We Orthodox confess that we are amphibians—that is, that we are part animal, part angelic, that we simultaneously inhabit both the visible and the invisible world, the realms of both men and spirits. We have prayers in our daily prayer rule to our guardian angel, and we ask for help against the attacks of demonic spirits. For most of us, this bi-partite existence remains mostly theoretical, in that while we acknowledge the reality of the invisible and spiritual world of angels and demons, we have little personal experience of it. But once in a while, we learn of people whose experience of this world is more direct.
I have learned of such a person. A pious person in my parish is in touch with an old friend of his in Russia, and this latter has experienced many things from the invisible world of the spirit that we all acknowledge, experiencing both the attacks of demons and the help of the angels. He was a brave and confident person, athletic, skilled in martial arts. He came from a hard and difficult life, a sinful life of violence. In this violent world he went deeply into the evil darkness that always lies open to the sons of men. At length he began to seek God. His seeking did not go unchallenged by the dark forces which once dominated his life, and so he has experienced things which most of us have not. His friend, my parishioner, knows him well as a man of integrity and sanity, as someone who is neither crazy nor duplicitous, and he has shared his story with me. In what follows I offer several examples from his long testimony to show that the unseen realm that we Orthodox confess in our Creeds is truly a contemporary reality.
When this man first began to seek a life of righteousness in the Church, he experienced demonic attacks which frightened him. Being sensible, he went to a monastery and sought the prayers and counsel of the monastic Fathers there. One night, as he returned from the monastery, he parked his car and began walking to his home, and the demons began to attack him. He was filled with fear as began seeing dark silhouettes appearing in the trees about him, and was consumed with an inner horror. He continued walking, and saying the prayer, “Rejoice Virgin Theotokos”. Nonetheless, a fear and panic grew within him which soon became unbearable. Though the street was empty, he heard a loud metallic roar, as if from an unearthly lion, and he thought his heart would stop. He then felt the angelic presence with him, as if an angel stood behind him, covering him beneath its wings. He felt the angel said to him, “It is useless to run; they are bodiless.” He continued to rest in the love and peace that seemed to flow from his protector, until the horror coming from the shadows receded. A minute after this, he felt the angelic presence also depart.
On other occasions, he would see the angels. He reported that their faces are full of innocence, like the faces of young children, free of all taint of sin and guilt. They seem to glow, like beings transparent to the light of the Kingdom, exuding a kind of warmth and kindness and love and peace, and they resembled young men. (I note that this is consistent with the descriptions of angels in the New Testament: compare St. Mark’s description of the angel appearing to the myrrh-bearing women after Christ’s Resurrection as “a young man” in Mark 16:5.)
My parishioner’s friend in Russia shared many other experiences, relating things which he had seen with his own eyes and heard with his own ears. I offer this small taste of his testimony because it confirms for me the reality that we confess without seeing with our own eyes and hearing with our own ears. I believe in the reality of the unseen world, not because of stories like this, but because of the witness of the Scriptures and the Fathers. But it is good nonetheless to receive the witness of others of our generation who have experienced the same sort of realities. I will think of my parishioner’s friend whenever I say the Creed: “I believe in one God, maker of heaven of earth and all of things, both visible and invisible.”