About Halloween

Reprinted from Orthodox Life – Vol. 43, No. 5 – September – October, 1993

ON HALLOWEEN

It is 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 selfsacrifice
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 31 and into the day of November 1), 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 imita tion 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 fel
lowship 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 fes tival. 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 faith ful 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 sacrile gious 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. 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
1, proclaimed “the international worker’s day.” That was a simple renaming of a very old
satanic feast of Walpurgis Night (night of April 30 into the day of May 1) – 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. 2:12). 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.”

by Bishop Kyrill of Seattle,
reprinted from “Parish Life” of the St. John the Baptist Cathedral, Washington, DC.