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Sunday, April 03, 2005

The four last things


Rest eternal grant unto them, O Lord; and let light perpetual shine upon them. May they rest in peace. Amen.

Lord, remember your servant Karol Wojtyla. May his soul, and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in + peace. Amen.

I have come across many prayers online for the deceased pope, and I have found it interesting to see the different things that people have been praying for. This clearly reflects the different beliefs that people hold about death and what happens.

Death, judgement, heaven and hell: I have never been sure what actually happens here.

The protestant idea of death being an instant ticket to either heaven or hell has never sat well with me. It seems too mechanical and so out of accordance with the rest of the Faith, and it also cannot be explained in the light of the scriptural references to hope in the resurrection of the dead, especially the examples of people praying for those who had died.

The answer to this seemed logical - purgatory, but then this also seems to me to be rather mechanical, and again doesn't sit well. Now I'm not saying that I must be comfortable with every aspect of the Faith in order for it to be Truth, for that itself would be a nonsense, but the idea of Purgatory, with its time measured in years strikes me as odd, as I have always understood that time is a constraint of this plane of existence, and does not apply to those who have departed this life. Purgatory, I believe, is also an addition that was added by the west after the schism, and so does not have the consensus of the whole Church anyway. All of the above considered, the Church Militant, the Church Suffering and the Church Triumphant is not something that I can embrace.

However, I have, a few times now, heard Anglicans refer to The Church Militant, the Church Expectant, and the Church Triumphant. I rather like this. It seems to acknowledge that the dead require our prayers, for they too were sinners, much like us, and require God's grace and forgiveness, but it does not place too fine a definition on what actually happens. This, I can embrace, but I am aware that this has come only from my reasoning and I am keen to find out what orthodoxy says about all of this.

I know that the Orthodox do pray for those who have died and that they reject the idea of Purgatory, but I am not sure what they actually do believe.

Any comments would be welcome.

8 comments:

Richard said...

+Kallistos' "The Orthodox Church" (my edition was published when he was still Timothy, but I doubt it's been revised that much) has a section on post-death life.

I seem to recall that the Orthodox pray for the dead, whilst asking them to pray for us. Seems quite sensible to me, if one takes the communion of saints seriously.

Richard

Richard said...

To say a bit more, I think that one can hold to an understanding of Purgatory which is a cleansing, preparatory state, which doesn't necessarily entail accepting the Tridentine understanding of Purgatory.

Richard

(and I have a new blog)

The young fogey said...

The Eastern Orthodox do pray for the dead, which only makes sense if one believes in an intermediate state, which they do. That's really purgatory even if they don't realize it. (The rejection of the term and description as 'too literal', etc., is hollow.)

Russian folklore talks about the aerial toll-houses, which isn't that state but rather a description of the particular judgement that takes place shortly after death.

Then one goes to heaven, hell or the intermediate state depending on that judgement.

The Orthodox describe that state as an upper hell, sheol or hades, not to be confused with the eternal hell, gehenna, made for the fallen angels, not for man, and where people might end up if they so choose. We don't know if there's anybody in hell besides the demons but do know they are in the intermediate state and in heaven.

Some Orthodox say there are two waiting-rooms, one for heaven and one for hell, where everybody waits until the last judgement, and that the people in both are helped by our prayers. That roughly translates to the same thing I said but makes less sense - once you're dead and it's decided you're hellbound, that's it, full stop. To deny that is heresy - it says there's no free will.

It may be that if God finds any good in a soul He will save it, but not immediately - thus the intermediate state.

Purgatorial fire isn't Roman Catholic doctrine.

The notion of 'time' in purgatory is either metaphorical or a confusion with indulgences, which are really only substitutes for the severe canonical penances of the early church (like in the Orthodox' The Rudder). '300 days' means the equivalent of 300 days of hard penance, not 300 days' time off purgatory!

The young fogey said...

P.S. Compare two well-known Orthodox icons of Christ: Christ the Teacher and the Pantocrator. As the Teacher the book is open while we are alive and there is still a chance to turn to Him. As the stern Pantocrator after we die, the book is closed; his judgement is final.

Michael said...

Thanks for all of the replies. They have given me much food for thought.

I especially like the idea that Richard gave and on which Serge elaborated, which is that of the possibility of a non-temporal, non-fiery intermidiate state. I suppose I did believe that, but wouldn't have thought to call it Purgatory. I still don't think I would call it that, but it's good to know that I'm not alone.

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