We do not hear much of demon possession nowadays, except in movies or anecdotal stories. It certainly seems like demons have been working overtime, but we rarely think about it from that perspective. There have been times when I think to myself that those who perpetrate heinous acts of mass murder must be demon-possessed, but the usual response I hear from others is that these people are mentally ill. Are they mentally ill or possessed? Is there such a thing as demon-possession nowadays? I cannot really say, but in looking at scriptural references, some of the symptoms sound very similar.
Jesus encountered one such man in a synagogue in Capernaum one day. He recognized Jesus as the “Holy One of God” and feared that Jesus had come to destroy him. When Christ had rebuked the demon and told him to come out of the man, “the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him” (Mark 1:26). The people were amazed that Jesus could command obedience from demons. Word spread quickly around the countryside, so many came to Christ to be healed and to have demons cast out. Jesus “rebuked them (the unclean spirits) and would not allow them to speak, because they knew that he was the Messiah” (Luke 4:41). It would be dangerous for Jesus, if word got out that He was the Son of God. It was not yet His time.
The story of the Gerasene demoniac is quite remarkable. He was a man who lived naked among tombs and could not be restrained by chains nor shackles because he would break them apart. It was dangerous to pass that way because he could not be subdued. “Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains, he was always howling and bruising himself with stones” (Mark 5:5). When Jesus commanded the unclean spirit to depart, he begged not to be tormented. Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion; for we are many” (Mark 5:9). They begged Him to be sent into a nearby herd of swine. Christ gave them permission, so they entered into the swine, “numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea, and were drowned” (Mark 5:13). The herders ran off to the city to tell everyone to come and see what had happened. When they arrived, the man possessed by demons was peacefully sitting there clothed and “in his right mind” (Mark 5:15). “Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear” (Luke 8:37).
Mark tells of a third story where a father brought his son to the disciples, but they could not cast out the unclean spirit, so the father brought him to Jesus. He explained that his son “has a spirit that makes him unable to speak; and whenever it seizes him, it dashes him down; and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid…When the spirit saw him, immediately it convulsed the boy, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth” (Mark 9:17-20). The father also told Jesus that the spirit would often cast the boy into a fire and into water to destroy him. Christ told the father that with faith, it would be possible to heal his son. I love the father’s response in verse 24. “Immediately the father of the child cried out, “I believe; help my unbelief!” After Christ commanded the unclean spirit to depart, the boy convulsed and then lay there as if he was dead. Jesus helped the boy up. Later, he explained to His disciples privately that this kind of demon can only be cast out with prayer and fasting.
There is one more unusual story told in Acts 19:11-20. Seven sons of a Jewish high priest went out trying to cast out demons “by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims.” They replied, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are you?” Then the possessed man attacked them, until all seven finally fled naked and wounded. Many who practiced magic and had witnessed this event were converted.
There are several passages, which state that people brought many who were possessed with demons to Jesus, and he cast out the spirits with a word. Luke mentions that at one point, Jesus traveled with the disciples and “some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources” (Luke 8:2-3). If there were so many demon-possessed people in the days of Jesus, wouldn’t there be many today? Are the descriptions of the symptoms similar to those who are not in their “right minds” today? Are there people who try to hurt themselves or who have extraordinary strength and unable to be subdued? What about those mass shooters? Are they possessed? Most agree that they are most likely mentally ill. Was Charles Manson possessed? I always believed that he was. He always frightened me! How about those who hear voices? Could it be the voices of demons that they hear? Are those who are deeply depressed and suicidal tormented by demons? I do not know, but I wonder.
St. Marina of Antioch, pictured above, is especially invoked for deliverance from demon possession. She was the only daughter of a pagan priest of idols. When she was orphaned, she was given to a nursemaid who raised her in the Orthodox faith. When she was fifteen, she was arrested. Governor Olymbrios was enamored by her and tried to persuade her to renounce her faith and become his wife. When she refused, he became angry and had her tortured, but an angel healed her wounds. Then he had her tied to a tree and burned. She asked God for the water of Holy Baptism, so the Governor ordered her to be drowned. “As she was plunged into the water, there suddenly shone a light, and a snow-white dove came down from Heaven, bearing in its beak a golden crown. The chains that had been placed on Marina came apart, and she stood up in the fount glorifying the Holy Trinity. She emerged completely healed, without any trace of burns.”1
According to Paul in Ephesians 6:12, “Ourstruggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” In other words, we do not battle against other human beings, but rather against the powers of Satan and his demons. Our war is with the power and authority we give Satan through our choices when we sin. This is why Paul goes on to tell us that we should put on the whole armor of God. It is only God who can protect us from evil. It is only God’s divine love in our hearts that can overcome the evil in this world. Paul encourages us to pray in the Spirit at all times. I do not know if demons are as active today as they were in the time of Jesus, but I wonder.
1 Orthodox Church of America. 2018. St. Marina (Margaret), Great Martyr, of Antioch in Pisidia. Retrieved on May 19, 2019 from http://ww1.antiochian.org/node/19000.