Characteristics of Evil Spirits

Venerable Tryphon the Abbot of Pechenga (Kolsk)

Venerable Tryphon the Abbot of Pechenga (Kolsk)

My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,

By Archbishop Lazar Puhalo

Characteristics of Evil Spirits

According to the prayers of the Church, evil spirits are bodiless, and immaterial created spirits. The Holy Scripture reveals to us what characteristics they possess. Evil spirits have mind and will (2 Cor. 2:11). They know God, and this knowledge fills them with fear: "You believe that there is one God...the demons also believe and tremble," writes Apostle James (2:19). More than once, evil angels confessed Christ the Savior as the Son of God (St. Matthew 8:29; St. Mark 1:24; for example).

Evil spirits know themselves, of course, for if the spirit of man is conscious of what it knows, then certainly the same must be said of evil spirits. Evil spirits know the condition of the present world, as we see in the Book of Prophet Job. The evil one traversed the world and observed all people, and spoke of this to the Lord. The Lord did not refute these observations as false (Job 1:7-12), though clearly, the devil did not know the soul of Job, just as he and his demons can never approach the nature of our souls is, as the holy Fathers tell us. Saint Cassian says, "But the demons cannot possibly come near to those thoughts which have not yet come forth from the inmost recesses of the soul. And the thoughts too, which they suggest, whether they are actually or in a kind of way embraced, are discovered by them not from the nature of the soul itself, i.e., that inner inclination which lies concealed so to speak in the very marrow, but from the motions and signs given by the outward man." (First Conference of Abba Sereneus, para. 15).

Saint John the Solitary also tells us, "the devil cannot touch the nature of the soul, nor can he draw nigh it at all to harm it..."The devil does not touch or see the soul, but the members of the body only...and by harming one of the members he disturbs the thoughts which are active within them. For indeed, if he could draw nigh the soul so as to harm it, then he would also be able to harm it after it departed from the body, but this he would have to do while being unable to see it and having no power over it, because his power extends only as far as the body." (Sixth Dialogue With Thomasos).

The fallen spirits know something of future events, but not from real knowledge or prophecy. They can surmise what will occur when it is going to take place from definite, unchanging causes. The general future is known to them from God's revelation (3Ki. 22:21-22 Orthodox Bible), and also from the observation of man's character. Once, a demon drew near to Saint Andrew the Fool and told him of the moral disorder of Christians in the last days. "In those days," the demon said, "people will be more evil than I am, and little children will surpass old people in wickedness. Then, I will not teach people anything; they themselves will fulfill my will." Saint Andrew responded: "How do you know this, for a demons does not know anything by prophecy or forevision?" To this, the demon replied: "Our father Satan, conjectures these things and passes it on to us."

Though they have a mind, evil spirits have distorted it so much that, instead of the basic quality of the mind striving toward truth the main characteristic of the demon's mind is hatred toward truth. For this reason, the evil one is called 'father of lies" in the Gospel (St. John 8:44) and "deceiver" in the Revelation (12:9). Having hardened their will in unyielding evil, the demons now direct their activity toward evil of love, the being of the devil is filled with irreconcilable enmity toward God and His works. We have a constant enemy in the evil one, and therefore Apostle Paul advises Christians to array themselves in constantly to God, our Father, "...deliver us from the evil one."

The Dwelling Place of Evil Spirits

While Satan was an obedient angel of God, he dwelt in heaven. He exalted himself higher than all spirits and thought to become an independent power. Because of this, the Lord cast him down from heaven (St. Luke 10:18), together with the angels which had followed him in his opposition to the Creator (Ephesians 6:12; Rev. 12:7). Since then, the abode of the devil has been the "abyss" or "space," which, in common usage, is called "the air." The correctness of this idea is evident from the Holy Scripture. In the Book of Job, the devil himself testifies that he went round about the whole world, passing through the air (Job 1:7; 2:2). The Holy Apostle Paul speaks of the fallen spirits dwelling in the air: "For we struggle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places" (Eph. 6:12). Here is how Saint Athanasios the Great explains this place: "The devil, the enemy of our race, having fallen from heaven, roams in the space of this lower air where, ruling over other demons..., with their cooperation, he deceives people with visions and strives to hinder those who struggle higher, of which Apostle Paul says, 'According to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now works in the children of disobedience' (Eph. 2:2)". In the interpretation of Psalm 41, Saint John Chrysostom says, "How many demons are born in this air? How many adverse powers? If God were to allow them to show their countenances, we would all be driven insane" (Works, Vol. I, p. 722). Saint Anthony the Great says simply that "demons are borne in the air" (Works, Pt. 3, p. 22). If evil spirits fill the air, then it is clear that they surround us from all sides. Saint Theophan the Recluse says of this: "The usual form of translation and understanding of the word 'sky' signifies that spirits fly in the air, and just as air embraces us everywhere, so also do the spirits of malice draw near us, like mosquitoes in a damp place" (Interpretation of the Epistle to Ephesians, p. 412). Thus, in the Lord's Prayer, we are taught to pray, "...deliver us from the evil one."

The Influence of Evil Spirits

We do not speak so much of the power of evil spirits as of their influence. For, the power which demons do have is in their ability to lead man into delusion. Demons are deceivers and tricksters. Saint Antony the Great says of them: "We ought not to fear the demons or even Satan himself,' for he is a liar' and does not speak a word of truth...and his followers the demons are in the same condition, like serpents and scorpions to be trodden underfoot by us Christians...and let us not fear his visions seeing that they themselves are deceptive. Doubtless they appear, but in a moment disappear again, hurting none of the faithful...Wherefore it is unfitting that we should fear them on account of these things; for through the Grace of Christ all their practices are in vain...

Christ's Coming Weakens the Power of the Evil One

Our holy and God-bearing father, Athanasios the Great says:

"Whence it is quite fitting that the Lord suffered this death. For thus being lifted up He cleared the air of the malignity both of the devil and of demons of all kinds..." (The Incarnation of the Word of God, para. 25).

And the Holy Apostle says: "For this purpose, the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil" (1 John 3:8). Moreover, "since the children have flesh and blood, He too shared in their humanity so that by His death He might destroy him who holds the power of death that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death" (Hebrews 2:14-15).

Yet, clearly, Satan still operates among us and gains lesser or greater influence over many. As Saint Gregory the Theologian says: "Christ did not destroy the devil by the movement of will alone, but left the enemy a certain freedom to move among both the good and the evil, and raised between them a mutual warfare, so that just as the enemy is subjected to shame, being defeated by those who are weaker than he, so also those who struggle in virtue always receive their glory, being purified like gold in a furnace" (Works, pt. 4, p. 195).

Christ did not totally destroy the influence all at once, but destroyed his power to enslave man through fear of death, and gave us the means to turn the evil one's snares to nothing, as Apostle James says: "Resist the devil and he will flee from you" (4:7). We cannot consider ourselves to be free from attacks of the evil one. We have been given the weapons to defeat him: our prayers, fasting, moral struggles, and above all, Holy Communion. Let us remember that salvation consists in our union with God, effected by Christ through His Holy Church, in which the power of the evil one is being steadily and progressively destroyed by the mutual love and moral struggle which is fulfilled in and by the Church.

We are still subject to influence of Satan so that we may continue to exercise free will. For, where there is no free will, there is no love, only bondage. Yet, we must always take hope in the words of the Apostle: "God is faithful and will not permit us to be tempted beyond our strength, but with every temptation, will give us an escape so that we may endure" (1 Corinthians 10:13). Saint John Chrysostom further instructs us as to why we are yet tempted by the evil one.

"God does not prevent the devil from visiting us with temptations; first, so that we will realize that we have become stronger than the devil when we sign ourselves with the Life-giving Cross in the name of Christ; second, so that we abide in humility and do not exalt in the grandeur of the Gifts; third, so that the evil one, witnessing your patience, becomes convinced that you have renounced him; fourth, so that through this, you become firmer and stronger and, fifth, so that you do not forget your weakness and the power of the One Who "delivered you from the evil one" (v. 31, p. 205).


Please note: I brought to your attention the above article, to once again remind all of you of why, we as Orthodox Christians, celebrate the Incarnation of the Logos (Word) of God, the Nativity, and Christmas. The secular and materialistic society has attempted to distort the meaning of the celebration of Christmas, but can never succeed.

The more we understand God's unconditional love for us, through His grace, the more we can appreciate everything that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has and continues to do to save us from the evil one, sin and death. Christmas is not only the birth of the Messiah. It is also the birth of love in this earthly world of ours! If humanity would embrace this divine and God-given gift to all of mankind, the world would indeed be heaven on earth. God's gift to us is His Son and our Savior Jesus Christ.



The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.


Glory Be To GOD For All Things!


With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George