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Question 111.


Dear Fr Christopher,

We read in Mark (9:33-41) At that time, Jesus and his disciples came to Capernaum, and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” But they were silent; for on the way they had discussed with one another who was the greatest. And he sat down and called the twelve; and he said to them, “If any one would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” And he took a child, and put him in the midst of them; and taking him in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.” John said to him, “Teacher, we saw a man casting out demons in your name, and we forbade him, because he was not following us.” But Jesus said, “Do not forbid him; for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon after to speak evil of me. For he that is not against us is for us. For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ, will by no means lose his reward.”
Is it known who this man was that was casting out demons in the name of Jesus". Did Jesus meet this man at an earlier time? How else could this man have known who Jesus was for him to be performing exorcisms? Also how do the exorcisms of our times differ from the exorcisms of Jesus' time? Now we have prayers written by St Basil, Gregory, Kyprianos, Chrysostom etc. Some of these prayers are very lengthy. Back when the apostles were performing exorcisms, they did not have these prayers that were written by the Saints. Would they just simply say the name of Jesus with faith for the demons to be cast out?
I remember from the Gospel of Matthew, (chapter 17) that Jesus said: "This kind is cast out only by prayer and fasting". Was it just prayer and fasting that was necessary for the exorcism to be performed successfully? Was there a specific rite, ritual or method of performing exorcisms that differs to today's exorcisms being conducted?

In Christ,
Regards, John


Answer to Question 111.

 

Dear John
It's very possible that tradition may have passed down the name of the person, but I haven't as yet come across it. By Tradition we do know what became of the child in the story, he grew up and was martyred for Christ by being thrown into the arena and devoured by lions. He was Saint Ignatius the second bishop of Antioch. The Church celebrates his feastday on 20th December and again on 29th January.
The man casting out demons must certainly have known who Christ was and it's very possible that he met with Christ. He may even have seen Jesus casting out demons and even the apostles. John's apprehension is justified because here was a man who had the power to cast out demons like the rest of the apostles, yet he was unknown to them and wasn't one of the many in the company that followed Christ. John was not showing signs of jealousy or envy towards the man, he simply felt that all followers of Christ should be one of their company. John did not charge the man as teaching something that was not in line with what Christ taught and from Christ's answer it is clear that the man was not against him and that he cast out demons in his name, so that means that he believed in the power of Christ's name and was a faithful disciple without being in the physical company of the apostles. He could only have been granted the power to cast out demons by Christ himself and without this blessing he could not have accomplished anything. In Luke's account of the same event we are told in the immediate chapter that Christ appointed another Seventy Apostles and sent them to various cities to preach and heal the sick and had the power to cast out demons. It's possible that the unidentified man whose faith was strong enough to cast out demons was later included in the company of the Seventy.
Exorcism is the casting out of demons that have made their abode in certain people or places. Christ commanded the demons to depart and they obeyed and departed. The apostles also commanded in the name of Christ and the demons departed. They did not have lengthy prayers and didn't need them because the power is not in the prayer, but in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ. As the church grew and became established prayers were written by various saints for various occasions. In the official book of prayers used by the Church (Mega Euchologion) there are four prayers by St. Basil and four from St. John Chrysostom. These are prayers for those who are afflicted by demons and sicknesses in general. Some of these prayers are not exorcism prayers as such, but petition prayers to God to heal the person and to expel from him every kind of influence by the devil whether it be through magic, fortune readings, visiting charmers and spiritual mediums, fornication, adultery and every other sin that might cause the person to be under the influence of the devil. The actual exorcism prayers are not directed to God as petition, but are directed directly to the devil commanding him to depart from the person. It is the same command that the apostles used, but whereas the apostle's command was short and simple the commands have been enhanced and enriched with events from the Gospels and descriptions of who God is to show that the devil has no power before the power of God. If we break down these long prayers to the actual command then there is no difference to what the priest says today with what the apostles said. Both are commands said with faith and power in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ commanding the devil to depart from the person.
In our modern era demonic possession is a very rare phenomenon, but that does not make it any less real. People can be possessed with demons and the New Testament is witness to Christ casting out many demons from people. Today Science has swept away much of what used to be considered demonic possession. Diseases of the mind such as Schizophrenia, Tourette’s syndrome and various forms of psychosis were once regarded as signs of diabolical possession. We have come a long way over the years and many of the people suffering from these diseases can live active and normal lives while on medication. But there are cases where science cannot identify the cause in someone's personality change and can offer no cure or medication to help the symptoms. Where science cannot find an answer the Church usually has and in these cases, if she considers that the person is possessed with an evil spirit, has the power to cast out the demon from the person.
As already said, demonic possession is very rare and theologians believe that a baptized Orthodox Christian cannot be possessed because the grace he received at baptism and the seal of the Holy Spirit with which he was signed protects him from demonic possession in the biblical sense. In fact all Orthodox Christians have had an Exorcism performed on them before they were received into the Church as full members. Before the person is baptized the priest performs the service of the catechumen. During this service there are three exorcism prayers read to cast out demons from the person. The first two exorcism prayers are not directed at the person preparing for baptism, but directly at the devil and his demons. The prayers are as follows (in short):
1st Prayer
"The Lord reproaches thee, o devil... I adjure thee by the living God... Be rebuked and depart for I adjure thee by Him who walked upon the waves of the sea as though upon dry land... For it is Christ that now commands thee through us; be afraid, come out and depart from this creature, and return not, neither hide thyself in him/her, nor encounter him/her, nor operate in him/her, or influence him/her, either by night or by day, nor in the morning or at noon: but get thee hence to thine own hell, until the appointed day of judgement. Come out and depart from the sealed and newly enlisted soldier of Christ our God, for I adjure thee by Him that walketh upon the wings of the winds, who maketh His Angels spirits and His Ministers a flame of fire. Come out and depart from this creature together with all thy power and demonic angels."
2nd Prayer
"God, the Holy, the fearful and glorious, He who hath foreordained for thee, o devil, the retribution of eternal suffering, He commands thee and all thy collaborating might, through us, His unworthy servants, to go forth from him/her that is newly sealed in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, our True God. Therefore thou most evil, unclean, impure, loathsome and alien spirit, I adjure thee by the power of Jesus Christ, who hath all authority in heaven and on earth, who said unto the deaf and dumb demon, “Come out of the man and enter no more into him.” Come out, and depart from him/her who is now being made ready for Holy Illumination. I adjure thee by the saving Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by His Precious Body and Blood, and by His dreadful Coming Again. For He shall come and shall not delay, to judge all the earth, and He shall punish thee and thy collaborating might in the everlasting hell fire, casting thee to the outer darkness where the worm dieth not and the fire is not quenched."
After the prayers the candidate renounces Satan and all his works and embraces Christ with a confession of faith.
During the actual baptism service the Church leaves nothing to chance. The candidate is free from inner demonic possession but demons can still attack from without. To protect the candidate the church blesses oil which is now called Exorcised Oil and applies this to the candidate's body. The Exorcised oil acts like an armour protecting the candidate and at the same time has the power to chase away all the invisible powers of the evil one. St. John Chrysostom says: "God anoints your countenance and stamps thereon the sign of the Cross. In this way does God hold in check all the frenzy of the Evil One; for the devil will not dare to look upon such a sight. Just as if he had beheld the rays of the sun and had leaped away, so will his eyes be blinded by the sight of your face and he will depart." The water is also exorcised lest the demons try to enter the baptismal font.
Unlike the Roman Catholic rite of Exorcism, which is very long, the Orthodox Church does not have an official Exorcism rite and it must be stressed that the exorcism prayers of Sts. Basil and John Chrysostom have seldom been used. The vast majority of priests have never said exorcism prayers except for those read at the service of catechumens at baptism. There is no ritual order as such and if the need ever arose, the prayers are to be read simply by the priest without gestures, emotions or dramatization unlike the Roman rite where the priest even commands the unclean spirit to open dialogue by telling him by some sign its name, and the day and hour of its departure. The Orthodox prayers for Exorcism vary in length, some being extremely long, but the order is simple because they were never intended to be used frequently by the Church. The prayers of exorcism in the service of catechumens at the time of baptism were considered sufficient for the banishment of evil. The Roman Catholic Church needs exorcism rites because according to the canons of our Church they have not been baptized (see Talk 55 - Talk on being received through Chrismation or Baptism) and therefore are susceptible to demonic possession. We have seen many films like "The Exorcist" where Roman Catholic priests are called to perform an exorcism, but these rites have nothing in common with Orthodoxy. We do see Orthodox people that have been influenced by demons, but these are external influences which can affect the stability of the mind and make someone act as though he is possessed, but these are not true demonic possessions, they are disturbed and unbalanced minds that need healing.
Christ said that certain demons never cometh out except by prayer and fasting. This means that just as with the angels where there are different ranks (Archangels, Angels, Thrones, Principalities, Cherubim, Seraphim etc. and have different ministries and strengths so also the fallen angels have different ranks and strengths. The apostles tried to exorcise a boy who had been possessed of a demon by commanding it to depart but they failed. When they asked Christ why they failed he replied because of your unbelief and because some demons need more effort to be cast out. He didn't mean that they had no faith in God, but rather that they lacked confidence and boldness in their command and probably doubted that they had the power to actually cast out the demon.
When we fast the flesh and the spirit struggle one against the other. True bodily fasting leads to the triumph of the spirit over the body, and gives a man power over the stomach, it subdues the flesh and permits it not to commit fornication and uncleanness. It strengthens the seeker after godliness in spiritual battles and proves to be a formidable weapon against evil spirits. Because it is a self sacrifice it is a form of humility which is necessary in prayer. When we prayer with a full stomach we are weighed down, but when we are fasting and Christ here means true fasting which means to not eat anything all day, then the body is light and responsive and is prepared suitably to serve the soul in prayer so that the complete man prays and not just the soul. Thus fasting involves preparing the body to pray and when united with the prayer of the soul then it can cast out even the most defiant and stubborn of demons.

In Christ
Fr. Christopher