Orthodox teaching on Purgatory, or, lack thereof...

I am currently studying the Orthodox faith. I find that its spirituality and teachings give me clarity, and are rich in meaning.

I hope some of you can help to clarify some difficulties I am having in understanding the teachings. I will try to post them one at a time.

  1. It appears that the Orthodox reject the concept of Purgatory, particularly the atonement portion of the moments of the afterlife. Instead, we are instantly judged, and go to our repose, aware of our final destiny, awaiting the Last Day. It is then that we will receive either our crown of glory and presence of God, or, be cast away.

Since most of us are not perfect when we die, but, some of us do possess Sanctifying Grace, what method is supposed to purify us? Or, must the wedding garment be spotless, else we’re toast?

I’m not Orthodox, but I’m aware of their internal “aerial toll-houses” controversy, the idea that our souls after death go through a purgative waiting period, while being carried upwards by angels. It’s based upon St. Cyril of Alexandria’s “Homily on the Departure of the Soul,” and even amongst believers in the doctrine, there are lots of disputes as to how it should be understood.

Here’s an article in favor of it (orthodoxinfo.com/death/tollhouse_pomaz.aspx) and one opposed (orthodoxytoday.org/articles-2009/Mettalinos-Paradise-And-Hell-According-To-Orthodox-Tradition.php), both from Orthodox writers. The important thing to note is that Orthodoxy doesn’t have a position one way or the other, officially, and faithful on both sides disagree, sometimes quite vehemently.

Orthodox would say that it is the presence of God which accomplishes the purgation and is like a fire, which is experienced by the ungodly as torment, and by the godly as love. There is no teaching of our need to suffer for the sins that were unconfessed at death, or that purgatory is a place where we spend a specific amount of time since after death time has no meaning for us, as is sometimes understood by Catholics. Indulgences that release one from a specific amount of time from purgatory thus makes no sense to us.

This is not a sufficient description of Orthodox teaching. Orthodox certainly believe that the eternal destiny of a soul is not final at that instant judgement, but that prayers for the dead can change their eternal destiny.

Nor to Catholics.

Oh, please. The teaching has changed in the last century, but ask the older Roman Catholics and they can remember the charts in their Confraternity Bibles about how many minutes of scripture readings would get you so many years out of purgatory. Everything was calculated and graphed, and certain deeds rendered certain amounts of “time” in purgatory indulged. Of course why go through all of that calculating when there are days of full pardon, like Divine Mercy Sunday, which seems to supersede Pascha in importance. I can’t go to church even on Easter and get a plenary indulgence. What a great deal!

"*A. To the faithful who read the books of Sacred Scripture for at least a quarter of an hour, with the great reverence due to the divine word and after the manner of spiritual reading:

an indulgence of three years is granted.

B. To the faithful who piously read at least some verses of the Gospel and in addition, while kissing the Gospel Book, devoutly recite one of the following invocations: “May our sins be blotted out by virtue of the words of the Gospel,” “May the reading of the Gosepl be our savlation and protection,” “May Christ teach us the words of the Holy Gospel”:

an indulgence of 500 days is granted;
a plenary indulgence is granted, under the usual conditions, to those who daily for a whole month act in the same way indicated above;
a plenary indulgence is granted at the hour of death to those who have often during life performed this pious exercise, as long as, having confessed and received Communion, or at least having sorrow for their sins, they invoke the most holy name of Jesus on their lips, if possible, or at least in their hearts, and accept death from the hand of God as the price of sin.*"

And here’s the modified teaching, more palpable to modern sensibilities:

In the past partial indulgences were “counted” in days (e.g. 300 days) or years (e.g. 5 years). Catholics often mistakenly thought that this meant “time off of purgatory.” Since there is no time in purgatory, as we understand it, it meant instead the remission of temporal punishment analogous to a certain amount of penitence as practiced in the early Church. This was a very generous standard, since the penitence required for sacramental absolution in the early centuries was arduous, indeed. However, with Pope Paul VI’s 1968 revision of the Enchiridion Indulgentiarum (Collection or Handbook of Indulgences), this confusing way of counting partial indulgences was suppressed, and the evaluation of a partial indulgence left to God.

Source: beingbob.wordpress.com/2008/04/10/indulgence-for-reading-the-bible/

This is foreign to Holy Orthodoxy, not Roman Catholicism.

I have a question about indulgences as it relates to Purgatory. The following is taken from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

"1471 The doctrine and practice of indulgences in the Church are closely linked to the effects of the sacrament of Penance.

What is an indulgence?

“An indulgence is a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven, which the faithful Christian who is duly disposed gains under certain prescribed conditions through the action of the Church which, as the minister of redemption, dispenses and applies with authority the treasury of the satisfactions of Christ and the saints.”

“An indulgence is partial or plenary according as it removes either part or all of the temporal punishment due to sin.” The faithful can gain indulgences for themselves or apply them to the dead."

Why and how do the dead suffer temporal punishment due to sin?

I think its the view that Purgatory is sort of a cleansing punishment. Kind of like when your dad tells you to stand in the corner so that you’ll behave better. When you sin, even if you gain forgiveness, your mind may still not be atuned to God. You may still be a slave to your sin, so Purgatory is meant to shake this grapple hold of sin and make sure that any lasting effects on your soul is removed.

Thats just my take on it.

My impression of purgatory is a purification from imperfections that cause us to sin.

None of this is “time remitted from purgatory”. The text you quoted even says that it is the equivilant of ancient penances, which were issued in measures of time. People misunderstood the teaching, that is all.

Indulgences, then, are essentially an act of oikonomia, remitting penances required by the Canons in return for other penances, and the Eastern Orthodox most certainly do this all the time.

Peace and God bless!

Actually the Orthodox and Eastern Catholics Do believe in an Intermediary Stage, but they do not define it because no one can go there and come back. Just as in the Bosom of Abraham Lazarus could not leave and go to the Rich Man’s brothers and family to tell them to repent. It is obvious that we believe in an intermediary stage because we all pray for the dead, but due to the lack of knowledge the East normally does not define which they cannot grasp. So we in the East are iffy, yes there is this stage, but are we waiting? are we being purified? what are we doing? that is why the East does not make up a place such as “Purgatory.” Also this goes along in the East we Have 2 Consistent Judgments. One occurs at our koimisis which is the Greek word for Dormition and the other at the Eschaton, Greek for the Second Coming of Christ. We celebrate most of the Saints on the Day of their Dormition because we do not see death as this punishment but it turns into something of mercy. This is just as St. Gregory the Theologian (in the West often times called Gregory Nazianzen), he says “Yet here too He provides a benefit namely-death, which cuts off sin, so that evil may not be everlasting. Thus His punishment is changed into mercy.” Then if you wish to have a quote about our Death which is our Dormition then we must go to St. Aphraat the Persian who states “peaceful for the righteous and troubled for the disturbed” and he is speaking into relation of each of our Dormitions. Sorry if it is hard to follow many Eastern teachings are filled with detail so it is hard to completely explain it.

Thanks, Ghosty.

On an official level the Orthodox Church doesn’t have any dogmatic teachings on what happens after death. The teaching of Tollhouses is a common one but I am aware of some who believe in Purgitory.

Personally I don’t have a clue. I lean toward purgitory or apocotostasis but believe it rather unimportant since what I believe happens after death has little to do with my salvation, and doesn’t affect what actually happens after death.

If one is “Saved,” then why does One need to go into “Soul Sleep” and Wait until the Last Judgement?:confused:

The Orthodox do have a tradition of saying 40 Liturgies for the souls of the departed, and there are stories among the Orthodox of the faithful departed revealing that they would not be able to enter Paradise until those 40 Liturgies were completed. Sorry for the Orthodox who want to quibble about it, but that’s exactly and precisely what a Catholic calls “Purgatory” and “indulgence”.


I’ve heard about this, too. Thanks for the reminder, Cecilianus. :thumbsup:

Also, the traditional reason given for the institution of the Philipovka is that when St. Philip was being tortured before his martyrdom, he presumptiously called down the wrath of God upon his tormentors, for which he was rebuked by an angel in a vision and told that he would not enter Paradise for forty days. He therefore wrote a letter to all his brother bishops asking for them to fast for him. Consequently, for forty days from the feast of St. Philip to the Nativity all Christians fast for St. Philip’s soul (well through the pontificate of St. Leo the Great - now only Eastern Christians still do the fast).

Again, an Orthodox source for this story:


I don’t know. I don’t recall endorsing those beliefs.

If undulgences are simply a release from penance in return for other pious acts, how can they be applied for those in purgatory? Are those in purgatory there because they had unfulfilled penance imposed on them by a priest? How can the church grant indulgences purgatory by hundreds, even thousands of years, unless the penance were that length, and if so, how is that possible?

You’d have to ask a Baptist :wink:

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