Wednesday, 7 December 2005

Combating the Passion of Anger 4 — Do Demons Exist?

In the last post, we briefly discussed the use of anger against sin and against the demons. Now, someone might say, here is one of those mad monks again, talking about the demons. Do demons exist? Yes. However, so do natural ailments, both psychological and physical. It is not a simple matter to discover a demon in someone else, and only Elders have the charism to do such a thing. We beginners have to leave these things alone.

However, here is a point. As the Elder Porphyrios (1906–1991), whose book of reminiscences, Wounded by Love, we cited in this post, remarks, it is part of the dogma of Christianity that the Devil and demons exist. For we learn in the Bible that Jesus Christ came to destroy the works of the Devil.

To give you an idea of the sort of fellow the Elder Porphyrios was, so that his remarks on the existence of the demons make sense, in one of the many books about him, there is recounted the following episode in his life. He had a cancerous carbuncle on his head which needed to be cauterized. It was a Friday afternoon when he went to a doctor in Athens, who told him that he needed anæsthetic for such a procedure, that it was too late to find the anæsthetist and that he would have to come back another time. But the Elder Porphyrios wanted to go that day to Mt Athos and told the doctor to proceed without anæsthetic. The doctor only consented after the Elder Porphyrios pressured him, with the thought that one touch of the cauterizing iron lightly on the head and the priest would come to his senses and come back another day.

The doctor began the procedure. The room filled with the smell of burning flesh. The Elder Porphyrios entered into a state of prayer united to Christ on Golgotha. He didn’t flinch. The doctor shouted: ‘Penelope (his nurse)! The little old priest is a yogi!’

The Elder Porphyrios remarked in recounting this story that the Devil himself prompted the doctor to shout that out, so as to disturb the Elder’s union with God. For, the Elder Porphyrios remarked, ‘In such a situation, if you lose your mental union with God, you’re lost.’ Remember that the room was filling with the smell of burning flesh.

That’s the sort of fellow that the Elder Porphyrios was—and more. When he says that we have to take seriously the existence of the Devil and the demons, we have to take seriously what he’s saying.

Now the point is that the demons are behind the tempting thoughts. This is not medieval theology: it is part and parcel of Orthodox ascetical psychology. And here is where the proper use of anger comes in: it is used as a directed tool against the demons when they are sowing a tempting thought.

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