In our time, the concept of “devil” is associated with a mythological creature from ancient Slavic culture. However, in the Christian tradition, the devil is a demonic being sent by God to tempt believers. In F.M. Dostoevsky’s novel The Brothers Karamazov, the devil is one of the central literary characters who seduces the protagonist Ivan Karamazov. But how do devils manifest themselves in modern Orthodoxy and what do the monks think of them?
From the experience of monastic life
Visiting the Svyatoezersky Nunnery in the Ivanovo region, I witnessed the difficult life of the monks. Their daily routine is impressive in its strictness and tedium for the average person. Early in the morning prayer begins, then 12 hours of hard labor in the refectory, in the vegetable gardens, in the workshop. In the evening, prayer again. The monks have only 2-3 hours to sleep. Matushka Pelageya, who became my “curator”, made sure that the vegetable garden of the monastery was in perfect condition. To be honest, by the end of the day I was completely exhausted, but Matushka asked me to join the evening service. I asked her why such tedious labor, to which she replied, “To attain humility!”
One evening something strange happened. Matushka Pelageya ran out of the door of the monastery church with a distorted face and told me about her quarrel with Sister Neonilla. I did not understand how this could have happened, for Neonilla was in the refectory at the time. However, Pelageya claimed that the devil came to her in the form of Neonilla and tempted her. She said that it had become customary for devils to appear in different guises to distract the faithful and reduce the power of their prayers.
Devils in modern Orthodoxy
Faithful monks believe that devils must be resisted and remain in the faith. They see their actions as an attempt to weaken people’s faith and spirituality. Various tricks are attributed to devils, such as the appearance of animals in monastic cells or the appearance of “spiritual guides” who later call and are surprised that they were not in the monastery. The monks claim that these traits are temptations that must be overcome to strengthen their faith.
Olga Klimenko, a candidate of philosophical sciences and researcher of religious traditions, believes that traits are given too much importance in Orthodoxy. She argues that devils are not real beings, but rather symbolize the inner forces and temptations that a person faces in his or her life. Klimenko also notes that devils are attributed many different guises and actions, which may be the result of the imagination of believers.