Monday, October 30, 2017

Bp. Irenei of Sacramento not a fan of Halloween

(Orthodox Ethos) - From a letter of Archimandrite Irenei to a mother and father (2012):

My dear N— and A—,

You are Orthodox parents raising Orthodox children in the loving embrace of the Church, and you have asked an important question relating to the cultural “celebrations” surrounding what has come to be known as “Halloween”. Let us start by saying, then, that you must put out of your mind these thoughts about “going with the culture” and permitting your children to take part in such customs “so that they won’t feel out of place with their friends.” Where secular people may feel they have the option to divorce the spiritual realm from the physical and do one thing with their bodies while believing another in their minds, we Christian people do not. We know that the actions of our bodies, and the things we do with our lives, affect our hearts and are directly connected to spiritual realms of which we are, on account of our weakness, not always immediately aware. Can you honestly think—you who gaze at and touch the holy icons in your home and in our temples, and know that the saints are present with you, and that you are drawn into their holy lives—that to be willingly surrounded by images of the demons (however childish and infantile their representation) will not also affect your heart, and your children’s hearts, and draw them closer to powers that none would call holy? And not just to gaze upon such images, but to fashion them into clothes and costumes and wear them on one’s body?

Some will say, “Ah, but it is only a bit of fun, these days. It’s just fancy dress. No one believes in these things!” But tell me, do you think the devil is so foolish that he does not see the opportunity that comes from something being perceived as “just fun and games”? Do you believe he does not understand that such circumstances cause us to let down our guard, to tease and toy with the very ideas of demons and spiritual darkness? That he does not rejoice precisely because such images become things of play, and therefore things that we do not guard against when the play is done? Yet others will say, “But it is not all macabre: children trick-or-treat in costumes of angels, of cartoon characters, of animals.” But this is to fail to see the point, that it is the very admixture of these two things—the playful and the demonic—that does such damage to the soul. The Scriptures say, What concord hath Christ with Belial? (2 Cor. 6.15), and yet modern man feels perfectly comfortable to join the demons to teddy-bears and unicorns; to mix the sinister with the trivial. This is because he has lost the sense of how powerfully our idle “play” affects the inner disposition of the heart. We think that if we don’t take something “seriously”, it cannot seriously affect us—but look how much woe and despair there is in the world, as the result of this delusion!

No, it is time to stand fast against this ridiculous trend. God has given you children; and now, in this very dilemma you are feeling in your heart, He is asking you how you will look after them. Will you, for the sake of “social norms”, start them at so precious and tender an age down the path of considering the spiritual world a realm of partying and jest, toying with images of evil as if they were of no consequence? Or will you spend this night teaching them of the joy of the spiritual life as it really is? “Halloween” (18th / 31st October) coincides with the eve of the feast day of our beloved pastor and illumined Father in the faith, St John of Kronstadt; and it is also the feast day of the pious virgin St. Frideswide of Oxford. Look, how God has planted for you two spiritual trees that can bear fruit in your family’s life on this very night. Take your children to the Divine Services; encourage them precisely in the fact of doing something that others are neglecting—that while the world outside plays about in the frivolities of delusion and mixes demons with daydreams, you will enter into the Holy Temple where the God of all spirits dwells, to receive the Holy Spirit and be joined into a life that turned a parish priest into a clairvoyant miracle worker and a meek young woman into a wonder-working healer! And teach your children that He longs to do the same for them, that He desires to make of them great saints whom the whole world will know, if only they, and you, will let Him.

May God give you strength to stand steadfast with joy amidst these worldly trials! May He bless you, and bless your children.


  1. Thank you Vladika Irinei for this beautiful and sober reply! We need such bishops and priests willing to teach and proclaim the Orthodox life, even if, and especially when,the world would laugh at or mock us. I'm so sad to see sad, secular attempts to allow or bless such things that can destroy our souls and the souls of our children. Forgive me

  2. And everyone knows Halloween is a masonic plot supported by international finance and the UN!

    Seriously, though, Halloween has nothing to do with satanism, the occult, etc. The fact some who are fascinated with such things think there is a connection means nothing. A black cat is just a cat, even if some take them to be more ominous. Pearl-clutching is not befitting the Orthodox.

    1. Forgive me, the man who runs that daimonologia has an odd obsession it seems with Halloween and even likes horror movies, etc....i.respect much on his other sites but when it comes to Halloween he seems SO oddly off base. I don't see how a sober, watchful Orthodox Christian could take issue with Bishop Irinei's clear words, or call theme "over the top."

  3. Halloween is a Catholic holiday in its origins - the celebration of All Saints. There is nothing that requires people to dress as demons, or to pay some sort of indirect homage to the demonic. Probably the macabre element migrated from All Souls in the Mexican tradition to America. Nevertheless, I really think it very unconnected with any spiritual detriment that elementary school kids dress up as princesses and Iron Man for one day of the year.

  4. Another perspective:

  5. I lived in Greece for 18 years and returned to the U.S. in January. So this is my first Halloween season experience in at least 18 years, and, of course, my childrens' first exposure to this "feast." I must say that it has been a rather jarring experience for myself and my entire family to see houses draped in what even my children recognize as demonic images (or demonically inspired and definitely not beautiful or heavenly). We have had several discussions with our children about these scenes and the spirit that they emit. The consensus is that there is something very sick about it all and they want nothing to do with it. Moreover, they find it hard to believe that Orthodox Christians might actually support taking part or participate in what is clearly, to them, an ugly and joyless, even demonic, "festival."

    I relate this because I think it is instructive to consider the reaction and views of children which have never been exposed to it.

  6. Yet everyone is OK about Orthodox Christians dressing up as demons on Christmas. #logic

  7. I find the responses By Fr. Gregory Jensen and Fr. Peter Alban Heers particularly instructive. On the one hand, Fr. Gregory who is no push over when it comes to the culture, questions rather this particular expression of being "Church" in relation to the culture gets it right. On the other hand, Fr. Peter who is no push over when it comes to the culture, "sees" the character in this secular holy-day a basic incoherency with the (Orthodox) Christian ascetical life.

    As a man with two young daughters (3 & 8) I have been grappling with the issue and I am coming to a "Benedict Option" conclusion. I started out with Fr. Gregory - Our family can participate to some degree, steer clear of any ill effects from some of the elements of this essentially childrens dress-up-fun-day, and all will be well.

    The thing is, secularism is not a single powerful weapon but is rather a thousand tiny cuts. It "gets you" (in this case our children) by a 1000 habits of seeing and being that all work together to make a person a child "of the world". Of course, if you keep your children from participating in this candy-fest by allow them access to cable television (or worse, a modern internet phone) then it won't be Halloween that makes them who they are.

    All this is very difficult. I send my children to the local RC school (government schools are obviously a no go & home schooling is not an option for our family right now) but their compromise is to change the name to "fall festival". limit the more obscene costumes, inject a little "All Saints" into it - in other words a compromise that does not come across as all that convincing.

    IMO, all this is sooner or later going to be decided for us. As our culture moves more in more into not only a "post-Christian" future, but a "anti-Christian" one we as Orthodox will no longer be able to participate in the American civil religious project. As Hanby notes:

    "...Here some elements of the Benedict Option become essential: educating our children, rebuilding our parishes, and patiently building little bulwarks of truly humanist culture within our decaying civilization. This decay is internal as well as external, for while the civic project has been a spectacular failure at Christianizing liberalism, it has been wildly successful at liberalizing Christianity."

    He is not using "liberal" in that crude political jargon way. He is talking about the 1000 cuts of Classical Liberalism as a political, cultural, and indeed religious outlook - it appears to necessarily lead to secularism.

  8. May I offer my own thoughts, from an old blog at: . I do take the bishop's point, and Jake's too. My own point is that we are indeed living in a time of cultural shift, and as parents we sometimes need to pick our battles. Also, what works for one family may provide a poorer fit for another.

    1. Cogent as ever Fr. Lawrence (aside: wish you would cross-post your myocn work with Ancient Faith - I find the signal to noise ratio over at myocn to be too low to regularly track it) . You are right - there are a multiplicity of "halloweens", but then so is Bishop Irenei in that is always an admixture of light & dark, even if some (such as the fall festival at my daughters school) is relatively safe in light of the rest of her daily encounter with the culture.

      I would like to suggest that as much as a "black and white" or "fundamentalist" mind set is a simplistic, false reduction of the problem (in this case parenting) it is also a stumbling block in another kind of way in that Christianity has within it, at it's very core, a very black and white spiritual assessment of "the world". I do not need to work through the Scriptural/Traditional exegesis of this with you.

      If Fundamentalism is a false working out of this Scriptural/Traditional spiritual (and pragmatic) ascesis, then surely the "American Civil Religion" is as well (in the opposite direction). All of this is theoretical: ask yourself what is the more common error of the average parishioner in the NA Orthodox Church?

      I live in the American South where the invasion of poorly catechized "evangelicals" has allegedly occurred (according to Fordham, DB Hart, etc.). Yet, I see very few "fundamentalists" and a whole lot of "secularized" Orthodox who are compromising with the world in far far too many ways and occasionally even justifying with words/thoughts like "well, my family is not like those fundamentalist - we don't reject our non Christian neighbors as 'the other', we have to engage the culture" etc. etc. Sounds good in theory, but the fruits are astoundingly bad on average (we all can point to exceptions).

      I am saying (this is a work in progress I admit) that I wonder if the "pick your battles" reality you point to is not really at bottom a species of the civil religion strategy. Compounding the problem is the reality I see in that NA & western civ in general is no longer in a "cultural shift" vis-a-vis Christianity in that the shift is already completed. We are now in a firmly anti-Christian situation, and perhaps always were in that the grand experiment of Constantinian acceptance (in the project of Classical Liberalism) was always an error and a facade hiding a deeper and "fundamental" incommensurability.

      This leads me to consider a "Benedict Option" response (which is where I put Bishops Irenie's perspective). Sure, it looks "fundamentalist" on the surface and that is the most common complaint against it, but it is also a fact that those who make the complaint the loudest are also the most heavily invested in a Christianity lived not in conflict with culture, but somehow with it and somehow "sanctifying" it (think Papanikolaou & Demacopoulos and those they represent).

      What is it that the Benedict Option that allows it to *see* the failure of the civil religion project(s) whereas those concerned with "fundamentalism" are themselves so thoroughly secularized that it allows them to ignore whole portions of the Gospel out of a supposed concern for the world?

    2. I absolutely agree that North American Orthodoxy is in greater danger from a secularized “Orthodoxy” which is mostly just worldliness with God-talk than it is from the so-called “fundamentalist/ evangelical” converts within in. I am also aware that I am speaking from north of the 49th parallel, which does not position me well to talk about American Civil Religion. Accordingly I can only speak personally.
      When my two daughters were growing up (born in the early and mid-1980s) they were different enough from their peers by virtue of being devout Orthodox, even apart from being PKs. They could not date until they were 16, not drink until legal age, had to dress modestly, keep the fasts (mostly: “hot dog day” at elementary school was always on a Friday), always go to church, etc. etc. As a parent one strove to find the proper balance between worldly laxity and fundamentalism—and not always with success. At all costs I wanted to avoid giving them the idea that their Faith consisted largely of a fear of worldly contamination, and to foster a combination of joy and discernment in life and when interacting with the world around them. Of course there is a mixture of good and bad in Halloween as Bishop Irenei says, but there is also a mixture of good and bad in watching any movie or television show. The presence of mixture calls not necessarily for renunciation, but for discernment: there are some movies than one should avoid and some forms of Halloween one should avoid. But it might be a different situation south of the border, and I am reluctant to judge anyone who chooses differently than my wife and I did.

    3. Thanks Fr. Lawrence! While I know there are differences, in general I think the commonality of all of western civ (including Canada, America, western Europe, Australia, etc.) is operative on this subject (i.e. culture and Church).

      I am groping for a "transcendent third option" to escape the worldly laxity vs fundamentalism dialectic which while useful (I use it every day in my prudential decision making as a parent) is limited. Is it to be found in Bishop Irenei's Symbolic/Sacramental view of *everything*, such that there are no "neutral" images from the culture and little in it that does not lead to compromise and a kind of "this can be taken care of - I don't have to let it effect me or my children" delusion? Is what he is talking about (and other Benedict option folks like Rod Dreher) properly understood on this worldly/fundamentalist dialectic? I am more and more suspecting that the answer is no. Thanks for sharing your experience!

    4. Fr. Lawrence so truth is realative?

  9. Here in the US Halloween long ago passed the point of being simple childhood fun. It is an industry devoted to adult fantasy indulgence in blood, sex and gore. Fantasy evil is still evil. While the devil is seldom worshipped directly, he is no doubt involved. It is also about marketing and turning children into good little voracious consumers, the true vampires and now has become a venue for moralistic, hypocritical preaching on "cultural appropriation" and "white priveledge".

    It is not about costumes per see even though images are important. I dressed up every Halloween in costumes I, my brother and my mother made from our own imaginations. The old Scottish prayer: From goulies and ghosties and four legged beasties, good Lord deliver us was never far from our lips mostly in fun but not entirely.

    All fun, all creativity all sense of wonder and adventure are stripped from it.

    It is a nihilistic black hole of nothingness.