Monday, February 10, 2020

Saint Ioannikios as a 19th Century Russian Exorcist

The feeling of compassion for the sick and the suffering was especially strong in Father Ioannikios (+ 1882, Feb. 10), Father Confessor of the Dormition Holy Mountain Hermitage in the Kharkhov Province. Very many pilgrims came to Holy Mountain Monastery from everywhere in the summertime. People from all walks of life, from peasants to those who were educated; and many of these were afflicted or possessed, and were brought to the monastery by relatives in the hope of a cure from the wonderworking icon of Saint Nicholas. He saw the suffering of these unfortunates, who often screamed loudly with tumultuous voices, or went into convulsions, especially in church during the Divine Liturgy. Knowing that prayers of exorcism are to be read in such cases, Saint Ioannikios was motivated by faith, and he began to pray in this manner over the possessed, anointing them with holy oil in the name of the Lord.

Some of the monks did not approve of this, for they thought Father Ioannikios was too bold. However, Elder Kyprianos, a Father Confessor of the monastery, did not have enough nerve to pray over them himself, so he blessed the saint to do it with complete faith and humility of mind.

Father Kyprianos said that Father Ioannikios, as a faster and a man of prayer, was fully capable of dealing with such afflicted persons, because according to the Lord, “This kind is never expelled except by prayer and fasting” (Matthew 17:21, Mark 9:29). In truth, the prayers of Father Ioannikios over these people, said with firm faith before the Almighty Lord, often brought visible cures. Far from the monastery word spread that the Father Confessor was a healer and that he was able to cure the possessed by his prayers.

In the summertime, he was often seen after the services in front of the wonderworking icon of Saint Nicholas, praying over the possessed, whose ferocious screaming could be heard at that time. Some cursed him with the most horrible words; others blasphemed terribly, and some even tried to beat him. He did suffer from beatings more than once. He endured all of this meekly, however, attacking the evil demons through fasting and prayer, with which he prepared himself beforehand. Usually, he succeeded, and the sufferers would calm down. They would become humble and meek, and would start praying to God and weep, or they threw up a malodorous liquid on the floor, after which they were completely healed.

Once, an enormous man, a Cossack soldier from the vicinity of the Kuban River, was brought to him with a wild expression on his face. His relatives, two strong men, had dragged him there with great difficulty. The possessed man roared with an inhuman voice like a bear, or a wolf, or a pig. All of these were heard from the man at the same time, and his eyes glared with unspeakable hatred. In front of the cathedral of the Holy Mountain Monastery, which is on top of a hill, there is a wide stone stairway leading to the small square where the cathedral is situated. The two men dragged the possessed man to the stairs, but were unable to make him climb the stairs by any means. One of these men went into the cathedral to speak to Father Ioannikios. Fearlessly, the saint came out of the cathedral in his epitracheilion, ready to pray over the man, who was lying on the ground.

Suddenly, the man jumped up, seized Father Ioannikios, and threw him over his shoulder. He ran up the stairs and around the cathedral. Those who were present were terrified and did not know what to do. They ran after the man, and saw him on the ground by the cathedral’s western door. Father Ioannikios was all right and unharmed, and he sat on top of the man, holding him by his hair. His relatives ran up to bind the man’s hands and feet, but Father Ioannikios would not permit it. “Don’t touch him,” he said. “Leave him alone. He won’t run anymore. We’ve already had our battle, and you can see who won.” He pointed to the man, whose hair he held with a firm grip. Then he stood up and covered the man’s head with his epitracheilion, and began to read the prayers. The man lay quietly, breathing heavily, as though he were going to vomit. Finally, with a great effort, he threw up fetid, bloody foam so malodorous that those who stood nearby had to move away from him.

After this the man got up and began to make prostrations while facing the church and offering his heartfelt prayers. The next day he made his Confession to Father Ioannikios and partook of the Holy Mysteries, which he had avoided for the past five years. During Confession he explained that he had become possessed when he had dared to strike his mother.

From that moment, he experienced terrible suffering. He left the monastery, assured of his complete cure, and went home to Kuban. Later, he received instructions on how to conduct himself so that he would not become subjected to that same evil spirit again. Father Ioannikios said later that when the possessed man threw him over his shoulder and ran up the stairs, he suddenly felt a power within him which enabled him to overcome the man almost effortlessly, while calling upon the sweetest name of the Lord Jesus.