The teaching of Church on the Devil
By the Bishop of Phanarion, Agathangelos
According to the Bible and the Patristic tradition, the devil is not the personalization of passions, but an entity created by God as an angel; when this angel ceased communicating with Him, he became a dark spirit, the devil. The devil as an entity is an independent agent which means that he has freedom which is neither violated nor abolished by God.
The mystery of iniquity (anomie) takes place in history; the devil has been generating the evil and carrying out his disastrous work since the appearance of the Church. Beyond every theoretical and ethical treatment about good and evil, the Bible and the Patristic tradition talk about the sly opponent of God and the enemy of man; the devil within whom there is only negation. He destroys and deadens everything because he is the spirit of death and devitalisation due to the rejection of true life.
As a consequence, the devil is a specific entity, a specific existence. He enters history with hubris, conceitedness and deception as a deicide and homicide, as the deception and lie of zero, as the parasite that ridicules and makes fun of creation and man. Sin, lust, death –they all comprise the evil generated through his perversion and hatred and on them he applies his authority and dominance. The evil is not a sum of human actions, but an active invitation originating from the demonic principle; this is a principle beyond people and their nature which human freedom can accept or reject.
The devil originated from God's will and action. Demons were not created from the beginning by God as demons, because God did not create the evil as what he created was perfect. They were created without evil in their essence and nature, free, independent and having full freedom to act according to their will and desire, just like angels. After their own voluntary fall due to their pride, their fine, ethereal and sacred bodies were transformed into dark, gloomy, corporeal and spiteful ones.
As demons set up an entire order at their creation, it is believed that they are numerous and belong to groups and classes. The multitude of demons and their classification in groups and classes is based on their many names and their work. Consequently, as demons are numerous and various, they fight unfailingly to prevent Christ's merciful work of salvation. As they are not able to directly harm God, they turn to people and fight them with their demonic wisdom; they cloud our wishes, they ridicule us by creating temptations, they do everything to harm man, they act through lusts, they fight us with grief, they put obstacles for praying. The devil resorts to so many ways that if God is the Being, then the devil can be characterized as "the one under transformation".
The devil's temptation and fight is never beyond men's powers; it neither violates the freedom of action nor affects the natural thought that God offered to be held through their will and freedom. The power of devil is not mandatory but it always depends on our freedom. It depends on us whether we will succumb to temptations or not. The fact that Satan can reign and exercise his authority is related to the active decision of man to say no to God and yes to the devil distorting their freedom. The Fathers of the Church stress that man is never alone. If man departs from the Grace of God, then man becomes susceptible to satanic influences. St. Symeon the New Theologian says that if the members of man are not driven by Christ as chariots, then they are driven by the devil with the consent and cooperation of man.
The faithful is required to pray and root out all bad thoughts from their heart because Satan will not cease to ridicule and have fun, to be transformed and deceive, to corrupt and distort the Gospel of God and the freedom of Christ's Cross by promising to offer comfort and happiness. And there is the danger that we will be fully disgraced when we succumb to demonic temptations as we see them today in the " Temples " and the worship of Satan.
If the devil has the ability to be transformed into an angel of light, we can realize that he can ridicule and disgrace man even today by using the most innocent, felicitous and useful things, managing to set us the cleverest trap: the ostensible triumph of human independence.
Many people say: there is neither God nor devil. The negation of demons, however, equals with the rejection of the Divine Economy of the Trinity. Christ degraded and emptied the demonic authorities. But the negation of the existence of the devil facilitates his work. We must be ready to be spectators of the most extraordinary signs and wonders that the devil uses seeking to nourish modern man; by transforming the stones into bread. We must be ready to face an era of mystic seducers and homicides that will signal the new darkness of the earth from the sixth to the ninth hour into which man will be depleted and his works will be emptied.
The satanistic Bible preaches: " Blow for blow, contempt for contempt, doom for doom with an additional interest that has four times or a hundred times more power." "Eliminate every feeling, all taboos and all inhibitions. Bring death forward to all those that try to take this right away from you."
God's omnipotence, according to His will, does not abolish the freedom of rational beings. He lets the devil, therefore, to work out the evil because the devil is a person. He restricts his destructive work, though, through love and philanthropy. When man repents, God forgives them and, thus, restricts the kingdom of the devil, but the devil's state will be finally abolished in the Last Judgment.
The devil's work is destructive. The devil nourishes extreme feelings of hate for man and all the creation. He is possessed by exceedingly lethal misanthropy. He inspires thoughts against God and fellow beings, influences man's will, acts ontologically in nature. The Fathers say that as people could not understand the devil's existence and mania expressed with the insults against the soul, God allowed him to enter the body so that all of us can realize his mania.
Satan managed to enslave man in the realm of lust and sin through deceit and fraud. The reason that led him to this is envy. The devil envied Adam because he saw him living in a place of complete and irremovable pleasure, the Garden of Eden, from where he was justifiably removed.
This insult and attempt of the devil –to allure man to lust- is many times done gradually. Saint Gregory Palamas says that Satan does not directly dictate sin and leading a life away from the Church, but " deviously robs something small" putting into someone's head the idea that they can remain virtuous and know what to do on their own without attending the church and without obeying to the pastors and teachers of the Church. And when the devil manages to get someone away from the worshipping life of the Church, he distances them from the Grace of God after delivering them to the slavery of lust.
Why, then, does God allow the devil to fight us? Saint Maximus the Confessor mentions five reasons:
So that by conducting this fight, we can distinguish between virtue and vice;
So that virtue is irremovable and certain through this fight;
So that we do not boast when we indulge in virtue, but think of it as a God's gift;
So as to completely hate vice; and
So as not to forget our own disease and God's power when we reach apathy.
The bad thing is that education (and our culture) nowadays ignores this reality. Not only it does not face the devil and sin but also refuses to talk about them. We can certainly say, therefore, that man is left unsaved, weak and powerless.
We have forgotten, in our turn, as Orthodox Christians that we belong to the Church of Christ and that we enter it in order to heal ourselves and not simply in order to conclude a formal duty and justify ourselves. Because the Church is a healing place, a "hospital" into which man enters in order to heal their internal world and absolve their passions and not in order to distinguish their good selves. On the other hand, the most disheartening phenomenon of our ecclesiastical life is the emptiness of the ecclesiastical sacraments. The sacraments were given to the Church for man's salvation, in order to exorcise, fight and win over Satan and we have converted them into opportunities of individual snobbery and social vanity. It seems we have forgotten "that wherever Christ does not abide, demons abide and wherever demons abide, sound thoughts are corrupted and distorted."
If we experience this truth, then we will get away from the trap of the deceit of the devil and the sin and we will be free.
There is no need for fear. No! There is Christ, the Church, worshipping life, praying, spiritual valour, repentance. If Orthodoxy is beaten by the devil, if Orthodoxy does not win, if it is not awe-inspiring, but it fears demons, then it does not belong to Christ and the Church.
We are asked to testify through our dogmatic conscience that the Lord of the world and history is Christ. Whoever knows the truth is neither afraid nor disheartened.
In answer to the question: " are you the one who is to come or not?" the Lord said: " go and tell what you see and hear; the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them. Here is the Kingdom of God ."
If only we could experience this truth honestly, deeply and sincerely! It is the best for us, our world, our children and our youth so that we can discover the deeper meaning of life, the true nature of man, freedom and theognosia.