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Evangelicals and Hallowe’en

18 September 2009

John Morehead in a blog post Morehead’s Musings: Suggestions for a More Careful Evangelical Assessment at Halloween notes that as October approaches evangelical blogs and websites tend to get their knickers in a knot about neopaganism and “the occult”. He suggests an antidote to this:

For an alternative treatment of this topic I recommend Philip Johnson and Gus diZerega’s dialogue book Beyond the Burning Times which I had the privilege of editing.

Readers might also benefit from academic explorations of the topic from my previous interactions with the authors on this blog including The Sign of the Witch, The New Generation Witches, and Teenage Witches.

But it seems to me that this is missing the elephant in the evangelical room, and that is the saints.

“Hallowe’en” is an older English shorthand for “The Eve of All Saints Day”, and in the Western Christian tradition (which Evangelicals, to some extent, share) All Saints Day falls on 1 November every year, and its eve is on 31 October. For Orthodox Christians Hallowe’en is always the Saturday after Pentecost, and if you look at the history of the festival it moved around quite a lot at different times of the year before settling on 1 November in the West and the Sunday after Pentecost in the East.

How did Halloween get a reputation for being associated with “the occult” in the first place? It was largely due to the Evangelicals (and their predecessors, the radical Reformers and Puritans, who have in fact become victims of their own propaganda. Even more important than the books that John Morehead recommends, I recommend that Evangelicals read Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s pendulum, which is about conspiracy theorists whose conspiracy theory comes back to bite them (fans of Dan Brown’s novels, like The da Vinci code could also read it with profit — I’ve heard that Eco once said that Dan Brown was in fact a character in his novel who has just come to life as the novel predicts).

But the fact is that Evangelicals, having created scare stories to discredit the Roman Catholic Church and its ideas of saints, have now come to believe their own propaganda, and to be even more scared of what they themselves have created. This is how the historian Ronald Hutton (1996:384) describes it:

… the Christian feast of the dead is thoroughly embedded in the history of Hallowe’en and… its legacy is usually impossible to distinguish from that of paganism in the practices and associations of the night. It is of course maintained by what is still by far the largest of the world’s churches, the Roman Catholic. To describe the feast as fundamentally unchristian is therefore either ill-informed or disingenuous. Such an attitude could be most sympathetically portrayed as a logical development of radical Protestant hostility to the holy days of All Saints and All Souls; having abolished the medieval rites associated with them and attempted to remove the feast altogether, evangelical Protestants are historically quite consistent in trying to eradicate any traditions surviving from them. If so many of those traditions appear now to be divorced from Christianity, this is precisely because of the success of earlier reformers in driving them out of the churches and away from clerics (emphasis mine).

Hutton also notes that the festival parodies or evokes two phenomena with which industrial society is profoundly uneasy: the supernatural and death.

The radical reformers created the bogey man. More recently neopagans have inverted and embraced it, and now modern Evangelicals get their knickers in a knot over the creation of their predecessors!

So perhaps it is time for Evangelicals to start talking about the elephant in the room.

Here is something from an Orthodox web site to begin the conversation:

The Sunday following Pentecost is dedicated to All Saints, both those who are known to us, and those who are known only to God. There have been saints at all times, and they have come from every corner of the earth. They were Apostles, Martyrs, Prophets, Hierarchs, Monastics, and Righteous, yet all were perfected by the same Holy Spirit.

The Descent of the Holy Spirit makes it possible for us to rise above our fallen state and to attain sainthood, thereby fulfilling God’s directive to “be holy, for I am holy” (Lev. 11:44, 1 Peter 1:16, etc.). Therefore, it is fitting to commemorate All Saints on the first Sunday after Pentecost.

This feast may have originated at an early date, perhaps as a celebration of all martyrs, then it was broadened to include all men and women who had borne witness to Christ by their virtuous lives, even if they did not shed their blood for Him.

St Peter of Damascus, in his “Fourth Stage of Contemplation,” mentions five categories of saints: Apostles, Martyrs, Prophets, Hierarchs, and Monastic Saints (PHILOKALIA [in English] Vol. 3, p.131). He is actually quoting from the OCTOECHOS, Tone 2 for Saturday Matins, kathisma after the first stichology.

St Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain (July 14) adds the Righteous to St Peter’s five categories. The list of StNicodemus is found in his book THE FOURTEEN EPISTLES OF ST PAUL (Venice, 1819, p. 384) in his discussion of I Corinthians 12:28.

The hymnology for the feast of All Saints also lists six categories: “Rejoice, assembly of the Apostles, Prophets of the Lord, loyal choirs of the Martyrs, divine Hierarchs, Monastic Fathers, and the Righteous….”

Some of the saints are described as Confessors, a category which does not appear in the above lists. Since they are similar in spirit to the martyrs, they are regarded as belonging to the category of Martyrs. They were not put to death as the Martyrs were, but they boldly confessed Christ and came close to being executed for their faith. St Maximus the Confessor (January 21) is such a saint.

The order of these six types of saints seems to be based on their importance to the Church. The Apostles are listed first, because they were the first to spread the Gospel throughout the world.

The Martyrs come next because of their example of courage in professing their faith before the enemies and persecutors of the Church, which encouraged other Christians to remain faithful to Christ even unto death.

Although they come first chronologically, the Prophets are listed after the Apostles and Martyrs. This is because the Old Testament Prophets saw only the shadows of things to come, whereas the Apostles and Martyrs experienced them firsthand. The New Testament also takes precedence over the Old Testament.

The holy Hierarchs comprise the fourth category. They are the leaders of their flocks, teaching them by their word and their example.

The Monastic Saints are those who withdrew from this world to live in monasteries, or in seclusion. They did not do this out of hatred for the world, but in order to devote themselves to unceasing prayer, and to do battle against the power of the demons. Although some people erroneously believe that monks and nuns are useless and unproductive, St John Climacus had a high regard for them: “Angels are a light for monks, and the monastic life is a light for all men” (LADDER, Step 26:31).

The last category, the Righteous, are those who attained holiness of life while living “in the world.” Examples include Abraham and his wife Sarah, Job, Sts Joachim and Anna, St Joseph the Betrothed, St Juliana of Lazarevo, and others.

The feast of All Saints achieved great prominence in the ninth century, in the reign of the Byzantine Emperor Leo VI the Wise (886-911). His wife, the Holy Empress Theophano (December 16) lived in the world, but was not attached to worldly things. She was a great benefactor to the poor, and was generous to the monasteries. She was a true mother to her subjects, caring for widows and orphans, and consoling the sorrowful.

Even before the death of StTheophano in 893 or 894, her husband started to build a church, intending to dedicate it to Theophano, but she forbade him to do so. It was this emperor who decreed that the Sunday after Pentecost be dedicated to All Saints. Believing that his wife was one of the righteous, he knew that she would also be honored whenever the Feast of All Saints was celebrated.

Troparion – Tone 4

As with fine porphyry and royal purple,
Your church has been adorned with Your martyrs’ blood shed throughout all the world.
She cries to You, O Christ God:
Send down Your bounties on Your people,
Grant peace to Your habitation, and great mercy to our souls!

Kontakion – Tone 8

The universe offers You the God-bearing martyrs,
As the first fruits of creation, O Lord and Creator.
Through the Theotokos, and their prayers establish Your Church in peace!

There are many ikons of All Saints (or All Hallows). Here is one of them:

8 Comments leave one →
  1. Steve permalink
    18 September 2009 1:42 pm

    I’ll give this post a good read in a tick, Steve. It looks very juicy indeed.

    Only let me reassure you that evil spirits of all kinds (including the spirit of death) abound in the spiritual exosphere.

    Let me assure you too that Evangelicals are under no illusion with regards to the Roman Catholic Church and it’s offspring. The RCC is a hive of the demoniac, characterized by the obsessive compulsive and the dominion of others.

    Sorry to burst the balloon here!

    But for our Saviour Jesus who is both the Kingdom of Heaven and Paradise in Himself, and Who has brought all under His heel!

    God’s blessings to you and Shalom to all on your blog.

    • 19 September 2009 6:45 am

      Only let me reassure you that evil spirits of all kinds (including the spirit of death) abound in the spiritual exosphere.

      Um… thats very reassuring, I think.

      I’m sure it’ll give me more confidence if I ever find myself in a spiritual exosphere.

      Let me assure you too that Evangelicals are under no illusion with regards to the Roman Catholic Church and it’s offspring. The RCC is a hive of the demoniac, characterized by the obsessive compulsive and the dominion of others.

      That’s the spirit!

      That’s the very spirit I was talking about, that has led to Evangelical Hallowe’enophobia.

      Sorry to burst the balloon here!

      Oops! Did you let in the spiritual exosphere?

      But feel free to comment again once you’ve actually read the post.

  2. 19 September 2009 2:59 am

    There’s a lot of historical myths that were created by protestant propaganda at times. The Spanish inquistion for example rarely executed people (in the whole 400 year existence of the institution it put to death about 5000 people in total), although because of the long tradition that started in the 16th century all of popular culture now knows it as some event in which people were being burnt at the stake all the time, or as though it were comparable to the Nazi regime or something.

    God Bless,

    • 19 September 2009 6:55 am

      They only killed 5000 people?

      I would have thought that one would be too many.

      While I agree that the problems of the Spanish Inquisition have been exaggerated by Protestant hype, that does seem to be a rather dubious basis for defending it.

  3. 19 September 2009 10:39 am

    Come on Steve, evangelicals just follow the Bible. Halloween isn’t in the Bible. Therefore they don’t celebrate Halloween.

    :p

    I think this is more to do with tradition than anything else. My subjective experience of many evangelicals is that they don’t think they have a tradition, since “we just follow the Bible. Anything added to it is unbiblical.”

    Kinda interesting, this blindness to the existence of something that others outside of that particular group can see so clearly. I’m interested in those things: “tradition” for evangelicals, “whiteness” for white people, and “the correctness of European-created theology” for Protestants.

    I’ve never got my knickers in a knot over Halloween – perhaps because I don’t have knickers. Maybe this year I’ll buy a pair, and find a Halloween party somewhere.

  4. 21 September 2009 5:18 am

    Hey Steve,

    I like the post, but have a few thoughts.

    Quoting Ronald Hutton: typically brilliant because as it relates to the history of British Neo-Paganism there ain’t no smarter than he. As it relates to Christian worldview, and observations about it I have found him to be less than objective at times. I am assuming that the quote is from Stations of the Sun. Is that correct?

    In terms of reaching evangelicals with sensibility it may be barking up the wrong tree to use the saints. We Evangelicals are too close to anabaptist traditions in our iconoclastic thinking. The two most dynamic view changing elements for evangelicals may lie in these: 1) There is no better holiday/Holyday for creatively presenting the Gospel. We have proven that in Salem for ten years now. 2) Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the Wittenburg door on that day. :-) I simply couldn’t resist that last point.

    Heading into 31 days of Halloween in Salem!
    Phil

    • 21 September 2009 9:37 am

      Phil,

      I’ve never thought of you as the kind of Evangelical who gets his knickers in a knot over Hallowe’en!

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