There are many stories of how the desert father’s confronted and overcame demons. This is not one of them, for it cannot be found in any ancient manuscripts. Rather it is a modern story written in the style of a story about the desert fathers. Nevertheless, it teaches profound lessons about the nature of sin and repentance, mercy and redemption.
I don’t know who wrote this story, but it has been floating around the internet since at least 2008. However, I want to thank Fr Aidan Kimmel at Eclectic Orthodoxy ( https://afkimel.wordpress.com/ ) who drew my attention to it by sharing it on his own blog. The story is substantially the same as what he originally posted, however, I have lightly edited the beginning and the end to make it a bit more clear.
Abba Joseph was one of the monks during the 3rd and 4th centuries A.D. who went out into the desert to wrestle with their inner demons in order to draw near to God.
Once, while he was fasting and praying, a dark and miserable demon came to tempt the monk. After a long night’s struggle, Abba Joseph made the Sign of the Cross and trapped the demon in his cell. Try as he might, the demon was unable to break free.
“Release me, Father, and let me go,” pleaded the demon, “I will not come to tempt you again”.
“I will gladly do that, but on one condition,” replied the monk. “You must sing for me the song that you sang before God’s Throne on high, before your fall.”
The demon responded, “You know I cannot do that; it will cause me cruel torture and suffering. And besides, Father, no human ear can hear its ineffable sweetness and live, for you will surely die.”
“Then you will have to remain here in my cell,” said the monk, “and bear with me the full struggle of repentance.”
“Let me go, do not force me to suffer,” pleaded the demon.
“Ah, but if you would be released, you must sing to me the song you sang on high before your fall with Satan.”
So the dark and miserable demon, seeing that there was no way out, began to sing, haltingly, barely audible at first, groping for words long forgotten. As he sang, the darkness which penetrated and surrounded him began slowly to dissipate. The song grew ever louder and increasingly stronger, and soon the demon was caught up in its sweetness, his voice fully lifted up in worship and praise. Boldly he sang of the power and the honor and the glory of the Triune God on High, Master of Heaven and Earth, Creator of the Universe and of all things visible and invisible.
As the song sung on high before all ages resounded in the fullness of its might, a wondrous and glorious light penetrated the venerable Abba’s humble cell, and the walls which had enclosed it were no more. Ineffable love and joy surged into the very depths of the now radiant and glorious angel.
As the angel had foretold, the song had so overwhelmed Abba Joseph that, transported with ecstasy, his soul ascended to the throne of God and his body was left lifeless.
In gratitude, the angel ever so gently stooped down and covered with his wings the lifeless body of the old hermit who had liberated him from the abyss of hell. Then, following the path of Abba Joseph, the angel also ascended into heaven and resumed his place in the celestial choir.
He put a new song in my mouth,
a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear,
and put their trust in the Lord.