Eph. 6:12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
St. Anthony the Great ca. 251-356
For as he was sitting alone on the mountain, if ever he was in perplexity in his meditations, this was revealed to him by Providence in prayer. And the happy man, as it is written, was taught of God. After this, when he once had a discussion with certain men who had come to him concerning the state of the soul and of what nature its place will be after this life, the following night one from above called him, saying, ‘Antony, rise, go out and look.’ Having gone out therefore (for he knew whom he ought to obey) looking up, he beheld one standing and reaching to the clouds, tall, hideous, and fearful, and others ascending as though they were winged. And the figure stretched forth his hands, and some of those who were ascending were stayed by him, while others flew above, and having escaped heaven-ward, were borne aloft free from care. At such, therefore, the giant gnashed his teeth, but rejoiced over those who fell back. And immediately a voice came to Antony, ‘Do you understand what you see?’ And his understanding was opened, and he understood that it was the passing of souls, and that the tall being who stood was the enemy who envies the faithful. And those whom he caught and stopped from passing through are accountable to him, while those whom he was unable to hold as they passed upwards had not been subservient to him. So having seen this, and as it were being reminded, he struggled the more daily to advance towards those things which were before. And these visions he was unwilling to tell, but as he spent much time in prayer, and was amazed, when those who were with him pressed him with questions and forced him, he was compelled to speak, as a father who cannot withhold ought from his children. And he thought that as his conscience was clear, the account would be beneficial for them, that they might learn that discipline bore good fruit, and that visions were oftentimes the solace of their labours. (St. Athanasius the Great, Life of St. Anthony 66)
St. John Cassian ca. 360-435
We can then see clear reasons, in addition to those ideas which we expounded above, why they are called principalities or powers; viz., because they rule and preside over different nations, and at least hold sway over inferior spirits and demons, of which the Gospels give us evidence by their own confession that there exist legions. For they could not be called lords unless they had some over whom to exercise the sway of lordship; nor could they be called powers or principalities, unless there were some over whom they could claim power: and this we find pointed out very clearly in the gospel by the Pharisees in their blasphemy:
He casts out devils by Beelzebub the prince of the devils, Lk. 11:15 for we find that they are also called
rulers of darkness, Eph. 6:12 and that one of them is styled
the prince of this world. Jn. 14:30 But the blessed Apostle declares that hereafter, when all things shall be subdued to Christ, these orders shall be destroyed, saying:
When He shall have delivered up the kingdom to God even the Father, when He shall have destroyed all principalities and powers and dominions. 1 Cor. 15:24 And this certainly can only take place if they are removed from the sway of those over whom we know that powers and dominions and principalities take charge in this world.
For no one doubts that not without cause or reason are the same titles of rank assigned to the better sort, and that they are names of office and of worth or dignity, for it is plain that they are termed angels, i.e., messengers from their office of bearing messages, and the appropriateness of the name teaches that they are
archangels because they preside over angels,
dominions because they hold dominion over certain persons, and
principalities because they have some to be princes over, and
thrones because they are so near to God and so privy and close to Him that the Divine Majesty specially rests in them as in a Divine throne, and in a way reclines surely on them.
But that unclean spirits are ruled over by worse powers and are subject to them we not only find from those passages of Scripture, recorded in the Gospels when the Pharisees maligned the Lord, and He answered
If I by Beelzebub the prince of the devils cast out devils, Lk. 11:19 but we are also taught this by clear visions and many experiences of the saints, for when one of our brethren was making a journey in this desert, as day was now declining he found a cave and stopped there meaning to say his evening office in it, and there midnight passed while he was still singing the Psalms. And when after he had finished his office he sat down a little before refreshing his wearied body, on a sudden he began to see innumerable troops of demons gathering together on all sides, who came forward in an immense crowd, and a long line, some preceding and others following their prince; who at length arrived, being taller and more dreadful to look at than all the others; and, a throne having been placed, he sat down as on some lofty tribunal, and began to investigate by a searching examination the actions of each one of them; and those who said that they had not yet been able to circumvent their rivals, he commanded to be driven out of his sight with shame and ignominy as idle and slothful, rebuking them with angry wrath for the waste of so much time, and for their labour thrown away: but those who reported that they had deceived those assigned to them, he dismissed before all with the highest praise amidst the exultation and applause of all, as most brave warriors, and most renowned as an example to all the rest: and when in this number some most evil spirit had presented himself, in delight at having to relate some magnificent triumph, he mentioned the name of a very well known monk, and declared that after having incessantly attacked him for fifteen years, he had at last got the better of him, so as to destroy him that very same night by the sin of fornication, for that he had not only impelled him to commit adultery with some consecrated maid, but had actually persuaded him to keep her and marry her. And when there arose shouts of joy at this narrative, he was extolled with the highest praise by the prince of darkness, and departed crowned with great honours. And so when at break of day the whole swarm of demons had vanished from his eyes, the brother being doubtful about the assertion of the unclean spirit, and rather thinking that he had desired to entice him by an ancient customary deceit, and to brand an innocent brother with the crime of incest, being mindful of those words of the gospel; viz., that
he abode not in the truth because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks of his own, for he is a liar, and its father, Jn. 8:44 he made his way to Pelusium, where he knew that the man lived, whom the evil spirit declared to be destroyed: for the brother was very well known to him, and when he had asked him, he found that on the same night on which that foul demon had announced his downfall to his company and prince, he had left his former monastery, and sought the town, and had gone astray by a wretched fall with the girl mentioned. (Conferences 8, 14-16)
St. John Moschos ca. 550-619
Abba Anthony, superior and builder of the Lavra of the Aeliotes, told us about Abba Theodosius the solitary. He said: Before taking up the solitary life, I went into a trance and saw a young man whose appearance was brighter than the sun. He took me by the hand and said to me: ‘Come, for you must fight’, and he led me into an [amphi-] theatre larger than words could describe. I could see that the theatre was full of men, those on the one side dressed in white whilst those on the other side were black-faced ones. As he led me to the sanded pit of the theatre I saw a black-faced man of exceedingly large stature whose head stood as high as the clouds, strong and ugly. Then the youth who I saw in the vision said to me: ‘It is with this one you must fight.’ When I saw the man, I was horror-struck; I began to quake and to be terrified. I started pleading with him who had brought me there, saying: ‘What man who is merely mortal could strive with that one?Not even the whole human race put together could withstand this fellow’. But the noble youth said to me: ‘Go in with confidence, for when you have joined in combat with him, it is I who shall decide the result and award the victor’s crown. Almost as soon as I had gone into the sanded pit and we had come to grips with each other, the noble umpire came at once, made his decision and awarded me the crown. The faction of the black-faced ones disappeared with moaning and groaning. The other faction, consisting of those who wore white, shouted their approval of the umpire and of him who awarded me an auspicious victory. (The Spiritual Meadow 66)