The Theology of Illness (Part IV)

Venerable Simeon of Emessa the Fool-For-Christ

Venerable Simeon of Emessa the Fool-For-Christ

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

By Jean-Claude Larchet

Christian Paths Towards Healing

The sign of the Cross is also a traditional means of healing. Beyond the fact that it too invokes and affects the energies of the Holy Trinity, it is the effective sign of Christ's victory over death, and corruption, over sin and the power of the devil and of demons, and consequently over the illness connected with them. The healing power of the Cross is clearly expressed by the Orthodox Church in the services of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross (September 14th). They refer to the Cross repeatedly as the "physician of the sick" and evoke the Old Testament prefiguration of the bronze serpent that Moses raised on a staff, which became a remedy for those who had been bitten by serpents (Num 21:6-9).

Exorcism: In Role and Meaning

Finally we must mention exorcism, which holds a unique and important place among the religious healing arts.

According to the Holy Church Fathers, the devil and demons are at the root of certain illnesses. Most often their activity is manifested indirectly, but in certain instances it take the form of possession, a demon--or possibly several--may enter the body and the soul of a person and make its abode there, ravaging and ruining the person's health, inflicting sickness and serious accidents upon the body, and on the soul, unforeseen and extraordinary troubles through the use of violence." The Evangelists, the Holy Fathers and the authors of the Lives of Saints recount many such cases.

Many of our contemporaries are tempted to view references to possession as an archaic understanding of phenomena that modern medicine is now able to explain scientifically and can quite easily assimilate into its analyses of the mind. However, the experience of spiritual elders--and even as simple reading of Scriptural texts and hagiographies--belies such a vision of reality and reveals one that is far more complex. Thus, if we refer to the Gospels, we observe that possession and illness, or infirmities, are presented as orders of reality situated on two different planes, each with its own attributes, and not necessarily connected to one another. First of all, possession and illness, or infirmities, are clearly distinguished in a number of passages. This fact alone makes it impossible to equate the two. Secondly, the majority of illnesses, or infirmities, referred to in connection with the miracles of Christ are not shown to be in any way connected with possession. Thirdly, in certain cases, a person may be afflicted with both possession and illness (or infirmity) without the two conditions having any correlation. Thus Saint Matthew says: "...they brought to Him many who were possessed with demons, and He cast out the spirits with a word, and healed all who were sick" (8:16). We see here that Christ undertakes two consecutive actions: one is an exorcism, the other healing. However, the first action would have sufficed had the illness and the possession been one and the same, or had the one been caused by the other. These various arguments lead to the conclusion that illness is to be regarded as independent, with its own etiology. Nor is this the case only for a certain category of illness or infirmity: those that are considered in some instances to be the result of possession are the same as those that in other cases are regarded implicitly as having natural causes. This is why we see in the Gospels deaf, dumb or blind men who are not considered to be possessed, while others who exhibit the same symptoms are regarded as such. Likewise, some paralytics owe their condition to possession, others do not. The same distinction holds true for those suffering from epilepsy: some are said to be possessed, while other are clearly differentiated from the "demoniacs". It is evident, therefore, that the assertion of a demoniac etiology is in no way due to an inability to explain the condition in any other way, and shows that natural causes are not the only causes. Furthermore, it is not the symptoms of a particular illness or infirmity that serve to identify whether it is or natural or demonic origin since, in both cases, they often appear quite similar. Only a spiritual sight, gifted with the charism of discernment (cf, 1 Corinthians 12:10), is able to make the distinction.

Through these various considerations, we begin to perceive the complexity of this reality and the differences that exist between the clinical perspective of medical science, which makes judgments solely on the level of phenomena--from material appearances--and spiritual perception which goes to the very essence of things, adding to the "science" of appearances the knowledge of their fundamental reality.

Thus, if one recognizes demonic possession in a given illness or infirmity, which in another instance may have purely natural causes, one may choose to resort to an exorcism.

Christ's casting out of demons is one of the signs of salvation: "...if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you" (St. Matthew 12:28). And Saint John says: "The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil" (1 John 3:8). Through the sin of Adam, the power of the devil and of demons was loosed and spread over the whole world to perform wicked deeds within it. Through the work of Christ, the New Adam, this power was broken and subjected once again to the power of the Spirit. Mankind is reunited with God in the Person of the Incarnate Logos/Word and recovers the blessedness of his original state and his original destiny. This is what Christ has shown in conferring upon the Twelve Apostles, then on the Seventy-two disciples, power and authority over the demons, to cast them out (St. Luke 9:1; St. Matthew 10:1; St. Mark 3:15), as well as to trample under foot the "power of the enemy." Solely through the invocation of the Name of Christ, Satan's kingdom is brought to ruin as he falls from the sky like lightning (cf. Luke 10:17-18), and the nations "turn from darkness to light, from the power of Satan to God" (Acts 26:18). Through baptism, Satan's power of subjection over man is reduced to a power of suggestion, while every Christian is given the ability to resist and to make him flee (St. James 4:7). To some is given, as it was given to the Holy Apostles, the power to cast demons out of those whom they possess, and thus to heal the illness which may be caused by this possession.

Exorcism is a sign that Christ has come to restore to mankind the kingdom which we had lost and to reclaim on our behalf the power we had given up to Satan. It has its place under the Name of the Lord of Hosts. It is in the Name of Christ that demons are subdued and cast out. As Tertullian said: "all the sway and the power we hold over them draws its strength from our pronouncing the Name of Christ." And according to Saint Justin, "every demon exorcised in the Name of this Son of vanquished and subdued." Furthermore, they cannot bear to hear this Name, they fear it above all else because it signifies their defeat and their punishment.



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!"--St. John Chrysostom


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

+Father George