By Archimandrite Vasilios Bakoyiannis
What a Tibetan Occultist Saw
In 1970, an occultist from Tibet visited Athens. As he was walking along the street, he saw, by divine dispensation, devils who had attached themselves to people.
There was a devil on the neck, another on the ears, another on the nose, another on the mouth and so on. But the occultist also saw something that set him thinking, namely, that the devils were unable to approach priests. They went all around them, circling to find an opening, but were unable to do so.
“Who are these people with beards and black clothing?” the occultist asked a passerby.
“They are the priests of our Church, etc.” explained the other.
“And if you want to see a lot of them, and good ones at that, go to the Holy Mountain.”
He went to the Holy Mountain, where the monks directed him to Father Paisios (+ 1994). As a result, the occultist became aware of certain things. He repented. He was baptized . He became a Christian and took the name Theodore.
Why couldn’t the devil attach himself to priests? Because they belong to Christ’s priesthood. And through this office, they perform sacraments, which, as we shall see, cause the devil to tremble.
“Three Things I Fear”
Our Holy Fathers fought the devil in hand to hand combat. Very often they talked to him and learned his “secrets.” In one such discussion, the devil was forced to confess to an ascetic, “There are three things I fear: First, what the Christians hang about their necks (the Cross); second, the bath they take in church (Confession); and third, what they eat and drink in church (Holy Communion).” Now note this: he feared these things so much that he wouldn’t even refer to them directly. And the devil added to the holy ascetic: “What I fear most of all is what the Christians eat and drink in church, provided, of course, they do so with a clear conscience.”
We are like fire-breathing lions to the demons when we take communion (says St. John Chrysostom): “As lions breathing fire, so do we depart from that table, having become terrible to the demons.”
“Three things I fear,” said the devil. Yet these three things are all part of Christianity. It’s as if the devil were saying that of all faiths (Buddhism, Islam, etc.) he fears ONLY Christianity, because Christians alone have the appropriate weapons to fight him.
This means the following: Only by Christianity is the devil bound hand and foot. In the other religions he has a free range of action. “For all the gods of the heathens are devils, but the Lord made the heavens" (Ps. 95:5). And, “They sacrificed to demons, not to God" (Dt. 32:17).
Another very important weapon against the devil is exorcism.
At baptism, according to the Holy Fathers, the devil is at the center of the soul of the unbaptized. Through exorcism, he is expelled from the heart and the person is set free. “Depart from him/her, every evil and unclean spirit hidden and lurking in the heart.” So exorcism is a dreadful experience for the devil. He is challenged to depart from his victim. And like it or not, he departs.
Since the exorcism prayers at baptism are so specifically aimed at our salvation, St. Symeon of Thessaloniki advises that they be said very clearly and not just once. Otherwise the devil will find a way to trouble the Christian.
In the early Christian Church, the reading of the exorcism prayers was a separate and impressive ritual.
● There were special priests who read the prayers, called the “exorcists.”
● They were read many times: “Absorb yourselves in the exorcism prayers,” St. Cyril of Jerusalem urged those under instruction for baptism.
● The catechumens covered their eyes and faces, so as not to have their attention distracted (as happens today at the ordination of a deacon, who covers his head and face with a “towel”).
For “Curses” and the Possessed
Our Church uses the exorcism prayers of St. Basil the Great and St. John Chrysostom, which are read over all those who are suffering from possession and curses.
The late Father Porphyrios, who knew much about demons, used to say about the exorcism prayers:
● They were not to be read unless there was a serious, specific reason.
● They were to be read silently (without those present being able to hear).
● Self-appointed exorcists, and those who read the prayers aloud in public, he berates.
● When the exorcism prayers are not read when and as they should be, then the devil assails the victim, the priest and those present.
When the exorcism prayers are read over someone who is not yet baptized, Satan becomes infuriated. Something similar occurs when they are read over someone who is possessed.
The devil, who is “bombarded” by the prayers, is challenged to depart from his victim. He is called upon to do something he detests. And he becomes very angry!
The furious devil takes it out on his victim! He tortures him horribly. He contorts him and makes him writhe.
The Priest / Exorcist
In December, 1996, a lady went to a church in the town of Patras in Greece and asked the priest (who later told the story) to read the exorcism prayers of St. Basil the Great. The priest was willing and did as she requested.
As he made his way back home, stones began flying around him. He looked back but could see no one. Then, at midnight, something terrible happened. The whole house began to shake. The plates and the glasses in the kitchen sink were hurled against the wall and smashed. The cupboards in the house crashed to the floor. The priest quickly put on his stole, read the prayers which began “Holy God…” and the wickedness stopped.
It’s quite clear. The demons were infuriated by the exorcism prayers and attacked the “culprit”.
At the time of St. John Chrysostom, possessed people would be brought to the Divine Liturgy. Some Christians who were present at one such service were not paying attention and were chatting among themselves. St. John, who was an expert in the wiles of the devil, addressed his flock:
“Aren’t you worried, now that you’re making this noise, in case one of these demons leaps out and finds your soul vacant, like a house without a door, and just walks in? Even if you don’t care about your possessed brethren, take pity on yourselves. Close the door of your soul against the evil demon.”
So, when you attend an exorcism without due attention, you could become possessed yourself!
The experience of our Holy Fathers teaches that what draws demons out of people is humility.
There was a father who had a daughter who was possessed. He took her to a hermit to have her restored to health. As soon as the possessed girl saw the hermit, she slapped his face. Not only did he not react but, in accordance with the Lord’s commandment, he offered the other cheek as well. This attitude of his (humility) was a blow to the demon. At once it began to cry: “I’m being driven out by the Lord’s commandment.” The possessed girl was made well again. Thereafter, the elders glorified God and said, “Nothing annihilates the pride of the devil so much as humility.”
A possessed person went to an Elder to be cured. Because the Elder considered himself unworthy, he refused. At the insistence of the relatives of the sick man, however, he relented:
“Get out of God’s creature,” he said to the demon.
“I’m going,” said the demon, “but tell me, who are the sheep and who are the goats?”
“I’m the goats,” said the Elder, brokenly. “As for the sheep, God knows them.”
“Your humility is driving me out!” wailed the possessed person, and he was then cured.
When they took a possessed person to Anthony the Great, he also, great saint though he was, considered himself unworthy of driving out demons. So he sent the possessed person to his disciple Abba Paul the Simple. As the disciple was exorcising the demon, it departed from the victim, crying, “Anthony the Great’s humility is driving me out!”
From the book Confronting the Devil, Magic & the Occult, Orthodox Book Centre, Athens 2003.