On Purgatory

Synod of Constantinople 1772

We the godly, following the truth and turning away from such innovations, confess and accept two places for the souls of the dead, Paradise and Hades, for the righteous and sinners, as the Holy Scripture teaches us. We do not accept a third place, a Purgatory, by any means, since neither Scripture nor the Holy Fathers have taught us any such thing. However, we believe these two places have many abodes…
None of the teachers of the Church have handed down or taught such a Purgatory, but they all speak of one single place of punishment, Hades, just as they teach about one luminous and bright place, Paradise. But both the souls of the holy and the righteous go indisputably to Paradise and those of the sinners go to Hades, of whom the profane and those who have sinned unforgivably are punished forever and those who have offended forgivably and moderately hope to gain freedom through the unspeakable mercy of God. For on behalf of such souls, that is of the moderately and forgivably sinful, there are in the Church prayers, supplications, liturgies, as well as memorial services and almsgiving, that those souls may receive favour and comfort. Thus when the Church prays for the souls of those who are lying asleep, we hope there will be comfort for them from God, but not through fire and Purgatory, but through divine love for mankind, whereby the infinite goodness of God is seen.

Source: http://mb-soft.com/believe/txw/orthcoun.htm


  1. Why aren’t so many Orthodox teachers in the United States talking clearly about these two crucial topics: pardonable and grave sins, and the teaching of Orthodoxy on the afterlife?

    So often it seems to me that some who convert have done so because they can talk about how “mystical” it all is, but by mystical they mean ambiguous, as though eternal joy and eternal torment were not at stake.

  2. Hello Isaac,

    I completely agree with your comments. I will quote Fr. Seraphim Rose because he says it better than I could:

    “The Orthodox teaching on life after death is rather severe and demands a very sober response on our part, full of the fear of God. But mankind today is very pampered and self-centered and would rather not hear of such stem realities as judgment and accountability for sins. One can be much more “comfortable” with an exalted teaching of “hesychasm” that tells us that God is not “really” as stern as the Orthodox ascetic tradition has described Him, that we “really” need have no fear of death and the judgment it brings, that if only we occupy ourselves with exalted spiritual ideas like those in the Philokalia…we will be “safe” under a “loving God” who will not demand an accounting of all our sins, even those forgotten or unrecognized…. The end of these exalted reflections is a state not far different from that of those “charismatics” and others who feel themselves already assured of salvation, or of those who follow the occult teaching that states there is nothing to fear in death.

    The true Orthodox teaching on life after death, on the other hand, fills one precisely with the fear of God and the inspiration to struggle for the Kingdom of Heaven against all the unseen enemies who oppose our path. All Orthodox Christians are called to this struggle, and it is a cruel injustice to them to dilute the Orthodox teaching to make them more “comfortable.” Let each one read the Orthodox texts most suited to the spiritual level at which he presently finds himself—, but let no one tell him that he can dismiss as “fables” the texts he may find “uncomfortable.” Fashions and opinions among men may change, but the Orthodox tradition remains ever the same, no matter how few may follow it. May we ever be its faithful children!”

    That’s why on this site we like to go to the Fathers and post their own words; people can read for themselves the Orthodox teaching of life after death and not settle for the ambiguities in popular circles. Thanks for your comments!

  3. Truth!

    I have written about this contemporary righteous monk here: http://thecrabtree.net/blog/blogentry/21-theological-thursdays-the-legacy-and-problem-of-fr-seraphim

    I would much appreciate your thoughts on it.

  4. Be glad to read it and comment, brother.

  5. Isaac,
    I have brought up these two subjects with others and it seems to go nowhere fast. Many like to mention how the mention of grave sin is too comparable to the Roman system of mortal and venial sin, and that the mention of any post-mortem sanctification is too comparable to the Roman purgatory. Enough with the Romaphobia! I thought I had escaped from that when I left the Anglican church, but apparently not. Next thing you know, we will be compromising on our belief of the Theotokos.

  6. Yes, in many ways American Orthodox are like American Catholics. Quite often victims of no spiritual education, no formation of conscience, no discipline asked for reception of the Eucharist, fasting optional, etc. This is very sad, and this is why it is so important to maintain “normal Orthodoxy” and to find islands of spiritual health within CANONICAL Orthodoxy. This seems to be like what was foretold by many of the saints of the Turkokratia, about the coming of spiritual laxity and unbelief.

    We Orthodox like to ignore this distinction of sins but to do so we have to ignore the teachings of St. Nikodemos’ Exomoletarion, for one, among many others. In fact, for St. Nikodemos, there are about SEVEN classifications on the spectrum of sins, ranging from pardonable to mortal. This chapter is available online: http://orthodoxinfo.com/praxis/exo_sintypes.aspx

    I think what we really reject is some of their classifications, rather than the actual concept of a ranging of the seriousness of sins.

    It is also worth mentioning that many Orthodox try to distance themselves from Protestants by attacking literal interpretations of Genesis, blissfully unaware that the fathers also interpret the sacred text in this way. They are not alone in this– even men of great piety in the Russian Church have recently espoused a compatibilist interpretation, but this is a very slippery slope.

    Thank you both for refusing to compromise on both of these issues, being instead assiduous to listen to the fathers both ancient and contemporary, thereby making this site a fount of wisdom.

  7. Well said and thanks for the link!

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