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Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Halloween

The word ‘Halloween’ means ‘holy evening'; it is easy to see from the alternative spelling ‘Hallowe’en’ that the ‘e’en’ part is a contraction of ‘evening’. The word itself derives from the Roman Catholic All Hallows’ Day (All Saints’ Day) celebrated on November 1st. All Hallows' Eve or Hallowe’en is therefore the day before All Hallows’; the day after is All Souls’ Day on which Roman Catholics pray for the souls of the dead in purgatory. Many older Halloween customs are forms of offering to bring comfort to souls suffering in purgatory.

Orthodox Christians should not participate in the celebration of Halloween. A few people argue that Halloween originates from a Celtic harvest festival, and that the custom of lighting lanterns is a Christian practice dating from medieval times designed to frighten off evil spirits. For us, all this discussion is immaterial. What the Celts or medieval Roman Catholics got up to does not affect what Halloween is today. Today’s festival is what concerns us. It does not matter if it had some harmless secular or heterodox Christian beginning.

Leaving aside all the religious aspects of Halloween for a moment, let us consider the practice of ‘trick or treat’. We are not bothered about whether trick or treat had some innocent beginning; we are only concerned with today’s version, and it’s clearly completely unchristian. Children are encouraged to roam in gangs demanding some form of payment or ‘treat’ and threatening retribution if they fail to receive it. This behaviour is actually criminal; in the UK, police now have to produce leaflets offering advice and protection to old people frightened by the abuse and damage to property that they have suffered on previous Halloweens. If ever there was a simple reason for Orthodox Christians to avoid Halloween this is it. Halloween promotes criminal behaviour and leaves the most vulnerable in our society terrified in their own homes.

Let us now consider the pseudo-religious aspects of Halloween. No Orthodox Christian should take part in any activity that honours the devil and his demonic hosts. Dressing up as devils, witches or wizards even as a joke is spiritually dangerous because we are making fun of something deeply serious. Evil is not a joke.

The celebration of Halloween has no place in an Orthodox Christian home and all invitations to Halloween parties should be refused. But what about school activities? Should parents withdraw their children from school in the run-up to Halloween if they are engaging in activities such as making lanterns etc.? Our response needs prayer and careful consideration of whether the activities are simply ‘art and craft’ or have more sinister undertones.

It is interesting to see how the festival of Halloween has developed in the UK over recent decades. In the 1980s Halloween was almost a non-event in suburban England being overshadowed by Guy Fawkes Night (now curiously named Bonfire Night). Halloween parties were more common in rural areas possibly due to the connection of traditional English harvest activities such as apple bobbing with Halloween. In the 1990s we started to see witch and wizard costumes in supermarkets replace the fireworks that families used to buy to celebrate Guy Fawkes Night. Today, we still see the witch’s hats and wizard’s wands but shops also offer a whole range of devil and grim-reaper costumes; carved pumpkins have given way to glow-in-the-dark skulls.

How has this all changed so quickly? Part of the reason is, of course, financial. As long as gullible parents are willing to pay £30 for a plastic toy that a shop buys for £1.50, then shops will keep selling them. But why are these things in demand?

The answer has both spiritual and educational dimensions. People in the UK are horrendously ignorant of Christianity. People believe in God, but they do not believe in ‘religion’; they believe in angels, but not in demons; they believe in evil but not in the devil; they believe in life after death, but not in the Judgement. Halloween, therefore, is probably their only contact with spirituality in the whole year. It reinforces their ideas that there is a spiritual life outside their day-to-day existence, but it doesn’t force them into a demanding religious commitment.

In the UK at least, the major reason for this astonishing ignorance of Christian history and teaching is the complete failure of the Church of England to teach traditional Christianity. This failure stems from a lack of belief in traditional Christianity at the highest levels in the Church of England. In an anonymised questionnaire of thirty-nine Anglican bishops carried out in 1984, out of the thirty-one responses only twenty bishops believed in Christ’s resurrection either in Body or in Spirit; ten bishops (almost a third) did not believe that it was necessary for Christians to believe that Christ is God.

People are thirsting for the ‘knowledge of the truth’ (1.Tim. 2:4), but most Christians are offering these people a stone and not the Bread of Life (cf. Matt. 7:9, John 6:35). Heterodox Christians do so because they are outside the Church and do not preach the truth of the Gospel; we are doing so by our laxness in spiritual life and our lack of repentance.

We must take no part in this celebration of the forces of evil called Halloween. As well as avoiding any participation in it, let us make a renewed effort to keep the fasts, say our prayers, partake of the Mysteries of the Church and lead people outside the Body of Christ to the salvation which is found in the Orthodox Church by our example of Christian faith and love.

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