Rant Number 390 25 March 2010
And so Mykola Azarov, the new Ukrainian PM, before entering his new office summoned an Orthodox priest to exorcise it. ‘It was very hard to breathe in there’, he is reported as saying. Maybe his predecessor, Yulia Timoshenko, used the wrong perfume? Wouldn’t be surprised, judging by hear cocotte-like appearance. Be that as it may, the ritual worked - respiration improved. Alhamdulillah!
As a counter-cultural priest, exorcisms strikes me as a good idea. Especially when it comes to places stinking of power. Huh! Just imagine what the air must be like inside 10 Downing Street! Even from the outside these days it looks more like an SS-Kommandatur, with grim-looking cops scowling from behind a black gate, wielding machine guns, than an elected PM office. Maybe whoever the next occupant is going to be, he should summon me to perform a thorough job. Mind you, battling with demons can be dangerous, above all for the exorcist himself. Because some demons are very powerful. The one who must have possessed Tony Blair I guess was exceedingly fearsome. An evil spirit of strife, conflict, warfare and mendacity OK. And he clearly clings to the wretched man, as Blair craves to do to Iran the evils he inflicted on Iraq. But nothing spiritual is beyond the power of God’s servants. The priest would cast the foul fiend out, believe you me.
The idea of exorcism makes our cultural despisers of religion squirm and scoff. (Even the Catholic Church has abolished the traditional Minor Order of exorcist. Sad.) Superstition, obsolete thought forms, backward cultural dross, blah, blah, blah. They put down the symptoms of demonic possession to nervous disorders. Or, at best, to psychoanalytic categories, such the monsters of the id, the unconscious mind, collective archetypes & so on. As if psychoanalysis wasn’t itself a form of trendy, modern witchcraft, disguised by a ponderous pseudo-scientific jargon. Its cognitive value is nil.
For Christians, however, there is no choice. Because, if one thing is certain about the earthly ministry of Jesus of Nazareth, is that he was a healer. And that is precisely what exorcism signifies. The three synoptic gospels all describe Jesus often casting out demons from suffering persons. Hence exorcism has divine sanction. The Church honours and continues the Lord’s ministry by appointing official exorcists in each diocese. I myself saw Orthodox priests casting out demons in a Kiev church. Boy! The possessed persons’ shrieks chilled your blood, I tell you.
No doubt many putative cases of diabolical possession can be better explained without invoking the powers of darkness. But even a medical practitioner will, in some rare cases, when ordinary medicine has failed, refer a patient to an exorcist. And sometimes it works.
Anecdote time. A certain Mrs X in my former parish craved being exorcised it but I declined. Her problem wasn’t demonic. In another case, I thought it right to do it. Kids told their parents of ‘voices’, and of a shadowy being disturbing them. The haunted house was next to one formerly inhabited by the late Queen lead singer, Fred Mercury, who succumbed to AIDS. Thereby hangs a murky tale. The air was heavy, I remember that. The upshot was good though. The mischievous spirit went and the children were troubled no more.
Exorcism also has an interesting interfaith dimension. As a chaplain at the Ankara British Embassy, I discovered that in Turkey country folks believe in something called buiujuluk. Magic. While visiting a patient in the Ibn Sina Hospital, a fellow implored me to help his daughter. The story is complicated. They had tried everything. Muslim holy men had achieved nothing. So the poor chap, in desperation, decided to try a Christian buiuju, ‘magician’. Guess it was reckless of me, with all those secret police spies hanging around the Embassy, but I liked the guy and I didn’t have the heart to refuse. So we drove to a village near Antalya, in Southern Turkey. Wonderful landscape and great ruins. Nice, neat household. Nearby were the ruins of an ancient Greek temple. I felt in touch with the elemental forces...No, I am not boasting. All I recited over the girl were plain prayers from Cranmer’s Book of Common Prayer. No hocus-pocus. And, yes, it was difficult to breathe there and not just for the heat. Afterwards, we sat outside in the sunshine and we drank bitter, hot Turkish coffee in dainty small cups. After a while the mother came out, tears in her eyes. The girl’s condition was already improving. Later I learnt she was healed. Well, the priest won’t be quite Harry Potter but...maybe even better!
In Qatar two years ago I did not have the opportunity to renew my exorcising ministry but my driver, Souki, blabbed about a house haunted by jinns. It was too tempting. We drove over there. At first, we drew a blank but, on the ride back, by the road, as we stopped for a pit stop, man, I swear, I saw them! Even took a photograph. Huh! They were really weird. Creepy. I thought best to let the critters be. They were not the believing kind the Prophet once preached to. Oh, no, not at all.
Casting out evil spirits will always have a place in the Christian Church. The arrogance, the deceits and the sins of pseudo-democratic power today particularly cry out for exorcism. From Downing St to the Westminster Parliament, the evidence is in the news for all to see. Mr Azarov is perhaps a trail-blazer in that respect. But there is a difficulty. What to do when the demons have infiltrated even God’s Church? The Anglican Church, I mean. Not just the ludicrous US Episcopal Church, but also the once-venerable, solid, learned Church of England. Actually, her bishops, her priests, her Synod are even worse off than the demons. Scripture says that ‘even the demons believe and shudder’. But 56% of the clergy don’t even believe in the Virgin Birth – or ‘are not sure’.
Only one consolation. If bad spirits now possess Anglicans they must be spirits of a very inferior kind. So, what about the spirits of cowardice, feebleness and stupidity?
Revd Frank Julian Gelli