Questions and Answers By St. Anastasios of Sinai, Bishop of Theoupoleos
Question 20: With what power do those who believe and do the opposite, oftentimes prophesy and work miracles?
Answer: Various signs and miracles and prophecies oftentimes take place by those who are unworthy, according to some need or condescension, as with Barlaam and the ventriloquism. And elsewhere the Apostles, when they found a certain unbeliever “casting out demons in the name of Christ,” and they prevented him and reported him to Christ, Christ told them: “Do not stop him, for the one who is not against you is for you” (Lk. 9:50).
Therefore, when you see a miracle taking place by a heretic or unbeliever, do not doubt or move away from your Orthodox faith. For many times the miracle is taking place according to the faith of the one approaching, and not the worthiness of the one performing. Besides John, the greatest of all born of women, does not appear to have worked a miracle, while Judas surely did, since he was among those sent to raise the dead and heal lepers.
Therefore, do not consider it significant, if you see someone who is unworthy or a heretic working a miracle. Nor should we judge someone Orthodox by their miracles and prophecies, or whether they are a saint or not, but rather by their conduct. Because many times sinners who are Orthodox, as well as heretics and unbelievers, have worked miracles and prophesied in special cases, as we said, after concession by the Lord, as in the case of Barlaam and Saul and Nebuchadnezzar and Caiaphas, where we could find that the Holy Spirit acted through them, although they were unworthy and profane, for justified reasons.
Since then, as we have shown, miracles and prophecies oftentimes take place by sinners and unbelievers, we should not by such things, as I said, test whether someone is a saint, rather we should test them by their fruits, as our Lord says: “You will know them by their fruits” (Matt. 7:16). The fruits of authentic and spiritual people is shown by the Apostle, who says: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness and temperance. Against such things there is no law” (Gal. 5:22-23). If someone has these virtues, whether they work miracles or not, it is obvious that such a human being is a saint and friend of God. Because there is no grace without a spiritual gift for the true friends of God. They receive either words of wisdom, words of knowledge, faith, the gift of healing, or something else referred to by the Apostle where he talks about the gifts of the Holy Spirit (cf. 1 Cor. 12:7-11). Without such fruits, one who works miracles or prophecies is among those who will say on that day: “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name and in Your name drive out demons and in Your name perform many miracles?” and then they will hear: “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” (Matt. 7:22-23). And this was certainly said for the Orthodox Christians who work miracles.
However, the heretic who works miracles and prophecies, is obviously being mocked by demons, although they think the miracles are being done by God. Of course demons do not have prior knowledge of anything that will take place or is confidential, only the Lord does, Who knows all things before they take place, as He says through the Prophet: “No one can foretell what will take place, but Me” (Is. 44:7). Demons tell people what they see and hear, or show most things assuming them from certain symbols. That is, they will show the presence of a traveler after seeing them walking on the road, before they arrive, and they will announce their arrival. Also they eavesdrop on people speaking, especially when they discuss something with others, and they communicate it to whomever they want, and other things like this, which they have seen and heard and revealed to people, including the fertility of the fruits of the earth and barrenness and the movement of winds and rains, and the times of rapid rains and droughts and heavy winters, and such similar things do they foretell noting distinguishing signs, just as people do. It also occurs that they know the thoughts and decisions of some based on certain symbols and words. And not only do the unclean demons say such things, but they even speak of the death of people. Because there are certain signs placed by Divine Providence on the human body, especially on their faces, and often they do this a long time beforehand, as well as shortly prior, as those who practice medical science with skill and precision say. Some even assert that the experienced and knowledgeable of the Saracens have this capability of prognosis, who in war know quite clearly who is going to die by a distinctive sign. So also do the demons, being more perceptive than those in material bodies, heralding human deaths. Because they are thin and bodiless spirits, they investigate and know better than all of medical science the strengths of people and their actions and their surpluses and their shortages of vital existence through the blood, and by reasoning thus, certainly not accurate though, they determine people’s deaths. We can say the same thing for soothsayers and ventriloquists. Thus, when demons see a thief and they find the loot, they can inform. As many times, when they observe heavy rains occurring in Ethiopia, they can predict that the Nile also in Egypt will go up a level. But if someone asks how many forearms or fingers will be the rise of the level, they cannot answer, proving they know nothing.
They also give the impression, through false prophets, to those who believe in them, that they work miracles for them and heal physical diseases, to deceive them and others, and they show someone dead being resurrected, and proclaim this to those who are alive with the fantasies, that is, the demon will penetrate the dead human body, and shake it, or nod the head, showing that the dead supposedly resurrected through the futile prayer of the imposter. The demon will even say things on behalf of the dead through the one defrauding about what they want and about the things asked for, revealing things said and done secretly by people, because they know the exact words having been secretly present among those people when it took place, and he saw and heard. But may God save us from the delusions of heretical bishops.
Indeed, we have met a heretical bishop in Cyzicus, the city of the supporters of Macedonius, the Pneumatomachi, who moved an olive tree supposedly by his prayers from one place to another place, because it was darkening the window of his wicked prayer house. And a certain unjust lender, who was forcefully approaching a widow woman, because of the debt of her husband, and demanded an amount to be repayed that was more than what was lent, when the heretical bishop was informed of this, before her husband was buried, and they were taking him to be buried, he stopped the coffin and made the dead man speak and tell him the amount of the debt he had towards the lender. When this heretic died, even some fantastic things and miracles took place at his tomb.
For this reason we should not accept as a saint every miracle worker, but we should test them, according to the one who says: “Do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 Jn. 4:1). And the Apostle says: “For such people are false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading as apostles of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:13). We should not be surprised by this, because “Satan himself transforms into an angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:14). It is not so great, therefore, if his servants transform themselves into servants of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works. Besides, when the Antichrist comes, by the concession of God, and the cooperation of demons, he will perform many signs and false wonders, so that the faithless will be lost and the faithful will be tested. And what is so strange, if with the help of the devil, he will do fantastic wonders, when we already know that other magicians and charlatans have done various miracles with the power of demons, among them being Janis and Jambris, who in the time of Moses were able to change their rods into snakes and water into blood, and brought out numerous frogs from the waters that were able to cover the land of Egypt?
And Simon, the magician in the time of the Apostles, how many fantastic wonders did he do? He truly made statues walk and fall into the fire without being burned. He flew into the air and made bread out of stones. He transformed himself into a snake and other animals. He became two people, changed things into gold, opened locked doors, broke iron bonds, at dinners he made various forms of idols appear, he had utensils come by themselves and serve without those present being able to see who brought them. He made many shadows lead the way before him, saying they were the souls of the dead. Also, many who called him a miscreant, he reconciled with, and then with the excuse of revelry, he sacrificed an ox and after hosted a lunch, and made them subservient to various diseases and demons. And when once the emperor called for him, he became afraid and escaped, giving his face to another.
Even the magicians Julianus, Apollonius and Apuleius, during the reign of Emperor Domitian, performed various fantastic things, one of which is a story preserved by older men. When once a fatal disease spread throughout Rome and many died here and there, these magicians were motivated by the emperor and the elders to help the city which was being destroyed. Apuleius therefore said: “The epidemic that spread to one third of the city I will stop in fifteen days.” Then Apollonius: “And I will stop the epidemic that spread to other third in ten days.” Then the most distinguished of them answered, who was closest to the devil in vanity, Julianus, said: “Within fifteen days the entire city will be destroyed, and will not wait for our help. So the other third of the city that belongs to me, the destruction from the epidemic will cease from now.” And indeed it stopped. And when the emperor pleaded with him to stop the other two parts of the city where the epidemic was speedily spreading, he did so.
In some places the ritual tricks of Apollonius perform miracles even today, but for diverting four-legged animals and birds that can harm people, others again to hold the river currents flowing unsteadily, and others for diverting other incidents causing damage and harm to humans. But the demons didn’t do these things through him only when he was alive, but even after his death, who remained at his tomb, working various miracles in his name, to deceive those who are easily harmed by such things by the devil. What could yet be said about the magical works of Manetho, who became so famous in magical deception, that he constantly scorned Apollonius of Tyana, who supposedly did not possess the precise experience of the art, “Because he should have,” he would say, “like me, to do only by word what he wanted to to be done, and not surrender to the rituals he did.”