There are many Christians who think demons are just old fashioned myths. For a long time, I was one of them. To many, demons are just vehicles to explain things like suffering, illness and evil––not considered to be real beings that have their own wills and who are intent on keeping us separated from God. This is a spiritual deception of a grand scale. When we deny the existence of these invisible beings, we also deny all invisible beings, and this would include God the Creator of all that is both visible and invisible. Frequently, we only allow ourselves to acknowledge as real what we can sense with our senses or measure scientifically. We in effect block out of consideration the entire invisible or spiritual realm, including both angels and demons.
The consequences of this deception are important. When we deny their existence we deny the spiritual struggle we must engage in, or the spiritual war that Saint Paul says Christians are engaged it. If there is no war, no struggle, then all that is necessary to be Christian is to mentally embrace Christ by saying, “I believe,” attend church on Sunday, be nice to others, and support social activities of the church and community. There is no need for ascetic practices to overcome forces that lead us astray. No need for prayer and fasting.
This view that denies the existence of demons is one that is promoted by the Devil himself. It is his greatest deception, making us believe that he does not exist. It makes us passive in our spiritual life. Here is what St. Irenaeus of Lyons of the second century says of the work of the devil, “He had indeed been already accustomed to lie against God, for the purpose of leading men astray.” (Against Heresies, 5.23.1) “To lead men astray,” he says! This is the danger.
Scripture very clearly teaches that demons are real (In the Gospels alone, the word “demon” is used thirty-two times, “devil” and “Satan” both appear fourteen times, and the phrase “the evil one” appears five times.). Also, in the sacrament of Baptism, from the early days of the Church, we have the prayers of exorcism which are read to this day. After these prayers are read the Priest asks the Catechumen, “Do you renounce Satan, and all his works, and all his worship, and all his angels, and all his pomp?” Also in the conclusion of the Lord’s Prayer, we pray for God to protect us, “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the evil one.” The Apostle Peter calls to each Christian: "Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walketh about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour" (1 Peter 5:8).
If the Gospel writers did not believe that demons exist, why would they use the term "demon" so often! There are excellent Greek words for disease and madness (which appear in the New Testament). Without any doubt we find a clear reference to demons throughout the Scripture. It was not written there by mistake or to allude to some kind of physical illness. The facts of the gospel records clearly show that Jesus believed in personal demons. He addressed them and they addressed Him. Today, we can find people who can recount similar personal encounters with demons. Even though they are invisible beings, they are no less real than any other person to whom our Lord Jesus Christ spoke.
To avoid spiritual deception we need to develop a keen awareness of these demonic forces, because they are our enemy on our spiritual path. If we are to follow Christ, we, like Him, have to recognize the power of the evil forces we face. We of necessity need to properly prepare ourselves to fight against them, knowing they are actively attacking us. Without such a recognition, our efforts will be weak and ineffective. This is the nature of the authentic Christian struggle.
There was a time not so long ago that I used to worry about what would others say of me if I begin to talk about the demons who attack me? I feared the possibility ridicule and being rejected as some kind of religious kook, a Neanderthal thinker. I worried that they would say I am naive, old fashioned, ignorant of modern scientific views, one babbling superstitious and archaic views. This is the challenge we face in todays world. Generally, a minority (34% for Orthodox and 40% for all Americans according to PEW Survey of Religious Landscape) of the population believes in demons with certainty. In our spiritual struggle we must go against the prevailing thought patterns that do not reflect the spiritual truth of the created world. We must be prepared to be mocked and ridiculed for our views. We cannot be deceived and ignore these forces that are woking against us. We cannot be luke warm on this belief. It is not enough to think there is the possibility of such beings. We must in fact see them with certainty, as the enemy worthy of combating in intense spiritual warfare. This is the key to our eventual union with God. These forces are trying to prevent us from joining with Christ and growing in a way where we become part of Him and part of His Kingdom.