Friday, February 27, 2004

Orthodoxy and Magic

My good freind James is blogging about "Holy Words" saying:

Do you think there could be something holy about words? Like specific words or phrases? Power behind them perhaps?

Well, I was inspired to think about this. I have many ideas, and in some ways I want to quickly answer "no way" and in other ways I want to quickly answer "definitely!"

I am reminded right off the bad of the first Harry Potter story (movie or book, doesn't matter) in which everyone is trying to get the spell right, and only Hermione is successful at making her feather levitate: "It's levy-o-SA not levy-OOOO-sa!"

If you don't say the words just right, the magic doesn't work.

Similarly, in book three (movie coming soon to a theatre near you) in order to perform the advanced spell of a Patronis, Harry must learn to concentrate really hard on something specific. It isn't JUST that the words have to be right, it's that you have to have the right thing in your heart at the time... the right thing in your mind. The same is true of the Boggart earlier in the book.

Well, it is no small conincidence that the word "abracadabra" is an anglicized bastardization of what the Roman Catholic priest says (if he's doing it in Latin) at the moment of consecration when he is performing the Mass. After all, what is more magical than the transubstantiation of wine into blood, and bread into flesh. Unfortunately, the Roman Catholic theology of a sacrament, lends itself easily to comparisons with Magic. In the Roman Catholic view three specific things are required in order for a sacrament to be valid: (a) proper form; (b) a valid ordination, and (c) proper intentions. In other words, (a) the words have to be correct; they have to be spoken (b) by the right person, and he (c) has to be thinking the right thing in his hear when he does so.

Fortunately, the Orthodox concept of the Sacrament finds this designation to be completely foreign. A Sacrament is something that brings God's Divine Grace directly into the life of the communicant. The only thing that is "required" is God, and since His Grace is abundantly spread across the entire universe, that is not a problem. He's there. The Church does identify specific things that indicate a Sacrament, and the Church does define specific sacraments, but there are no magic words and the person who says them may read them or recite them incorrectly, he may be a heretic and be thinking about some stripper in Vegas while he is standing before the Holy Table, and, while all of that is of course, really really bad, it does not "invalidate" a sacrament. Gods Grace is sufficent to reach each of us through the ordered sacraments of the Church with our without proper form, ordination and intentions. The only thing that makes a sacrament a sacrament (I will refrain from using the word "valid" because of it's juridical connotations) is the fact that it is brought to a person by the Church. And it is widely recognized that God's Grace extends far beyond the limits we may ascribe to It. The Church may ultimately recognize herself someplace that, at the time, she was reluctant to recognize herself as being.

The Orthodox Sacrament, then, far from being Magic, is Mystery instead. It is something we can identify, but cannot logically quantify. It is something that we can point to and describe, but cannot define - just as we can point to God Himself, and what he has revealed about Himself to us, without being able to adequately describe Him thanks to the transcendence of his Being. The Sacrament, then, is just another way of God revealing the depths of Himself to us. The more inexplicable the sacrament, the more closely connected it is with His nature.

~ Basil

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