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Purgatory

Eastern Orthodox beliefs


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Overview:

The Eastern Orthodox churches differ in beliefs from the Roman Catholic church. They have no formal doctrine about purgatory. According to Eastern Orthodox Bishop Kallistos Ware:
"...Eastern Orthodox Bishop Kallistos Ware acknowledges several schools of thought among the Eastern Orthodox on the topic of purification after death...he writes that 'Today most
if not all Orthodox theologians reject the idea of Purgatory, at least in [Roman Catholic] form.' " 1
However, Orthodox believers do pray and make offerings for the dead. For example, "Again we pray for the repose of the soul(s) of the servant(s) of God (name(s)), departed this life; and that he (she, they) may be pardoned all his (her, their) sins, both voluntary and involuntary." 2

The Council of Florence, 1438

When the unsuccessful attempt to merge the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches was made at the Council of Florence, the Roman Catholics and all but one of the Eastern Orthodox representatives agreed to a statement about the existence of purgatory:

The Council reached a near consensus that:
"But if souls have departed this life in faith and love, while nevertheless carrying away with themselves certain faults, whether small ones [what Catholics call "venial sins"] over which they have not repented at all, or greater ones for which - even though they have repented over them - they did not undertake to show fruits of repentance: such souls, we believe, must be cleansed from this kind of sins but not by means of some purgatorial fire or a definite punishment in some place." 1
The lone objector, St. Mark of Ephesus, disagreed on only twp minor points: he did not believe that torture in Purgatory was limited to fire. He believed that it could take many forms, and so preferred the use of the generic term "pains" in place of "fire." He also objected to Purgatory being referred to as being "in some place." He wrote:
"The souls of those who depart this life with true repentance and in the love of God, before they have rendered satisfaction for their trespasses and negligences by worthy fruits of repentance, are cleansed after death by cleansing pains." 1
This near consensus ended shortly after the council when most of the Eastern Orthodox represented retracted their agreement.


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"The Confession of Dositheus," 1672:

A Synod of Eastern Orthodox Churches in 1672 produced "The Confession of Dositheus" which defended traditional church beliefs which were under attack by supporters of Calvinism. Chapter 6, Decree 18 teaches that the souls of the dead are taken immediately either to Heaven or Hell. By implication, Purgatory does not exist as a location separate from Hell. However, souls of those who have committed mortal sins while alive on Earth, and who have repented, and who have done good works, will eventually be released from Hell at some time before the general resurrection of all. The Confession states:

"We believe that the souls of those that have fallen asleep are either at rest or in torment, according to what each has done; — for when they are separated from their bodies, they depart immediately either to joy, or to sorrow and lamentation; though confessedly neither their enjoyment nor condemnation are complete. For after the common resurrection, when the soul shall be united with the body, with which it had behaved itself well or ill, each shall receive the completion of either enjoyment or of condemnation."

"And the souls of those involved in mortal sins, who have not departed in despair but while still living in the body, though without bringing forth any fruits of repentance, have repented — by pouring forth tears, by kneeling while watching in prayers, by afflicting themselves, by relieving the poor, and finally by showing forth by their works their love towards God and their neighbor, and which the Catholic Church has from the beginning rightly called satisfaction — [their souls] depart into Hades, and there endure the punishment due to the sins they have committed. But they are aware of their future release from there, and are delivered by the Supreme Goodness, through the prayers of the Priests, and the good works which the relatives of each do for their Departed; especially the unbloody Sacrifice benefiting the most; which each offers particularly for his relatives that have fallen asleep, and which the Catholic and Apostolic Church offers daily for all alike. Of course, it is understood that we do not know the time of their release. We know and believe that there is deliverance for such from their direful condition, and that before the common resurrection and judgment, but when we know not." 3
Today, few Eastern Orthodox theologians believe in Purgatory. According to Wikipedia, the Eastern church accept an:
"... intermediate state after death, but refrained from defining it so as not to blur the distinction between the alternative fates of Heaven and Hell; it combined with this doctrine a firm belief in the efficacy of prayer for the dead, which was a constant feature of both East and West liturgies. Such prayer is held to be unintelligible without belief in some interim state in which the dead might benefit."

"Eastern Orthodox teaching is that, while all undergo a Particular Judgment immediately after death, neither the just nor the wicked attain the final state of bliss or punishment before the last day, with some exceptions for righteous souls like the Theotokos (Blessed Virgin Mary), 'who was borne by the angels directly to heaven'."

"Eastern Orthodox theology does not generally describe the situation of the dead as involving suffering or fire. ..." 4


References:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Cleansed After Death: The Eastern Orthodox Don't Believe In Purgatory... Do They?," at: http://www.geocities.com/
  2. "Service Books of the Orthodox Church, vol. I: the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom," St. Tikhon's Seminary Press, (1984), Page 54. Cited in Ref. 1.
  3. "The Confession of Dositheus: Decree 18," 1672, CRI/Voice, Institute, at: http://www.cresourcei.org/
  4. "Purgatory," Wikipedia, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/

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Copyright © 1998 to 2008 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update and review: 2008-DEC-06
Author: B.A. Robinson

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