Eastern Orthodoxy (Part III)

From Frederica Mathewes-Green:

Orthodoxy also expects that there are evil spirits. I was talking with an Emerging Church leader a couple of weeks ago, and he indicated that this would be a "deal breaker" for him. He said that Jesus performed exorcisms on people who today we would diagnose as having bipolar disorder, for example.

Orthodoxy is not so interested in exorcisms and demonic possession, however -- while that no doubt still exists, it's extremely rare. But there are all those other references to the devil or evil spirits in Scripture, eg, "I saw Satan fall like a lightning bolt from heaven," or Jesus' temptation in the wilderness--there were no witnesses to that, so we know about it only because Jesus decided to tell his disciples the story. He must have wanted to equip his disciples for such attacks. St. Paul and St. Peter also stress the presence of evil spirits and how to guard against them, and those passages aren't about exorcisms or poltergeist tricks. It's a shame to toss all that good advice overboard, when virtually every generation of Christians before us has taken it soberly and seriously.

So, yes, demonic apparitions and tricks are very rare. The most common way evil spirits work is by insinuating thoughts, which may entice but might just as well cause despair, self-hatred, fear. Hebrews 2 says that the evil one has always controlled the human race through fear of death. Being alert to disabling thoughts, and knowing how to repel them, is a large part of Orthodox spirituality. Even if you stumble at the thought of evil spirits, everyone believes in the existence of unwanted, debilitating thoughts. The content of Orthodoxy is a "science" of spiritual growth, a set of spiritual disciplines that heal the "tree" from the roots, so it can bear good fruit. The whole aim of Orthodoxy is to saturate the entire person with the presence of Christ, so that we are literally Christ-bearers. The word for this is "theosis" -- like a cloth soaks up dye by osmosis, we soak up Christ by theosis.

BTW, a good book that gives an "inside view" of what this spirituality is like in practice, with all it's "spirit-filled" elements, is "Mountain of Silence" by Kyriacos Markides: Mountain of Silence. I should warn that the author is coming from a very idiosyncratic place; he is a sociology professor who has come to fervent belief in miracles, evil spirits, theosis, and he is profoundly in awe of the wisdom of the Orthodox Church. What he doesn't get so much is Jesus. In his subsequent book he makes it even more clear that he thinks we need a version of Orthodox spirituality that acknowledges that it is divisive to insist on the necessity of Jesus Christ, and recognizes the universality of the path to enlightenment. Strange, isn't it? Lots of people say, "I like Jesus but I have no use for the church" -- he's the opposite. Anyway, what makes this book so valuable is not the words of the author, but the transcripts of taped conversations he had with a very experienced, though pretty young, abbot. The book has become very popular among Orthodox because of the way this abbot explains Orthodox spirituality and practice; there really is no other book that is as accessible to contemporary non-Orthodox readers. So I recommend it, but read Fr Maximos closely while taking the connecting authorial material with a grain of salt.


Rob said…
-He said that Jesus performed exorcisms on people who today we would diagnose as having bipolar disorder-

If this "Emerging Church" leader thinks Jesus 'misdiagnosed' someone, then he probably needs to realize that he does not believe that Jesus is Lord, but rather that He was simply a well-intentioned wise-man. They have churches for people that think this way.

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