The possessed and the mentally ill

The possessed and the mentally ill


Dr. Nikolaos Koios, Content Coach of Pemptousia


There are times, in religious circles, when confusion arises over which people have mental health issues and which are possessed by demonic energy. When Saint Païsios the Athonite was asked how the people that have mental health issues can be distinguished from the possessed, he answered:

Any ordinary doctor who’s in the Church can diagnose that. If people are possessed and they approach a sacred object, they go to pieces. From this it’s obvious that they have a demon. If you give them a little holy water or make the sign of the cross over them with a holy relic, they react, because the demons are cringing inside them. If, on the other hand, they’re suffering from a mental illness, they don’t react at all. Even if you’re just wearing a Cross and you approach one of the first group, they become upset and jittery… Some psychiatrists consider the possessed to have mental health issues. Some priests, on the other hand, would have it that those that have mental health issues are possessed. But if they’re going to get help, a person that has mental health issues needs to go in one direction and someone possessed in another.

The position of the saint on exorcisms read over the possessed is very enlightening. When he was asked if the possessed are helped by exorcism, he answered:

It depends. Exorcisms help when they’re read for a possessed little child who’s done nothing wrong, doesn’t know about confession or to a large degree has lost its mind and can’t confess. If the person possessed is of sound mind, they have first to be helped to find what was wrong and how they came to be possessed. They have to repent, confess and then, if necessary, they should have an exorcism read over them. Because it may be that the demon will leave simply through the prayer of forgiveness.”

We see here how much significance the saints give to human freedom, even in such difficult circumstances. People who are being tormented by the devil have to call upon the reserves of their freedom, even in this dark and difficult circumstance and declare through their repentance that they ally themselves freely to Christ and reject Satan. It’s only in cases where this freedom can’t be expressed that the Church undertakes the task with the prayers of exorcism, the use of which, however, demands wisdom and discernment.

The same saint rebuked priests who read exorcisms indiscriminately, even over people who only have some bodily sickness. He considered it inappropriate and an affront to human dignity for people to be in pain and have “come out, unclean spirit…” read over them at an exorcism. He relates the following about one such instance. “They brought me a young man, twenty-five years old who, they said, was possessed. I gave him holy water to drink and the poor lad didn’t react at all. I asked the father what the young man did and how long he’d been like this. He replied since he was six years old when his murdered grandfather had been brought into the shop. The poor thing had suffered a nervous breakdown.”

Throughout his life, Saint Païsios showed great sympathy for the possessed who he felt were experiencing the ultimate humiliation and suffering in their lives. He welcomed them with patience and love and advised priests to treat them with discretion and calm, and not in an insulting manner.




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OCN has partnered with Pemptousia. A Contemporary post-modern man does not understand what man is.  Through its presence in the internet world, Pemptousia, with its spirit of respect for beauty that characterizes it, wishes to contribute to the presentation of a better meaning of life for man, to the search for the ontological dimension of man, and to the awareness of the unfathomable mystery of man who is always in Christ in the process of becoming, of man who is in the image of divine beauty. And the beauty of man springs from the beauty of the Triune God. In the end, “beauty will save the world”.

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Pemptousia and OCN have entered a strategic partnership to bring Orthodoxy Worldwide. Greek philosophers from Ionia considered held that there were four elements or essences (ousies) in nature: earth, water, fire and air. Aristotle added ether to this foursome, which would make it the fifth (pempto) essence, pemptousia, or quintessence. The incarnation of God the Word found fertile ground in man’s proclivity to beauty, to goodness, to truth and to the eternal. Orthodoxy has not functioned as some religion or sect. It was not the movement of the human spirit towards God but the revelation of the true God, Jesus Christ, to man. A basic precept of Orthodoxy is that of the person ­– the personhood of God and of man. Orthodoxy is not a religious philosophy or way of thinking but revelation and life standing on the foundations of divine experience; it is the transcendence of the created and the intimacy of the Uncreated. Orthodox theology is drawn to genuine beauty; it is the theology of the One “fairer than the sons of men”. So in "Pemptousia", we just want to declare this "fifth essence", the divine beaut in our life. Please note, not all Pemptousia articles have bylines. If the author is known, he or she is listed in the article above.