Saturday, December 29, 2018

The Cultural Impact Of "The Exorcist" (Released December 26, 1973)

Thanks to inflation, box-office records seem to get broken every few weeks, but looking at the adjusted highest-grossing films list, one of the top ten features sticks out more than any other: William Friedkin‘s 1973 horror The Exorcist, considered by many to be the scariest film of all time. Besting even Avatar when it comes to adjusted domestic grosses, the film racked up $232 million in the U.S., which is over $900 million by today’s standards.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Christ Antiphonetes: The Icon That Allegedly Could Foretell the Future

Christ Antiphonetes, c. 1350 somewhere in Greece,
now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Empress Zoe Porphyrogenita (1028–50) reportedly commissioned a copy of the icon of Christ Antiphonetes in the Church of the Theotokos Chalkoprateia, one of the most important churches of Constantinople. Michael Psellos, a contemporary historian, describes her fervent piety, and apparently not totally orthodox, towards this icon in his Book VI of the Chronographia. He reports that she foretold the future with this icon, as it was capable of responding to questions by changing color. The icon of Christ Antiphonetes also appeared on her coins. Psellos writes:

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Why Monsters Haunt Christmas in Europe but not America

December 24, 2014
By Caitlin Hu

Nothing says Christmas quite like a terrifying monster. The worst isn’t the screams or the snow or the mind-numbing blare of “Night on Bald Mountain“ on repeat. It’s the cowbells: a rusty jangle that means the Christmas monsters are coming.

Until Jan. 6, demons, witches and monsters haunt Europe.

The season of terror actually begins on Dec. 5, the eve of Saint Nicholas’ Day, with public parades of the saint’s supposed companions: Across the Italian, Austrian and Slovenian Alps, cowbell-slung demons called Krampus storm mountain towns. In France, the legendary serial killer and butcher Pere Fouettard (Father Whipper) threatens naughty children with his whip, while in Belgium and the Netherlands, a controversial child-kidnapper called Zwarte Piet (Black Piet) rides through canals on a steamship.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

A Byzantine Nativity Icon that Depicts a Belief in Witchcraft and the Evil Eye

The fresco above, dated to 1289 from the church known as Omorphi Ekklesia on the island of Aegina, might appear upon first glance to be a standard Nativity scene typical of late Byzantine iconography. A closer look, however, reveals a number of unusual iconographic features, which suggest that first impressions are wrong, and that it is actually rather an unconventional treatment of the subject.

First is that it depicts the Virgin Mary with the Christ Child at her breast, known in Greek as Galaktotrophousa, or Milk-Feeder. Though it is not unusual in itself, it is unusual to find it depicted in the late thirteenth century. But as one looks at the painting, what catches the attention is the treatment of the Cave of Bethlehem, the birthplace of the incarnated Logos, which is shown as a rocky mass fringed by a corrugated band with six eyes depicted on it. These eyes encompass the Virgin and her new-born child, and are focused on the interior of the cave, seeming to follow the drama which unfolds within it. This composition with the Galaktotrophousa and the watching eyes is unique in Byzantine art.

Another iconographic oddity, at first glance seems to be a standard genre feature. This is the figure of the dog on the right; with its long claws and gaping jaws the barking animal exudes an air of menace. Ferocious dogs of this kind appear in murals in the churches of San Pietro in Otranto, southern Italy and of Sts Anargyroi in Kipoula, Mani (1265), while a strange creature resembling a dragon rather than a dog can be found in the church of the Archangel Michael in Kouneni, Crete. The inclusion of this fierce creature in four near-contemporary Nativity scenes is unlikely to be a coincidence, and in view of the generally negative attitude to dogs held by the Byzantines, its presence here raises a number of questions. In hagiological and theological literature, descriptions of saints confronting the Devil in canine form and frequent comparisons of the Evil One to a dog suggest that this was a widely accepted belief in Byzantine society. The purpose of including such ferocious animals in Nativity scenes seems therefore to be a reminder that on the margins of this joyful event lurked the evil presence of a demonic creature. This teaching can also be found in the Nativity hymns of the Orthodox Church and patristic sermons on the Nativity.

This indicates that the Devil’s threat to the Virgin and to the Christ-child is clearly part of Orthodox belief, and it also provides a possible explanation of the inclusion of the rabid dog as a symbol of evil in the Nativity scene. The confrontation of the Christ-child with the agents of evil is also found in the Christmas liturgy itself. The prophecy par excellence of the coming of the Messiah (Isaiah 11:1–8) describes the co-existence of wild and tame animals (‘then the wolf also shall graze with the lambs’) in verses 6–8, which end with the passage ‘and he shall play while giving suck at the hole of the asps and being weaned he shall raise his hand to the face of the basilisk.’

The basilisk, the king of reptiles, could according to legend cause death with his glance. This belief, which has its roots in Roman times and is found in early Christian texts, spread throughout the Byzantine world, as is clear from references in literature and from illustrated manuscripts of zoological treatises depicting this fantastic creature with its huge head and terrifying eyes. The myth of its deadly gaze led to the basilisk being linked with the popular belief of the evil eye (baskania), i.e. the harm caused by envy through the power of the gaze. This connection is clearly expressed in the commentary on the Psalter by Euthymios Zigabenos. Writing about Psalms 90(91):13 (‘You will overcome the asp and the basilisk and tread down the lion and the dragon’), Zigabenos, like other commentators, says that these fearful monsters are symbols of the Devil, and then he adds: ‘The basilisk is the baskania (evil eye), for just as he has destruction in his eyes, so baskania causes destruction through the eyes.’

Like many other peoples throughout history, the Byzantines believed that it was pregnant mothers and new-born children who were most susceptible to the workings of the envious eye because of the risks and dangers arising from pregnancy and childbirth. A whole series of apotropaic practices relating to babies and children indicates how widespread this belief was:red ribbons, for example, were tied to babies’ arms ‘as amulets to provide protection against diseases and the evil eye.’ On the other hand, although the church officially condemned such unorthodox religious practices, it offered prayers for the protection of mothers in labor and new-born children which – it is no coincidence – contained references to the evil eye.

The Byzantine belief in witches, known in Greek as the Gelo, which was like a female demon, who endangers the life of new-born children and women during pregnancy and labor, may account for this. In an apotropaic text on the demon’s confrontation with Archangel Michael and her defeat at his hands, she gives a description of her powers, in accordance with the concept that in order to resist unfamiliar evil spirits one must first recognize their strengths: ‘I enter someone’s house in the form of a snake, a serpent … I go to wound women; wherever I go I cause them pain in their heart, and I dry up their milk … I kill infants.’ And she concludes: ‘When the holy Mary gave birth to the Word of truth, I went there to delude her, but I failed and was myself turned away deluded.’ As one of the Gelou’s appellations is given as ‘Baskosyne’ and a basic motive for her actions is envy, she is identified with baskania, the evil eye.

The reference in the exorcism to the attack on the Virgin, though probably a magical formula expressing the demon’s strength and immunity, which can only be overcome by the powers of God, could have suggested the idea of danger to the Christ-child from the forces of evil and in particular the evil eye. The fact that the boundaries between Orthodox beliefs and practices on the one hand and magical rituals and superstitions on the other are not always recognized by the general public or sometimes even by priests lacking in theological knowledge makes this a very plausible theory.

To return to the placing of eyes around the cave of the Nativity in the Omorphi Ekklesia, this should be interpreted as anapotropaic practice against envy and the Devil’s evil eye. The representation of an eye as a protection against baskania follows a basic apotropaic rule, in which the very thing which provokes the evil is used to destroy it. The fact that Christ is depicted at his mother’s breast supports this interpretation, since although this image basically emphasizes the doctrine of the Incarnation, it is at the same time a representation of an intimate and human moment in the life of the incarnated Logos, who is here no different from any other new-born infant; Christ is shown as an ordinary baby needing protection from the perils of the evil eye.

Finally, the interpretation of the eyes around the cave may also lie in the symbolism given to the sacred birthplace in ecclesiastical hymnography and homilies. In addition to its associations with Paradise and Heaven and with the cave of the Burial and Resurrection, the cave of the Nativity is also likened to the ‘dark underground life of mortals’. This comparison is extended in hymns to the individual figure of the hymnographer and thence to that of the believer, who is characterized as a cave, and specifically a cave of robbers, i.e. demons. Christmas homilies associate the idea of the believer as a ‘cave of devils’ with the Cave of the Nativity, as in this later text: ‘The Lord was born in a poor, humble cave, to transform man who is the cave and dwelling of the robber and the murderous demon, the fearful evil devil, into the temple and house of the Holy Spirit’ (Archbishop Anthimos of Athens, late 14th c.). It was thus the belief that the Cave of the Nativity was to be compared with sinful and demon-dominated man, and more generally that caves were the haunt of demons,that led to the placing of these apotropaic symbols at the cave mouth.

Read more about this image here.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Why Bother to Save Halloween? (Richard Seltzer)

A 1984 essay by Richard Seltzer, frequently referenced in other sources, titled “Why Bother to Save Halloween?”, argues as I do that reverence for Halloween is good for the soul, both for the young and the old. He writes:

Halloween is in trouble. Each year editorials in magazines and newspapers and on television warn of dangers to children. And each year more communities "ban" Halloween.

So what? Who needs it? What is Halloween anyway? It's just an excuse for big kids to make trouble, little kids to eat too much candy, and candy companies to peddle their wares. Bah, goblin-bug!

Or so I thought until, despite all the warnings, I took my three children out last Halloween. Nine-year-old Bobby was the boldest. Seven-year-old Heather held back and was reluctant to approach houses of near neighbors she didn't know well; but curiosity and pride in showing off her home-made witch's costume won out in the end, and she'd go racing after Bobby up the walk, and be just as delighted as he was at the smiles and words of praise and handfuls of candy that greeted them. Three-year-old Mikey held me tight and wouldn't let me put him down, but he wouldn't let me take him home either, watching all the doings intently.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Saints Lucian and Marcian: Two Former Magicians Who Died for their Faith in Christ

Sts. Lucian and Marcian the Martyrs (Feast Day - October 26)

The Holy Martyrs Lucian and Marcian, living in the darkness of idolatry, applied themselves to the vain study of the black arts; but were converted to the faith of Christ by finding their charms lose their power upon a Christian virgin, and the evil spirits defeated by the sign of the cross. Their eyes being thus opened, they burned their magical books in the middle of the city of Nicomedia and, when they had effaced their crimes by baptism, they distributed their possessions among the poor, and retired together into solitude, that by exercising themselves in mortification and prayer, they might subdue their passions, and strengthen in their souls that grace which they had just received, and which could not safely be exposed to dangers, and occasions of temptations in the world till it was fenced by rooted habits of all virtues, and ascetic exercises.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Angry Stone Throwing Demons

By John Sanidopoulos

There are a few ways demons express their anger in physical form. One of the more characteristic ways, recorded many times throughout history till the present day, is by throwing stones. Demons throw stones at people in order to hurt those who anger them.

Anglo-Saxon demons seem to have had a particular penchant for throwing stones. Venerable Bede’s prose Life of Cuthbert records Saint Cuthbert (+ 735) mentioning the stone-throwing tendencies of demons: "How often have the demons tried to cast me headlong from yonder rock; how often they have hurled stones as if to kill me." In the tenth century Life of Saint Dunstan, the devil is blamed for hurling not one but two stones at the saint. The first incident occurs, rather interestingly, in a church, where the devil attempts to kill Dunstan and the bishop accompanying him with a large stone – ‘the stone was hurled down in a fit of madness by the malign enemy of every just work, drawing upon the armory of his wickedness’. In the second instance, the stone comes even closer, managing to ‘project the cap he wore a perch measure or so from his head’. Curiously, Dunstan elects to preserve this second stone in a church, in memory of the impotence of the devil’s schemes.1

Friday, October 19, 2018

A Witch Trial in Eighth-Century Constantinople

By John Sanidopoulos

Though we know the belief in witches was an issue in the Eastern Roman Empire of the eighth century from the short treatise of Saint John of Damascus titled On Witches, little known is that there was an actual witchcraft trial in Constantinople at around the same time the Damascene wrote his treatise. Iconoclasm provides the context for this episode, and it is recorded by Ignatios the Deacon (c. 770-c. 845) in the Life of Patriarch Tarasios, who had ordained him to the diaconate. The chief protagonist is not Tarasios, but his father George, who was an iconophile that served the iconoclast emperors Leo (717-741) and Constantine V (741-775). George had been promoted to the highest judicial seat and had an irreproachable reputation as a just judge who treated all equally and fairly before the law. On account of George's moral integrity, he himself was once made to stand trial on account of his correct observance of the laws. George's straight judgment and procedure had been disputed by the rulers who chose not to exercise justice. The case, briefly, was this.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

On Witches (St. John of Damascus)

On Witches (Περὶ Στρυγγῶν = Peri Stryggōn, Migne PG 94 1604) is perhaps the shortest treatise among the written works of John Damascene (676-749), and perhaps the earliest ecclesiastical text on the subject of the folklore surrounding witches, though this, along with his treatise On Dragons, may have been part of a larger treatise addressing such subject matter. As far as I know, though it is very short, it has never been fully translated before into English. Even the best known and the most important treatise on witchcraft, the Malleus Maleficarum, usually translated as the Hammer of Witches, published in 1487, does not even mention this text, although it does quote John Damascene as an authority on other subjects about a handful of times. Perhaps it doesn't mention this text because it refutes the myths and folklore about witches, as opposed to the contents of the Malleus Maleficarum, which was used to justify belief in such things and led to the deaths of thousands of falsely accused witches in both Europe and North America (most notably in Salem, Massachusetts during the Salem Witch Trials from 1692-1693).

Friday, October 12, 2018

The Young Monk Who Was Cast Out of His Grave After His Burial

By St. Gregory the Dialogist

(The Dialogues, "Life of Saint Benedict", Bk. 2, Ch. 24)

On a certain day, a young boy that was a monk, loving his parents more than reason would allow, went from the Abbey to their house, without asking the holy father Benedict's blessing beforehand. The same day that he came home to them, he departed this life. Being buried, the next day after, his body was found cast out of the grave. They caused it to be put back in, but again, the day following, they found it as before.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Filmmaker Scott Derrickson Interviewed on Horror and his Christian Faith

By Steven D. Greydanus

Scott Derrickson is a very nice guy who makes movies about things that aren’t very nice.

Articulate, thoughtful and disarmingly frank, Derrickson is a rare outspoken Christian in Hollywood. He’s also a horror filmmaker and aficionado probably been best known for the 2005 supernatural thriller The Exorcism of Emily Rose — though his recent deal with Marvel to bring the comic-book character Doctor Strange to the big screen changes that in a big way.

I recently caught up with Derrickson in Manhattan, where he held forth at length on horror, faith, art and Catholicism. (Our sprawling 45-minute interview covered more ground than I can do justice to in this article; you can watch the full video review on my blog.)

Saturday, September 29, 2018

No Sympathy for the Devil: The Significance of Demons in John Chrysostom's Soteriology

No Sympathy for the Devil:
The Significance of Demons in John Chrysostom's Soteriology

By Samantha Lynn Miller

Marquette University
Spring 2016


This dissertation is a study of John Chrysostom’s demonology as it relates to his theological anthropology and soteriology. Demons run rampant in Chrysostom's thought, though few scholars have taken note of this. Studies of Chrysostom often focus on his exegetical practices, his asceticism, or his social vision and morality. Indeed, many scholars dismiss Chrysostom as unsophisticated and therefore of little value in the landscape of fourth-century theology. In analyzing Chrysostom’s demonology, we see that Chrysostom’s thought is complex and worth further consideration. One cannot treat demons in Chrysostom’s work without treating other theological topics as well. When Chrysostom discusses demons he does so for the sake of bringing his congregation to salvation. Drawing on Stoic categories for discussing “true” versus “apparent” harm, Chrysostom uses rhetoric about demons to highlight humanity’s freedom and self-determination. Each person has a προαίρεσις, which is free and is the locus of moral responsibility, a faculty demons cannot compel. The προαίρεσις is what enables a person to be virtuous. Chrysostom then argues that because each person is able to be virtuous, God expects each person to be virtuous, and this virtue is a necessary aspect of salvation. Though God reconciles humanity to God’s self in the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and though Christ continues to help a person be virtuous, the responsibility for virtue, and thus salvation, lies with the human being. In short, Chrysostom's demonology and account of self-determination exert a mutual influence on one another, self-determination is necessary for virtue, and virtue is integral to salvation. Therefore, in order to have a fully developed account of Chrysostom's theological anthropology and soteriology, one must also understand Chrysostom’s demonology. Chrysostom's soteriology is better understood when the role of demonology in his theology is taken into account because Chrysostom's engagements with demonology are an entrance to his soteriology and highlight the depth to which Chrysostom believes humans are responsible for their own salvation.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

The Dead Girl Who Seized a Grave-Robber and Would Not Let Him Go

By St. John Moschos

The Spiritual Meadow
Ch. 78

The Astonishing Miracle of a Dead Girl, Who Seized a Grave-Robber and 
Would Not Let Him Go Until He Had Promised to Become a Monk

When we visited Abba John, the abbot of the Monastery of the Giants, he told us a similar story from the time when he had been at Theopolis:

It is not so long ago that I had a visit from a certain young man.

"Help me, for the love of God," he said, with many tears and convulsive sighs. "I need to repent."

I could see that he was deeply troubled and perplexed.

"Tell me the reason why you are so filled with compunction," I said. "Don't hold anything back, for God is surely able to help you."

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

The Devil and His Wiles (6 of 6)

...continued from part five.

6. Confronting the Devil

Throughout the biblical and patristic tradition two views of the devil can be discerned. The first is that the devil is not merely a personification of evil or something abstract, but a specific being who works to prevent human beings from being saved. The second is that the devil’s authority, power and energy are of limited strength since the Incarnation of Christ. God’s supremacy over the strength of the evil one is obvious throughout our Tradition.

Christ, as mentioned already, came to defeat the devil and to free man from his tyranny. This is clear from the miracles when people possessed with demons were healed. The demons themselves understood this, because at one point they said, “What have we to do with Thee, Jesus, Thou Son of God? Art Thou come hither to torment us before the time?” The healings of demoniacs are an expression of the eschatological destruction of the devil’s power. This destruction of satanic power was achieved through the Cross, as the Apostle Paul tells us: “Having spoiled principalities and powers, He [Christ] made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it [the Cross]” (Col. 2:15).

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

The Devil and His Wiles (5 of 6)

...continued from part four.

5. The Devil’s Tactics

The devil does not just make war on human beings, but uses the most appropriate methods to defeat them. He uses many tactics. He is the most experienced general ever in the art of war. St Nicodemus the Hagiorite says on this subject,

“There are three reasons why the devil is very experienced and resourceful in the invisible war against human beings. Firstly, because he and the demons who serve him are by nature subtle spirits, so they are very ingenious in inventing strategies and devices beyond our comprehension. Secondly, because the devil and the demons are seven thousand three hundred years old, and over this long period they have become great experts in tactics. Thirdly, by fighting against all human beings from Adam until now, particularly against saints and hermits eminent in asceticism, and by being counterattacked by them, the devil and the demons have learnt new wiles and tricks from this experience and warfare. They are well-practised and have become highly skilled, as St Isaac the Syrian, St Symeon the New Theologian and St Makarios say.”

Monday, July 23, 2018

Did the Prophet Ezekiel See an Alien Spacecraft?

In Ezekiel 1:4-6 we read: "I looked, and I saw a windstorm coming out of the north -- an immense cloud with flashing lightning and surrounded by brilliant light. The center of the fire looked like glowing metal, and in the fire was what looked like four living creatures." Many New Agers and ufologists think these verses indicate that Ezekiel witnessed extraterrestrials.

In Ezekiel 1:15-16 we also read: "As I looked at the living creatures, I saw a wheel on the ground beside each creature with its four faces. This was the appearance and structure of the wheels: They sparkled like topaz, and all four looked alike. Each appeared to be made like a wheel intersecting a wheel." Many New Agers and ufologists think these verses indicate that Ezekiel witnessed alien spacecraft or UFO's.

But this is reading something into the text that is not really there.

Monday, July 16, 2018

The Devil and His Wiles (4 of 6)

...continued from part three.

4. How the Devil Fights Human Beings

The devil uses many methods to oblige human beings to become his servants. This section will identify the particular ways in which he works.

Firstly, the devil has great fury and unquenchable hatred for human beings. Man is the recipient of God’s love. Christ assumed human nature and made it divine. Thus the devil has an overwhelming hatred for human beings and wants to make them his own. In his interpretation of the Gospel passage in which the demons asked Christ to let them enter the herd of pigs once they had left the possessed man (Matt. 8:31), St Gregory Palamas says that in this way the demons show that they have “evil intentions”. Also, according to his interpretation, the reason the Lord allowed them to enter the pigs and uthe whole herd of swine ran violently down a steep place into the sea, and perished in the waters” (Matt. 8:32) was “so we would realise who did this to the pigs, and that they would not have spared the man and refrained from sending him to perdition, had they not been invisibly held back earlier by God’s power.” In other words, Christ acted as He did in order to demonstrate that the devil is so enraged against human beings that, if He Himself did not protect them, the devil would like to wipe them out completely.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

St. Serapion of Vladimir on the Persecution of Witches

Serapion of Vladimir (+ 1275) was a Bishop of Vladimir. He was Archimandrite of the Monastery of the Kiev Caves from 1247 until 1274, and was Bishop of the Diocese of Vladimir, Suzdal and Nizhny Novgorod from 1274 until his death the following year.

Five sermons by Serapion have been preserved. His main theme is the disaster of the Mongol invasion, seen as divine punishment for Russia because of its people's sins. Four of the sermons appear to have been written in 1274/5, when he was bishop. The fifth is presumably older, and was most likely written shortly after the destruction of Kiev in 1240. In one of his late sermons, he denounces the persecution of witches.

Monday, July 2, 2018

The Devil and His Wiles (3 of 6)

...continued from part two.

3. Whom Does the Devil Attack and In Whom Does He Act?

We must go further and clarify what sort of people the devil attacks. Against whom does he particularly direct his rage? Also, in whom is he able to act most effectively?

It is beyond doubt that he wages war on everyone. He has an immense hatred of human beings to the extent that, as the holy Fathers say, if God did not sustain the world with His love, the devil would annihilate it. The devil strove in many ways to fight against Christ Himself. The three temptations by which the devil tempted Christ are well known. Holy Scripture says that after His Baptism, “Jesus was led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil” (Matt. 4:1). These were not, however, the only temptations that Christ faced. The devil fought furiously against Him until the last moment, putting thoughts against Him into people’s minds.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Simon Magus and the Apostle Peter

At the outbreak of the persecution (c. 37 A.D.) of the early Christian community at Jerusalem that began with the martyrdom of St. Stephen, when Philip the Deacon went from Jerusalem to Samaria, Simon lived in the latter city. By his magic arts, because of which he was called "Magus", and by his teachings in which he announced himself as the "great power of God", he had made a name for himself and had won adherents. He listened to Philip's sermons, was impressed by them, and like many of his countrymen was baptized and united with the community of believers in Christ. But, as was evident later, his conversion was not the result of the inner conviction of faith in Christ as the Redeemer, but rather from selfish motives, for he hoped to gain greater magical power and thus to increase his influence. For when the Apostles Peter and John came to Samaria to bestow on the believers baptized by Philip the outpouring of the Spirit which was accompanied by miraculous manifestations, Simon offered them money, desiring them to grant him what he regarded as magical power, so that he also by the laying on of hands could bestow the Holy Spirit, and thereby produce such miraculous results. Full of indignation at such an offer Peter rebuked him sharply, exhorted him to penance and conversion and warned him of the wickedness of his conduct. Under the influence of Peter's rebuke Simon begged the Apostles to pray for him (Acts 8:9-29). However, according to the unanimous report of the authorities of the second century, he persisted in his false views. The ecclesiastical writers of the early Church universally represent him as the first heretic, the "Father of Heresies".

Simon Magus, after passing through diverse provinces, came to Rome, and there gained a high reputation. St. Justin Martyr, St. Irenaeus, Tertullian, Eusebius, St. Cyril of Jerusalem, and Theodoret, assure us, that divine honors were paid him there, and that a statue was erected to him in the isle of Tiber, by the emperor Claudius and the senate, with this inscription: “Simoni Deo Sancto” (Simon the Holy God).

(Left) Paul, Peter, Simon Magus, Nero;
(Right) Peter and Paul causing the fall of Simon Magus through prayer

When Nero came to the throne, the greatest monster of cruelty and vice that perhaps ever disgraced the human species, Simon Magus found a means to ingratiate himself with this tyrant; for Nero was above all mortals infatuated with the superstitions of the black arts to the last degree of folly and extravagance. To excel in this was one of his greatest passions; and for this purpose he spared no expense, and stuck at no crimes. But all his endeavors were fruitless. When Tiridates, a Parthian prince, who was a magician, came to Rome, and was crowned by Nero king of Armenia, in the forum, the tyrant hoped to learn of him some important secrets of that detestable superstition. The most skillful of the Parthian magicians exhausted all their science to satisfy him; but only gave the world a new proof of the emptiness of that art. Pliny concludes from this want of success in Nero, and Tillemont repeats the same of Julian the Apostate, that seeing the utmost skill of those who have most addicted themselves to this deceitful art, joined with the greatest power and impiety, was never able to effect anything by it, every one must rest convinced, that magic is no less vain and idle, than it is impious and execrable.

Simon Magus, by his vain boastings, and illusions, could not fail to please this tyrant. The fathers assure us that this famous magician had promised the emperor and people to fly in the air, carried by his angels, thus pretending to imitate the ascension of Christ. Accordingly he raised himself in the air by his magical power, in the presence of the emperor. Sts. Peter and Paul, seeing the delusion, betook themselves to their prayers; upon which the impostor fell to the ground, was bruised, broke a leg, and died a few days after in rage and confusion. This wonderful event is related by St. Justin, St. Ambrose, St. Cyril of Jerusalem, St. Austin, St. Philastrius, St. Isidore of Pelusium, Theodoret, and others. Dion Chrysostomus, a heathen, writes that Nero kept a long time in his court a certain magician, who promised to fly. And Suetonius says, that at the public games a man undertook to fly in the presence of Nero, but fell in his first attempt, and his blood even stained the balcony in which the emperor stood. This historians have understood to be Simon Magus.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

The Devil and His Wiles (2 of 6)

...continued from part one.

2. Types of Demons

There are many demons, as the whole biblical and patristic tradition teaches. It is evident both in Holy Scripture and the works of the holy Fathers that Satan is not alone: there are many demons. There are many like him. Also, some demons are more evil than others, and every demon has his own teaching, as well as his own way of acting and working. We shall look at this interesting topic.

Many passages of Holy Scripture demonstrate that there are a large number of evil spirits in existence. The most well known are as follows. The possessed men in the country of the Gerges-enes had many demons. For that reason they spoke in the plural: “And, behold, they cried out, saying, What have we to do with Thee, Jesus, Thou Son of God? Art Thou come hither to torment us before the time?” (Matt. 8:29). When St Mark the Evangelist describes the healing of the demoniac in the country of the Ga-darenes, he records Christ’s conversation with the demons inside the man. When Christ asked, “What is thy name?”, they replied “My name is Legion: for we are many.” The account continues, “All the devils besought Him, saying, Send us into the swine.” As soon as Christ granted this wish, “The unclean spirits went out, and entered into the swine” (Mark 5:9-13). The Apostle Paul knows that there is not one single “ruler of this world” or one single evil spirit, but many rulers and many evil spirits, so he writes, “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Eph. 6:12). Explaining what Christ achieved on the Cross, the same Apostle says, “Having spoiled principalities and powers, He made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it” (Col. 2:15). All these demons teach different things. Each demon has his own way of thinking and acting, but the aim of all is to separate man from God and bring about his eternal death. St Paul knows that many will depart from the faith in the last times, “giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils” (1 Tim. 4:1).

Friday, June 22, 2018

The Devil and His Wiles (1 of 6)

By Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos

(From the book The Science of Spiritual Medicine)

Describing the wiles and the activities of the devil is not easy. The difficulty is that only those who have managed to escape from his influence are able clearly to discern how he works. By studying the teachings of the saints, however, we too can recognise the devil’s personality and the method that he uses to capture people and keep them under his control. We rely mainly on the teaching of the saints, who were victorious over the devil in the power of Christ. Thus we too can repeat the Apostle Paul’s words: “For we are not ignorant of his devices” (2 Cor. 2:11). The experience of the Church has exposed all the schemes of the devil and his mentality.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

How a Horror Movie Inspired Me to Begin Studying the Bible

By John Sanidopoulos

It was 1988. I was twelve years old. My aunt was babysitting my older two sisters and I and she decided to take us to the movies. There were no good PG rated movies my aunt wanted to see, but then she saw a movie starring Demi Moore that she did really want to see, however it was rated R. My aunt asked me if I wanted to see it, but I was nervous to see a rated R horror movie, as I was easily frightened by horror films as a child, and this would also be the very first rated R movie I would ever see in a theater. I gave in, half excited and half nervous. The movie we were going to watch was called The Seventh Seal.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

How Gothic Buildings Became Associated with Horror and the Supernatural

Scott monument, Edinburgh

October 30, 2016
The Conversation

If you want foreboding old buildings that dark lords and werewolves are bound to frequent, look no further than Britain’s enviable Gothic architecture. From Strawberry Hill in London with its twisting corridors and glaring pinnacles, to ruined abbeys and cathedrals such as St Andrews and Jedburgh, darkness seems to thrive in these places – the perfect location for a Halloween party if you’re lucky enough to be invited.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Saint George and the Powers of Witches and Vampires

“It is the eve of St. George’s Day. Do you not know that tonight, when the clock strikes midnight, all the evil things in the world will have full sway? Do you know where you are going, and what you are going to?”

―Bram Stoker, Dracula 1897

Today is the Eve of the Feast of Saint George! Which means that if you are still alive after tonight, you survived what is known in Eastern Europe as the most dangerous night of the year, as the powers of vampires and witches and every evil were at their height on the Eve of the Feast of Saint George.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Saint Walpurga and the Witches of Walpurgis Night

Saint Walpurga

The daughter of Saint Richard the Pilgrim and sister of Saint Willibald, Saint Walpurga (also known as Saint Walpurgis or Walburga) was born in Devonshire in 710 A.D. An English princess, Saint Walpurga studied medicine and became a Christian missionary to Germany, where she founded an double monastery in Heidenheim. As a result of Saint Walpurga's evangelism in Germany, the people there converted to Christianity from heathenism. In addition, the monastery became an education center and soon became famous as a center of culture. Saint Walpurga was also known to repel the effects of witchcraft. She perished in 777 and her tomb, to this day, produces holy oil (known as Saint Walburga's oil), which is said to heal sickness; Benedictine nuns distribute this oil in vials to Christian pilgrims who visit Saint Walpurga's tomb.

Monday, April 30, 2018

The Bones of a Dragon Killed by Saint Donatos in the Fourth Century

The following account was written concerning Saint Donatos (Apr. 30), a late fourth century bishop from Albania, by the fifth century historian Sozomen (Eccl. Hist., Bk. 7, Ch. 26):

"There were at this period many other bishops in various parts of the empire highly celebrated for their sanctity and high qualifications, of whom Donatos, Bishop of Euroea in Epirus, deserves to be particularly mentioned. The inhabitants of the country relate many extraordinary miracles which he performed, of which the most celebrated seems to have been the destruction of a dragon of enormous size. It had stationed itself on the high road, at a place called Chamaegephyrae and devoured sheep, goats, oxen, horses, and men. Donatos came upon this beast, attacked it unarmed, without sword, lance, or javelin; it raised its head, and was about to dash upon him, when Donatos made the sign of the cross with his finger in the air, and spat upon the dragon. The saliva entered its mouth, and it immediately expired. As it lay extended on the earth it did not appear inferior in size to the noted serpents of India. I have been informed that the people of the country yoked eight pair of oxen to transport the body to a neighboring field, where they burnt it, that it might not during the process of decomposition corrupt the air and generate disease... The inhabitants of Isoria, a village in the territory of Euroea, bear testimony to the truth of this narration."

Monday, April 23, 2018

The Chapel of Saint George the Vampire in Thymari of Argolis

Alan John Bayard Wace (13 July 1879 in Cambridge, England – 9 November 1957, in Athens, Greece) was an English archaeologist. He was educated at Shrewsbury School and Pembroke College, Cambridge. He was director of the British School at Athens (1914-1923), Deputy Keeper in the Department of Textiles in the Victoria and Albert Museum (1924-1934), the second Laurence Professor of Classical Archaeology at University of Cambridge (1934-1944) and professor at the Farouk I University in Egypt (1943-1952). Among Wace's field projects were those at Sparta, Mycenae, Troy, Thessaly, Corinth, and Alexandria. Along with Carl Blegen, Wace carried out important work on the decipherment of Linear B tablets.

Click on text to enlarge.

Friday, March 30, 2018

The Monk and the Demon: The Demonology of the Byzantine Fathers

The Monk and the Demon:
The Demonology of the Byzantine Fathers

A Study of the Ladder of Saint John Climacus [c. 580-649]

By Deacon Dr. John Chryssavgis

I. Introduction

The importance of the demonological theme in Patristic spirituality is nowhere expounded by the Fathers in any systematic fashion but can be gauged from their writings describing the struggle of the human person, from their anthropology. In the Ladder of St. John Climacus, demons seem to dominate the stage, although he never succumbed to any obsession with demonology of the kind which characterized second and third century Gnosticism and which was responsible for the erection of a vast and complex system of demonic hierarchies. Still, Climacus reflects an intense experience of demonic influence, which brings about splits and conflicts within man and impels him to struggle against its divisive claims. To split, to divert, to shift, to disrupt is its essential procedure; but the struggle is basically within man. Indeed, in the East it is accepted that demons approach us in the form corresponding to our own inward state. Satan says to St. Anthony:

It is  not I who trouble them (the monks),
It is they who trouble themselves.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

"Demon House": A Compelling and Haunting Documentary

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to visit Zak Bagans' The Haunted Museum in Las Vegas, where among the haunted treasures is kept the final remains of the notorious Demon House, where one of the most controversial and widely-publicized paranormal cases of the last few decades took place in Gary, Indiana from 2011 to 2014. In the museum you can see the actual basement stairs of the Demon House, as featured in the documentary, under which is the original soil from where certain items were buried under the stairs and uncovered, and these items are also preserved in the museum. When you approach the room containing these items, the door is shut with a crucifix above the door to "contain the evil within." We are warned by the tour guide to enter at our own risk, if we choose, knowing that those who had lingered in the house in the past, including Zak himself, had suffered physically and/or mentally. Everyone in my group entered the room, and one young man even had to leave because he started to get a painful headache. The reason this museum has the last remains of the Demon House, is because Zak himself had purchased it to investigate it, but when things went wrong and took a turn for the worse, he decided to tear it down in January 2016 hoping that it would never bring harm to anyone again - though he couldn't resist saving some items for his museum.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

A Visit to Zak Bagans' The Haunted Museum in Las Vegas

Last week I had the opportunity to visit perhaps the most fascinating and dangerous museum I have ever visited - Zak Bagans' The Haunted Museum in Las Vegas. Since it opened a few years ago, I wanted to visit, thinking at least there would be some interesting things, but having now visited, I must say it was much more than I expected, and Zak has outdone himself in accumulating a collection truly worthy of a museum bearing his own name.

For those familiar with Zak Bagans, they know that he is the eccentric lead paranormal investigator on the hit show Ghost Adventures who is not afraid to expose himself to the darkest sides of the paranormal, and this museum fully explores his macabre interests. Apparently, Zak Bagans developed a profound interest in the paranormal when he was just 10 years old, scouring nearby garage sales with his mom in search of odd and spooky collectibles. Now with this museum he is giving everyone a chance to experience the spine-chilling vibe of the spirit world that has fascinated him since childhood.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Does Valentine's Day Have Pagan Origins?

An English Victorian era Valentine card in the Museum of London

Who is St. Valentine?

Numerous early Christian martyrs were named Valentine. The Valentines honored on February 14 are Valentine the Presbyter of Rome and Valentine the Bishop of Terni. Valentine of Rome was a priest in Rome who was martyred in 269 and was added to the calendar of saints by Pope Galesius in 496 and was buried on the Via Flaminia. The relics of Saint Valentine were kept in the Church and Catacombs of San Valentino in Rome, which remained an important pilgrim site throughout the Middle Ages until the relics of St. Valentine were transferred to the Church of Santa Prassede during the pontificate of Nicholas IV. The flower-crowned skull of Saint Valentine is exhibited in the Basilica of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, Rome, and other portions of his relics can be found throughout the world. Though the Roman Mrtyrology commemorates the two Valentines above on February 14, the Russian Orthodox Church commemorates St. Valentine of Rome on July 6, and observes the feast of Hieromartyr Valentine, Bishop of Terni, on July 30.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

The Arrogant Hieromonk Who Thought He Could Command Demons Like Saint Parthenios

Saint Paisios the Athonite told the following beneficial story:

'A demon-possessed person was taken to a monastery, and the abbot there instructed the fathers to go to the chapel and pray for him with their prayer ropes. In that monastery, they also had as a holy relic the head of Saint Parthenios, Bishop of Lampsakos; this had the demon "cornered" quite a bit. At the same time, the abbot assigned the reading of exorcisms to a certain hieromonk. This monk was pious outwardly, but inside he was secretly arrogant. He was a fighter and a stickler in everything he did. He used to counsel the others, because he was also scholarly. He himself however would not receive help from anyone, because out of respect, they would hesitate to tell him whenever they saw him doing something incorrectly. He had created illusions inside himself that he was the most virtuous one in the monastery, so the evil one grabbed the opportunity that day to harm him. The demon implemented its wickedness and made him think that he was driving it out of the demon-possessed person.

Monday, February 5, 2018

The Purge and Consecration of the Church of Saint Agatha of the Goths in Rome

What is today known as Sant'Agata dei Goti (Saint Agatha of the Goths) is a church in Rome dedicated to the martyr Saint Agatha. It was built by Ricimer for the Goths c. 460. The Goths were Arians, so when Arianism was suppressed in Rome, the building was taken over by the Church, in 592 or 593, and reconsecrated by Pope Gregory the Great after placing there portions of the relics of Saints Stephen and Agatha. It was restored in the ninth century, and a Benedictine monastery was founded next to it. The apse of the church collapsed in 1589, and it was partially rebuilt in 1633, without major changes to the building itself apart from the new apse. The small courtyard outside the church was laid out at this time. The church has been served by the Stigmatines since 1926. Their generalate is adjacent to it. It is the only Arian church that has been preserved in Rome.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

The Authority of Saint Tryphon Over Demons

Saint Tryphon was from Lampsakos in Phrygia, and lived during the reigns of emperors Gordian (238-244), Philip (‎244–249) and Decius (249-251). He was most poor in his young age, and was a keeper of geese to earn a living. Although he occupied himself with his humble occupation, at the same time he studied Holy Scripture, and with much zeal performed his religious duties.

Holy Scripture says: "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble" (Jam. 4:6). Indeed, the humble Tryphon with his pious curiosity slowly became capable not only of knowing much himself, but he also taught. He also received divine grace to heal the sick and the demon possessed. The daughter of Emperor Gordian had long been possessed by a furious demon, which defied being expelled by the pagan magicians. One day it shouted: "Only Tryphon has the power to drive me out!" Gordian sought throughout the Empire for this Tryphon, and he was eventually found to be a seventeen year old boy peacefully tending his flock of geese.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Controversial Public Art in Athens ‘Exorcised’ and Destroyed

Black-clad protesters in southern Athens have torn down a red sculpture shaped like an angel and broke its wings in a fresh act of violence against an artwork critics liken to Satan.

Protests against the 8-metre high sculpture called Phylax, which in Greek means “guardian”, have ranged from throwing white paint and spitting at it to attempting to exorcise it with a Greek priest sprinkling holy water. The priest described the statue as a “demon soldier of Satan” in a letter to the mayor of Palio Faliro, Dionysis Hatzidakis.

It was displayed on December 5th in a busy area in the coastal suburb of Palaio Faliro. Protesters have included some residents, religious conservatives and supporters of far right political groups.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Repulsion of the Evil One and an Appeal to Christ (St. Gregory the Theologian)

By St. Gregory the Theologian

Flee swiftly from my heart, all-crafty one.
Flee from my members and from my life.
Deceiver, serpent, and fire, Belial, sin,
death, abyss, dragon, night, snare, and frenzy,
chaos, manslayer, and ferocious beast!
Thou didst entice into perdition those
first-formed folk, my foreparents, offering them
at the same time the taste of sin and death.
Christ, the Ruler of all commandeth thee to
flee into the billows, to fall upon the rocks,
or to enter the herd of swine, O baleful one,
as once He bade that presumptuous Legion.
Nay, yield forthwith, lest I smite thee with the Cross,
whereat all things tremble;

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Demonology in the Life of Saint Dionysios of Olympus

By Monk Agapios Landos

The Young Girl From Katerini

In the spring, Saint Dionysios went to the city of Katerini. On the road, he met a group of young girls and boys, who were singing immodest and inappropriate songs of the type that incites youth to shameful and improper desires. The blessed man was grieved hearing these things, and said to them: "Why do you say these things, being that you are virgins? Such disgraceful and immodest words defile your virginity, exciting and inclining these youths to sensuality. Do you not call death to remembrance?"

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Demonology in the Life of Saint Anthony the Great

By Rosemary Guiley

Anthony (251–356)

Anthony was a Christian saint credited as a founder of monasticism, famous for his temptations by the Devil and his demons. Anthony means “inestimable.” Saint Anthony is also known as Anthony or Antony of Egypt, Anthony of the Desert, and Anthony the Abbott. The account of his life and demonic torments was recorded by his friend St. Athanasius, Patriarch of the Church at Alexandria, Egypt, in Vita S. Antoni (Life of St. Anthony). The temptations of Anthony were a popular subject for medieval artists.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

The Occultist, the Immaculate Conception, and the Assassination on the Feast of Saint Genevieve

By John Sanidopoulos

I spent a week in Paris in October of 2016, taking in the culture and visiting the various shrines and museums of the city, and on the day I visited the Pantheon, where I saw the tombs of Voltaire, Rousseau, Zola, Hugo, Monnet, Dumas and the Curies (just to name a few) as well as an exact replica of Foucault’s pendulum, I also wanted to visit the location of the relics of Saint Genevieve behind the Pantheon, at Saint-Ètienne-du-Mont, which unfortunately was closed for the day. Staying at a hotel in the Latin Quarter, I realized the next time I would be able to visit the church was on the morning of my flight back to America. So having packed my things that morning, I rushed on an eight minute uphill walk to Saint-Ètienne-du-Mont, arriving early waiting for the priest to unlock the door at 9:00 AM, hoping I would have enough time to venerate the relics of the Patron Saint of Paris before I went to catch my flight. My goal there was three-fold: a) to venerate the relics of Saint Genevieve, b) to see the tombs of Pascal and Racine, and C) to see the location of the assassination of the Archbishop of Paris which took place in this church on January 3, 1857, which was the feast of Saint Genevieve.