New Calendar Halloween
Years ago, when we lived in Warren Ohio on Genesee Lane, Trick-or-Treaters came to the door on the nearest Saturday afternoon to October thirty-first. I looked forward to handing out Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups to the little crowds of carnivalers. In the chilly late fall evening, you could hear the laughter, the parents and grandparents trying to keep the stragglers from lagging behind.
And you could see, coming up my long driveway, under the bare branches of my red maple tree, a loose band of Buzz Lightyears, Ariels, Belles, Supermans, Batmans, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Power Rangers, and an occasional Charlie Brown ghost.
My favorites were the toddlers dressed up like pumpkins or bumble-bees.
I miss those days. In my neighborhood now, my closest neighbor is my friend Pat’s funeral home. There’s no coming to my door on New Calendar Halloween from his place, not even thirteen days later on the Old Calendar. His place, late at night, is usually very quiet.
Still, I never did like kids tricked out like zombies, vampires, demons or the devil himself.
Ariels, Barbies and Supermans are all fun make-believe, and I love that stuff. But there is no make believe with demons.
The entertainment forms of the demonic try to make the reality of demons make-believe. In this category, you have your Jasons and Freddies, your Draculas and your creepy children of the corn. You have your Regans (from the “Exorcist”) and Damiens (from the “Omen”) and all the other horror shows.
But these are all just “shows.” Not a single one of these is real or accurate.
Pop culture (including the current fascination with zombies) values the demonic for its entertainment value. But pop culture, and scientists and philosophers, would rather not believe in the demonic at all. Much intellectual work has gone into the “disbelief” of spiritual reality in general, and in particular, the presence of God on one hand, and the demonic on the other. Immanuel Kant worked like Hercules to argue that the indefiniteness of the universe had nothing to do personal spiritual reality. Baruch Spinoza worked just as hard to “prove” that Holy Scripture was not holy or spiritual at all, but was rather just another normal text: you could, Spinoza said, interpret it any way you wanted in a private fashion, but never ever bother the State with any notion that there was an unseen reality — whether above, or below.
If you think about it, the whole idea of “secularism” is really a cowardly attempt to run away from spiritual reality.
Despite all this running away, the demonic leaks into our attention now and then, and bothers atheists with evidence that their worldview is just a heap of soggy cardboard.
The most immediate evidence of this “leakage” is the horrific mass-shooting tragedy that took place at the Umpqua Community College in Oregon just a few weeks ago. The shootist asked people whether they were Christian, and shot them regardless of what they said. He even ordered a disabled woman to get back into her wheelchair, only to shoot her dead.
Secularity is mute and stupid in the face of such horror.
Frankly, seeing this tragedy in Oregon (9) should have made us all run to the Orthodox Church every day for spiritual shelter – we should have been there already after having also witnessed Charleston SC (9); Isla Vista CA 2014 (6); Fort Hood TX 2014 (3); Washington DC 2013 (12); Santa Monica CA 2013 (5); Newton CN 2012 (27, mostly first graders); Brookfield WS 2012 (3); Minneapolis MN 2012 (6); Oak Creek WS 2012 (6); Aurora CO 2012 (12); Oakland CA 2012 (7); Seal Beach CA 2011(8); Tucson AZ 2011 (6); Manchester CN 2010 (8); Huntsville AL 2010 (3); Fort Hood TX 2009 (13); Binghamton NY 2009 (13); DeKalb IL 2008 (5); Omaha NB 2007 (8); Blacksburg VA – Virginia Tech 2007 (32); Salt Lake City UT 2007 (5); Nickel Mines PA 2006 (5); Red Lake Indian Reservation MN 2005 (9); Meridian MS 2003 (5); Tucson AZ 2002 (3); Santee CA 2001 (2); Wakefield MA 2000 (7); Honolulu 1999 (7); Fort Worth TX 1999 (7); Atlanta 1999 (9); and finally – and I could go on and on – Columbine CO 1999 (13). I’ll leave it to you to figure out what the numbers in the parentheses represent.
Say what you want about guns, gun control, mental disorders and parental neglect, but the real cause of this horror (with human cooperation and responsibility) is obvious.
You will say that this latest event was extremely unnatural and inhumane. And I will say “Precisely.” These words — “unnatural” and “inhumane” — constitute the clearest signs of the activity of the demonic. We Orthodox do not need to see the spectacle of horror-movie special effects to discern the activity of the Evil One. We notice when a human existence becomes unnatural … when it moves toward cruelty … when it is no longer empathetic toward others … when it becomes uncaring about the suffering of Creation around it … when it is so angry or lustful that it it is no longer rational, and cannot stand the idea of God, or the reality of other human persons.
Self-pitying self-centeredness is horribly unnatural. The Church has always known this. The world wants us to forget this.
Although my seminarians are probably tired of hearing this, chew on this fact: What is “natural” and what is “normal” are not the same – the more the unnatural becomes the norm, the more vulnerable and open to the demonic a society becomes.
And we are already there.
There are a number of things we know — especially in Orthodoxy — about the demonic that can be helpful. Here are a few helpful ideas about the Enemy for this (and every other) New Calendar Halloween:
1) Demons have no names. You may be surprised at this. But the word “Legion” (in the story of the Gadarene demoniac — Luke 8.26-39) is actually a number. The name “Lucifer” (i.e., “Morning Star”) was the original name of the devil, but he rejected this name at his fall. “Satan” is simply the function of the devil, which means “accuser” or “adversary.” The reason why this point is important is that the devil and the demons, as the Blessed Fr Dumitru Staniloae taught, have rejected God’s gift of Personhood. Since their name is a statement of their life in relationship with God — which they have also rejected – they have turned away from the names (i.e., their “logoi”). Pay no attention to superstitious and occult stories that make a big deal about demonic names. Also, pay no attention to ecstatic services where the evangelists try to “interview” the evil spirit: if this is not just mere showmanship (which most of it is), then it is insane. Stop watching horror movies: read the Psalms, which are far, far more accurate (and helpful) in the darkness of the night.
2) Demons are attracted — like flies — to passions. They are drawn to anger, lust, greed, addiction, pride and especially self-pity. We live in an extremely passionate age, and that level of total passion is the reason why there is so much inhumanity, violence, chaos, and unnatural behavior. Demons especially swarm toward self-pity, and the results are deadly. This is the reason for the Oregon shooting. It is probably the chief reason for the decline of church attendance and fellowship, which are also deadly.
3) Demons are repelled by faith. We Orthodox “exorcize” – or “banish” – demons all the time. This happens at every blessing -- every blessing makes another person, another thing, another event intolerable for demons. They cannot abide the Name of God – the Holy Trinity. They cannot survive the affirmation that the Son of God became incarnate in the flesh. They shrivel at the Sign of the Cross made in faith. They are driven out by confident, total self-pouring out prayer. They cannot touch a mind that has been structured by Orthodox theology. They cannot even look at a soul that has received, in complete prayerful faith, the Holy Eucharist. If you pray the entirety of the Psalms every week in your heart, like the early Orthodox Christians did, the devil will not stand a chance.
The worst thing we can do is to say, with the world, that demons are just old-fashioned juju, and that we can go our way taking time off from church, forgetting the Eucharist, leaving off our prayers, scheduling our kids away from the church (even Sunday mornings).
Real life is not like New Calendar Halloween: there really is something under the scary mask.
Do not let it in.
Do not let it win.
“We are more than conquerors through Him Who loved us” (Romans 9.37). “Greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world” (1 John 4.4).