Sunday, October 25, 2015

Do Demons exist?

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.

The Joyous Feast of Pumpkin - Archbishop Kyrill

It is that time of the year when the secular society in which we live is preparing for the festival of Halloween. Many do not know its spiritual roots and history, and why it contradicts the teachings of the Church. The feast of Halloween began in pre-Christian times among the Celtic peoples of Great Britain, Ireland and northern France. These pagan peoples believed that life was born from death. Therefore they celebrated the beginning of the "new year" in the fall (on the eye of October 31 and into the day of November 1) when, as they believed, the season of cold, darkness, decay and death began. A certain deity whom they called Samhain was believed by the Celts to be the Prince of Death and it was he whom they honored at their New Year's festival.

From an Orthodox Christian point of view, we can see many diabolical beliefs and practices associated with this feast which have endured to this time. On the eve of the New Year's festival, the Druids, who were the priests of the Celtic cult, instructed their people to extinguish all hearth fires and lights. On the evening of the festival, a huge bonfire built from oak branches (oak was regarded by the Celts as sacred) was ignited. Upon this fire sacrifices were burned as an offering in order to appease and cajole Samhain, the Prince of Death. It was also believed that Samhain, being pleased by the offerings, allowed the souls of the dead to return to their homes for a festal visit on this day. It is from this belief that the practice of wandering about in the dark dressed up in costumes imitating ghosts, witches, hobgoblins, fairies, etc. grew up. For the living entered into fellowship and communion with the dead by what was, and still is, a ritual act of imitation, through costume and the activity of wandering around in the dark of night, even as the souls of the dead were believed to wander.

The dialogue of trick or treat is also an integral part of this system of beliefs and practices. It was believed that the souls of the dead who had entered into the world of darkness, decay and death, and therefore into total communion with and submission to Samhain, bore the affliction of great hunger on their festal visit. Out of this grew the practice of begging, which was a further ritual enactment and imitation of what the Celts believed to be the activities of the souls of the dead on their festal visit. Associated with this is the still further implication that if the souls of the dead and their imitators were not appeased with "treats", i.e., offerings, then the wrath and anger of Samhain would be unleashed through a system of "tricks", i.e. curses. Such is the true meaning of this pagan feast. It is then evident that for an Orthodox Christian participation at any level is impossible and idolatrous, resulting in a genuine betrayal of God and Church. If we participate in the ritual activity of imitating the dead and wandering in the dark asking for treats or offering them to children, we then have willfully sought fellowship with the dead, whose Lord is not Samhain, but rather Satan. It is to Satan then that these treats are offered, not to children.

There are other practices associated with Halloween from which we must stay away, such as sorcery, fortune telling, divination, games of chance, witchcraft and the carving of an ugly face upon a pumpkin and then placing a lit candle within the infamous Jack O' Lantern. The pumpkin (in older days other vegetables were used) was carved by the Celts in imitation of the dead and used to convey the new light (from the sacred oak fire) to the home where the lantern was left burning through the night. This "holy lantern" is no other than an imitation of the truly holy votive light (lampada) offered before an icon of Christ and the saints. Even the use and display of the Jack O'Lantern involves participation in this "death" festival honoring Satan.

The Holy Fathers of the first millennium (a time when the Church was one and strictly Orthodox) counteracted this Celtic pagan feast by introducing the Feast of All Saints. It is from this that the term Halloween developed. The word Halloween has its roots in the Old English of All Hallow E'en, i.e., the Eve commemorating all those who were hallowed (sanctified), i.e. Halloween Unfortunately, either due to lack of knowledge or understanding, the Celtic pagan feast being celebrated on the same day as the Christian feast of All Saints (in western Christiandom) came to be known as Halloween.

The people who remained pagan and therefore anti-Christian reacted to the Church's attempt to supplant their festival by celebrating this evening with increased fervor. Many of these practices involved desecration and mockery of the Church's reverence for Holy Relics. Holy things, such as crosses and the Reserved Sacrament, were stolen and used in perverse and sacrilegious ways. The practice of begging became a system of persecution designed to harass Christians who were, by their beliefs, unable to participate by making offerings to those who served the Lord of Death.

One can see in contemporary Western society that the Western Church's attempt to supplant this pagan festival with a Christian feast failed. How then did something that is so obviously contradictory to the Holy Orthodox faith gain such acceptance among Christian people?

The answer is spiritual apathy and listlessness which are the spiritual roots of atheism and turning away from God. Today's society urges one that Halloween and other such festivities, notwithstanding their apparent pagan and idolatrous origin, are nonetheless harmless and of no consequence. Upon closer consideration these pagan festivals are the source for destroying any kind of spiritual foundation and lead to disbelief and outright atheism.

Halloween undermines the very basis of the Church which was founded on the blood of martyrs who had refused, by giving up their lives, to partake in any form of idolatry

Holy Mother Church must take a firm stand in counteracting any such (pagan) events. Christ taught us that God is the judge in all our actions and beliefs and that we are either FOR GOD or AGAINST GOD. There is no neutral or middle of the road approach.

Today we witness a revival of satanist cults; we hear of satanic services conducted on Halloween night. Children are kidnapped by satanists for their ritualistic sacrifices. Orthodox clergy are ritualistically killed as has happened more than once in California. Everywhere Satan reaches out to ensnare as many innocent people as possible. The newsstands are filled with material on spiritualism, supernatural phenomena, seances, prophesies and all sorts of demonically inspired works. These works all serve Satan, for they are not the fruit of the Holy Spirit, but the fruit of the spirit of this world.

Archbishop Kyrill