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If we don't count lynchings, were people ever executed for witchcraft be the Eastern Orthodox Church?

In western Christianity, the execution of witches was condemned until 1484, four centuries after the divorce of Christian East and West, so I'd guess no, but I'd be glad for some evidence for it.

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2 Answers 2

up vote 9 down vote accepted

Most early Eastern theologians didn't believe in witches (technically, neither did Western theologians, as is evidenced by Canon Episcopi), but most common folk did. Without getting into the confounded history of witch-burning, it is generally held that theologians prior to the 10th century did not believe in witches. The 9th century Canon Episcopi that I mentioned is interpreted by modern historians to be a renunciation of the existence of witches, not of witchcraft itself (the bible sufficiently denounces witchcraft). For various reasons, medieval Western society changed their tune and began burning witches.

According to Stephen Hayes (the link is now dead but clicking here will take you to an online archive),

It is perhaps significant that the persecution of witches began in the West after the Great Schism of 1054. In parts of the Orthodox East, at least, witch hunts such as those experienced in other parts of Europe were unknown (Stewart 1991:38). The Orthodox Church is strongly critical of sorcerers (among whom it includes palmists, fortune tellers and astrologers), but has not generally seen the remedy in accusations, trials and secular penalties, but rather in confession and repentance, and exorcism if necessary (Stewart 1991:212f).

I have tried to show that the process of accusation, trial, sentencing and execution of alleged witches is not a typical Christian reaction to witchcraft. It was practically unknown in Christendom for the first ten centuries. It then gradually appeared in certain parts of the Christian world, but not in others. It lasted for about 600 years, though the last 200 years of this period were the worst, after which it suddenly disappeared. Such behaviour was fairly common in pre-Christian societies, but was altered when those societies became Christianised.

The article goes on to elaborate on Orthodoxy and its response to witches (hint: it didn't burn them). The source continually referenced by Hayes in the above quote is:

Stewart, Charles. 1991. Demons and the devil. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

I highly doubt that the Eastern Orthodox Church ever executed witches (and I have not found any sources indicating that they did). It is far more likely that they tried to lead witches to repentance.

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Both answers are good. I accepted this one because I like your explanation of the reasons of continuity, with repentance and even exorcism mentioned. In fact, the main reason to ask this question was to verify theory of chief Vatican exorcist Gabriele Amorth, that witch burning is a result of decrease of numbers and quality of exorcists. It's clear that a possessed person is a victim if you can help them, but they can be seen as a danger if you can't. –  Pavel Jan 31 '13 at 22:00

Frankly, the more you know the history of the Orthodox Church, the more you would be inclined to say that they would never have executed witches. In fact great portions of the Eastern Orthodox Churches history, is when they have been the ones being executed, whether by pagans or heretics. In fact if someone told me that the Orthodox had executed witches, I would probably think that it was some heretical branch.

According to this link:

the Protestant reformers often agreed with Rome, that witches were a clear and present danger. All four of the major western Christian "churches" (Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Calvinist, Anglican) persecuted witches to some degree or another. (Eastern Christian, or Orthodox Churches carried out almost no witch hunting).

I would say that if the Orthodox Church ever found a "witch", they would have tried to purify him/her, and bring that person (back) to the Church. Also, no one was allowed to kill anyone, except as a soldier. Perhaps some corrupt Emperors would have done this, (In fact I know they did), but the Church Fathers would confront that emperor to his face and tell him he did wrong (though this is not an example with witches, I had to call to mind the story of Ambrose and Theodosius).

So if you have any doubts and questions, please tell me. I believe that the Eastern Church would never have done this, unless someone in authority was corrupted.

But then we are all sinners.

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I +1'd this answer, FYI. Glad to see other Orthodox folks on here! –  Dan Feb 1 '13 at 21:17
@DanO'Day yeah it is. And thanks for that link. Very good answer. –  Byzantine Feb 1 '13 at 22:27

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