Not long ago, I related a story about my friend Fr. Evgeny and a demonically possessed woman.
Some time passed, and Batiushka and I returned to that theme. Although this was to him very strange. He is not one of those people who spends all their time looking for demons—everywhere, in everything and everyone—except in themselves!
Fr. Evgeny for as long as I’ve known him (and that is over twenty years now!), never especially got into those “infernal” matters. He always quietly served God in his little church, always trying to help others. And he always wanted to see Christ in everyone and everything happening and around him, even in what is hard to look at. And he always tried to understand God’s Providence… But when something was hard to understand (which happens rather often), he simply said, “O Lord! I trust You! May Your will be done!”
Simply, like a child.
One day I only remember how Batiushka said to me with a certain pain, “The main thing for me now is not to betray Christ!”
This is when it all began. He is from there—from the territory. It was terrifying, incomprehensible, and no one could imagine what would come next. It’s even terrifying now. But we’ve sort of gotten used to it, you might say. People can get used to anything. Even to war and to death.
But I digress.
“Most important of course is Christ, but at the outset of my religious life, and in fact at the outset of my priestly service, I did ask questions about unclean spirits. How powerful is the demons’ authority over us? How do they manifest themselves in our lives? I told you about… Is that how they cast the youth into fire and water, like in the Scripture? And do they force the the modern ‘Gadarene demoniac’ to smash everything on his path and beat his head against a rock? And do they exist even now, the youth and this demoniac? And there was that incident with the woman… But as a matter of fact, this was only one incident in a whole series of answers from God. Probably so that I would think that it’s just a coincidence. This was a period of true, personal revelation regarding this matter.”
“Go to the church—that’s their expertise!”
“I remember a story that could have been right out from the holy fathers,” began Fr. Evgeny.
At that time, two unfamiliar women brought a man to him. The man was in a completely crushed, unhealthy state. His mother and sister (these were a mother and her children) explained to Batiushka that he had just been released from the psycho-neurological ward at the hospital.
“Go to the church,” the doctors said, “that’s their expertise. We can’t help you.”
“This was already a good thing,” Batiushka told me. “Because I sometimes encounter situations when medical personnel send people to some old ladies, ‘folk healers’… In the course of our conversation the man told me that sitting on his shoulders were two “strange comrades,” who talk with each other non-stop. They were driving him out of his mind; he couldn’t eat or sleep, or rest at all. He would sometimes fly off the handle and then end up in the hospital.
When this man left the hospital and went to the church, two “comrades,” in his own words, we again sitting invisibly on his shoulders and discussing what was going on.
“Look where they’re taking us!” one of them said. “We’re done for! Now they’ll kick us out!”
“Not today they won’t kick us out, don’t worry,” the other replied. “They won’t be able to!”
And so on…
So, it’s true the hospital wasn’t much help.
“You know the Bible better than all of us!”
Fr. Evgeny started asking the man about his life. As it turns out, he had searched long and stubbornly for himself in the spiritual sense. But instead of going to church he had gone, now to various old ladies, now to sorcerers, now to various “spiritual” movements—of which there were many in his town. You could find any occult movement according to taste.
Finally he chose the least radical one, which was very popular in the region, a kind of Billy Graham. But not exactly him.
“In general, it’s of course amazing how ordinary, practical rural Ukrainians were so “taken” by all sorts of American religious figures,” Fr. Evgeny said to me, “but what happened, happened…”
Their talks were constantly being broadcast on Ukrainian television, with a return address: “Join us, and we’ll send you a Bible.”
“The man watched a program, wrote a letter, received a Bible, and started studying it,” Fr. Evgeny went on. “With time he drew his acquaintances, friends, and family into this process, and a Bible study group formed around him. In the end, these people said to him, “Listen! You know the Bible better than all of us, you cite it and sort it all out. Why not become our pastor?” So they chose him as their pastor.”
This man started leading their “services.” And the further it went, the more amazed everyone was at how well he understood God’s word, how many citations he had in his head, how much he knew and how well he explained it all…
“That’s how they praised him: ‘You’re great! What a smart guy!’ until this problem arose,” said Fr. Evgeny.
“He wanted to become a church himself.”
That day the man was at home, studying the Bible as usual. Then suddenly Christ appeared to him, in radiant light, shining garments, etc., just like in the Lives of the Saints.
“You are one of my best disciples!” a voice sounded. “You have learned the word of God better than anyone I know. But that’s not enough. In order to have the fullness, you need to unite with me. Do you agree to have me enter into you?”
“I agree,” the man joyfully replied. “Of course I agree!”
After these words it was as if he were struck by lightning. His body shook, the picture of the good-natured, shining Christ shattered before his eyes, and he heard terrifying laughter:
“Ha-ha-ha, I’m satan!”
And immediately the two invisible devils appeared on his shoulders and started talking with each other.
Batiushka didn’t make any of this up. This is what the man told him.
His sister and mother said that he began to smash the furniture in the room and shatter the windows. They had to call the ambulance and the police. That is, the militia—that’s what they were still called then.
They put him into a straitjacket, injected him with tranquilizers, and treated them however they could. But in the end they couldn’t do anything with the “comrades” who had appeared on the man’s shoulders, and so they sent him to church.
“But the whole problem is that they came to me for a ‘pill’,” Fr. Evgeny told me. “At the hospital they told them what to do, and they obeyed. ‘Batiushka, do something, quickly!’ But when I started telling them about repentance, about entering into the life of the Church, they waved me aside. ‘No-no-no, not that. He knows the Bible well enough as it is. He himself is a pastor! We just need these two to leave his shoulders and so that he would get physically better. That’s all!’ But that this was prelest [spiritual delusion] (for that is what it was), they simply didn’t want to know. The devil had deluded him, telling him about his supposed spiritual gifts. And in fact, he had almost told him the truth—that he needs to unite with Christ. But the lie was that this was how to do it. This is done in the Church, in the Sacraments. There is no salvation outside the Church! And the gates of hell will not prevail over it! But this man had started thinking of himself as a “church”. He himself studied, himself wrote this or that, and himself distributed his books. He had organized a sect and become its head. And then ‘christ’ tells him, ‘You’re the best. You’re super!’ And so he entered into him. Only it wasn’t Christ, but the evil one. And he even put two demons on his shoulders. It was these demons that this man and his family wanted to rid themselves. But not of his ‘chosenness’—no! Thus they left and never returned. Well, it was just as it’s written by the holy fathers… I had read it and doubted, but here I saw it with my own eyes. The Lord showed me…”
One hand doesn’t let the other cross itself
Soon after that, another incident occurred. “To strengthen me,” as Fr. Evgeny said.
He was called to bless an apartment. Ordinary, “average people”: a husband, wife, children, grandmother…
“We performed the rite,” Batiushka related. “Then suddenly behind my back I heard a crash, frightening shouts, some kind of fuss. I turned around and saw everyone standing there with wide-open eyes. But one of them was missing—the head of the family…
During the reading of the Gospel the man had bolted out of the room. The family, with Fr. Evgeny at the head, set out to look for him, and found him barricaded in another room, where he had pushed a large armchair against the door.
“Everyone was worried—what was the matter?” Batiushka recalled. “Even I was frightened. Will he jump out the window, or do some other irrevocable thing? I stormed the door, burst into the room, and saw that the man had garrisoned himself in a crevasse between the hutch and the wall… And from there he was looking at me with such panic-stricken eyes, like a cornered animal. I made the sign of the cross over him and prayed. But he just cried and kept looking at me in fright. ‘Batiushka, what’s going on with me? What’s happening?’ I said, cross yourself!’ ‘I can’t,’ he said. I looked, and saw that his left hand was pinning his right hand and not letting it make the sign of the cross. It was gripping so hard that his knuckles were turning white, as if a tourniquet were wrapped around the other hand. He wailed, ‘I can’t do anything!’ I poured holy water on him and his arms relaxed. It turned out that it was all the result of going to various old ladies.”
Fr. Evgeny tried to explain to the man why this was happening. That he needed to go to church, confess his sins, receive Communion, and war with this uncleanness and also with himself. Otherwise, the consequences will be grievous. But as far as he can recall, these people never showed up in church, and he doesn’t know the man’s fate, although so many years have passed. Perhaps they’ve already come to God, or are on their way to Him.
“I was terrified,” he admits. “What demonic power over a man that he wants to cross himself, but one hand doesn’t let the other do it. And he can’t control himself.”
“An insurmountable force is pushing me.”
“There was yet another incident, when a frightened woman ran into the church, also after going around to different occultists,” Fr. Evgeny related.
Not long before, at home she had gone to do something she herself didn’t want and had never even considered—to commit suicide. She had taken a hammer and nails in order to fix a noose and kill herself.
“I’m going to do it,” the woman said. “I myself don’t want to do it, and I cry. But some kind of insurmountable force is pushing me. When I began to hammer in the nail, the hammer hit my finger. And I immediately came to myself. So I’ve run to you in the church…
Batiushka started talking with her and discovered that in an “amnesia” she had gone to various old lady occultists.
“When I started telling her about confession, about Communion, she suddenly started contorting, like a cobra. And she hissed. Later, thank God, she gradually started coming to church…
Here I personally remember a story unrelated to Fr. Evgeny. It happened to my friend. When she was young, she fell in with a sect of charismatics in Moscow. She would go there on Sundays. One day, toward the weekend, she got sick, lay in bed with a high fever, and couldn’t get up.
“So, the time was approaching for the ‘service’, and I suddenly arose like a robot, and got ready to go there. I understood that I shouldn’t, that I was sick. But it was as if someone was pulling me. My mother forced me to stay home. Then I understood that it’s time to get out of there…”
“But you know, it’s not always so cut and dried,” said Fr. Evgeny suddenly. “If a person is possessed or something like that, that doesn’t necessarily mean he himself is to blame, that he’s gone to psychics. It’s true, some of them might have. But you probably remember Granny Liuba?”
Yes, I remember Granny Liuba. An elderly lady, an innocent soul. She was in church for every service, prayed, confessed, received Communion. But during the Gospel reading she would screech and fall unconscious. Then the priests would read a prayer over her: “Let God arise, and let His enemies be scattered…” and she would come to. And thus it was every time, from year to year.
“She had that problem from childhood,” Batiushka said. “Why—no one knows. A very kind person. She bore her cross with humility. She was always poor, but she helped others. Even me. I’d meet her in town and she’d always put something in my hand. I felt uncomfortable taking it, but I couldn’t refuse, because it came from a pure heart. So we judge, but only God really knows why or for what reason this happens.
These are the stories that Fr. Evgeny told me.