great many people. It has happened not only with pagans, whose priests were for the most part in open communion with demons; it has happened not only with many Christians who do not know the mysteries of Christianity and out of some circumstance or other have entered into communion with spirits; it has happened with many ascetic strugglers and monks who have perceived spirits sensuously without first acquiring spiritual perception of them.
The correct, lawful entry into the world of spirits is provided only by the doctrine and practice of Christian struggle. All other means are unlawful and must be renounced as worthless and ruinous. It is God Himself Who leads the true struggler of Christ into perception of spirits. When God is guiding, the deception of falsehood is separated from truth itself; then the struggler is given, first of all, the spiritual perception of spirits, revealing to him in detail and with precision the qualities of these spirits. Only after this are certain ascetics granted the sensuous perception of spirits, by which the knowledge of them attained by spiritual perception is completed.
Roman Catholicism and Protestantism, cut off for centuries now from the Orthodox doctrine and practice of spiritual life, have lost all capability for clear discernment in the realm of spirits. The absolutely essential Christian quality of distrust of one’s “good” ideas and feelings has become totally foreign to them. As a result, “spiritual” experiences and apparitions of spirits have become perhaps commoner today than at any other time in the Christian era, and a gullible mankind is prepared to accept a theory of a “new age” of spiritual wonders, or a “new outpouring of the Holy Spirit,” in order to explain this fact. So spiritually impoverished has mankind become, imagining itself to be “Christian” even while preparing for the age of demonic “miracles” which according to the Book of Revelations, is a sign of the last times (16:14). Orthodox Christians themselves, it should be added, while theoretically being in possession of the true Christian teaching, are seldom aware of it, and often are as easily deceived as the non-Orthodox.
In the west, and especially in Britain, one hears of countless stories of ghosts. There is a general understanding that these ghosts are somehow trapped in some aerial realm between earth and heaven and are forced to roam the earth for all eternity. In contrast, in Cyprus and other Orthodox countries, people never see ghost but have visions of saints. These we can say are two sides of the same coin and both are demonic deceptions. Demons take advantage of what we believe in, they take the truth and twist it so that it appears as the truth, but with an added lie. In England, the belief in ghosts is so strong and in recent years, this belief has been strengthened by the media and with uncountable films on the occult. The belief in ghosts starts from a young age with comics and cartoons like Casper the friendly Ghost. In Orthodox teaching and according to Holy Scripture the souls of the departed are not free to come and go as they please. The appearances of ghost can then only be demons appearing as the souls of dead people and this they do to deceive people of the true teachings on life after death and at the same time bring terror into the hearts of those beholding these visions. Now Orthodox Christians as already mentioned, instead of ghosts see saints. A great many of these visions are true appearances of saints who through God’s will are sent to earth to help or heal the faithful. But demons are also known to appear as angels or saints and at times have appeared as Christ. The receiver of such visions is often deluded into thinking that if he is worthy to see such visions then he must be a good Christian and his way of life is pleasing to God. But how can we distinguish between a genuine holy vision and a demonic delusion?
St. Ignatius Brianchaninov, a brilliant Russian Bishop who was canonised in 1988 and is commemorated on 30th April, devoted his life writing on the spiritual life and prayer: he warns that: "You must know the following for your protection. When any kind of vision presents itself, do not become frightened, but no matter what kind of vision it might be, manfully ask it first of all: ‘Who are you, and where do you come from?’ If it is a manifestation of saints, they will calm you and will turn your fear into joy. But if it is a demonic apparition when it encounters firmness in your soul it will immediately waver, because the question serves as a sign of a brave soul. By asking such a question, Joshua the son of Nun became convinced of the truth when Michael the Archangel appeared unto him."
After relating how even St. Symeon the Stylite was once almost deceived by a demon who appeared to him in the form of an angel in a fiery chariot, St. Ignatius warns the Orthodox Christians of today: “If the saints have been in such danger of being deceived by evil spirits, this danger is even more frightful for us. If the saints have not always recognized demons who appeared to them in the form of saints and Christ Himself, how is it possible for us to think of ourselves that we will recognize them without mistake? The sole means of salvation from these spirits is absolutely to refuse perception of them and communion with them, acknowledging ourselves as unfit for such perception and Communion.
The holy instructors of Christian struggle command pious strugglers not to trust any kind of image or vision if they should suddenly appear, not to enter into conversation with them, not to pay any attention to them. They command that during such apparitions one should guard oneself with the sign of the Cross, close one’s eyes, and in resolute awareness of one’s unworthiness and unfitness for seeing holy spirits, to entreat God that He might protect us from all nets and deceptions which are cunningly set out for men by the spirits of malice"
In conclusion, St. Ignatius teaches: “The only correct entrance into the world of spirits is the doctrine and practice of Christian struggle. The only correct entrance into the sensuous perception of spirits is Christian advancement and perfection”. St. Ignatius’ teaching, written over a hundred years ago, could well have been written today, so accurately does it describe the spiritual temptations of our own times, when the “doors of perception” have been opened in men to a degree undreamed of in St. Ignatius’ day.
Another reason why non – Orthodox see ghosts and Orthodox Christians do not, is that the Church has as it were, weapons that defend us from evil spirits. Every year the houses of Orthodox Christians are blessed with holy water either at Epiphany or by inviting the priest to give a private blessing for the house and its occupants. Often, when life circumstances bring one catastrophe after another, people attribute this to the evil eye known as Vaskania and when performing the service of the blessing of waters, people often ask the priest to also read them the prayer to ward off evil eyes.
Vaskania has its roots in primitive times. It is believed that certain people have such powerful feelings of jealousy and envy, that when they look on some beautiful object or individual it can, unintentionally, bring about destruction. Vaskania is recognized by the Church as the jealousy and envy of some people for things they do not possess, such as wealth, material belongings, beauty, youth, health, courage or any other blessing. This does not mean that the Church accepts that these envious people can cause a Christian harm.

Essentially the phenomenon known as the evil eye is demonic in nature. It is a demonic influence which can affect certain people according to their belief and spiritual state. If the person has a strong faith and believes that the power of Christ will protect him from all demonic influences then he is totally protected, but if he lacks faith he leaves himself open to various demonic influences. In short, if a person believes that the envy of some people known as the evil eye can bring him harm, his faith in Christ is questionable. Demons have no power over us other than the power we give them. The evil eye is not just about what others can do to us, but also about what we draw towards ourselves. Through lack of faith in Christ, through our passions and sinful way of life we as receivers can leave ourselves without defence and vulnerable. Because the source of the evil eye is not from human power, but an evil and satanic influence, the Church heals the effects of this spiritual weakness through prayer. The prayer for the deliverance from the evil eye is in fact an exorcism casting from the person afflicted every diabolical action and satanic attack. The prayer reads: " O Lord our God... thee we pray and beseech banish, expel and cast away every diabolical action, every satanic attack and every assault, every evil influence and harm from thy servant, caused by malicious and evil people. And if this has occurred because of beauty, or handsomeness, or prosperity, or jealousy, or envy or the evil eye, do thou O Master and lover of mankind, stretch forth thy mighty hand and thy powerful arm from on high and in thy watchful care look upon thy servant and send him an Angel of peace, a mighty guardian of his body and soul...
There are many people, who instead of coming to the Church for healing, go to readers or charmers who use magical rituals to overcome the evil eye. The Church strongly forbids her children from visiting these charmers and fortune tellers who in reality only take advantage of the weakness of superstitious people and destroy them spiritually and financially by playing upon their imagination. One cannot use evil to cast out evil for as Christ said: "if Satan cast out Satan, he is divided against himself; how shall then his kingdom stand?" (Matth. 12:26)
There are various types of Charmers and spiritual mediums who claim to have prophetic visions, healing powers and communion with the dead and even believe that these powers are a gift from God. Most are not evil people and many genuinely believe that they offer help and comfort. What they don't realize is that they can unwittingly become channels for demonic spiritual deception. There are indeed some people who are somehow more perceptive of the spiritual world than others. They claim to be able to reach the spirits of the departed and hold séances for people longing to know where their loved ones are. From scripture we know that God does not allow the dead to commune with the living unless the person has achieved sainthood and is sent by God with a message of salvation or to help someone in need. The spiritual medium is probably not lying when he/she says that he/she is in communion with the spirits, but these are not the spirits of departed humans, but demons masquerading as humans. This is not anything special or difficult for the demons since they can appear as saints and angels of light and in general can appear in any form. But in most cases their is no apparition but only a voice or mental message to the medium revealing things to him/her about the departed person and about the living person who desperately wants to hear a message from the other side. What we need to understand is that the demons know everything about us. They have been with us all our lives and have recorded, as it were, every action we have made and every word we have spoken. It is so easy for them to pretend to be the husband, wife or child of someone still living and say how wonderful life is beyond the grave, or even to disclose a secret that no one could possibly know to verify that it is telling the truth and thus make the deception more credible.
In a similar manner, mediums that foretell the future by means of hand, coffee, tea or card readings are being used by demons to channel out their deceptions to unsuspecting and naïve people. Sometimes the mediums know that the information they give comes from demons, but as already said, many believe they have a special power granted to them by the grace of God. But how do the demons use these mediums. When someone goes for a reading, the demons “enlighten” so to speak, the medium who believes that he or she receives a revelation about the person’s life. The medium accurately tells the person of things that have happened in the past and everything of the person’s present situation in life and about plans he has made for the immediate future. The person is so stunned by the accuracy of the reading that he will believe anything the medium will tell him of the future.
Many people innocently dabble with coffee readings unaware that they are leaving themselves open to a demonic danger far more dangerous than deception. Any form of dabbling with practices associated with fortune telling or the occult can spiritually harm us. That is why the Church, in order to protect her children, strongly forbids even the most innocent of coffee readings women do for a bit of fun.
Dreams again are not to be trusted. We do not know enough about the state of the soul when we are sleeping, but Holy Scripture is full of accounts of how God speaks to people through dreams. Joseph was told in a dream to take Mary as his wife and that the Child in her womb was from God, again he was told in a dream to depart with Mary and the Child and go to Egypt because Herod sought to kill the Child. Dreams therefore are used by God to reveal his will to us and many Saints have appeared in dreams to people. But demons can also use dreams to delude us. For example, someone might see in a dream that a friend or relative has departed. On waking the person is perplexed as to what the dream could mean. He phones the person only to discover that the person did indeed pass away at the very hour he saw the dream. You might ask "where is the deception" Demons often use the truth cunningly. The person who saw the dream will from now on believe that his dreams come true: he will trust his dreams leaving himself open to demonic deception.
Last week I mentioned how the film "The Exorcist" awakened people to the reality of the devil and how his evil works are very real in the world. In the film, the young girl began quite innocently playing with the Ouija board. This opened the channel for her to speak with what her mother thought was an imaginary friend which then led to her being possessed by the demon.
In our modern era demonic possession is a very rare phenomenon, but that does not make it any less real. People can be possessed with demons and the New Testament is witness to Christ casting out many demons from people. Today Science has swept away much of what used to be considered demonic possession. Diseases of the mind such as Schizophrenia, Tourette’s syndrome and various forms of psychosis were once regarded as signs of diabolical possession. We have come a long way over the years and many of the people suffering from these diseases can live active and normal lives while on medication. But there are cases where science cannot identify the cause in someone's personality change and can offer no cure or medication to help the symptoms. Where science cannot find an answer the Church usually has and in these cases, if she considers that the person is possessed with an evil spirit, has prayers that effectively cast out the demon from the person.
As noted demonic possession is very rare and theologians believe that a baptized Orthodox Christian cannot be possessed because the grace he received at baptism and the seal of the Holy Spirit with which he was signed protects him from demonic possession in the biblical sense. In fact all Orthodox Christians have had an Exorcism performed on them before they were received into the Church as full members. Before the person is baptized the priest performs the service of the catechumen. During this service there are three exorcism prayers read to cast out demons from the person. The first two exorcism prayers are not directed at the person preparing for baptism, but directly at the devil and his demons. Let's hear what the prayers say:
1st Prayer
The Lord reproaches thee, o devil... I adjure thee by the living God... Be rebuked and depart for I adjure thee by Him who walked upon the waves of the sea as though upon dry land... For it is Christ that now commands thee through us; be afraid, come out and depart from this creature, and return not, neither hide thyself in him/her, nor encounter him/her, nor operate in him/her, or influence him/her, either by night or by day, nor in the morning or at noon: but get thee hence to thine own hell, until the appointed day of judgement. Come out and depart from the sealed and newly enlisted soldier of Christ our God, for I adjure thee by Him that walketh upon the wings of the winds, who maketh His Angels spirits and His Ministers a flame of fire. Come out and depart from this creature together with all thy power and demonic angels."
2nd Prayer
God, the Holy, the fearful and glorious, He who hath foreordained for thee, o devil, the retribution of eternal suffering, He commands thee and all thy collaborating might, through us, His unworthy servants, to go forth from him/her that is newly sealed in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, our True God. Therefore thou most evil, unclean, impure, loathsome and alien spirit, I adjure thee by the power of Jesus Christ, who hath all authority in heaven and on earth, who said unto the deaf and dumb demon, “Come out of the man and enter no more into him.” Come out, and depart from him/her who is now being made ready for Holy Illumination. I adjure thee by the saving Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by His Precious Body and Blood, and by His dreadful Coming Again. For He shall come and shall not delay, to judge all the earth, and He shall punish thee and thy collaborating might in the everlasting hell fire, casting thee to the outer darkness where the worm dieth not and the fire is not quenched."
After the prayers the candidate renounces Satan and all his works and embraces Christ with a confession of faith.
During the actual baptism service the Church leaves nothing to chance. The candidate is free from inner demonic possession but demons can still attack from without. To protect the candidate the church blesses oil which is now called Exorcised Oil and applies this to the candidate's body. The Exorcised oil acts like an armour protecting the candidate and at the same time has the power to chase away all the invisible powers of the evil one. St. John Chrysostom says: "God anoints your countenance and stamps thereon the sign of the Cross. In this way does God hold in check all the frenzy of the Evil One; for the devil will not dare to look upon such a sight. Just as if he had beheld the rays of the sun and had leaped away, so will his eyes be blinded by the sight of your face and he will depart." The water is also exorcised lest the demons try to enter the baptismal font.
Unlike the Roman Catholic rite of Exorcism, which is very long, the Orthodox Church does not have an official Exorcism rite. But there are prayers for exorcism other than the pre-baptismal prayers. There are four prayers by St. Basil and four from St. John Chrysostom. These are prayers for those who are afflicted by demons and sicknesses in general. However, it must be stressed that these exorcism prayers have seldom been used. The vast majority of priests have never said exorcism prayers except for those read at the service of catechumens at baptism. There is no ritual order as such and if the need ever arose, the prayers are to be read simply by the priest without gestures, emotions or dramatization unlike the Roman rite where the priest even commands the unclean spirit to open dialogue by telling him by some sign its name, and the day and hour of its departure. The Orthodox prayers for Exorcism vary in length, some being extremely long, but the order is simple because they were never intended to be used frequently by the Church. The prayers of exorcism in the service of catechumens at the time of baptism were considered sufficient for the banishment of evil.
Apart from humans it is believed that animals and vegetation can be affected by demonic possession. The Gospels certainly testify to animals in the story of the man possessed with a legion of demons. On being cast out of the man they asked Jesus for permission to enter into the nearby herd of swine. Sts. Modestos, Hypatios and Mamas have all written exorcism prayers for animals and St. Tryphon has written two prayers for fields, vineyards and gardens which are unfruitful and might be "possessed" by demons.
Speaking on demons and possession can be frightening to many people especially in our times where we have been brainwashed by the film industry with frightful images of demons, and demonic powers that supposedly can cause us harm against our will. The truth is Christ has overcome the devil, but he allows him to tempt us so that through temptation we may gain knowledge on how to fight temptation and grow spiritually. When Christ sent out the Seventy disciples to heal and cast out demons they returned saying: "Lord, even the devils are subject unto us through thy name." And Christ answered: "I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven." signifying that Satan was beaten from the moment he rebelled against God. Christ also said: "Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you." (Luke 10:17-19)
Orthodox have nothing to fear from the devil. If they live their lives devoutly with prayer and fasting, participation in the Sacraments, keeping the commandments, helping the needy and learning to love all people, the grace and Spirit of God they received at baptism will remain with them throughout their lives protecting them from all forces of evil. These are the weapons and armour that Christ and the Church have bestowed upon us for as St. Paul says in his Epistle to the Ephesians: "Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. (Ephesians 6:11)