There has always been a charismatic gift in the Church and it has never ceased to exist
Exorcists were considered on par with the other clergy, and were listed along with them. It is interesting that the Canonical Answers of Timothy of Alexandria specify that the possessed can’t be baptized. That’s why the Sacrament of Baptism includes four exorcism prayers. These prayers are performed to this day until a man is freed, but Timothy of Alexandria says that the possessed is only relieved “at the hour of death.” That is, death cancels everything. Or, rather, the danger of death. If there is the danger of death, he should be baptized.
I was a witness to something like this. A priest was performing exorcisms in a monastery and there was a parish church nearby. An unbaptized man comes to the monastery; he is afflicted, but the hieromonk sends him away to that nearby parish church: “Go get baptized, and then come to be exorcised.” To be baptized, in order to get exorcised? What an absurdity!
We should cast out the demon first. This batiushka in the parish church should send people to the monastery and say, “Go, set him free from the demon and then come here to get baptized.”
At the Council of Arles of 314 AD, exorcists were ranked as clergy, but by the fifth century, exorcism has almost disappeared. What happened? There is testimony by Professor Pasnov, the author of The History of the Orthodox [lit. “Christian”—Ed.] Church from the first millennium—it’s a really good book. There are also St. Nicodemus’s commentaries on the Canons. It notes that in the fifth century—in no small part because of the compelling sermons by Blessed Augustine—his well-defined teaching about original sin, infant baptism becomes universal. If infant baptism becomes universal, what can be cast out of them? They are cute little babies who do nothing but squeal and grunt. Baptize and you’re done. That’s why the exorcists became irrelevant.
Do not shorten the service of Baptism. There is absolutely nothing extra there
How was baptism performed [earlier]? It was preceded by a visit to the exorcist, not necessarily a priest. Then, they would go to a priest to get baptized. These two things were separated at the time. But now, why do we have to send a child to see the exorcist? Naturally, a priest baptized him right away. In our days, and to this day, these exorcism prayers are treated as “freebies”. Some priests are dying to cut the service back and that, brothers and fathers, I absolutely do not recommend. Do not shorten the service of Baptism. There is absolutely nothing extra there. Again [the Sacrament cannt be shortened] “except for the fear of imminent death,” or right in the emergency room. There is a two-page Rite of Baptism for such occasions, “if facing death.”
—Batiushka, the service has a long prayer read by the priest when a deacon is chanting. He addresses God, asking, “Accept this prayer from me, a sinner.”
—That isn’t about exorcism.
—Right, it isn’t. I mean it is simply read aloud. The thing is the people don’t hear it since the deacon is chanting. But if a priest baptizes alone, they hear that the priest appeals with this personal request on his behalf.
—A typical parish priest may be blessed only a few times in his lifetime to have this service performed together with a deacon. I happened to baptize a few times with the deacon and it was quite beautiful, yet awkward. “Why’s he getting in my way?” I thought. That’s how much a priest gets used to doing things all by himself.
This prayer, as with other sacraments, is a prayer we say during the Cherubic Hymn, a prayer of the celebrant about himself. It is also a prayer of a baptizing priest about himself. How should it be said? Any way you can. Very quietly, while the deacon is chanting the litany. For example, I typically kneel, but I don’t invite others to follow me. Some may follow suit, others may not; it’s their choice. I pray about myself in such a way that they can still hear me, otherwise they won’t understand the meaning of the silence. But this is a personal prayer. That’s all I have to say about it.
On no pretext should you ever shorten the exorcism prayers [at a Baptism].
It is difficult to verify, but there are rumors that if these prayers were to be cut from the service of Baptism, it would not go without consequences for the baptized. If the baptized were really possessed, and those prayers weren’t read during the service, he would remain possessed. Because submersion is for the forgiveness of sins, the Anointing is for the seal of the Holy Spirit, but the exorcism prayer is for the deliverance from demons. We shouldn’t confuse these three things. It is seemingly one single action, but in reality it isn’t. That’s why these prayers are mandatory and must be used.
Charisma may be given to a spiritually immature, or even not exactly very pious, man
Due to the fact that baptism has become a universal rite, the order of exorcists as such is gradually vanishing from the Church and we can say it is gone in our days. However, there has always been a charismatic gift in the Church and it has never ceased to exist. It becomes the realm of the grace-filled ascetics such as Anthony the Great, Macarius the Great, Pimen the Great, Arseny, and so on and so on, right up until the present day. Primarily, it isn’t performed on the hierarchical, but the charismatic, level. And it isn’t simply charismatic. Charisma may be given to a spiritually immature, or even a not exactly very pious, man.
The Prophet Balaam suffered from avarice, but what a prophecy! It happened a millennia and a half before the appearance of the star of Bethlehem. Charisma doesn’t necessarily walk hand in hand with piety. A pious man may not have any particular charisma. A charismatic man may not necessarily be a pious man.
There are the fruits of the Holy Spirit, and there are the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Some confuse these two, even in Orthodox theological texts. Just as we spoke earlier about bishops and presbyters, these two don’t differ in terminology and it often creates confusion in meaning. The fruit of the Holy Spirit: But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). Tell me, which one may we omit and yet still find salvation? Or, do we need something else? We need all of them, right? I can’t simply say, “I have joy, but love is unnecessary. What matters most is that I’m a jovial guy, so why should I—what—love someone, as well?” I hope you understand my irony here.
The fruit and the gifts of the Holy Spirit
This is about the fruits of the Spirit in man. A man who has the Spirit brings forth fruit. A tree when it is watered also brings forth fruit. So, there are various fruits, and all of us need them. But then there are gifts. It is a different thing. Because that’s how it says: There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit, and we see them numbered again: for to the one is given the word of wisdom, the word of knowledge, to another faith, healings, discerning of spirits, different kinds of tongues, prophecy, the workings of miracles (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:4-10). There are nine of them.
Tell me, if I don’t have some of them, will I be judged at Christ’s Judgment Seat? No. It is charisma. If I am not an artist, I won’t be jailed for that. Or if I’m not a mathematician, they won’t jail me for that either. As for the spiritual and moral fruits, all of us need them. We have to distinguish these two clearly. The spiritual and moral fruits are a must for all of us, but the gift of charisma is given to whoever the Lord wills. This is what we can also call “talents.” It is called a gift, or a talent.
If I am not an artist, I won’t be jailed for that. Or if I’m not a mathematician, they won’t jail me for that either
To be entered into the annals of the history of the Church, generally speaking, is the lot of those who have fruit’; for once you get that, you receive the gifts in response to the fruit. It sometimes happens that you aren’t bestowed with the gifts in response to the fruit. By no means all great ascetics of piety had charisma to cast out demons, heal the sick, and so on. Fruit can be without gifts, but not in their entirety, since there is no living man having no gifts at all. Just as in earthly affairs—there is not a single school student with zero talent. He may not sing, but he knows how to draw. If he can’t draw, then he can hit the ball like a pro. So, at least some kind of talent is there. There is no such thing as a man without any talents, just as there is no man without spiritual gifts. Nevertheless, there is a distinction.
There are the following words by St. Cassian the Roman: “Whatever passion you have conquered, that is the evil spirit you can now cast out.” We do not read anything like this in the New Testament, because there you have these charismata. Spirits also vary. If you have overcome intemperance, you are able to cast out this spirit. If you have overcome pride... well, this is a hard one, let’s not touch pride. If you have overcome hypocrisy, etc. etc. Whatever passion you have overcome, that is the demon you are now able to cast out. Such is the teaching of St. John Cassian the Roman. He binds together spiritual gifts and spiritual fruit.
Whatever passion you have conquered, that evil spirit you can now cast out
Moreover, the fathers of the Church, from the fourth century on, treated charismata if not with skepticism, then with great caution. They issued a warning. We even know of cases where an ascetic possessing a certain charisma asked the Lord to take it away from him, because he didn’t possess enough humility to cope with it. That is, he was “going off his rocker,” to use a little slang. (By taking pride in what was really God’s gift, he was falling into spiritual delusion, or prelest.—Ed.) To avoid it, I should rather choose to live without this particular talent or gift, but be saved, rather than perish with this gift. Based on this, we can find in the written works a great number of truly cautionary warnings. This, of course, does happen, especially among new converts—who, in their zeal are dying to perform miracles. Moreover, the Lord often allows that to happen.
Children perform miracles sometimes. The Lord allows it, but if they aren’t rooted in piety, not rooted in humility, a great danger looms as a result. That’s why we go back to where we started: If you have not been given a specific blessing by the bishop, you should not exorcise.
Who is allowed to exorcise? It is considered desirable to receive two blessings, the second one being from a bishop. Don’t you dare bypass that one! But there is the first blessing, that is, one received from an elder and spiritual father who has such a gift. Look, only a bishop is able to perform ordinations. The one who has something is capable of giving it. It is held that only the one who possesses such a gift can give a blessing for it. Since he knows you, he can bless it, and then, once you get his blessing, you can go see a bishop. The first one is an intimate, spiritual, personal blessing and the second one is by a hierarch and the church, confirming everything. One should get both blessings. If you don’t, you should act very cautiously.
Martyr Tryphon We know Tryphon, a fourteen-year-old boy who would later become known as Martyr Tryphon. He goes into a town where a possessed princess lives. Tryphon goes there and he has no clue about her, but the demon, fearing the imminent arrival of that teenager, darts out of her. This is from the life of Martyr Tryphon. That’s how this gift was manifested in him.
We ought not to act this way: Aha, let me try it. You should rather take a mop and wash the floor. You are free to do that. But here, Tryphon wasn’t even dreaming of becoming an exorcist—it just happened. And he didn’t become a priest. Here, the charismatic gift was manifested on its own. But even when it is manifested on its own, your next step is to get those two blessings, because everything should be thoroughly examined. First of all, by someone spiritually-gifted, who has this gift at least in some measure and blesses it, and secondly, by a person in the hierarchy who is a bishop.
How to be freed from demons. There are nine steps. It is of course, quite conditional. It is, if you will, a teaching outline.
Step One: believe and confess your faith in Christ. We aren’t talking here about some providential acts of God beyond our control. If God wills, He can cast out demons even from a non-believer, finding the means for this to happen. It isn’t up to us; it is in God’s hands. But I speak of real faith where we are truly working alongside the Lord. And the Lord says: And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons (Mark 16:17). There are two things the dark powers are cast out with: the name of Christ and Christ’s cross. It’s impossible without calling out Christ by name, adding that He is crucified. The apostle says: we preach Christ, adding to this, “crucified.” The name of Christ, that is, Jesus. Christ isn’t His name, Jesus is. The Jesus Prayer and a cross.
There are two things by which the dark powers are cast out: the name of Christ and Christ’s cross
Step Two: Humble yourself. Here, someone has come to you, a future priest. Because you can get into the Kingdom of Heaven without everything else, but there’s no way you will get there without humility. Not a single person will ever get there without humility.
Step Three: repentance, confession of all known sins, deep and thorough. It should be deep, that is, experienced deeply. And thorough, as it is really like a spring housecleaning. Everything should be thoroughly cleaned.
Step Four: Repent of all of your sins. It isn’t a repetition of the third step—that is talking about all known sins. But I am not aware of each and every sin of mine, so I could have the very same demonization, or “daemonium,” and not know where it came from. So, repentance shouldn’t be selective, but simply repenting of everything. We have it well-presented in all of our prayers of repentance. “Committed in knowledge or in ignorance, both voluntary and involuntary.” I repent of it all.
Step Five: forgive everyone. Absolve everyone’s sins against you. Even if they are wrong three times over. Be it an offence, humiliation, theft, physical abuse, or anything else, you should forgive everyone. I will allow myself to wander off topic a bit. People frequently arrive at the exorcism sessions, but nothing happens—only throngs of people. I have seen it myself. Dozens, simply dozens, or even hundreds of people come, the exorcist prays, and there is no result. Find a doctor who would treat the sick this way. In the end, what’s necessary is one-on-one work with the afflicted.
The next one is a very important step.
Step Six: Sever ties with occultism and false religions, because possession, more often than not, isn’t attributable to sin. Because of sin, man can degrade morally, but he can’t become possessed. But the ones who are involved in occult practices—and I mean those who come into contact with the powers of evil—can. So, the majority of these people—even people of unassailable integrity—become possessed. Cause and effect. Someone has stolen and led a dissolute life but isn’t possessed, but the one who has toyed around with some pendulum dowsing or other stuff, he will almost inevitably become possessed by demons. So, he must sever these ties. There is a rite of renunciation of occultism. This is very important to have performed, as well. The person should surrender any connections with dark forces whatsoever.
The seventh step is lifting the curse. In the Book of Needs, there is a prayer not simply about the absolution of sins, but about the lifting of a curse. There is a curse, when rarely a father, but more often than not a mother curses their children. Or someone else curses someone. So, yes, the curse needs to be lifted. A curse is quite a serious thing. What does Christ save us from? From sin, the curse, and death. “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.” Jesus was hung from a tree to lift the curse from us.
So, even now, these curses still exist. They can even be hereditary, for example, when—from one generation to another—men die young, and so on, it means that there was some kind of a curse. So, all these curses should be lifted, both obvious and unknown. So, repentance of why the curse happened is a must here, and then the curse has to be lifted.
Step Eight: seek support exclusively from God. When a man relies on other things, nothing will happen. The only source of support we should seek is from God.
Then, after having performed these eight steps, we do step nine: Invoke the Name of Jesus Christ to exorcise him, that is, “exorkízō,” right? You exorcise him to come out, and he does.
This is a simple pattern that explains what should be done and in no way should an Orthodox exorcist conduct it “in autopilot mode.” Like, a possessed person came and the priest performed an exorcism. It isn’t as simple as that—the priest has to work. Because we aren’t the Apostle Peter. He walked along and, as soon as an afflicted person was carried into his shadow, he’d immediately be healed. But we have to work hard.
Anxious to be a wonderworker
Danger exists, because everything in this case happens on the brink of two worlds: the other world and this one. So, a priest who undertakes to perform an exorcism is like a soldier on the frontlines. Not a soldier in the rear or a staff officer—here, bullets are even whistling past him. That’s why, correspondingly, he should have the fear of God—but we have already talked about this. There is to be neither self-assuredness nor any kind of lust.
There are different kinds of lust, such as lewdness or gluttony, but here we have lust for charisma. Well, someone is anxious to be a wonderworker. As we have noted before, true ascetics do not strive for this. They rather shun it; but when the Lord finds it necessary, He bestows it on them.
To be continued.