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Question 24

Hello, Fr. Christopher  I was just wondering. The gospels have accounts of Christ healing persons who were demon possessed. Were this actual accounts of people possessed by demons or were these persons mentally ill? Perhaps the gospel writers referred to them as demon possessed because maybe at the time mental illness was attributed to the devil. How and why would demons possess someone?



Answer to Question 24


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. These were not people suffering from some mental disorder, but real possessions. To deny this would be to deny that Christ cast out demons and that the dialogue he had with some of them were imaginary which would then question Christ’s sanity.


If we are to accept the New Testament as the Word of God then we must accept that every word and every miracle is true. I'm sure that alongside those who were possessed there were many others who suffered from mental disorders, but these sufferers are not mentioned and are a completely different category. 


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 prayers that effectively cast out the demon from the person. 


As noted 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. 

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. But there are prayers for exorcism other than the pre-baptismal prayers. 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. However, it must be stressed that these exorcism prayers 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. For people who have not been baptized possession is a possibility, but not against the person’s free will. The person, in accordance with his lifestyle, must in some way allow evil to influence him and even to enter him.  Speaking on demons and possession can be frightening to many people especially in our times where we have been brainwashed by the film industry with frightful images of demons, and demonic powers that supposedly can cause us harm against our will. The truth is Christ has overcome the devil, but he allows him to tempt us so that through temptation we may gain knowledge on how to fight temptation and grow spiritually.


When Christ sent out the Seventy disciples to heal and cast out demons they returned saying: "Lord, even the devils are subject unto us through thy name." And Christ answered: "I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven." signifying that Satan was beaten from the moment he rebelled against God. Christ also said: "Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you." (Luke 10:17-19) Orthodox have nothing to fear from the devil. If they live their lives devoutly with prayer and fasting, participation in the Sacraments, keeping the commandments, helping the needy and learning to love all people, the grace and Spirit of God they received at baptism will remain with them throughout their lives protecting them from all forces of evil. These are the weapons and armour that Christ and the Church have bestowed upon us for as St. Paul says in his Epistle to the Ephesians: "Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. (Ephesians 6:11)