The Time in Between and the Theology of Ghosts

OrthoAnalyika Show: 16 May 2010

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In between time. This summarizes so much for us. We seem to be living in the time between one thing and another.

Fr. Dn. Ivan. Time between graduation and ordination. The time between being put on the path towards the priesthood and parish service and the time when he and his family are assigned to accomplish this as a full-time vocation. For him and for Pani Oksana, this is a time of great anticipation, and perhaps not a small amount of anxiety.

For our youth. Time between when they have been granted adult bodies and a certain knowledge of how the world works and the time when they can put those bodies and their talents to good use. And no longer does such a description simply apply to the challenges of being a teenager; our culture has extended this time of waiting past its natural breaking point, well into adulthood. This creates within them the tremendous dissonance and tension between what their biology and morality tell them to be natural and correct and what the world tells them is the right way they should live. For them, this is also a time of great anticipation, but one that can be incredibly stressful and brings strong temptations for nihilism, hedonism, self-absorption, superficiality, and despondency.

Adults. Between the time when you began working for a comfortable future and the time of its realization. The biologist might put the issue even more succinctly – most of us are biologically not just “past our prime”, but have outlived our usefulness. If we buy into this deception, then we feel we are between the time when we have done all the things we can that are worthwhile … and the time when we take up our new abode with our friends in Blackstone. For adults, this ‘in-between” time that invites the same sorts of temptations it does in the youth – though with admittedly lesser intensity.

For this parish and for our Holy UOC-USA. Between crumbling of the Ukrainian immigrant communities (i.e. ghettos) that allowed the old ways of doing business work so well, and the time when we are comfortable being part of the Christ’s Great Commission to bring all nations to the Gospel of Christ, rather than one nation celebrating the reception of this Gospel.

Liturgically, it is the time between the Ascension of Christ – the end of His bodily ministry on earth – and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. It is a time when we can mistakenly feel as if God has left us; exchanging a promise for future “comfort”.

o And isn’t this just the way most people feel; that if there is a God, that He formed the world in ages past and long ago left it to its own devices. For these people (which I fear even may include some of us), we live in a time between our creation and that of our imminent destruction (if not in 2012, when a dead calendar runs out of pages; then in several billion years when our sun finally grows strong enough to boil our seas.

But this is not how we were meant to live; it’s not just that many of the facts are wrong, the attitude is completely wrongheaded, deceptive, and deadly.

o It is true that the world as we know it will eventually come to an end; just as it is true that the hearts within our bodies will eventually stop beating.

o But the world was not created for destruction, and, though death is one of the few “sure-things” worth investing in, it is not what we were born to do. Only a fool would buy a car in anticipation of putting it into the junkyard; and we are fools if we think of ourselves as nothing more than future food for the worms.

It is true that we are living in the “time of the dash” (between the year of our birth and the year of our repose as written on our tombstone); but it is more true that we live in the time of the eternal “now”, when there is no end to the beauty and glory that can be revealed to us; no end to the love that can drive away all our anxiety, angst, and despondency.

o God is not living in the time between the time He created the world and the time He will remake it in perfection. He is not the “watchmaker” who created the universe and then left to it to follow the logic with which He imbued it.

o God is not living in the time between when He brought you and your soul out of nothingness and sent you out into the world and the time when He will bring you back into His bosom.

o God is beyond time, but continually reaches into it to offer and share His Unity and Perfection with all who would have it.

The words of Christ offered up in today’s Gospel; “Now I am no longer in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are [one]. (St. John 17:11.) [; these words] are not the words of a God that stands off to leave us to simply await our own destruction. They are the words of a God who has made every moment of our lives pregnant with the possibility of glorious revelation.

In another place, Christ tells us that “where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them”. This is the fulfillment of Christ’s ministry: to bring union to us and between us and God. This is the only thing that can turn the temptation of seeing all time as time “in between” one thing and another into the ability to see our time here together as what it really is: the opportunity to participate in the thing we were truly created for.

You can let the world deceive you into thinking that this time you are living in right now isn’t nearly as good as times used to be or as good as times will be down the road if you follow its advice; but that way of thinking is not the way to find true joy.

It won’t reconcile the built up tension within the lives of our teenagers and youth.

It won’t bring meaning to our adults.

It won’t bring growth to this parish or to our Ukrainian Orthodox diocese.

The way to satisfy the longing of our youth, bring meaning to our adults, and bring growth to our parish and our diocese are to live our lives completely in Christ. Accept Him into your heart; let His grace fill your life; let His love be the message in your communication with all the people you meet. Let His prayer – the desire for union of all creation through Him with God the Father (strengthened by the Holy Spirit) – be on your mind throughout the eternal now as a you go through all the moments of your life.

Do not wait for glory. Do not wait for love. Do not wait for joy. It is here now. And it is now forever.


Solicitation for ghost stories (actually, or stories of any positive and negative paranormal activity; e.g. curses, blessings, places that feel especially graceful or haunted; UFO or cryptid sightings; etc.).

Plug for next show: Cheryl Madden on the Holodomor!


Another Real Case Study of Spiritual Warfare
From St. Athanasius “The Life of Antony”, Ch. 5.

But the devil, who hates and envies what is good, could not endure to see such a resolution in a youth, but endeavoured to carry out against him what he had been wont to effect against others. First of all he tried to lead him away from the discipline, whispering to him the remembrance of his wealth, care for his sister, claims of kindred, love of money, love of glory, the various pleasures of the table and the other relaxations of life, and at last the difficulty of virtue and the labour of it; he suggested also the infirmity of the body and the length of the time. In a word he raised in his mind a great dust of debate, wishing to debar him from his settled purpose. But when the enemy saw himself to be too weak for Antony’s determination, and that he rather was conquered by the other’s firmness, overthrown by his great faith and falling through his constant prayers, then at length putting his trust in the weapons which are ‘in the navel of his belly’ and boasting in them—for they are his first snare for the young—he attacked the young man, disturbing him by night and harassing him by day, so that even the onlookers saw the struggle which was going on between them. The one would suggest foul thoughts and the other counter them with prayers: the one fire him with lust, the other, as one who seemed to blush, fortify his body with faith, prayers, and fasting. And the devil, unhappy wight, one night even took upon him the shape of a woman and imitated all her acts simply to beguile Antony. But he, his mind filled with Christ and the nobility inspired by Him, and considering the spirituality of the soul, quenched the coal of the other’s deceit. Again the enemy suggested the ease of pleasure. But he like a man filled with rage and grief turned his thoughts to the threatened fire and the gnawing worm, and setting these in array against his adversary, passed through the temptation unscathed. All this was a source of shame to his foe. For he, deeming himself like God, was now mocked by a young man; and he who boasted himself against flesh and blood was being put to flight by a man in the flesh. For the Lord was working with Antony—the Lord who for our sake took flesh and gave the body victory over the devil, so that all who truly fight can say ‘not I but the grace of God which was with me.’

What are the enemy’s tactics? Why weren’t they effective against him? How much effort would he need to put into tempting most of us?

St. Anthony is a powerful intercessor against demonic attacks. So are out guardian angels. When temptation comes hard (or soft!) ask for their help. Christ is the ultimate victor and His name is, for those with faith, also powerful.


Volya Moment: The Theology of Ghosts

Ghost Scriptures

Giving up the ghost.

Genesis 25:8. Abraham gave up the ghost. (25:17 for Ishmael; 35:29 for Isaac; 49:33 for Jacob; lots of times throughout Bible, to include the crucifixion)

The God of the Old Testament does not want competition from mediums and psychics, but wants the people to turn only to Him for answers and guidance (does not directly involve ghosts, except that necromancy is part of the lists).

Leviticus 19:31. Regard not them that have familiar spirits, neither seek after wizards, to be defiled by them: I am the Lord your God. (also Leviticus 20:26 & 27; Deuteronomy 18:9-12; 1 Samuel 15:22-23; 2 Chronicles: 33:6. Isaiah 8:19-20. Note that these assume that such practices are real and, at least to a certain extent, effective.

Galatians 5:19-21. Acts 16: 16-34 (plus Simon Magus). Revelations 22:15. Show that prohibition on witchcraft is still in effect.

God sent a “distressing spirit” to trouble (haunt?) Saul

1 Samuel 16:14-19,23. St. Jerome says that God’s spirit cannot stay with Saul so God leaves him to himself; St. Basil’s take is very similar.

Examples of “ghosts” appearing (or not).

I Samuel 28. Saul has a medium call up Samuel. The ghost of Samuel appears. [NOTE: The Tradition is is mixed in terms of what the implication is about the existence of ghosts.]

Matthew 14:26. Walking on water. Shows the disciples were scared of apparitions.

Mark 9:4. Transfiguration. Moses and Elijah. Appear.

Luke 24:39: Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit (ghost in NIV) hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have.

More ideas that touch on ghosts from the New Testament

Luke 16 (Lazarus), Philippians 1:23 (leave here to be with Christ), and Ephesians 4:8 (lead captives out of Hades) say where souls go (and there is MUCH MORE written on this topic), but there is NOTHING about spirits trapped here.

Matthew 22:31-32. But as touching the resurrection of the dead, have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living. (immortality of the soul)

Luke 16: Lazarus. Not allowed to visit earth (would such ever be allowed? Not addressed).

Acts: Peter’s angel (such things might be seen as a ghost today).

2 Corinthians 11:14-15. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works. (this one is HUGE and explains a lot, but far from all of such things; it is augmented by Ephesians 6:12 about spiritual warfare; 2 Corinthians 4:4 warns about how Satan blinds us to the Christ).

Hebrews 12:1 We are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses. (reminds us that the Body of Christ is real, and that we live in the midst of a great Mystery). It is also worth remembering that we join this cloud during the Divine Liturgy.


Additional Tradition

Saints appear to people. So do demons. One deceives, the other doesn’t (although scripture shows that people can deceive themselves about angels).

How about non-saints?

Saint Macarius spoke with a dead pagan priest through the priest’s skull. How is this different from necromancy? (It must be, but how?)

Here is an interesting (admittedly third hand; but used to make a point) story from St. Gregory’s Dialogues (IV: 55); “[The pastor of St. John church in Tauriana told Bishop Felix] that himself did use (when he had need) to wash his body in a certain place, in which there were passing hot waters: and that going thither upon a time, he found a certain man whom he knew not, ready to do him service, as to pull off his shoes, take his clothes, and to attend upon him in all dutiful manner. And when he had divers times done thus, the Priest, minding upon a day to go to the baths, began to think with himself that he would not be ungrateful to him that did him such service, but carry him somewhat for a reward, and so he took with him two singing breads: and coming thither he found the man there ready, and used his help as he was wont to do: and when he had washed himself, put on his clothes, and was ready to depart, he offered him for an holy reward that which he had brought, desiring him to take that courteously, which for charity he did give him. Then with a sad countenance, and in sorrowful manner, he spake thus unto him: “Why do you give me these, father? This is holy bread, and I cannot eat of it, for I, whom you see here, was sometime lord of these baths, and am now after my death appointed for my sins to this place: but if you desire to pleasure me, offer this bread unto almighty God, and be an intercessor for my sins: and by this shall you know that your prayers be heard, if at your next coming you find me not here.” And as he was speaking these words, he vanished out of his sight: so that he, which before seemed to be a man, shewed by that manner of departure that he was a spirit. The good Priest all the week following gave himself to tears for him, and daily offered up the holy sacrifice: and afterward returning to the bath, found him not there: whereby it appeareth what great profit the souls receive by the sacrifice of the holy oblation, seeing the spirits of them that be dead desire it of the living, and give certain tokens to let us understand how that by means thereof they have received absolution.

In Dialogues IV: 57, St. Gregory tells of a living priest whose prayers for the help of a lost mariner took his form and offered him aid. There are similar examples of bilocation in hagiography.

St. Gregory has more such stories in his dialogues(e.g. the monk who hid the three crowns; the damned man buried in the church) which show that he was, at the least, willing to use “ghost stories” (and stories involving other paranormal activity) to teach theology.

The 40 Days after Repose

St. John Maximovich, “A description of the first 40 days after death.” For the course of two days the soul enjoys relative freedom and can visit places on earth which were dear to it, but on the third day it moves into other spheres.”

St. Makarius of Alexandria (ibid; who heard it from an angel); “In the course of two days the soul is permitted to roam the earth, wherever it wills, in the company of the angels that are with it. Therefore, the soul loving the body, sometimes wanders about the house in which its body has been laid out, and thus spends two days like a bird seeking its nest. But the virtuous soul goes about those places in which it was wont to do good deeds. On the third day, He Who Himself rose from the dead on the third day, commands the Christian soul, in imitation of His Resurrection, to ascend to the Heavens to worship the God of all.” He goes on to say that this vision of heaven lasts until the 9th day, at which point the deceased spends the rest of the 40 days visiting Hades. ( Note that the Apostolic Constitutions (and modal Orthodox Tradition) are much more general about the meanings of the memorial days.

St. John of Damascus. Funeral Service. “Alas, what an ordeal the soul endures once separated from the body! Alas, what tears then, and there is none to pity her! She turns towards the Angels, her entreaty is without effect; she stretches out her hands to men, she has none to help. Therefore my dear brethren, thinking on the shortness of our life, let us ask of Christ rest for him who has passed over, and for ourselves his great mercy.” Is this just poetical license?

BACK TO BASICS: Scripture – and even Orthodoxy – is not meant to explain everything. It describes, celebrates, and practices the glory of God and the history and economy of salvation. This means that it does not flesh everything out or describe all phenomena (normal, paranormal, spiritual, physical, or otherwise).

Other interesting subjects worthy of further discussion.

Demons as disembodied souls. This is given impetus by Christ’s description of how demons go through dry places looking for a new body to inhabit (Matthew 12:43-45), as well as the drowning of the nephilim in the flood (Genesis 6:4 for nephilim and Genesis 6-8 for flood). The relevant place in 1 Enoch on the nephilim has really fired folks’ imagination. According to a Jewish tradition (and also found in the early Church Fathers), the disembodied souls of the nephilim became ghosts/demons (this is not the modal Orthodox opinion, but it is out there). FWIW, Matthew 24:36-39 gets pulled in to say that the nephilim are still a threat.

Common Superstition: people wander the earth for forty days after death. Post-hoc theologizing: 40 days Christ walked the earth; 40 days of mourning (inherited from Judaism). Greeks eat fish on the 40th day; the last day with his apostles. Lots of this kind of folk theology (see, for example, Letters from Heaven).

Common Superstition: cursed souls (or souls with unfinished business) haunt places. As above, no direct evidence. There may be places where it is easier to discern the fate of the departed; there certainly seem to be people that have such innate capabilities (dealt with in an earlier podcast). Spiritualists have methods they use/recommend for seeing more of this kind of thing.

Common Superstition: departed loved ones come each year (e.g. “Holy Supper”) to visit. This is a variation on an ancient theme.

Common Superstition: mediums allow us to talk with the dead. This is best attributed to “familiar spirits” (i.e. demons that deceive) and simple showmanship/gullibility.

Can places “remember”? Perhaps; we do believe that matter is transformed by Grace (e.g. Romans 8:21).

Several negative examples of cursed places exist in the Old Testament. The most intriguing – of what we might call a haunting – is given in Isaiah 13:19-21 (It shall be that Babylon, called glorious by the king of the Chaldeans, will be as when God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. It shall never be inhabited, nor will any enter it for many generations. Neither shall the Arabians pass through it, nor will shepherds take their rest in it. But wild animals of the desert will rest there, and their houses will be filled with noise. Sirens will rest there, and demons will dance there. Donkey centaurs will dwell there, and hedgehogs will make dens in their homes. It will come quickly and not delay. More examples are found in Joshua 6:26, when Joshua curses those who would rebuild Jericho (and, presumably, Jericho itself). This curse was fulfilled in 1 Kings 16:34. Also see the treatment of Sodom and Gomorrah (e.g. Deuteronomy 29:23-25) and use as a standard for such things (Jeremiah 49:17-18; Zephaniah 2:9; Matthew 10:15; 2 Peter 2:6; Jude 1:7). [Sidenote: Hazor is to be cursed with dragons! Jeremiah 49:33)]. Tempting to give Leviticus 14:33-38 an allegorical treatment (houses left over from wicked inhabitants may end up haunted by leprosy; this will require specific treatment by a priest).

Are there other dimensions? This is not addressed so it can be considered and tested as with every other theory/hypothesis. It would explain a lot.

Are my departed family members looking out for me? Possible (saints), but guardian angels definitely do (and Tradition suggests that it’s easy confuse angels for other things).

Remember: There are more than just disembodied souls inhabiting the “spiritual realm” (Michael Heiser is awesome on this! E.g. elohim is a category for different types of spiritual beings); and; the scriptures speak of many spiritual entities: angels, gods, demons, etc. The problem is that demons are out to deceive us and can appear as whatever they want. They are con-men, we are their marks, and they have been studying us for a long time. How naive do you want to be, especially given the stakes (Matthew 10:28)?