One topic I rarely hear much discussed among Anglicans is spiritual warfare. We definitely believe it is a vital part of Christian life, and practice it routinely. We simply don’t speak of it much. In the important ways, Fr. Ernesto’s description below of Orthodoxy and spiritual warfare are the views of Anglicanism and Catholicism. We take the Devil seriously. I can attest, as does Fr. Ernesto in his post, that as a pastor I, too, have participated in exorcisms and know demons are real and present. I have even been so involved working with Fr. Ernesto in such activity. Spiritual warfare is real.
Among one wing of my Evangelical brethren, it is often a hot topic. Depending on which wing of Evangelicalism, it is downplayed, railed against, or highly touted. When I was part of independent Christianity, we practiced spiritual warfare against demons,and spoke of it often.
I was asked recently about the Orthodox belief in spiritual warfare. And, I knew what the questionermeant. He was talking about the more, uhm, dramatic forms of spiritual warfare. The answer is that the Orthodox have a strong belief in spiritual warfare. Before we baptize someone, we do three exorcisms on a person (or baby) and they are clearly called exorcisms. The first one begins, “The Lord layeth thee under ban, O Devil . . .” During the third exorcism we pray, “. . . Rebuke the unclean spirits and expel them . . .” Later the one being baptized, or the sponsors of an infant, are called to renounce Satan three times. This is not mere ritual, it is the recognition that no one can serve two masters, and thus one of them needs to be renounced, rebuked, and restrained. We are truly and honestly doing an exorcism of the one being baptized because that one has been under the influence of the rulers, the authorities, and the powers of this dark world (Ephesians 6:12).
During the annual blessing of the homes, part of the prayer is to rebuke and expel any unclean spirits. Once a year we have the Service of Holy Unction during Holy Week. There one of the prayers says, “. . . having been cleansed of the blood of demons through the Blood that mercifully flowed from thy side.” So, between the blessing of the homes and the Service of Unction, faithful Orthodox have demons rebuked from them at least twice a year. This is not mere ritual, it is the recognition that we are the Church Militant which is involved in serious and unremitting warfare against the devil, and that in that warfare the enemy can counterattack and gain a foothold in us.
I have been involved in more than one exorcism and I can guarantee you that demons are real. The Orthodox have a firm and sound belief in the existence of the evil and the demonic, and take that into account in our prayers, in our liturgies, and in our lives. Nevertheless, that is not the sum total of what we think of when we speak of spiritual warfare. When we speak of spiritual warfare, we are speaking in broader terms of our fight against: the world, the flesh, and the devil. If we have a criticism of those who speak frequently of spiritual warfare, it is that all too often those who speak of it limit it to dramatic, visible, and public actions against only the devil.
But, in order to truly live out the Christian life, the Christian must fight a war on three fronts, the battle against the world, the battle against the flesh, and the battle against the devil. The Orthodox discipline of fasting, the prayers, and the reading of Scripture are all our response to the flesh. We fast in order to teach the flesh that it shall not have charge over us. It, along with prayers and the reading of Scripture, are a way to gain control over our passions that would push us to a life of dissolution. This is not as exciting and dramatic as exorcisms and sprinklings with Holy Water. But, this is one of the key battles against the evil one. Saint James says, ”Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. . . Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” We war with ourselves in order to prevent us from warring with others. This, too, is spiritual warfare. As Saint Paul said, “I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! . . .” We war in order that our inward man’s desire to follow the law of God may come closer to becoming a reality.
The final bit of the war is against the world. Saint James says, “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.” When we do not show partiality–as Saint James says–when we reach out to our neighbors in practical works of mercy, we are warring with the world. “What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,’ but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?” Our definition of profit is different than the world’s definition of profit. We fight against the world when, by our actions and giving, we clearly show that our profit does not come from greed, from our striving to simply maximize our personal wealth. Our profit comes from God when we give away what is ours–our time, our money, our selves–in the service of others.
Where does the Gospel fit in? It fits into all three categories: the world, the flesh, and the devil. We are to have our feet shod in the Gospel of Peace, as Saint Paul says. It is the fact that we now have God within us that makes us able to have powers over the very demons of hell. It is as we pray that we receive the peace of God which passes all understanding and keeps our minds and our hearts safe as we fight ourselves in order to conquer our passions. And it is the Good News of Jesus Christ that gives us what we say and what we do as we approach those who have been losing that warfare against the world, the flesh, and the devil. It is that Good News that gives them the way out of their situation.
So, yes, I do believe in spiritual warfare.