Talking about sacraments and magic

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By Fr. John Anderson

Someone said that churches that have sacraments practice magic. Is this true? — Mikaela F.


Absolutely not! This false supposition gets forced onto the Orthodox, because we are accused of really being Roman Catholic. We are not. 

Christian magic developed out of the radical mistrust of the Roman Catholic church, which produced the Reformation. 

The reformers wanted to discredit those things held in the church and wanted to promote those things, which they were creating using “the Bible,” via logical deduction and reason. 

Fundamentalist Reformers observed how in witchcraft things are changed from one thing into another. Since it looked like Roman Catholics did this with the bread and wine, logically this must also be witchcraft.

This is bad logic, which excludes important parts of the equation. Thus, Protestants taught that since Roman Catholics were sympathetic to pagans, they adopted paganism. When one factors in all the facts this is absolutely absurd.

In the late reformation, “reason” became the new idol. Many reformers adopted an overly “reasonable” approach to not only the “Bible,” but to Christianity in general. 

If anything did not make reasonable sense it was discarded — and even disrespected. Supernatural was equal to superstition. I believe that the problems in the Catholic church produced the Protestant Reformation; the problems in the Reformation produced the “Enlightenment” (also a reformation) and the Enlightenment produced secular-humanism. Eventually, believing in miracles made one uneducated, foolish and superstitious. Which is it: magic or superstition? The answer is neither.

The Orthodox believe that God is supranatural by nature. If we look at the scriptural accounts, God rarely acts “reasonably” or “logically.” When he acts, he essentially acts supranaturally. We believe he is still acting in the midst of the Orthodox church every day. Instead of sacraments, we call them Holy Mysteries because they defy explanation. When the unfathomable God becomes fathomable it’s going to affect the creation mysteriously.

“God is the same yesterday today and forever.” Heb. 13:8. Why would he change his effect now? When Moses raised his arms and parted the Red Sea, was this magic? No. When Elijah consumed the sacrifice with fire, was this magic? No. 

When the Lord sent the plagues through Moses, was this magic? No. When the Lord rose from the dead was this magic? Never. When the Lord said that his disciples would do greater things than he, was he encouraging magic? Nope. 

 If, with the Lord all things are possible, why wouldn’t he be able to raise up the creation to a divine state and say “this is body,” “this is my blood,” “do this in remembrance of me?” If God is God and can do whatever he wishes, why is there a problem?