"For we are not ignorant of his devices"
Apart from the angels [bodiless hosts] there are demons. The Prophets, Apostles and Fathers have experience of this fact and describe the presence of demons. Appearances of demons are described throughout Holy Scripture, and St John the Evangelist actually declares that the purpose of the Christ’s incarnation is “that He might destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8).
The demons were originally angels, because God did not create evil, but through their pride they fell away from God’s glory and became demons. Christ said: “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (Luke 10:18).
We shall draw attention to a few points that are relevant to the existence of the demons and their method of warfare.
As creatures of God and spirits, the demons are ‘ethereal beings’, but on account of their fall they do not participate in the glory of God as Light, so they are dark beings. All creation shares in the creative and sustaining energy of God, and this includes the demons. “Even the devil has a share in the uncreated energy of God,” that is to say, in His uncreated creative and sustaining energy; not in the glorifying energy of God but in the punitive energy.
As a noetic spirit the devil is not bound by time and place, but he is not present everywhere, as is God. He moves at great speed.
“The devil, for example, moves so quickly that he can bother a million people, so he will be here, there and in China, though without being present everywhere. Because of his immense ability to move he can be both here and elsewhere. His speed of movement is not restricted by matter. So he is not restricted either by our human body or by our dimensions.”
God loves the whole creation, but not everyone shares in the same way in this love. It depends on the therapeutic treatment that each one undergoes. The devil, however, cannot be cured, because he generated evil.
“God loves the devil as well. The devil, however, is not going to be saved. God loves everyone. The issue is not that I shall be saved if God loves me. The issue is whether someone undergoes the treatment necessary to enable him to reach the state of illumination, so that, when he stands in sight of the glory of God, he will see the glory of God as Light and not as everlasting fire and outer darkness.”
In the West they believe the opposite.
“The teaching that Christ loves the devil as well is something that Augustine cannot accept even in his dreams. It is so far from his thoughts.”
Certainly this love does not lead to salvation, because it does not meet with a positive and free response. The Fathers have ample knowledge of the existence and energy of the demons from experience. Since they have been freed from the passions and their souls have become subtle, they see both angels and demons.
“The Fathers are not speculative thinkers. When they speak about theoria they speak with very great precision. They know exactly what they are saying about theology, dogmas and the wiles of the devil…”
The glorified know the demons’ thoughts and actions from experience. The Apostle Paul writes: “For we are not ignorant of his devices” (2 Cor. 2:11).
“If someone becomes a specialist in the struggle against the devil he is very well aware of how the devil and the demons work.”
The devil knew God before the Fall and still sees the glory of God. However, as he is incurable, his nature is darkened and he sees fire. That is why iconographers depict him as dark or black.
“The devil is the greatest ‘negative theologian’, because he sees the glory of God as darkness and fire.”
The devil knows Holy Scripture and interprets it from his own perspective, as we clearly see in the temptations of Christ, when he used scriptural passages in accordance with his own opinions.
“For the Fathers illumination does not mean that someone has studied and knows the Old and New Testaments by heart. The devil also knows the Old and New Testaments by heart. It is not only Christians who know them. The devil can interpret Holy Scripture as much as he likes.”
Thus the devil becomes a catechist to those who accept him.
“I think that perhaps the best catechist and the greatest catechumen who existed then — when catechism was simply intellectual and not purification of the heart — was the devil himself.”
The devil’s warfare against human beings takes many different forms.
“When someone reads the Fathers of the Church he finds there an excellent strategy, according to the devil. Because the devil did not know anything about immutable laws as criteria for legal ethics, truth and so on. The devil did not take account of any laws. He is not someone who wages war as we do today, so to speak. As you know, the Geneva Conventions say that when someone is taken prisoner he must be provided with medical care, that he should eat three times a day, that he should have clean sheets every two to three days and that he should have a pillowcase and not sleep on the floor. And all states have accepted these regulations internationally and war is now waged on the basis of legislation.
Well, before those Conventions, when nations went to war there were no rules. Everyone attacked the enemy as he wished. There were no regulations. The war waged between human beings and the devil is something like that. The devil does not recognise any rule of good behaviour in his conflict with man. For that reason it is extremely difficult for someone to become an Orthodox theologian. Why?
The best guide on this subject is St Symeon the New Theologian, who gives detailed descriptions of these matters. He says that the devil’s first concern is without doubt that we should not even hear the name of Christ or anything about the name of Christ. If, contrary to the devil’s hopes, we hear something about Christ and it begins to attract our interest, he then changes tactics. Having lost that battle, he has other strongholds. He wages another type of war, because he has another strategy afterwards for someone who has become a catechumen. He teaches him, ‘Stop fasting now.’ Then he says, ‘Your spiritual father gave you this interpretation for that passage, but there is another better interpretation.’ The devil begins teaching him how to interpret Holy Scripture and how to teach about the Person of Christ, and he becomes a teacher of Christianity.
If someone progresses from purification to illumination, the devil then begins to introduce his own way of enlightening man. ‘Leave that now. It is not the nous that should be illuminated: the rational faculty should be illuminated. Set the nous aside and don’t pay much attention to those who say that purification means purification of the nous. Purification means purification of the rational faculty. So you ought to go and study, become highly educated, learn philosophy and so on.’
If someone reaches illumination, the devil has his technique at every level. Even if a monk arrives at glorification he will still try to destroy him then. The Fathers mention examples of glorified people who were brought down. That is why the icon in the Ladder of St John Climacus shows a monk at the very top with one foot in Paradise and the devil is dragging him down by the other foot.
I ask the students at the university now, ‘Which of you, when you finish your theology degree, will be that kind of theologian?’
Because theology and the troparia of the Church draw a parallel between learning theology and strategy and sport.
In sport, particularly in those days, when someone entered the contest, there were no rules of good behaviour like those that we have now in competitions. Now we have the umpire with his whistle, who calls ‘foul’, ‘out’ and so on. In those days sport was like war, without rules of behaviour and without an umpire. And the devil has no umpire, so the Christian is an athlete and a soldier.
When someone is going to become a theologian he really ought to take an interest in strategy and sport rather than philosophy. Generally speaking, he will learn more about the struggle from how the generals wage war than he will learn from philosophers. From all this it is clear that no distinction exists in the Fathers between theologians and spiritual fathers. Theologians are spiritual fathers and spiritual fathers are theologians.”
The devil also creates various inspirations and brings thoughts (logismoi) or even good feelings.
“There are some people who think that, when they feel well disposed towards someone, for instance, when they see someone who is poor and they feel sympathy for him – these are human feelings. And [they think that] when someone has good feelings, we should say that they are inspired by God. Yes, but good feelings can also be inspired by the devil.
Inspirations come from many different sources. According to patristic tradition the only unerring feeling that can exist in man is when the Holy Spirit prays within him.”
“Good feelings can proceed from the devil as well, not only from God.”
We can distinguish the faith that is a gift of the Holy Spirit from the faith that comes from the devil.
“Faith saves. But which faith? The faith that the Holy Spirit gives us. Not the faith that we offer to God. Because we offer our own faith; we give God our works, everything. Then God comes and gives these same things back to us through the Holy Spirit, and from then on they become spiritual and not demonic. A faith that is not spiritual faith has to become spiritual.
A work that is not a spiritual work eventually becomes a demonic work. What was the work of the Pharisee? If the Pharisee were alive today he would be the best Christian in our parishes, the way they have ended up.”
Situations that arise within the Church can also be demonic.
“If we have music in Church that provokes demonic feelings, then it is demonic. Not that what provokes erotic love is demonic in itself, but that is not the purpose of the Church. We cannot have romantic relationships with the saints, Christ and the All-Holy Virgin.”
The ecstatic states observed among Neoplatonists are demonic.
“For the Fathers of the Church Neoplatonic ecstasy is a reality, but it is a gift from the devil, not from the Holy Spirit. The Fathers emphasise this. For that reason we find the Fathers condemning Neoplatonists and religiosity, because they are overwhelmed by demonic energies. That is why they have those strange experiences. Nowadays, of course, serious people do not concern themselves with Platonic mysticism. There are, however, many religious people in the West who are involved in spirituality in that way.
Thus success in Platonism is a demonic act, for us at least, by our criteria.”
Some ascetic acts may be demonic.
“When the Fathers speak about asceticism and self-control, self-control is not only for single people but also for those who are married. That is why we have fasts: so that sometimes we practise self-restraint. Married people also practise self-control, at least by mutual agreement, according to the Apostle Paul’s exhortation, because if it is one-sided this abstinence can be dangerous, as St Paul says. The devil has many tricks, so it has to be by agreement.”
In addition, “Asceticism that does not make progress and stands still becomes demonic because it eventually leads to pride.”
Without a doubt the devil actively attacks people, but he can only produce negative results if they co-operate and respond to the devil’s wiles. Someone becomes the devil’s victim when he retains evil thoughts (logismoi) within himself.
In the extremely varied warfare waged by the devil, man needs to learn to distinguish simple thoughts from complex thoughts, God’s energy from demonic energies, and the appearance of God’s Light from the devil’s light.
“Something that may be considered demonic from the Orthodox standpoint may be considered healthy from another point of view. What Orthodox theology regards as originating from the devil, the newspapers Apoyevmatini and Eleftherotypia may regard as good for people.
The problem for Orthodox Christians is knowing what the criterion should be.”
“Most of all someone needs to learn to distinguish the energies of the devil, so that he can discern which energy influencing him is from God and which energy is from other created things and particularly from the devil.
This ability to discern between created and uncreated energies is the basis of the spiritual gift of discerning spirits. One has to distinguish between the energies of the evil spirit and of the Holy Spirit.”
Sometimes the devil “transforms himself into an angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:14). Demonic light is different from the Light of God.
“The uncreated Light never comes from outside. It always comes from within. The demon is external and the light of the devil is external. When the devil reveals light to someone it comes from outside.”
“When the devil appears to man, he appears in conjunction with him, never merged with him. The created light of the devil cannot merge with man.
For that reason, when the devil appears he always appears with shape and colour, and he is always outside man. It is a light that co-exists, say the Fathers. The devil’s light exists alongside man. When it is the uncreated Light, however, it is without shape, form or colour and amorphous, and it is seen through merging.
So someone who is glorified is within the Light and everything around him is within the Light. And the Light shines from everywhere and the Light is pervasive. The devil’s light is limited to one place and is also coloured.”
Anyone who has the gift of discernment can immediately perceive delusion and is not deluded. That is why in patristic language the glorified are described as ‘unerring’, which means that they do not go astray.
Discerning spiritual fathers play an important role on this spiritual journey. In any case, a spiritual father ought to be a theologian, in the charismatic sense of the term, as theology is knowledge of God and whoever acquires this knowledge can discern “the spirits, whether they are of God” (1 John 4:1).
“The fact that the spiritual father has noetic prayer signifies that he has the gift of discerning spirits and knows the wiles of the devil beyond all doubt. He knows the energies of the devil with amazing accuracy. He is a spiritual father. But this is Orthodox theology. Consequently this means that the spiritual father is inevitably Orthodox; it is impossible for him not to be Orthodox.
Obviously the spiritual father ought to be a guide, not someone who speculates about these issues. He should have precise knowledge of these matters and guide his spiritual children with precision. If he speculates he is lost and his followers will be lost. This is inevitable. From the patristic point of view this is virtue. This is also why heresy leads people to Hell.”
The devil incited Adam and Eve to sin, to disobey God’s will, with the result that death came about. This means that the devil, not God, is the creator of death. From that time onwards the devil has dominated man through death. The Apostle Paul, referring to the purpose of Christ’s incarnation, when He assumed a mortal body subject to suffering but free from sin, writes: “He Himself [Christ] likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage” (Heb. 2:14-15).
It is clear that the devil is closely linked with death and dominates man, because through fear of death man lives carnally, he is in the grip of selfish love and acquires the passions of love of praise, love of pleasure and love of money.
“Satan, who is himself the origin of sin, through death and corruption implicates the whole of humankind and creation in sin and death. To be in the power of death, according to the Apostle Paul, is to be a slave to the devil and a sinner, because of the inability of the flesh to live in accordance with the law of God, which is unselfish love.”
Christ was victorious over the devil, death and sin through His Cross and Resurrection. As death entered man’s body at the instigation of the devil, victory over the devil and death cannot come about through speculations and rational thoughts, only through the Cross, Tomb and Resurrection of Christ.
“It is clear that for the Apostle Paul the bodily Resurrection of Christ is the destruction of the devil, death and corruption. Christ is the first to rise from the dead. If there is no Resurrection there can be no salvation. As death is a consequence of the interruption of communion with God’s life and love, and for that reason man and the creation are held captive by the devil, only a real resurrection can destroy the power of the devil. Central to biblical and patristic thought is a Christology of actual union, which depends on biblical teaching about Satan, death, corruption and human destiny. Satan rules by means of death, completely and physically. His defeat has to be complete and physical. The reinstatement of communion ought not to come about only in the realm of the noetic dimension, but more significantly through the creation of which man is an integral part.”
Consequently Christians overcome the devil, death and sin when they share in Christ’s victory, when they are members of the Church, members of the risen Body of Christ.
“Death is the devil’s greatest power and is destroyed within the Body of Christ, where the faithful continuously fight against Satan and struggle to acquire unselfish love. This battle against the devil and this struggle for unselfish love are centred on the collective Eucharistic life of the local parish.”
The Christian’s struggle is essentially against the devil: inwardly against thoughts (logismoi) and passions, and outwardly. This is also the struggle of the Church.
“The Church’s struggle is not only inward, namely, that it strives against the devil and temptations to enable everybody to attain to illumination. The Tradition itself continuously comes into conflict with things outside the Church.
But it is difficult to define what these things outside the Church are. An officer in the Emperor’s army may not be baptised, and may have one foot inside the Church and the other foot outside.
The boundaries between the Church and the world are not clear for us Orthodox. We cannot accept as Orthodox the view that Augustine expresses in The City of God (De Civitate Dei), that there is the role of the devil and here is the role of grace. Until we depart to the Lord the devil is with us continuously and struggles to swallow us up.”
The Christian must be set free from the energies of the demons. This used to happen during catechism, which is why the catechumen used to learn this art of war against the devil. The Fathers laid down the readings from the Gospel from this perspective. During the period of purification the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke were read. In fact the Gospel of Mark speaks about fighting demonic energies and its dominant theme is purification. This purification took place in the period of Great Lent, through the exorcisms, for candidates for baptism, the catechumens. After baptism, which took place on Great and Holy Saturday, the Gospel of John was read, which pays almost no attention to the devil.
“Salvation for humankind and creation cannot come about by means of a simple act of forgiveness of any legalistic record of sins. Nor can it come about by rendering satisfaction to the devil or to God. Salvation can come about through the destruction of the devil and his power.”
Anyone who fights the devil by the power of Christ and overcomes him understands his wiles and becomes a real theologian. Orthodox theology is ‘polemical’ and it is interpreted by means of ‘the art of war’.
“Being a theologian means first and foremost that someone is an expert in the wiles of the devil. Illumination and particularly glorification transmit the gift of discerning spirits so that the devil may be put to shame, especially when he resorts to teaching theology and spirituality to those who are beginning to slip out of his hands.”
Any sort of theology that does not know the wiles of the devil is heretical and under the influence of the devil.
“The enemy of life and death (the devil) can only be destroyed when Christians are able to say with certitude, ‘For we are not ignorant of his devices’ (2 Cor. 2:11). Any kind of theology that cannot define precisely the methods and deceptions of the devil is clearly heretical, as such a theology has already been deceived by the devil. That is exactly why the Fathers could affirm that heresy is the work of the devil.”
In any case, participation in the glory and rule (vasileia) of God depends on warfare against the demons. Otherwise one cannot experience the glory and rule of God.
“The glory and rule (vasileia) of God reaches man through the expulsion of demons. We have purification, which is essentially the expulsion of demons. When the demons are driven out the glory and rule of God comes.”
It follows that “every saint of the Church represents the triumph of faith over the powers of the devil.”
Empirical Dogmatics, Volume 2
According to the Spoken Teaching of Protopresbyter John S. Romanides
By Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos