On the Demon-Possessed (St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite)

NOTE: The following article is taken from The Rudder, pp. 233-234, 389-390; 739; 1038-1039; 1614-1616, 1627-1628:



If anyone is possessed of a demon, let him not be made a Clergyman, nor even be allowed to pray in company with the faithful. But after he has been cleansed from it, let him be received, and if worthy be made one. (Canon VII of the 6th Ecumenical Synod; and II Timothy 3:15.)


Everyone that is possessed of demons is considered unclean, because he engenders the suspicion that because of the wickedness of his life he has afforded the Devil permission to enter him. How therefore, can any such person be promoted to the clergy, seeing that even oil of myrrh used in making chrism is not trusted when it is in a rotten container, according to St. Gregory the Theologian. Hence the present Canon decrees that if anyone is permanently possessed of a demon, such a person shall not be made a clergyman. Neither shall he be allowed to pray in church along with the faithful, lest he disturb their praying and the doxology they are offering to God, with his disorderly actions and his demoniacal cries, which are usual to those possessed of demons. But after he has been cleansed and freed from the demon, let him be admitted to prayer along with the faithful; and if he is worthy to become a clergyman, let him be made one.


But why does Canon III of Timothy of Alexandria permit one possessed of a demon to partake of communion if he does not confess or blaspheme the mystery, at a time when the present Canon does not even permit him to pray along with the faithful? This is explainable by the fact that the present Canon refers to one that is permanently and continuously energized by a demon, whereas that of Timothy contemplates a person who is energized by a demon with an interruption now and then at various times. He therefore allows him to partake of the Divine Mysteries when he is not being energized and suffering. Accordingly, in this manner the two Canons are reconciled with each other and are seen not to be contrary to each other.

Nevertheless, even when demonized only at times, a person ought not to be admitted to the clergy and be made a priest, lest Holy Orders or the priesthood be blasphemed as a result, and lest during the time of the awesome services being held, the demon should energize him and the holy elements be wantonly insulted. Patriarch Nicholas says this very same thing in decreeing in his Canon IV, that if anyone is suffering from gloominess and melancholy, he will appear to most persons to be possessed of a demon in case he partakes of communion. But if he is actually possessed of a demon, says Nicholas, let him abstain from communion.112 The synod held in the Troullos, on the other hand, says that those who pretend to be possessed of a demon, without actually being possessed of one, shall be penalized with the same penalty that would be meted out to them in case they actually were possessed of a demon; and let them be compelled to undergo the same hardships and fastings as the truly possessed have to undergo.

The Healing of the Demon-Possessed Gadarene Man

  1. DEMON POSSESSED: Note, however, that those possessed of demons either permanently or at times only if in danger of dying must indispensably be allowed to partake of communion in whatever way approved by the priest. For, if those who are burdened with deadly sins and repentant are allowed when dying to partake of the mysteries by the mercifulness of the Church, according to Canon V of Gregory of Nyssa and other canons, in order to avoid depriving them of such an invaluable provision, how much more ought not those possessed of demons be allowed to partake of communion who often have not even sinned mortally, and yet, on account of incomprehensible judgments of God, have been allowed to be energized by a demon? Likewise in case those who are possessed of a demon should at any time when they are suffering hurl themselves from a precipice or otherwise kill themselves, they ought to have psalms chanted for them and ought to be mentioned in memorial and be committed to the tomb by priests; “since they were not themselves but were out of their senses because of their being energized by a demon,” according to Canon XIV of Timothy. In addition to all this, unless one possessed of a demon is first cleansed of the demon he cannot be baptized, yet when in danger of dying he can be baptized according to Canon II of Timothy. But if he can be baptized when at the point of death, he can also partake of communion when at the point of death. If, however, a woman is so strongly possessed of a demon that she has to be kept in chains, her husband cannot divorce her, because it is not a case of actual adultery, according to Canon XV of Timothy.

On the whole, nevertheless, we ought to know that according to great Gregory of Thessalonika (Fourth Lord’s Day in the Fast) demons affect human beings in two ways: either by stroke of energization — invisibly, that is to say, but outwardly, according as they annoy all human beings by assaults upon their thoughts and affection — or by virtue of combination with their essence — visibly, that is to say, and inwardly, as happens in the case of those possessed of demons. For by entering such persons essentially, in a way of speaking, and altering the constitution of their body, and especially of their head, they put them out of control.

Wherefore it is written of Judas that Satan entered him and took possession of him after enveloping him from without and attacking his thoughts. See also the footnote to Canon III of Timothy.


In view of the fact that the Apostle loudly proclaims that “he that cleaves to the Lord is one spirit” (I Corinthians 6:17), it is obvious also that he that makes himself intimate with the adversary becomes one with him by association. As touching, therefore, those who pretend to be possessed with demons, and who with their vileness of manners are want to sham the habits of those persons, it has seemed best to penalize them by all means and to subject them to such hardships and pains as those who are really possessed with demons would be deservedly subjected to for the purpose of ridding them of the demon’s energy.


Some persons, because of the vileness of their frame of mind and with an eye to making a profit, were wont to pretend that they were possessed with a demon, and to go through the gesticulations of persons under the control of demons and make irregular motions by pretense while going about the cities and causing people a disturbance and making a theatrical show of themselves. Hence the present Canon commands that such persons be penalized by all means and be subjected to such great hardships and pains as would be inflicted upon persons really possessed with demons in order to free them from the demon accompanying them, with which these men too who feign themselves to be under the control of demons have become familiar and have become one with them, just as he that cleaves to the Lord and becomes intimate with the Lord becomes one spirit with Him, as St. Paul says. Balsamon states that such persons at various times were actually chained and shut up in prisons by many Patriarchs and Bishops. See also Apostolic Canon LXXIX.


Note that we have explained the word “weather-bitten” (i.e., the Greek word cheimazomenoi) as meaning those possessed by demons, following the opinion of many other authorities concerning this, and especially hat of Dionysius the Areopagite.

For in the third chapter of his treatise on the Ecclesiastical Hierarchy he divides those coming out of the church during divine liturgy into three classes, namely: into penitents, into those energized by demons (these “weather-bitten,” that is to say), and into catechumens. But in addition the Apostolic Injunction, Book VIII, Chapter 6, say: “Pray you who are energized by unclean spirits. Let us all plead for them persistently.” Those who are called energumers (i.e., energized) here are called weather-bitten (i.e., Cheimazomenoi) in the following chapters 34 and 37 (ibid.). “The Deacon shall make an appeal in behalf of catechumens, and of weather-bitten persons, and of persons being illuminated (i.e., baptized), and of persons engaged in repentance.” Armenopoulos has also interpreted the word claeimazomenoi (i.e., the weatherbitten) to mean those possessed by demons in his Epitome of the Canons, heading 6, title 7; and so has Argentes, page 259. But if it be objected that Balsamon and Zonaras refuse to have the weather-bitten be possessed by demons, owing to the fact that those sometimes demonized are allowed even to partake of the Mysteries according to the third Canon of Timothy. Hence even those guilty of bestiality who are praying with them must also be allowed to partake of communion like them, which the above Canon of the present Synod will not permit, we reply that even though men guilty of bestiality do pray together with those who are demonized, yet there is no necessity of their partaking of Communion like the latter, since even those who are praying and standing together with the faithful do not partake like these latter of the Mysteries, according to the Canons, until the time fixed for them to spend as co-standers has elapsed.

As for the station, or place, in which the weather-bitten had to stand, it appears to have been the narthex of the church, and see the ichnograph of a temple at the end of this book. As for the statement of Argentes to the effect that with the weather-bitten stood those who had voluntarily sacrificed to idols, and those who were implicated in magic and sorcery and open sins, it is unproved, as it is not found anywhere among the Canons dealing with such sins.


If a person possessed of demons is a catechumen, and he himself wishes, or his own people want him, to receive holy baptism, ought he to receive it, or not, and especially if he be at the point of death?


Unless a person possessed of demons be cleansed from the unclean spirit, he cannot receive holy baptism,. He may be baptized at the time of his exit (from life).


Though every unbaptized catechumen is unclean, because he has in him the uncleanness of the propatorical sin, and has an evil spirit which burrows in his heart, and, acting in a hidden manner in the depth of his soul, prompts him to sin,3 yet in a pre-eminent way that unbaptized catechumen is considered unclean who is also manifestly energized by a demon. For it would appear that on account of willful sins he gave leave or occasion to the demon to energize him thus openly and manifestly and to harass him. For this reason when this Saint was asked whether a person manifestly possessed of demons in such a manner might be baptized, he answered that he may not until he has been duly cleansed, or, more explicitly speaking, until he has been freed from the manifest influence of the demon: for one thing, because he himself through his willful sins caused the demon to energize him in that fashion; and for another thing, in order to preclude his coming under the power of the demon while he is being baptized, in which, being deprived of his wits, he would not know how to answer the questions put to him at baptism, and in consequence he would fail to grasp and comprehend the grace and power of the Mystery.4 If, however, such a person is in danger of dying, says the Saint, he may be baptized, lest life depart from him without his having the seal of divine baptism and he be deprived on this account of the kingdom of heaven. Read also Apostolic Canon LXXIX.

Detail of good and bad thief with angel and demon carrying away their souls, from a 16th century icon in Kiev
Detail of good and bad thief with angel and demon carrying away their souls, from a 16th century icon in Kiev


If anyone who is a believer is possessed of a demon, ought he to partake of the Holy Mysteries, or not?


If he does not repudiate the Mystery, nor otherwise in any way blaspheme, let him have communion, not, however, every day in the week; for it is sufficient for him on the Lord’s Day only.


Having been asked whether a person possessed of a demon ought to partake of the divine Mysteries, the Saint answers in the present Canon that he may partake of communion, to be sure, though not every day in the week, but only on the Lord’s Day, according to Aristenus and Armenopoulos (Section 5, heading 2, of the Epitome of the Canons), or (according to others) at those times when he is not being controlled by the demon, a and provided that when he is in his senses and temperate he does not blaspheme the divine Mysteries, nor repudiate them, or, more explicitly speaking, does not, for instance, assert that they are nothing but common bread and wine, because he does not believe that they are really and truly Body and Blood of Christ; so that the Saint is speaking here of a person who though possessed of a demon is not energized by the latter continuously, but only now and then, or on and off, at intervals of time, according to Balsamon and Zonaras, in their interpretation of Apostolic Canon LXXIX, which you may read for yourself.

Persuasive Litigator


That the evil spirit burrows in every unbaptized person, whether he be an adult man or an infant, is made plain

  1. by the prayers which the Church reads before baptism to every unbaptized catechumen, and especially by these words: “And the Priest breathes upon his mouth, forehead, and breast, saying, ‘Drive out (O Lord,’ being implied here) of him (meaning the catechumen) every evil and unclean spirit hidden and burrowing in his heart.’”
  2. by Chapter 76 of Saint Diadochos (page 224 of Philokalia) in which he says: “From the Divine Scriptures and from a feeling of the sense itself I comprehended that though before baptism the grace from without urges the soul to good things, yet Satan is burrowing in its depths, and is engaged in an attempt to block all auspicious outlets of the mind. But from the very hour that we are being reborn the demon becomes situated without, and the grace within.”
  3. and from the statement which the Lord made in asserting that when the unclean spirit goes out of a human being, it proceeds to arid regions, seeking rest, and finds none (Matthew 12:43). For St. Gregory the Theologian in his discourse concerning baptism took this statement to mean in reference to every person being baptized that the unclean spirit goes out of him. Note, however, that a number of persons may be baptized in the same sanctified water, according to Job (page 130 of the Syntagmation of Chrysanthus).

 demons ladder



But Balsamon mentions a third reason; that a person manifestly energized by a demon cannot be baptized until he has been cleansed, because he has to receive through baptism the grace of the All-holy Spirit to be indwelling. Hence the contrary spirit must first be chased out of him, and then the Holy Spirit will come in, since one and the same person can entertain two contrary spirits. For if, as we have said, there is an evil spirit burrowing in the heart of an unbaptized person, and hiddenly energizing him, it must first go out of him (and it is for this reason that the exorcisms are read to him before baptism), much more ought any demon that is manifestly energizing him to go out first. That in the same soul it is not possible for both the grace and the evil one to co-exist the aforesaid Saint Diadochos proves in his discourse in chapters 76 to 88 (l.c. in Philokalia). If, on the other hand, it be objected that St. Macarius asserts that there are two persons in the soul, one of vice and one of virtue, and in this respect two Fathers may appear to conflict with each other, though they may perhaps be reconciled, seeing that in one and the same human being after baptism the two are present, as divine Macarius said, though each in a different region; which is to say, more explicitly speaking, that while the grace is situated in the depth of the soul after baptism, the evil one skulks about the heart and infests the body in general, smoking the soul with the moisture of the body, and this only by divine concession, for the purpose of testing and exercising the self-control, as the same Diadochos says (ibid.).

Note, however, that this same Saint in his Canon III allows a person who is being possessed of a demon on and off the right to partake of communion, provided that he is a believer and does not blaspheme the Mystery, when he is not in actual possession of the demon. But he does not say that any such thing is allowable in the case of an unbaptized catechumen possessed of a demon, though it is implied that this person too may be only off and on in actual possession of the demon; and he does not say whether such a person may be baptized, or not, when he is not under the influence of the demon.