Last week I promised a Post on Saint Paul. After three paragraphs I looked at what I had written, and… BORing. Not Paul! He’s fascinating. But my writing was not.
So instead let’s do something seasonal.
By the title above, of course I don’t mean we’re all possessed by demons as with the Gadarene demoniac in last Sunday’s Gospel reading Luke 8:26-39, or in the old movie The Exorcist… Be patient. We’ll come to that in due time..
Forgive me in what follows for “lifting” a few things from last year’s article. We are visiting our family in Minnesota this week, and… well, you other grandparents can understand.
This is worth repeating, because many people tell us that Hallowe’en is pagan. It is not! The name itself tells us that: October 31 is the Eve of Western Christian All Saints Day, in old English “All Hallows Evening”, shortened to Hallowe’en. In fact Western All Saints was placed on November 1 specifically to counter a pagan day of the dead – which is now taken seriously only by a few peculiar modern-day witches of a sort. But Hallowe’en is pagan no more than Christmas is pagan, which was placed on December 25 to counter the pagan Winter Solstice feast and the Roman celebration of Sol Invictus, the Unconquered Sun.
Modern Hallowe’en feels right in our northern hemispheric late autumn with its long dark nights and dead leaves blowing in the cold wind, and with pumpkins and pretend ghosts and witches and goblins. All that is harmless except for what it does to children’s teeth (and sometimes mine). I grew up on it – and in fact the mysteries Hallowe’en presented actually led me to look deeper into the mystery of all things – and here I am today, still saying “It’s a mystery”! I mean, put the devil in a red suit with a pitchfork and a tail, and he’s so silly who could believe that? So don’t deny your children their annual dose of costumes and cavity-causing candy, at least not for “religious” reasons.
Then when they’re old enough to handle it, be sure they know that there is a real Devil – Diabolos the evil, diabolical one, Satan the destroyer. He is fearful, terrifying, dangerous. “Fear him.”
Hallowe’en is dangerous when it inspires teens and adults to get into ouija boards and black magic and the like. I could tell you some stories.
… OK, OK… If you insist. Here’s one which involved my own personal stupidity. When Dianna and I were first married, we were invited to a party where people were playing with a ouija board. Dianna, being wiser than I, didn’t want to, but I said, “Come on, it’s just a harmless game.” Now, I guarantee you that neither of us moved that piece on the board. But it moved. To other people it gave sensible answers, either spelling them out or going to yes or no, but to me it gave gibberish. Finally I asked Are you anti-clerical, opposed to clergy? It immediately went to Yes. We were totally spooked and have never again touched a ouija board.
Alright, three more: One of Khouria Dianna’s friends, long ago, was with some of her other friends late one night playing with a ouija board. It gave correct answers which nobody working the board could possibly know: “What was my grandmothers maiden name?”, that sort of thing. They likewise were getting very nervous. Finally they asked “Who are you?” and it spelled out “S A T A N.” They immediately put it away!
At the church where Khouria Dianna and I met, three women in their 40s all within a few months lost their husbands to heart attacks, and they were deep in grief. An odd woman who hung around the parish and claimed to be a medium (could contact the “other side”) came several times to each of them saying “I have a message from your husband.” They were so tempted – naturally. We clergy told them, “Ignore it. You don’t know what you might be getting into. Is it your husband? or is it fakery? or is it God only knows who or what pretending to be your husband? trying to control you. You can’t know. So please don’t go there.” I think they didn’t. Above: a modern medium
Some years ago my phone rang and a man’s voice on the other end said. “Please help me! I’ve got to talk to somebody, and I picked your name out of the phone book. I got into black magic, Satanism, and I’m trying to get away – but they won’t let me.” And as he went on his voice f a d e d … … into silence and was gone, with him still on the line. I waited for a few minutes but then hung up. I couldn’t trace his phone number in those days. What was going on? I don’t know. Maybe he was just on drugs, or maybe… The shadow of that hung over me for days.
Brothers and sisters, Do not dabble with black magic, spiritualism, Satanism, the occult. There are great dangers.
The Gadarene Demoniac
This is one of the strangest and most bizarre Gospel stories.
Jesus and his disciples sailed across to the land of the Gadarenes, pagan people. They came upon a madman (Matthew says two men) who was out of control, living among tombs, wore no clothes, chained up for his own protection – but he would break loose, and the demon, Luke says, would drive him out into the desert.
Jesus immediately commanded the unclean spirit to come out of him. The man fell down before him crying, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me.” It was the man’s lips moving, but it was the voice of the demon. Actually the demons. Jesus asked, “What is your name?” He/they said “Legion”. A Roman military legion was composed of about 5000 men. Very many demons had entered the man. We’re not told why.
They begged Jesus not to command them to depart into the abyss – the abyss of destruction into which Satan and all his evil ones will be cast at the End of all things. Revelation 20:3 Rather send us into that herd of pigs. He gave permission. The demons came out of the man, entered the pigs, and rushed down the steep bank into the lake and drowned. The herdsmen ran into town. People came out to see what ever was going on and found the formerly demon-possessed man sitting at Jesus’ feet, in his right mind.
The story continues, but let’s stop there.
The Gospels say our Lord Jesus spent much time casting out demons, evil spirits. The pattern (especially in Mark) is often like this: He comes up to an ill or demented man. Immediately the demon cries, “Leave me alone. I know who you are, the Son of God”. (Note that demons believe the Creed, but some Christians do not! Go figure.) They know Jesus is the Lord of all who has power over them – and they hate him for it. (“The demons also believe and shudder.” James 2:19) Then he casts them out. But in some cases the demons have nothing to say. For example, he said to a deaf and dumb man, “Come out of him, you deaf and dumb spirit and never enter him again.” Mark 9:25
“Demons? Get serious.” Most people today, at least in our culture, think this is primitive superstition. Science has explained * mental illness, even so-called possession, and psychotherapy and meds can control it. Poor ignorant Jesus. He didn’t know about antidepressants. If Christians take this position, consider what it implies: that their Lord and God Jesus Christ the Creator of all things did not understand how the world works. Really?
- Just in passing, science doesn’t “explain” anything. Science describes how things work.
The devil is mentioned only a few times in the Old Testament. He tempts Adam and Eve – although I read that Jewish scholars do not understand it that way. In the book of Job Satan is God’s trusty servant who goes “to and fro upon the earth” reporting peoples’ misbehavior back to him. Job 1:7, 2:2 . I think demons are found not at all in the Old Testament.
But open the New Testament and they’re all over the place: Satan tempting Christ in the wilderness and coming at him again hard in Gethsemane.
Satan the ultimate source of evil, of division, who is out to tear all good things down, destroy us. Satan the prince of this world. John 14:30 Satan the “liar and father of lies” *. John 8:44
- Oh, I am so tempted here to talk about important people who lie so incessantly that I fear unless they repent they’ll be cast into the Abyss with their father the Liar, the Destroyer, but before that they’ll destroy not only themselves but the whole fabric of society, and we are well on the way. But “let him who is without sin cast the first stone”. So I won’t.
In the Synoptic Gospels Christ mentions Satan again and again. Too many times to list here. Please read for yourself.
Jesus’ teaching is similar to Zoroastrian belief (we’re not required to believe that pagans got everything wrong) but there Satan is the equivalent of God. In Christianity he is God’s inferior, the Archangel Lucifer who turned against God and fell and brought his fallen angels with him down to earth, and things here have been like they are ever since. This story is not found in the Scriptures, though it is referred to. It is believed by the Church. It speaks of things beyond human comprehension. Right: a depiction of the undepictable.
To repeat: Who introduced belief in demons and the devil into our Judaeo-Christian tradition? Our Lord Jesus did. Do not ignore him. He warned against Satan again and again. The Lord’s Prayer properly translated actually ends, “But deliver us from the Evil One”. At the Last Judgment he will say to those who have not cared for the least of his brethren, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” Matthew 25:41
That’s the Christian understanding.
Circumstantial Evidence for Satan
But even secular people should be able to almost figure this out. Let’s try to look at the situation without taking Christ’s teachings into consideration.
How can anyone be aware of the world and of themselves, and not believe there is a Power of Destruction loose here. It’s everywhere. Since before anyone can remember, all good things have come to an end – all cultures, all philosophies, all empires, all nations – even the best of them. Fences left unpainted go shabby. Dusted shelves get all dusty again. We are surrounded by a million examples. Let our down our guard and it all goes wrong. Let down my guard and I go wrong. People and even animals try so hard to keep living. That’s why we have modern medicine. But in the end death gets us all.
I’m not trying to depress you. You know all that, even though we try hard not to think about it overly much. The point is: How can anyone who stops to think at all not know that something is desperately wrong in this world. And how can they not wonder why?
Is it because of “nature”, whatever that is? But why should the world that creates us be then out to destroy us? Or are we human beings the source of the problems? But how many people have you known who want to destroy their families, destroy the world, destroy themselves? Something else must be the cause of destruction.
Our Lord Jesus Christ taught us plainly that Someone else is. There is Someone behind all the chaos and evil and destruction. Not an inexplicable irresistible evil force, but an Evil Spirit, evil spirits, evil presences, “demons” – who, because they are personal (sort of), we can resist and in Jesus Christ can finally overcome.
There are people who are possessed by the devil. There are authenticated cases for which modern medicine has no explanation. Christian history and experience provides many more. In our Orthodox Priest’s prayer books are prayers for exorcism, to be used very cautiously with people, first carefully eliminating every other possibility – medical, psychological and so on. But after that if the person is still out of control…
I’ve used prayers of exorcism a few times not on people but on places – two old buildings in or near Cedarburg (a town noted for “haunts), another in the old home of a parishioner. With success, though in one case it took three exorcisms to lay that one low. One of these left me seriously creeped out. (Sometimes I wonder how ever did I get into this line of work…)
But, again, being personally possessed is exceedingly rare. If you’ve read this far in today’s Post you’re probably not!
However in another way we’ve all “got demons”. Satan is definitely within us – or has been. Why else do you suppose we have Prayers of Exorcism of those about to be baptized – including infants? Because we are “conceived in sin” Psalm 51 (52) – a misleading translation, not meant to imply that sex is sinful. Many translators now put it: “My mother was a sinner when she bore me”, or “I was a sinner from the time my mother conceived me”. (“Sin”, remember, properly translated means only “off the mark”.) We are born into a world that is off the mark, where Satan reigns, and in Holy Baptism we are first redeemed and set free.
After that the whole of the Christian life consists of fighting to keep him from getting back in. Sometimes we win. Sometimes we fail – as evidenced by those (I hope none here reading) who are controlled by their “demons” (as even secularists say), by drugs or alcohol or anger or hatred or pride, or… And that is sometimes each of us, is it not? In this battle we may fail, but we need not lose. And the way to drive the devil out or away, is to use all the holy “repellents” the Church gives us – the Sacrament of Confession, the Holy Eucharist, Holy Unction, regular prayer and the rest, not forgetting the Holy Church herself, God’s people both on earth and on high who support us and strengthen us and urge us on in their company. We need never be alone.
So even if we are not “demon-possessed”, we all have “got demons”, are often tempted by them, and will have to fight them and push them away from us for the rest of our lives – till finally Christ sets us free from them in the Kingdom of Heaven.
Never forget: “Our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, powers, the rulers of the darkness of this age, spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” Ephesians 6:12
The earliest Christian Creed was “Jesus Christ is Lord.” Jesus Christ is stronger than Satan and all his evil powers, even stronger than death. “The last enemy to be conquered will be death.” I Corinthians 15:26
Next Two Weeks: a new series – The Divine Liturgy