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(October 2012)

On Halloween

By Bishop Kyrill of Seattle, from Orthodox Life, Vol. 43, No. 5, September - October, 1993.

It will shortly be that time of the year when the secular society in which we live is preparing for the festival of Halloween. Because most of us are either newly Orthodox or newly aware of our Orthodoxy, it is absolutely necessary that we carefully examine every aspect of our involvement in the world—it’s activities, festivals, associations and societies—in order to discern whether or not these involvements are compatible or incompatible with our holy Orthodox Faith. This is a difficult task which leads to some pain when we realize that there are popular organizations and activities in which we are unable to participate.

Though our schools, our local community organizations, and all forms of entertainment in television, radio, and the press will share in and capitalize upon the festival of Halloween, it is impossible for Orthodox Christians to participate in this event at any level. The issue involved is simple faithfulness to God and the holy Orthodox Christian Faith.

Halloween has its roots in paganism and continues to be a form of idolatry in which Satan, the angel of death is worshipped. As we know, the very foundation of our holy Church is built upon the blood of martyrs who refused under the painful penalties of cruel torture and death to worship, venerate, or pay obeisance in any way to the idols who are Satan’s angels. Because of the faithfulness through obedience and self-sacrifice of the holy martyrs, God poured out upon His holy Church abundant grace and its numbers were increased daily, precisely at a time when one would have expected the threat of persecution to extinguish the flame of faith. But, contrary to the world’s understanding, humble faithfulness and obedience to God are the very lifelines of our life in Christ, through Whom we are given true spiritual peace, love, and joy, and participation in the miraculous workings of His Holy Spirit. Therefore the holy Church calls us to faithfulness by our turning away from falsehood toward truth and eternal life.

With regard to our non-participation in the pagan festival of Halloween, we will be strengthened by an understanding of the spiritual danger and history of this anti-Christian feast.

The feast of Halloween began in pre-Christian times among the Celtic peoples of Great Britain, Ireland and northern France. These pagan peoples believed that physical life was born from death. Therefore, they celebrated the beginning of the "new year" in the fall (on the eve of October 31st and into the day of November 1st), when, as they believed, the season of cold, darkness, decay and death began. A certain deity, whom they called Samhain, was believed by the Celts to be the lord of death, and it was he whom they honored at their New Year’s festival.

There were, from an Orthodox Christian point of view, many diabolical beliefs and practices associated with this feast which, it will be clear, have endured to our time. On the eve of the New Year’s festival, the Druids who were the priests of the Celtic cult, instructed their people to extinguish all hearth fires and lights. On the evening of the festival a huge bonfire built of oak branches, which they believed to be sacred, was ignited. Upon this fire sacrifices of crops, animals, and even human beings, were burned as an offering in order to appease and cajole Samhain, the lord of death. It was also believed that Samhain, being pleased by their faithful offerings, allowed the souls of the dead to return to homes for a festal visit on this day. It is from this belief that the practice of wandering about in the dark dressed up in costumes imitating ghosts, witches, hobgoblins, fairies, and demons grew up. For the living entered into fellowship and communion with the dead by what was, and still is, a ritual act of imitation, through costume and activity of wandering around in the dark of night, even as the souls of the dead were believed to wander.

The dialogue of "trick or treat" is also an integral part of this system of beliefs and practices. It was believed that the souls of the dead who had entered into the world of darkness, decay, and death, and therefore into total communion with and submission to Samhain, the lord of death, bore the affliction of great hunger on their festal visit. Out of this grew the practice of begging, which was a further ritual enactment and imitation of what the Celts believed to be the activities of the souls of the dead on their festal visit. Associated with this is the still further implication that if the souls of the dead and their imitators were not appeased with "treats," i.e., offerings, then the wrath and anger of Samhain, whose angels and servants the souls and their imitators had become, would be unleashed through a system of "tricks," or curses.

From an Orthodox Christian point of view, participation in these practices at any level is impossible and idolatrous, a genuine betrayal of our God and our holy Faith. For if we participate in the ritual activity of imitating the dead by dressing up in their attire or by wandering about in the dark, or by begging with them, then we have willfully sought fellowship with the dead, whose lord is not Samhain as the Celts believed but Satan, the Evil One who stands against God. Further, if we submit to the dialogue of "trick or treat," we make our offering not to innocent children, but rather to Samhain, the lord of death whom they have come to serve as imitators of the dead, wandering in the dark of night.

There are other practices associated with Halloween which we must stay away from. As was mentioned above, on the eve of the Celtic New Year festival, Druid priests instructed their faithful to extinguish their hearth fires and lights and to gather around the fire of sacrifice to make their offerings to pay homage to the lord of death. Because this was a "sacred fire," it was from this that the fire of the new year was to be taken and the lights and hearth fire rekindled. Out of this arose the practice of the Jack O’ Lantern (in the USA, a pumpkin—in older days other vegetables were used) which was carved in imitation of the dead and used to convey the new light and fire to the home where the lantern was left burning throughout the night. Even the use and display of the Jack O’ Lantern involves celebration of and participation in the pagan festival of death honoring the Celtic god Samhain. Orthodox Christians must in no way share in this Celtic activity, but rather we should counter our inclinations and habits by burning candles to the Saviour and the Most Holy Mother of God and to all the holy saints.

In the ancient Celtic rite divination was also associated with this festival. After the fire had died out, the Druids examined the remains of the sacrifices in order to foretell, as they believed was possible, the events of the coming year. Since this time the Halloween festival has been the night for participation in all kinds of sorcery, fortune telling, divination, games of chance, and in latter medieval times, Satan worship and witchcraft.

In the days of the early Celtic Church, which was strictly Orthodox, the holy Fathers attempted to counteract this pagan New Year Festival which honored the lord of death, by establishing the Feast of All Saints on the same day (in the East, the Feast of All Saints is celebrated on the Sunday following Pentecost). As was the custom of the Church, the faithful Christians attended a Vigil Service in the evening and in the morning a celebration of the Holy Eucharist. It is from this that the term Halloween developed. The word Halloween has its roots in the Old English of "All Hallow’s Even," i.e., the eve commemorating all those who were hallowed (sanctified), i.e., Halloween.

The people who had remained pagan and therefore anti-Christian and whose paganism had become deeply intertwined with the occult, Satanism, and magic, reacted to the Church’s attempt to supplant their festival by increased fervor on this evening. In the early middle ages, Halloween became the supreme and central feast of the occult, a night and day upon which acts of witch craft, demonism, sorcery, and Satanism of all kinds were practiced.

Many of these practices involved desecration and mockery of Christian practices and beliefs. Costumes of skeletons developed as a mockery of the Church’s reverence for holy relics; holy things were stolen, such as crosses and the Reserved Sacrament, and used in perverse and sacrilegious ways. The practice of begging became a system of persecution designed to harass Christians who were, by their beliefs, unable to participate by making offerings to those who served the lord of death. Thus, the Western Church’s attempt to supplant this pagan festival with the Feast of All Saints failed.

The analogy of Halloween in ancient Russia was Navy Dien (old Slavonic for "the dead" was "nav") which was also called Radunitsa and celebrated in the spring. To supplant it, the Eastern Church connected this feast with Pascha and appointed it to be celebrated on Tuesday of the Saint Thomas’ week (the second week after Pascha). The Church also changed the name of the feast into Radonitsa, from Russian "radost" joy. Joy of Pascha and of the resurrection from the dead of all of mankind after Jesus Christ.

Gradually, Radonitsa yielded to Pascha its importance and became less popular in general, but many dark and pagan practices and habits of some old feasts of Russian paganism (Semik, Kupalo, Rusalia and some aspects of the Maslennitsa) survived till the beginning of our century. Now they are gone forever, but the atheist authorities used to try to revive them. We can also recall the example of another "harmless" feast—May 1st, proclaimed "the international worker’s day." That was a simple renaming of a very old satanic feast of Walpurgis Night (night of April 30th into the day of May 1st)—the great yearly demonic Sabbath during which all the participants united in "a fellowship of Satan."

These contemporary Halloween practices have their roots in paganism, idolatry, and Satan worship. How then did something that is so obviously contradictory to the holy Orthodox Faith gain acceptance among Christian people?

The answer to this question is spiritual apathy and listlessness, which are the spiritual roots of atheism and the turning away from God. In today’s society one is continually urged to disregard the spiritual roots and origins of secular practices under the guise that the outward customs, practices and forms are cute, fun, entertaining, and harmless. Behind this attitude lies the dogma of atheism, which denies the existence of both God and Satan and can therefore conclude that these activities, despite their obvious pagan and idolatrous origin, are harmless and of no consequence.

The holy Church must stand against this because we are taught by Christ that God stands in judgment over everything we do and believe, and that our actions are either for God or against God. Therefore, the customs of Halloween are not innocent practices with no relationship to the spiritual world. But rather they are demonic practices, precisely as an examination of their origins proves.

Evil spirits do exist. The demons do exist. Christ came into the world so that through death He might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the Devil. (Heb 2:14). It is imperative for us to realize as Christians that our greatest foe is the Evil One, who inspires nations and individuals to sin against mankind, and who prevents them from coming to a knowledge of the truth. Unless we realize that Satan is our real enemy, we can never hope for spiritual progress for our lives. For we wrestle 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).

Today we witness a revival of satanistic cults; we hear of a satanic service conducted on Halloween night; everywhere Satan reaches out to ensnare as many innocent people as possible. The newsstands are filled with material on spiritualism, supernatural phenomena, seances, prophecies, and all sorts of demonically inspired works.

It is undoubtedly an act of Divine Providence that Saint John of Kronstadt, that saintly physician of souls and bodies, should have his feast day on the very day of Halloween, a day which the world dedicated to the destroyer, corrupter, and deceiver of humanity. God has provided us with this powerful counterpoise and weapon against the snares of Satan, and we should take full advantage of this gift, for truly Wondrous is God in His saints.