Thursday, September 18, 2014

Yesterday I realized that today is the 10th anniversary of the release of “Shadows of the Dark”, a book I wrote for John Zaffis about 12-13 years ago as a layman. At the time of its release I did not really promote the endeavor, as ordained... ministry was on the horizon (in a western church before becoming Orthodox). I was also drifting away from working cases in which people claimed they were experiencing preternatural activity, becoming more focused on ministry in other areas. My outlook certainly has changed (Roman Catholic with some flexibility… to embracing Holy Orthodoxy) and the framework of helping such afflicted people is much narrower in scope (true resolve coming from developing a life in Christ in the true, historic, undivided Church He actually founded; the Orthodox Church). John and I have remained friends all of these years despite differences of opinion and he is really like extended family.
For quite a few years we traveled all over the place working many cases where people or homes were afflicted by supposed otherworldly activity. I was exposed to things that are not supposed to exist and that Hollywood seems unable to depict accurately. Now, as a priest a decade later, the topic comes up off and on. Given my background, I am often asked what I think on the topics of ghosts, hauntings, preternatural beings, exorcism, etc. Because of the rise of “paranormal pop culture” over the last decade or so, I typically look at the topic with embarrassment, even though I was not involved with all the hoopla such as all the television shows (which are horrible by the way).

When posed the question I think it is geared more towards the aspect of outward phenomena or mysterious manifestations. As a priest there have been a few instances, when I was asked what I thought about a particular circumstance. Before I was Orthodox I would say I definitely witnessed or had access to some evidence that was definitely frightening due to shadowing some clergy, researchers and so forth. However we cannot necessarily put our focus on the outward manifestations, but must be aware of the eternal consequences of true demonic activity. If someone is truly experiencing demonic activity then chances are there is a specific reason (lack of faith, meddling in occult practices, giving in to passions, forsaking God for false religions, the list is endless). So our focus should be on repentance, restoration in Christ, living the gospel and not an unhealthy interest in darkness.

On a side note and a bit of a disclaimer the whole notion of “the devil made me do it” and the negation of free will is foreign to Holy Orthodoxy. However, we can indeed become ensnared and a plaything for wicked spirits due to subjugation to the passions often by demonic instigation given our consent. Modern commentary of demons via secular sources, Hollywood, false faiths have given to humanity all manner of delusion on the subject. Outright denial of their existence by so-called modern thinking of this age, relegating their existence to the realm of superstition is also is misguided. So we need to realize the conception of demons outside of the patristic mindset is flawed, skewed and completely unable to broach the subject. 

 We know first and foremost that Satan was the instigator of the fall of man. In regards to salvation history even further throughout the Old Testament we see infernal forces at work, who tempt mankind and relish in his departure from God. In the book of Deuteronomy, we see that Moses was clearly aware of the existence of evil spirits and the war they wage. We see the even further the Righteous Job coming under satanic hardships and an evil spirit that further harassed Saul.
The freeing of people from the evil one was some of the first visible work that our Lord Jesus Christ took on in His public ministry (Matt. 4:24, 8:16, 9:32-34; Mark 1:32-34; Luke 4:41, 8:2, 11:4)
Some will boldly proclaim that this was another era and humankind understands psychological maladies, various illnesses better than anytime in human history. However, the gospels and the fathers of the Church have always made a distinction between mental illness and demonic affliction. Holy Scripture and our holy tradition distinguishes between possession and demonic influence, just as both are differentiated from mental and neurologic illness. Some may be harassed or wage battle in the realm of thoughts, others have been possessed.

 According to Orthodox theology, as summarized in the teachings of Saint John of Damascus, angels are spiritual beings, ever-moving, free, bodiless, who serve God and are by grace immortal. The form and condition of these beings, only God knows. But the angels are bodiless and ever-moving in their relation to man.

I went through the Philokalia(“love of the beautiful”, a large volume of spiritual teaching from many of the great ascetics of the Church such as Saint Isaac the solitary, Saint Maximos the Confessor, Saint Mark the ascetic) to see what the fathers had to say about dark beings. After doing a word search this is what I came up with:

They are the producers of seductive fantasies and deceits, purveyors of torment, both to themselves and to us, by means of evil thoughts alone. They are tempters who attack the spiritual man, seeking his ruin. They are bitter beings with an intellect that try to ensnare whoever will fall at their feet especially by arousing, instigating, and feeding the passions by subtle suggestion. They are disobedient and love corruption pestering spiritual athletes with various thoughts. Demons capture the soul by violence through the bodily senses, especially when they find us faint-hearted in pursuing the spiritual path. They are, indeed, murderers provoking the soul to what it does not want. They wish to do one thing; destroy the soul of the man created in the image and likeness of God.

Further, Saint Paul tells us, “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armour of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand” (Ephesians 6:12,13). This is therefore not a trivial matter. These evil minions try and try again, striving to find our weaknesses and once found try to pierce the armor which we have attained, breaching it, seeking our ruin by all means to feed and instigate those passions which we are subject to. This is enslavement.

This is of course the opposite of complete freedom in Christ which leads to liberation, restoration, and communion with God, true blessedness, peace and love. Christ shows us His glory and majesty, His dominion over these demons. In the gospels Christ brought those who were possessed to restoration, from a bestial state to humanness. Many were brought from abject slavery into true freedom, helpless captivity to being free in Christ the ruler of all. 

 The demons really in and of themselves have no power, but unfortunately we in our weakness and give them reign to tempt us. It is important to realize their existence, recognize them for what they are; another enemy, another distraction as we approach Christ. 

 We must guard the mind; keep watchfulness over the heart constantly, knowing that snares have indeed been laid out for us. However if we walk in the light, remain faithful and obedient to Christ, we will walk upon and crush these serpents and scorpions. 

 We must be aware that life is a battle, an eternal war for the soul. Satan wants all to be under his jurisdiction. Being the father of lies and the king of perdition he will lead anyone astray that he may, to perish alongside him for the pride that so defines him, continues to ruin him and has separated him from the Almighty Father forever. He tries to deceive because his time, his reign, his simple yet decisive power is limited. Jesus Christ has come to undo what the devil has done, the save man from their sins. He has come to restore us to the glory of God the Father and to have us become sons and daughters by adoption. No man may go to the Father except through our great mediator and advocate. No man can be saved unless it is by the greater glory of Christ through His advocacy. The Truth, that is Christ, is the only means of healing from our sinfulness and combatting dark forces. It is His blood which redeems us, not the blood of animal sacrifices or burnt offerings. It is He who is the Redeemer, He who is the restorer of life.

Do not meddle in false spiritual practices such as contacting the dead(this includes what is today passed off as “ghost hunting”), new age meditation practices, consulting with psychics, tarot cards, dream therapy, and all of the other detriments being passed off as “spiritual”. 

Much love in Christ,
Fr. Maximos

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