Curiosity About Exorcism

There exists in the nature of American society an appeal for the provocative, the unusual, the extreme, the mysterious. There comes along from time to time an event, news story or motion picture that attracts the attention, imagination and curiosity of the people. It sweeps the country and becomes the conversation piece wherever one goes. There has recently been such an excitement and interest in a film arousing the curiosity to such a high level that people have lined up for blocks on end all over the country to see it. This phenomenon is the film, "The Exorcist", based on the book by the same name and supposedly dealing with the practice of exorcism in the Roman Catholic Church. It deals with "possession of the devil" and his works of evil, and how and why he chooses his subjects. This film has created an unusual interest in the devil, and has triggered a feverish controversy as to whether there is such a thing as "possession by demons". The question everyone is asking is why has this subject of the devil aroused such an interest and curiosity. The film is frightening, shocking, pornographic, hideous, causes people to become ill, and is blasphemous in gruesome detail. Yet it is so appealing to the public.

"The Exorcist" is awakening people to the reality of the devil that his evil works are very real in the world, influencing people and nations. The existence of the devil and his works of evil is a teaching of Scripture, where it reveals that Jesus Christ Himself banished demons from afflicted persons. The mission of Christ was not only to reveal the nature of the True God, but also to destroy the power of Satan. The Eastern Orthodox Church has used prayers of exorcism to ward off the influence of evil spirits since the third century. Presented here are the belief, teaching and practice of the Eastern Orthodox Church on exorcism.

Creation of Angels

Almighty God created the universe out of nothing. He created all the creatures visible and invisible in such a way as to constitute a unique, coherent whole. The universe declares that it is created from nothing in its grandeur and purpose. It is created by the Holy Trinity: "For from him and through him and to him are all things", Romans 11:36. God created man in a special way, uniting nature and spirit. Man is the microcosm that reflects the whole universe. God also created the invisible world, the spiritual world, the angels. The Bible refers frequently to the existence of spiritual beings, called angels, and their mission to convey the Will of God to men.

The creation of angels is a truth of the Church, its creed stating that God is the Maker of everything visible and invisible. The Bible says of the creation of the invisible world:

"For in him (Christ) all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities - all things were created through him and for him. He isbefore all things and in him all things come together",

Colossians 1:16-17.

The angels were created either before the creation of the material world, when the sense, of time is incomprehensible to man, or, it is thought by some Fathers, at the very beginning of creation, when light was created on the first day.

The nature of angels is bodiless, spiritual. They have no flesh and bones (cf. Luke 24:39). But the spiritual nature of angels is not the same as God. They have an ethereal (very thin) body, thus they cannot be everywhere at the same time. Angels often take on the forms of men or youth; they speak in human voices; they eat and appear clothed, and many times wear wings. As spiritual beings the angels have no sex, therefore do not multiply. The host of angels, though, is innumerable. Although they cannot be in many places at the same time, they move from place to place. The Holy Bible says the place of angels is in the heavens, meaning throughout the universe. The angels have great power and strength: "The angelrolled back the stone (in front of the tomb) and sat upon it", Matthew 28:2; "when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven withhis mighty angels in flaming fire", 2 Thessalonians 1:7. Physically, mentally and spiritually they are superior to man, and their will has been inclined toward good.

Angels can no longer be tempted, nor can they sin. They are self-protected ever since their test and fall at the time of temptation. Through the Grace of God, they are no longer in danger of falling. The main role of angels is to praise and glorify God and communicate and execute His Will and commandments. Their special task is to minister to the redemption of man. Angels were ministering at the birth of Christ, His temptation in the wilderness, His Resurrection. His Ascension and other such events. For "are they notall ministering spirits sent forth to serve, for the sake of those who are to obtain salvation?", Hebrews 1:14. The belief that each person is under the protection of a guardian angel was held by many Fathers of the Church,"For he will give his angels charge over you to guard you in all your ways", Psalm 91:11. The Church in its Divine Liturgy prays: "For an angel of peace, a faithful guide, a guardian of our souls and bodies". The angels act as ministers of Divine Providence, effecting the thoughts of people and the fate The Grace of God protects man. He must, however, invoke of nations without, however, interfering with their free will.

There are innumerable angels, with various ranks among them. According to Pseudo-Dionysios (4th century), the angels are divided into nine orders: Seraphim, Cherubim, Thrones; - Dominions, Principalities, Authorities; - Powers, Archangels and Angels. Names of angels are not known except for Michael, Gabriel and Rafael. The Christian prays that Almighty God protects him through the angels, especially at the time of struggle against temptation in life.

Fallen Angels Become Demons

Many angels during the time of temptation out of arrogance, self-deceit and disobedience, attempted to be above God Himself and fell from the sight of God. As self-deceited, they cannot be saved as man is saved, since he is deceived by the devil. These "fallen" angels are the demons, the evil and unclean spirits, of whom the chief is Satan. In the Bible they are referred to by various names, depending on their particular work: devil, satan, serpent, father of lies, deceiver, murderer, lucifer, tempter, evil spirit, chief of darkness, dragon, veelzevoul, veliar and eosforos. They thought they could be independent from God, and a revolution took place among the angels:

"Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, but they were defeated and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world - he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him"

Revelations 12:7-9

Demons oppose the redemptive work of Christ for the salvation of man. They attempt to lead the faithful ones away from God by placing obstacles in their path and exploiting difficult events, such as illness, loss of job, poverty, prison, etc. Nevertheless,

"Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life"

Rev. 2:10.

The work of demons among ungodly people is easier because they are willing prey for the works of evil, being arrogant and indifferent. The demons meddle in the thoughts, and activities of the faithful as much as God permits. God permits it to the point where the faithful one is able to exert his free will with the help of the Grace of God. Demons cannot effect the free will of man, but only tempt him.

The Grace of God protects man. He must, however, invoke God's help. Constant prayer and fasting, devoted meditation, regular Bible reading, following the two great commandments of God (love of God and love of neighbor) are the weapons of the Christian against temptation from demons. The inclination of the individual toward sinful desires, the so called consupisentia, is not sin in itself; it is the weakness which needs protection; it is weakness which evil spirits try to exploit. The Christian prays constantly to our Father to lead us not into temptation and to deliver us from evil (one) (cf. Mtt 6:13). The Christian should not expose himself to temptation by using drugs, pornography or loose living, which are the products of sinful thinking. The Christian should be alert, day and night, to ward off the evil temptation that surround him: "Blessed is the man who endures trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life which God has promised to those who love him". James 1:12; also the Christian should not blame others or God when yielding to temptation: "Let no one say when he is tempted, I am tempted by God; for God cannot be tempted with evil and he himself tempts no one". The Christian should blame himself when he yields. "Each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desires", and becomes the prey of self-deceitfulness, because his "desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin; and sin when it is full grown brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren", James 1:12-16.

The Christian should not always blame Satan when he himself opens the door wide to him. Without the will of man Satan cannot win his desire to tempt him, either to do bad or to become alienated from God. Man can invoke the Grace of God and His blessings to fight and win against evil. If one is not strong and submits to the desires of temptation, evil can easily "possess" him. If one permits evil spirits to develop and progress through indifference and a compromising attitude toward moral standards, then he can easily become influenced and "possessed" by evil. If one does not discriminate between good and evil and right and wrong, he can easily become "possessed" by evil. If one lacks faith in God and through this lack creates a vacuum in his heart and soul, he can easily become "possessed" by evil. If one permits this vacuum to exist in an unbelieving heart and soul, he is filled with certain "demonic" forces which will direct him in all he does.

The evil force which leads some persons to the altar of manmon is the demon of greed, where no love, warmth or heart is found. Persons who have the demon of greed never find peace for their souls and hearts nor enjoy a spirit of joy and satisfaction. Others are possessed by the demon of pride, and worship the idol of reason. They think that they journey to a life of joy and deepest satisfaction, but they soon discover that this reason is cold and unsatisfactory. Others still are led by the demon of lust, who depletes their energies, afflicts their bodies, incapacitates their minds and destroys their lives. Still others are led by the demon of fear, and seek out fortune tellers and astrologers, who fill their hearts with lies and deception and fail to provide answers which bring peace. Demons work constantly to deceive unbelieving persons into doing unsuspecting works of evil through many channels. The preliminary work of demons degenerates human nature, which is the key to captivity. Demons work in such a way to make immoral acts and deeds seem normal and acceptable. This is real "possession".


To banish the demons who tempt people, the Church instituted and uses a special service called exorcism. The verb exorcism comes from the Greek word, exorkizein; ex means "out," and horkizein means "to bind by an oath" from horkos, "oath"; to expel or drive off (an evil spirit) by adjuration, especially by use of a holy name; to deliver (a person, place, etc.) from evil spirits. Consequently exorcism means an act or process of exorcising; conjuration of evil spirits. In the third century, the Church instituted the office of exorcist to officiate the service of exorcism for catechumens before their baptism. Prior to the third century, the deacon officiated at this service, but because "Seven deacons, according to the Acts of the Apostles, should be appointed for each great city" (Canon 15, Synod of Neocaesaria), there were not enough deacons to serve all the needs of the Church. Therefore, the office of exorcist, along with many other offices (sub-deacon, reader, cantor, doorkeeper), was instituted to serve this need. The office of the exorcist is ranked higher than the reader; those who hold these offices are considered members of the clergy appointed by the bishop (cf. Canon 26, Synod of Laodicea; Canon 10, Synod of Antioch). The exorcist was considered by the Church to have the gift of curing, and was required to read prayers of exorcism in a clear and understandable voice, which was a criterion for his appointment to this office. The duty of the exorcist was to prepare the catechumen (candidate for baptism) through religious instructions to strengthen him spiritually to renounce Satan. The service of exorcism now is officiated by the priest in the service for the catechumens, which immediately precedes the Sacrament of Baptism.

The development of exorcism was a gradual process.

"Justin the Martyr in his first Apology (ch. 61) and other more ancient sources, such as the Teachings of the Apostles and the Acts of the Apostles, do not mention the renouncement of Satan, exorcism and the blessing of the waters in the service of baptism. Originally they were understood as part of the confession of faith of the candidate when the procedure for catechumens was developed, the text of the service of the catechism being added as elements of expression. Expressions in the text of the catechism relate to the renouncement of Satan. Fastings, beseechings, prayer and genuflections also relate to the meaning of exorcism."

Clement of Alexandria, Theodotos 84, P.G Migne 9, 697

At the same time, exorcism of water appeared (ib. 82) for the banishment of evil spirits from water. Exorcism of evil spirits from water later was carried over to the baptized person (Acts of Thomas, ch. 157, beginning of third century); exorcism of evil from water later was changed into a positive sign by blessing it instead, though its negative form was not entirely eliminated. The renouncement of Satan, the exorcism service and the blessing of the baptismal water are mentioned as occurring before the baptism ceremony for the first time in the third century", (Ecclesiastical History, by Stephanides, p.95). The exorcism prayers in baptism are the church's first steps for banishing evil spirits. Exorcism presupposes the teaching of the Church of the cleansing of original sin of Adam in baptism, in adults and infants as well.

Corruption Through the Fall of Adam

To understand the nature of exorcism it is necessary to understand the nature of Adam's corruption after his "fall" from Paradise. Adam was created with spiritual gifts given to him for his perfection, as well as the Grace of God. Adam was created "in the image" and "after the likeness" of God. "In the image" means that he had the potential, through free will, to reach the higher level that is "after the likeness" of God, being without corruption. Had the 'gifts bestowed on man by God been properly cultivated in Paradise, man - by the Grace of God - could have become holy and righteous and attained the "likeness" of God, instead of becoming corrupt and bringing about his own death. This is the, teaching of the Church on the state of man in Paradise. Adam was expected to exercise this free will and be tested in his effort to reach his destination - "after the likeness" of God, not death. He was tested by an opponent of the same nature and equal abilities. His opponent was envious and clever, a fallen angel in the form of a serpent, demon, Satan and Devil. His weapons were arrogance and disobedience, which he used to tempt Adam and Eve. He was "that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world", Rev. 12:9; "He (the serpent) was a murderer from the beginning", John 8:44.

Adam and Eve were tempted by arrogance, disobedience, selfishness and the desire for independence. Adam's sin of arrogance and disobedience to God's Will was a mortal one which penetrated his existence and that of subsequent generations. Thus, the punishment of the original sin is death, as revealed in Scripture: "for the wages of sin is death", Romans 6:23. Therefore, "none is righteous, no, not one; no one understands, no one seeks for God. . . there is no fear of God before their eyes", Rom. 3:10-11,18. Almighty God in His compassion sent His Son to save "fallen" man and to reconcile him with God, for "as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man's obedience many will be made righteous, Rom. 5:19. The excellences and qualities created in Adam were diminished and became blurred after his "fall"; still, man retained a spark of desire for perfection and distinguishing between good and evil. This blurred state in "fallen" man is sufficient, however, for him to know and to accept in humility and obedience God's Revealed Truths for his salvation in Christ. With this understanding of the nature and consequence of Adam's sin, the need for the exorcism of evil is more evident in baptism.

The Service of Exorcism

The service of exorcism consists of prayers banishing evil spirits from the catechumen and from persons suffering physical and mental illnesses. The service of exorcism for candidates in baptism is read during the service of catechumens preceding baptism. During the blessing of the water of baptism certain phrases banishing evil are used also. Before starting the reading of the prayers of exorcism prior to baptism, the priest welcomes the candidate and blesses him:

"In Thy name, O Lord God of truth, I lay my hand upon Thy servant, who has been found worthy to seek refuge in Thy Holy Name and to be sheltered under the shadow of Thy wings. Take from him that ancient error and fill him with Thy faith and hope and love that he may know Thou Alone art true God. inscribe him in Thy book of life. May Thine Eyes ever gaze upon him in mercy. Give him joy in the works of his hands".

In this beautiful prayer the priest does not mention the banishment of evil spirits. He welcomes the candidate in the name of the Lord, asking that he dedicate himself to a spiritual life under the protection of Christ. After this prayer, three prayers of exorcism are read for every candidate, adult or infant. The three exorcism prayers for the catechumens are the same in substance, banishing the evil spirits. Following are a few excerpts from the three exorcism prayers with which the priest invokes God to banish Satan:

"Be rebuked and depart ... Be afraid, come forth, and depart from this His created image ... Depart to thy own Tartaros ..." "O Satan ... through us His unworthy servants command thee and all the power which worketh with thee to remove thyself from him who hath been sealed in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ, our True God....

"Banish from him (candidate) every evil and unclean spirits hidden and lurking in his heart, the spirit of error, the spirit of evil, the spirit of idolatry and all covetness ... May the Lord rebuke thee, O Satan..."

And then the candidate acknowledges his faith: "I worship Father, Son and the Holy Spirit, Trinity consubstantial and undivided". The ritual order of the exorcism presupposes the willingness of the candidate, who is strengthened with the Grace of God, to avoid and ward off the temptations of the evil spirit.

These three prayers of exorcism are the familiar ones of the Church which are used in banishing the influences and temptations of Satan. In addition to these exorcism prayers at baptism, there are other prayers of exorcism for various cases.

Other Prayers of Exorcism

These prayers of exorcism are to be found in the "Book of Needs" (Gr: Great Euchologion; SI: Great Trebnik). The need of exorcism for other cases is because, with the "fall" of Adam, the physical world became corrupted, as well. This "fall" affected all aspects of nature and environment, making them easier prey for Satan and his evil spirits. The "fall" affected animals as well as human beings. In addition to many illnesses of the body and the spirit of man, there are sicknesses of animals. There is no clearly seen distinction between physical illnesses and those influenced by Satan. Thus, prayers of exorcism are to be used with great care. Often in the past, ignorance of a particular chronic illness caused men to attribute it to Satan. However, with the development of science medicine is curing illnesses usually caused by neglect, deficiency in the body or age. Therefore, illnesses should not be attributed automatically to Satan and his evil influences, nor should the service of exorcism be requested for such illnesses.

On the contrary, the Church provides the Sacrament of Holy Unction both as a symbol and carrier of spiritual power of healing. It was instituted by the Apostles themselves to heal and cure the illnesses of people by anointing the afflicted body with holy oil (cf. James 5:14-15). The Sacrament of Holy Unction is an act of divine authority in which the faithful sick person is anointed with oil (a visible sign) while divine Grace is invoked upon and transmitted to him for the healing of his sickness and forgiveness of his sins. The Christian should beseech the Lord to give him the understanding and patience to accept his afflictions with courage and inspiration. In the Orthodox Church the faithful are generally anointed with the Holy Unction on Wednesday of Holy Week. In the main prayer of sanctification of the oil in this service, God is invoked as the Physician of the soul and body to heal the sicknesses of His servant and grant him life and health through His Grace. Therefore, the prayers of exorcism are not to replace the Sacrament of Holy Unction. It is equally wrong to claim that mentally-disturbed persons are "possessed" by evil spirits. Instead, some deficiency of the body and mind is probably the cause. Evil spirits exist where the consciousness of the person is sound, when he is unbelieving and indifferent, causing a vacuum. easily filled with evil.

The other prayers of exorcism, as recorded in the "Book of Needs", are written primarily by two of the Fathers of the Church, St. Basil and St. Chrysostom. They are prayers for those who are afflicted by demons and sicknesses in general. Each wrote four such prayers. Prayers of exorcism were also written by Martyr Trifon for fields, vineyards and gardens which are unfruitful and might be "possessed" by demons. Two exorcism prayers are attributed to St. Modestos for animals afflicted during epidemics, especially for oxes, horses, donkeys, mules and sheep. St. Hypatios has written an exorcism prayer for afflicted men and animals. Another exorcism prayer is written by Martyr Mamas for afflicted animals. The theme of each of the exorcism prayers - especially those of Chrysostom and Basil, is the banishment of evil spirits from the afflicted ones in the name of Christ.

The evil spirit is mentioned in the exorcism prayers by names such as Satan and Devil and epithets describing the evil he is committing. St. Basil, for instance, refers to the evil spirit by 63 different epithets and names which are descriptive of evil affliction, such as deceiver, to name one. Basil even mentions exorcism prayers for insects which inflict damage upon vineyards, fields, etc. Characteristic to exorcism prayers of St. Chrysostom is the mention of the works, passions and Resurrection of Christ, one by one, throughout the prayers, with the specific phrase, "Jesus Christ rebukes you, O Demon ...", repeated extensively throughout his prayers. Some of these exorcism prayers are lengthy, while others are short. There is also a prayer for the banishment of the "evil eye". It also should be used with great care, since it sometimes is requested out of ignorance of the physical causes of illness, especially of circumstances unknown to the person. Therefore, it is better that prayers of healing rather than that for the "evil eye" be requested.

These exorcism prayers were usually read for protection from affliction rather than after some demonic influence might have taken place. 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. The ritual order of these prayers is a simple reading by the priest without gestures, emotions or dramatization. The service of exorcism is simple because it was not intended to be used frequently by the Church, which determined its content and order. The prayers of exorcism in the service of catechumens at the time of baptism were considered sufficient for the banishment of evil.

The most difficult task is to determine who might need this exorcism service, based on so-called symptoms that could convince the priest of the necessity for it. The distinction should be made very clear here that the candidate for baptism should not be considered "possessed" because of the exorcism prayers read prior to his baptism. The simplicity of the service of exorcism bears out this fact, because there is no instructional manual to guide the priest or determine who is to be exercised. It is left to the priest to determine whether or not a person is "possessed" by evil spirits. The priest should not readily accept any illness as being a sign of "possession", but must investigate thoroughly not only the nature of the illness but the psychological condition of the person himself. It must be emphasized here that there are persons who are healthy but may believe they are "possessed" by evil spirits. The exorcist has no certain criteria to determine whether or not a person is actually "possessed". Therefore, no prayers or exorcisms should be read with certainty except those for catechumens at baptism.

Overcoming Evil with Good

The film "The Exorcist" has not only aroused curiosity but seemingly has created an awareness and fear of "demonic influence". This is the only contribution of this film! The fact is that the main struggle the Christian has always faced is against the evil forces that surround him not only in today's turbulent world, but from the time of the "fall" of man in Paradise. Today's social climate cannot be fully understood unless it is remembered that there is an evil force working to tempt everyone and to win against those who are unbelieving and indifferent - that evil is a reality. The evil spirit develops and progresses because of indifferent and compromising attitudes toward moral standards and goodness. The behavior of man and the world at large cannot be understood unless one remains conscious of this fact. This "demonic" force works within the individual, because he consciously or unconsciously cooperates with the evil one. Everyone has to make a personal decision as to whether the "demonic force of evil" or the Spirit of God will occupy his heart and mind.

The Spirit of God helps remove from those willing to accept it the evil which drives them to hopelessness and despair. When we accept the Spirit of God in our hearts and minds, we no longer are possessed by ignorance, superstition, fear and a sinful life. These ills are the result of evil spirits at work. If evil spirits are not permitted to occupy the heart and mind; if one is strong enough within himself to overthrow the forces of evil; if one uses the boundless resources and strength received through the power of God, then "demonic possession" cannot take place and the need for exorcism of evil spirits would be non-existent.

If, the Christian lives devoutly, justifying his faith in doing good works for the needy, loving his neighbor, obeying God's commandments and practicing them daily, his life will be uplifted by the Spirit of God, and he would be free from all forces of evil. Life was meant to be a blissful state of harmony and peace in the knowledge of and faith in God. This blissful state is what God intended for man, and can be attained only through his constant alertness against evil, for "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good" (Rom. 12:21); "Therefore, take the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand". Ephesians 6:13