Elder Paisios of Mount Athos
Concerning Demon Possession
1)”The possessed react to anything that is holy”
2)”Do not pay attention to the words of a possessed person”
The black powers of darkness
“The possessed react to anything that is holy”
- Elder, how can one tell if someone is possessed rather than a psychopath?
- Even a simple doctor, a devout one, can recognize this. People that are afflicted by a demon jump up or jolt when they approach anything sacred. And so, it is obvious that they have a demon. If you offer them a little bit of holy water or if you cross them with a sacred Relic, they react, because the demons inside are annoyed and pressed, whereas if they suffer from a mental disorder, they do not react at all. Even if you are wearing a cross and approach them they get worried and shaken. Once, during a vigil on Mount Athos, the fathers told me they thought that a lay person there was possessed by a demon.
I sat in the stall* next to his and laid my cross on him which contained a piece of the Holy Cross. He jerked, got up and moved to the other side. When the church started emptying out a little, I discretely approached him. Again, the same thing. I understood that he really did have a demon.
When they bring children to my hut and tell me that they have a demon, to determine whether they are possessed, I sometimes take a piece of the holy relic of Saint Arsenios and hide it in my hand. And you should see them. Despite the fact I have both my hands closed, if the child has a demon, he stares in fear at the hand with which I am holding the holy relic. However, if he doesn't have a demon, but, for example, a mental illness, he doesn't react at all. At other times, I give them water in which I have previously dipped a part of the holy relic. If they have a demon, they do not drink it; they move away from it.
I once gave many sweet treats to a demon possessed child to eat first, so that he would get really thirsty. Then I brought him some of this water. I said: “I will give Gianakis better water”. As soon as he drank a little bit, he stared screaming: “This water is burning me. What does it have inside?”. “Nothing”, I said. “What are you doing to me? It's burning me”, he screamed. “It's not burning you; it's burning someone else”, I said. I crossed him on the head while his arms and legs shook... He had a demonic fit. The demon tangled him up.
Do you remember that student who was here a long time ago? “I have a demon inside,” he would tell me, “and he torments me a lot. I suffer from the demon, because he even makes me say obscenities. I am desperate. I feel he is pressing on me internally, sometimes grasping me here and at other times there”, and the poor thing indicated his belly, his chest, his sides, his hands. Since he was very sensitive, and so as not to hurt his feelings and so as to console him, I said: “Look, you do not have a demon on the inside; it is an external demonic effect on you”. When we went to the church, I asked the sisters that were there to pray for God's poor creature, and I took from the altar area a part of the holy relic of Saint Arsenios, approached him and asked again: “Where does the demon pressure and torment you? Where do you think he is?” He then showed me his sides. “Where, here?”, I asked and placed my hand with the holy relic on it. He immediately cried out! “You burnt me, you burnt me, I am not lea..a..ving! I am not leaving!”. He yelled, swore, said obscenities. Then I started saying inside myself: “Lord Jesus Christ, Lord Jesus Christ, send away the unclean spirit from Your creature” as I was crossing him with the holy relic. This went on for twenty minutes. Then the demon shook him, threw him down. He rolled over and over. His suit was covered in dust. We stood him up. He was shaking all over and was making intense spastic movements. He grabbed onto the iconostasis, to hold himself up. Cold sweat was running off his hands, like dew on the grass. Soon after the demon left, and the man calmed down. He was cured, and now he's alright.
“Do not pay attention to the words of a demon-possessed person”
- Elder, what should one be aware of when speaking with a demon possessed person?
- He needs to say the prayer (i.e. the Jesus prayer) and treat them kindly.
- Elder, do the possessed remember their words during their attacks?
- Some things they remember and others not. We do not know how God works. Sometimes He allows them to remember so that they humble themselves and repent. And when a demon possessed person asks for something, it is not easy to distinguish if it is from the devil or if the person themself is in need.
I had once met a possessed girl somewhere. She had read Kazantzakis and believed some blasphemous things, and as a result she became possessed. Suddenly the demon caught her and she started screaming! “I am burning, I am burning”. Her family held her, so that I could cross her. Then she yelled: “Water, water!”. I said, “bring her water”. “No, no,” they replied “because someone told us not to obey the devil”. “Now,” I said, “the poor girl is thirsty. Bring some water”. I understood when the burn was due to the devil and when it was due to thirst. The poor girl drank a couple of glasses of water. “I feel as if I have coal inside of me,” she said. “It burns that much. Even if I drank a bucket of water, the fire would still not go out inside”. She felt that much of a burning!
- Elder, when a possessed person shouts, how can we tell when the devil is speaking from inside the person and when it's the person themself?
- When the devil speaks, the lips do not move normally; they move like a machine. However, when the person speaks they move normally. When a possessed person shouts, when they read exorcisms over them or others are praying for him, at times the soul is tormented and says, for example, to the devil: “Go away, what are you doing here?” And at other times, the devil swears at the person or the priest or blasphemes Christ, the Panagia, the Saints. Sometimes he lies or at times is pressed by the power of Christ's name to speak the truth. Yet sometimes, the possessed person says things they've read in spiritual material, etc. What can I say? Confusing things. That is why when you talk with them, be very careful. Do not pay attention to their words. They may say, for example, “You're burning me”. If you really are burning him and you say “I'm burning him”, then you're 'burned' (i.e. in trouble). If you are not burning him but believe you are burning him, then you are twice 'burned'. Or they could scream “filthy” and say to someone “[but] you are clean”. If she believes it, then she's gone, lost. That is why you should not play around with the devil.
They took a possessed man to a certain monastery and the abbot told the fathers to go to the church and pray with the prayer rope. They also had St Parthenios' skull there, the bishop of Lampsacus, and the demon was being pressed a great deal. At the same time the abbot asked one of the monks to read exorcisms over the possessed person. This hieromonk was devout externally, but internally he held secret pride. He was a fighter and an “ideal” monk. He spiritually advised the others, as he was also scholarly. But he would not be helped by anyone else, because the rest of the monks, out of respect, when they saw him do something wrong, hesitated to tell him. He had the false impression that he was the most virtuous in the monastery, etc. That day, the evil one found a chance to hurt him. He sneakily gave him the impression that he was the one casting out the demon from the possessed person. As soon as he stared reading the exorcisms, the demon started yelling: “I am burning! Where are you driving me away to, cruel one?” So he thought that the demon was burning from his own exorcism—while the demon was being strained, because the other fathers were praying—and he answered the demon: “Come into me”.
Saint Parthenios had once said this same thing to a demon, but he was a saint. That is, once when a demon was shouting: “I am burning, I am burning, where should I go?”, the Saint replied: “Come into me”. Then the demon said to the saint, “your name alone burns me up, Parthenios!” and left the possessed person he was tormenting.
This hieromonk tried to play Saint Parthenios and got possessed. From that moment onwards the demon had authority, control over him. He was tormented for many years and could not find rest anywhere. He would wander around constantly, at times out in the world and at others on Mount Athos. What that poor man went through! This state mentally and physically drained him and caused him to tremble. And you see, even though he was a good priest, he could no longer perform the Liturgy. Do you see what the devil does?
- Elder, does coffee have anything to do with the reactions of a possessed person?
- When the nervous system is upset and someone drinks many coffees, his nerves fall apart and the little menace takes advantage of the situation. It is not that coffee is demonic. The little menace takes advantage of the effect it has on the nerves, and the possessed person's reactions are then worse.
* (Trans. Note) stall (Gk. stasidi): This traditional style of seating is common in Orthodox churches and was used instead of chairs or pews to allow more room for standing, as well as allow the faithful to stand, or sit when needed, in the stall itself during the divine services.
1. His memory is celebrated on the 7th of February.
2. See Elder Paisios of Mount Athos, Athonite Fathers and Ahtonite Matters, p.96-97 (Greek edition).
Excerpt from pages 195-200 (Greek edition) from the book:
WORDS OF ELDER PAISIOS Vol. 3, SPIRITUAL AWAKENING, HOLY MONASTERY OF “EVANGELIST JOHN THE THEOLOGIAN”, SOUROTI, THESSALONIKI