By Fr. John Parker
(Republished from 2005)
Few of us could say with clarity, certainty, and from memory, which saints we Orthodox commemorate on October 31. For the record, and for our spiritual nourishment, we commemorate the “Apostles of the Seventy: Stachys, Amplias, Urban, Narcissus, Apelles, and Aristobulus”, among others. We read about their appointment in Luke 10:1ff, “After this the Lord appointed seventy others, and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to come.” Apparently, according to St. Paul’s epistle, these men were in Rome:Greet Ampliatus, my beloved in the Lord. Greet Urbanus, our fellow worker in Christ, and my beloved Stachys. Greet Apelles, who is approved in Christ. Greet those who belong to the family of Aristobulus. Greet my kinsman Herodion. Greet those in the Lord who belong to the family of Narcissus…Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you (Romans 16:8 11,16).
I personally would like to be much more well-versed in the Saints of the Church, and especially more well read in the Scriptures. To be sure, I need to deepen my prayer life by leagues. Are these not chief tasks of the Orthodox Faith: to know God, to become holy? In nearly every litany that we pray in the Orthodox Church, we “commend ourselves, each other, and all our life unto Christ our God.” Every nook and cranny, every high and low, every joy and sorrow, every intrigue and resolution we are to bring to God to hallow: to make holy. Every thought, every action, every reaction, every word we are to offer back to God. Every dollar we spend, every breath we expend, every minute we save, every night and every day are to be freely offered in eucharist—thanksgiving to God for His generosity, kindness, and endless mercy. We study and learn the Scriptures and the lives of the saints in order to recognize that God has given the grace to do these things throughout all generations, and will give them to us in proportion to the depth of our desire.
Having set the stage, at least basically, it is important for us to recognize that this [holiness, thanksgiving, living “in Christ”] is the lens through which we are to see the world. This is the filter through which we are to address the situations and dilemmas of our daily lives. What about the ‘dilemma’ of Halloween? Several of you have asked me about this ‘festival’ in the past weeks, so is it pagan? Is it Christian? Is it holy? Is it evil? Is it neutral, benign, or harmless?
Conducting a search for “history of Halloween” on google.com, I encountered, as you can imagine, numberless web sites attesting to the history—or better, histories, of Halloween. Some from churches, some from witches (yes, witches. They do exist.), some from county libraries. The Dauphin (PA?) County library site, I believe, is the most helpful for us, in part, because the opening paragraph defines the nature of our dilemma well:
America is a melting pot of cultures from all over the world. Because we are a nation of people from many different cultures, our holidays tend to blend bits and pieces from different cultures into one American celebration. Halloween is one of the best examples of a holiday with a rich tradition of "blending." ((http://www.dcls.org/x/archives/halloween.html)).
The DCLS basically defines Halloween as a melting-pot holiday. If you were to browse the web as I did, you would find this to be true: the roots of the ‘festival’ are found in pre-Christian Celtic (pagan) life. Later, as with many feasts including the Nativity, pagan festivals were ‘baptized’ by the Church and became Christian feasts. Most sites note that the word ‘Halloween’ is a contraction of ‘All Hallow’s Even’ or in contemporary English, the night before All Saint’s Day. The Western Church, for many centuries now has celebrated this feast on this day as a means of Christianizing pagan rituals for the dead, etc. (Parenthetically, the Orthodox celebrate All Saints on the first Sunday after Pentecost, the descent of the Holy Spirit. This is theologically appropriate as it is the Holy Spirit who sanctifies us—makes us saints!)
If there is a problem with Halloween, it begins with the very issue that the DCLS celebrates: melting pot. The theological term for this is syncretism. Syncretism simply means blending. Syncretism, besides idolatry (although related), was one of the chief sins and evils of Israel in the Old Testament. Solomon life is a prime example this danger. Having been faithful to the One True God, he then went off and intermarried with all sorts of foreign women whose influences led him to blend faiths and ultimately depart from God. You can read the full story in 1 Kings 11:1ff.
Melting pots are nice for stews, desserts, fashions, dances, learning languages, and the like, but they are not only horrible for, but detrimental to, Christianity. As the DCLS site notes, “halloween is one of the best examples of a holiday with a rich tradition of blending.” But is this blending good? Can we be in it, be a part of it? I would suggest that there are precious few, if any, ways we could completely sanctify a night of trick-or-treating. Remember: we aren’t called to offer “part of our lives to Christ our God”, but rather “ourselves, each other, and all our life unto [Him].”
Consider the following, all normal today. You can find these in Anycity, USA:
Is it okay for a Christian parent to allow a child to dress up as a witch, a warlock, a vampire, an evil monster?
Is it healthy for parents to expose their children to walking through neighborhoods where some folks have actually dug up their yards to make graves and hide in them with chainsaws, axes, and cleavers?
Halloween may have its ‘tame’ side with Power Rangers, tinkerbells, and Disney Characters—these you’ll find on the front page of the costume store advertisment; but what about the costume called “Angel of Darkness”, tailored for teenage girls, which boasts a scant mini-skirt, all black, with a mesh-like, low-cut, v-neck top, complete with cherry red lipstick and a 4 inch crucifix? You might not let your teenage daughter wear such a thing, but would you expose your children to this on a dark night?
What about a haunted maize maze?
Your neighbors may think you are strange. They may even think you are ‘some kind of fundamentalist’. They may suggest, “it’s harmless fun…you did it when you were a kid!” It may be harmless, it may not. The risks not only of frightening young children but doing unseen spiritual damage are frankly too high to take the chance. And yes, I did trick or treat when I was a kid. My parents still have picture of me dressed up as a hot-wheels racecar driver next to my “Casper the friendly ghost” brother, and here I am—normal (so I say!). But here is how I would respond to such arguments:
1. My faith is not what it was then, and while church-goers, no theological discussion was ever had in my family, regarding Halloween when I was a boy. We must consider our faith first when making all of our decisions. Consider St. Paul’s words, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man, I gave up childish ways” (1 Cor. 13:11).
2. The “when you were a kid” argument is a bad one. What if you smoked pot when you were younger? Would you, now that you know differently and better, say, “well, I did it when I was a kid and I am fine”? I licked a paintbrush soaked in gasoline when I was a kid. I am fine today, but would hardly recommend the practice to anyone, particularly a child.
3. The can be no argument against this statement: Halloween is not what it used to be. Halloween is the second most financially lucrative holiday in the USA. Costumes have become a whole industry, much of which is dedicated to making evil look more evil and scary, scarier.
4. Assume (for only a moment) that the night is “harmless”: I can sing practically every song that came out in the early 80s. Is this wrong or bad? Well, only if you also asked me (now a few years ago) where to find Noah and the Flood in the Bible. Or to tell you who King Josiah, or Tamar, or Rahab were. Or where St. Innocent came from and what work he did, or why we use incense in church. Or how to sit still and pray. Was my time memorizing the radio spent on evil? No, hardly. But it was surely poorly spent by comparison! Have we done all that we can to facilitate the spiritual lives of our family members?
If you feel like you can’t fight the tide of the society—and in the future, we will do this as a parish, with better planning and resources—take your son or daughter to a candy store and let them fill a bag for themselves. Then go home and play some games together. Take the public night away—filled with scary things and unnecessary influences—and replace it with something family oriented—or even more ideally, something directly related to our Faith.
As far as Halloween has ever been “Christian”, it was originally a baptism of pagan celebrations—at least All Saints Day was. Once again it is pagan—perhaps civilly pagan (although it is undeniable that witches, druids, etc. do celebrate this feast)—it is time for us to reevaluate our participation in it, perhaps by scrapping it, perhaps by rebaptizing it in some new way.
1. Perhaps as early as next year, we as a parish, can sponsor some sort of faith based, get-children-off-the-streets, Christian evening of fun. Many such parties exist now. Choose one of them.
2. Are your really interested in witches, ghosts, monsters, etc.? Read the BIBLE! It is all in there. Once you read it, then you can discuss it, ask about it, and really see why we put our trust in GOD! Consider the following:
Prohibitions regarding astrology (tarot, palm reading, etc) and witches: Deuteronomy 18:9ff.
Saul and the Witch of Endor: 1 Samuel chapter 28
Isaiah’s glimpse into heaven: Isaiah 6
The whole book of Acts, particularly:
- Simon the Magician: Acts 8
- The Magicians Bar-Jesus and Elymas: beginning of Acts 13
- A slave girl possessed by a spirit of divination Acts 16:16ff.
- Miracles, exorcisms by use of Paul’s handkerchief and apron: Acts 19:11ff.
- Angels, demons, Dragons, beasts, fire, swords, battles etc.: The whole book of Revelation, the last book of the Bible. Pick any chapter!
If you are looking for some sort of excitement, and think that Hollywood or society has us beat, think again. Read the Bible. With obvious exceptions (related to technology) whatever you can name, you can find in the Scriptures. (Try me…let’s look!) Learn them instead! Whatever is not explicitly found on the pages of the Old and New Testaments, can be found implicitly, or can be read in the lives of the saints.