Posted on March 7, 2011


By: Demetrius (Co-Founder of the OCPRS)

“For we do not wrestle 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.” Ephesians 6:12

     According to the Church, demons relentlessly fight against mankind’s salvation. At one time these demons were angels, but they rebelled against God and Heaven. From the Revelation of John 7, the description of this fall from grace is given: “And war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought with the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, but they did not prevail, nor was a place found for them in heaven any longer. So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.” The reason for the Devil’s fall is also mentioned in Isaiah 14. Chief among all demons is the Devil; the slanderer and accuser! He is called Lucifer and Satan; the morning star and adversary of mankind. From the Counsels from the Holy Mountain, of Elder Ephraim, Satan is described as “the filthiest of God’s creatures, not by nature – for God made everything very good – but by his own choice to be evil and rebellious.” The same is true of those angels who followed the Devil. Unlike humanity, these angels fell into a state beyond repentance. The reason for this is partly due to their incorporeal nature, but more accurately their fall was a deliberate one. Their angelic freewill turned to that of self-will.

     St. Augustine provides some details concerning the nature of these fallen angels. Of these demons he wrote: “The nature of demons is such that, through the sense perception belonging to the aerial body, they readily surpass the perception possessed by earthly bodies, and in speed, too.” (The Divination of Demons, St. Augustine). These demons cannot be perceived in the ordinary way. Demons, like their master, are recognized to the realm of air. In Ephesians 2:2, there is a reference to this, where it states, “…the prince of the power of the air…” This does not imply that demons are elemental, but does suggest an aspect about their nature. It suggests that demons are subject to time and space, among other things.

     The nature of demons is impure. Although having lost the purity of their angelic spirit, they remain bodiless spirits. Much like their master, these demons can and do appear as angels of light (2 Corinthians 11:14). When demons appear as angels of light, such an appearance is intended to deceive people; convincing people of accepting something that is seemingly good. This is why St. John taught “do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God” (1 John 4:1). Throughout various hagiographies there are descriptions of demonic manifestations, and the appearances of demons have been described in a variety of ways. Many things described to paranormal phenomenon have occurred through demonic influences, including apparitions. In regards to how demonic visions and apparitions can appear in order to deceive the living, Fr. Seraphim Rose explains, “Although the demons, in appearing to men, usually assuming the appearance of bright angels in order to deceive them more easily […] they also strive sometimes to convince men that they are human souls and not demons.” (The Soul After Death, Fr. Seraphim Rose). Demons do not typically appear in their true form. Their true form, however, is monstrous. In Orthodox Iconography, if ever demons are depicted, they are black to show they are without God’s light. St. John Cassian wrote, “…the frightful spectacle of the faces into which they are transformed and changed by their own will, whenever they wish, men would be struck with unbearable terror…” (Conferences, St. John Cassian of Gaul). The appearance of demons is beyond any true comprehension by humanity, and there is no vision that can be seen which reveals the true form of evil. Instead, it is by testing the spirits that people can comprehend their true nature.

     As fearsome as demons are thought to be, they lack the strength of their former angelic glory. They are debased, spiteful, and full of rage towards God and His creation. However, they also fear what is Holy. From the Epistle of James 2:19, the demons “tremble” before God. Although hideous, demons fear humanity when people have a firm faith in God. St. Anthony the Great, who experienced demonic manifestations throughout his ascetic struggles, said, “When any kind of vision presents itself, do not be 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 demonic apparition, when it encounters firmness in your soul it will immediately waver, because the question serves as a sign of a brave soul.” (Life of St. Anthony).

     Demons are not able to foresee the future otherwise they would have foreseen their own downfall. They can, however, give humanity the impression that the future is theirs to behold. On this issue, St. Augustine also explains, “they foretell and declare many things that they have recognized far in advance […] The demons too, through the long period into which their life is extended, have gained far greater experience in events than accrues men because of the brief span of their lives.” (The Divination of Demons, St. Augustine). The experiences, obtained by demons due to their longevity, have permitted them to “predict” the future, or at least this is how many people have been deceived. Human nature is so well understood by demons, that they may “predict” and influence events to come true, thereby deceiving humanity.

     There is spiritual warfare taking place, and these fallen angels – the demons – strive to destroy every soul they possibly can. On this matter Fr. Seraphim Rose describes it best from his book The Soul After Death: “their chief function is to tempt or frighten men and thus drag them to perdition with themselves.” The demons are known to tempt humanity. How this is usually accomplished is through the Passions (Gluttony, Lust, Sloth, Envy, Pride, Anger, and Greed). In frightening humanity, demonic manifestations and afflictions occur to make humanity despair and flee from the faith in God. Deceit is the language of demons, and even when they speak a truth it is to serve an evil purpose. Such language belonging to demons serves to tempt and to inspire fear. Yet, demons are also known to trespass upon the human soul in other ways.

     Both the Orthodox Church and Roman Catholic Church believe that people, places, and objects can be possessed by demons. The following is an explanation of what demonic possession is: a condition whereby an unclean spirit takes up habitation in a person; causing physical disorder and the suppression of the person’s soul and freewill. When objects are filled with unclean spiritual influences, they are accursed things. The influence exerted by cursed objects serves to tempt and mislead people into sin. Such objects do not have “mystical” powers, but simply serve to exert demonic influence. Here, the influence may take on a sort of obsession, whereby the individual suffers what can be described as a partial form of demonic possession.

     Before explaining some of the more telling signs of demonic possession, there are psychological considerations, but even these may be seen as problems in need of spiritual healing. The proper name for those people afflicted by demonic possession is, Demoniac. One of the meanings applied to the term Demoniac was “madness.” However, the focus here is not about medical conditions. Those who are thought to be possessed often exhibit signs similar to those with psychological disorders. Despite this, there are other signs which do not fit comfortably within the understanding of modern medicine. In his book, Hostage to the Devil, Malachi Martin expounds upon the Roman Catholic experiences and writes: “obvious repugnance to all signs, symbols, mention, and sight of religious objects, places, people, ceremonies.” These signs are the most common types seen in those afflicted by demonic possession. There are additional circumstances accompanying such aversions to the Church, but these other conditions are largely misunderstood by the majority of people.

     What is often set aside as strictly paranormal phenomenon most often occurs, and is owed, to incidents of demonic possession. The problem existing today is how such paranormal phenomenon is sensationalized in movies and on television. For this reason, attention will be turned onto Biblical and Patristic sources in order to draw attention back onto the reality of such phenomenon associated to demonic possession.

     According to various descriptions of such people in the Bible, one can easily recognize some of the better known displays of paranormal phenomenon. In the Acts of the Apostles 16:16-18, a woman who is possessed is said to prophecy or foretell the future. Here, the demonic deception of foretelling the future is present. This is but one sign recognized in the teachings of the Church. On the other hand, both the Orthodox Church and Roman Catholic Church recognize that demonic influence was present in many of the “miracles” of St. Cyprian during his days as a sorcerer. In St. Cyprian’s attempt to make St. Justina become filled with the passion of lust, his “magic” made use of demons who would try to compel her with sexual desires in order to bring her under the control of another. It is important to recognize that demonic possession or obsession can sometimes occur to bring about a sinful action against more than one person. The same is true of the possessed woman described in the Acts of the Apostles. Yet, the biblical examples are not intended to be limited to such purposes on the part of demons. Clearly they are not.

     Elsewhere, in the Gospel of Matthew 8:28 the Demoniacs are first described as “exceedingly fierce.” This fierceness is further explained in another example found in the Gospel of Mark 5:3-4, where it states: “and no one could bind him, not even with chains, because he had often been bound with shackles and chains. And the chains had been pulled apart by him, and the shackles broken in pieces; neither could anyone tame him.” Throughout many cases of demonic possession, such fierceness and inhuman strength is not uncommon. As the term Demoniac suggests, such demonic possession is seen as madness. Again, from the Gospel of Mark the description goes on to mention that the Demoniac spent his time among the tombs, cried out, and would cut himself. In cases of demonic possession, such madness is exhibited in self-destructive ways, and many Demoniacs have been known to harm themselves physically.

     Exorcism is a rite of prayer used to help people afflicted by demonic influences and possession. From the Gospel of Matthew 10:8, Jesus Christ gives such authority in His name: “Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons…” In chapter 28 of the Gospel of Matthew Jesus Christ repeats the casting out of demons as part of His great commission to the disciples. In both the Orthodox Church and Roman Catholic Church, the exorcism rite is performed by a priest based on the apostolic succession demonstrated in the New Testament. The rites of exorcism vary between the Orthodox Church and Roman Catholic Church, but each is equally valid. Within the Orthodox Church the better known rites of exorcism are those written by St. John Chrysostom and St. Basil the Great. The Roman Catholic Church uses the Rituale Romanum (Roman Rite). Once again, an important aspect of these rites of exorcism is that only priests are authorized to perform them. Fr. George Grube explains this point very well in his book The Orthodox Church A to Z, where he writes, “Casting out evil needs the assistance of the Church through her corporate prayers, and accomplished through the faith and the exemplary spiritual life of her members. This prevents Satan and his legions from gaining hold of individuals or groups who may be sorely lacking in holiness.” However, there are prayers that can be used by every Christian, such as the prayer to St. Michael the Archangel found in the Roman Catholic Church. Whether exorcism rites or prayers of intercession are used, they are not magical incantations/formulas that are simply recited. In the Acts of the Apostles 19:11-16, the seven sons of Sceva along with a Jewish priest attempted to exorcise a demon possessed man, using the name of Jesus Christ and the Apostle Paul. They failed because of their lack of faith in the Son of God. Without sincere faith, these rites and prayers are just words.

     There are many people who believe they can perform the rite of exorcism themselves independently from their Church. There are dangers involved for those not authorized to do so. Even when those performing the rite of exorcism are Christian the dangers are many. In 2005, at the Holy Trinity monastery at Tanacu, Romania, a bizarre exorcism was performed resulting in the death of a nun. The hieromonk attending to the monastery – Fr. Daniel Petru Corogeanu – performed an exorcism for a nun who believed the Devil was speaking to her. The exorcism rite performed by Fr. Corogeanu was combined with an unknown method of crucifying the afflicted nun. Hanging on the cross for three days, the nun eventually died. The Orthodox Church defrocked Fr. Corogeanu, along with four other nuns who assisted him with the exorcism. The dangers involved in exorcism are obvious in this tragedy, and the warnings provided by the Church equally apply to its own members. Other dangerous beliefs and practices exist in what has come to be called deliverance ministry among Charismatic Christian groups. Here, the dangers are great, and many deliverance ministries suffer from the sensationalism of expelling demons. To be precise, the inherent dangers found throughout deliverance ministries are that its participants become dependant on the sensationalistic experience of expelling demons rather than helping those who are truly afflicted. Such carnal-minded delusions have reduced demonic possession and exorcism to a side-show among Charismatic groups.

     Many paranormal societies have also taken up exorcism and have further corrupted it for sensationalistic and misguided purposes. The methods of exorcism used by some paranormal societies are diverse, and although exorcism rites and prayers from the Church may be used it is not always demons which are thought to be expelled. Many such groups believe they are also expelling “ghosts” – the spirits of the dead people. Demonic possession is often ignored in favour of spirit possession, which includes a variety of so-called spiritual entities like ghosts, gods, and extraterrestrials. The belief in such a variety of spiritual beings also invites a variety of exorcism-like rituals belonging to non-Christian religions, such as those found in Modern Spiritualism, Voodoo, Wicca, the New Age, etc. Far removed from the traditional and recognized methods of Christian exorcism, these other occult practices have further distanced people from the legitimacy and seriousness of demonic possession.