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Russian church to ‘streamline’ exorcisms

The Russian Orthodox Church has finalized a draft of rules to regulate the practice of exorcism, in the making since 2021. If the draft becomes part of canon law, banishing demons will be a free service, and only priests and bishops will be allowed to practice it, to prevent abuses.

Exorcism can be performed “only in cases of demonic possession,” and not for persons with mental disorders or diseases or those who “feign possession,” says the draft document, published on Thursday on the website of the Moscow Patriarchate. The clergy are instructed to become familiar with basic psychiatry so they can make the appropriate judgment.

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“The performer of the rite of exorcism can only be a bishop, or a priest who has received the blessing of the ruling bishop for this,” the document adds. “The Church expects a high spiritual life from the performer of an exorcism. Neither the exorcist nor his hierarchs should expect payments for performing the rite.”

Instructions for the rite itself take up two pages of the seven-page document, while the rest is dedicated to explaining the Russian Orthodox Church’s position on exorcism, a historical examination of the practice both in Russia and other Orthodox nations, and problems associated with exorcism.

The draft has been published to solicit public comment, with the commenting period open through the end of October 2022.

The church previously said the hierarchs have spent close to three years working on the document. Its necessity was explained by the fact that sometimes “sick people are subjected to humiliation or psychological violence” during mass “cleansings” captured on video, which then result in “false possession” reports and “mass hysteria.”

In late 2020, church spokesman Bishop Hilarion of Volokolamsk said that believers should not perform exorcisms by themselves. 

At least two exorcism-related deaths have been reported over the previous decade. A nine-year-old boy was gagged and whipped during a 2019 ritual, and choked to death. In 2011, a 25-year-old woman in Voronezh also died after her parents attempted to exorcize her.

Orthodoxy is one of the four officially recognized religions in Russia, followed by Islam, Buddhism and Judaism. Around half of Russia’s population identify as Orthodox faithful.

© 2022, paradox. All rights reserved.

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