By Saint Nikolai (Velimirovich), +1956
Orthodox Christians we must carefully examine every aspect
of our involvement in the world, its activities, holidays
and festivals, to be certain whether or not these
involvements are compatible with our Holy Orthodox Faith.
a while now everything in the outside world is reminding
us that Halloween is near: at school our children are busy
painting pumpkins, cutting and pasting bats, ghosts and
witches and planning the ideal costume in which to go
of our schools, local community organizations and
entertainment on television, radio and press will share in
and capitalize upon the festival of Halloween. Many of us
will participate in this festival by going to costume
parties, or by taking our children trick-or-treating in
our neighborhood after dark on October 31st.
of us will take part in the Halloween festivities
believing that it has no deeper meaning than fun and
excitement for the children. Most of us do not know the
historical background of the festival of Halloween and its
feast of Halloween began in pre-Christian times among the
Celtic peoples of 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 31st and
into the day of November 1st, when, as they believed the
season of cold, darkness, decay and death began.
Instructed by their priests, the Druids, the people
extinguished all hearth fires and lights and darkness
to pagan Celtic tradition, the souls of the dead had
entered into the world of darkness, decay and death and
made total communion with Samhain, the Lord of death, who
could be appeased and cajoled by burnt offerings to allow
the souls of the dead to return home for a festal visit on
belief led to the ritual practice of wandering about in
the dark dressed in costumes indicating witches,
hobgoblins, fairies and demons. The living entered into
fellowship and communion with the dead by this ritual act
of imitation, through costume and the wandering about in
also believed that the souls of the dead bore the
affliction of great hunger on this festal visit. This
belief brought about the practice of begging as another
ritual imitation of the activities of the souls of the
dead on their festal visit. The implication was that any
souls of the dead and their imitators who are not appeased
with “treats”, i.e. offerings, will provoke the wrath of
Samhain, whose angels and servants could retaliate through
a system of “tricks”, or curses.
the strictly Orthodox early Celtic Church, the Holy
Fathers tried to counteract this pagan new year festival
by establishing the feast of All Saints on that same day
(in the East, this feast is celebrated on another day).
The night before the feast (on “All Hallows Eve”), a vigil
service was held and a morning celebration of the
Eucharist. This custom created the term Halloween.
the remaining pagan and therefore anti-Christian people
reacted to the Church’s attempt to supplant their festival
by increased fervor on this evening, so that the night
before the Christian feast of All Saints became a night of
sorcery, witchcraft and other occult practices, many of
which involved desecration and mockery of Christian
practices and beliefs.
of skeletons, for example, developed as a mockery of the
Church’s reverence for holy relics. Holy things were
stolen and used in sacrilegious rituals. The practice of
begging became a system of persecution of Christians who
refused to take part in these festivities. And so the
Church’s attempt to counteract this unholy festival
failed. This is just a brief explanation of the history
and meaning of the festival of Halloween.
is clear that we, as Orthodox Christians, cannot
participate in this event at any level (even if we only
label it as “fun”), and that our involvement in it is an
idolatrous betrayal of our God and our Holy Faith. For if
we imitate the dead by dressing up or wandering about in
the dark, or by begging with them, then we have willfully
sought fellowship with the dead, whose Lord is not a
Celtic Samhain, but Satan, the evil one, who stands
against God. Further, if we submit to the dialogue of
“trick or treat,” our offering does not go to innocent
children, but rather to Satan himself.
us remember our ancestors, the Holy Christian Martyrs of
the early Church, as well as our Serbian New Martyrs, who
refused, despite painful penalties and horrendous
persecution, to worship, venerate or pay obeisance in any
way to idols who are angels of Satan. The foundation of
our Holy Church is built upon their very blood.
today’s world of spiritual apathy and listlessness, which
are the roots of atheism and turning away from God, one is
urged to disregard the spiritual roots and origins of
secular practices when their outward forms seem ordinary,
entertaining and harmless. The dogma of atheism underlies
many of these practices, denying the existence of both God
Holy Church, through Jesus Christ, teaches that God alone
stands in judgment over everything we do and believe and
that our actions are either for God or against God. No one
can serve two masters.
let us not, as the pagan Celts did, put out our hearth
fires and wander about in the dark imitating dead souls.
Let us light vigil lamps in front of our Slava icons, and
together with our families, ask God to grant us faith and
courage to preserve as Orthodox Christians in these very
difficult times, and to deliver us from the Evil One.