Purgatory is, in the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, the state of those who die in God's friendship, assured of their eternal salvation, but who still have need of purification to enter into the happiness and joy of heaven and the eternal and blessed presence of God. Those in this state of purification can be assisted by prayers for the dead and the liturgies of the Church. The word "purgatory" has come to refer to a wide range of historical and modern notions of post-mortem suffering short of everlasting damnation.
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, "All who die in God's grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven." The Catholic Church gives the name "purgatory" to this state or condition of final purification.
The understanding of the exact nature of this state has changed over time. The notion of purgatory as a literal physical place arose in Western Europe towards the end of the twelfth century. At the Second Council of Lyon in 1247 AD, the Eastern Orthodox opposed the notion that purgatory was a "third place" in the afterlife distinct from heaven and hell containing literal fire. This was one of the differences that prevented reunification of the Eastern Orthodox Churches with the Church of Rome. This notion or purgatory as a literal fire is absent in the declarations of the Councils of Lyon, Florence, and Trent.
Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI have taught that purgatory does not signify a literal place but a state or condition of existence. In Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical Spe Salvi, he wrote that, "the fire which both burns and saves is Christ himself, the Judge and Savior. The encounter with him is the decisive act of judgment. Before his gaze all falsehood melts away. This encounter with him, as it burns us, transforms and frees us, allowing us to become truly ourselves.
The sins committed in this life, even after being fully forgiven, continue to have lasting effects such as passions, addictions, and attachments to worldly things which inhibit our spiritual growth and progress toward union with God and Theosis. In this life, repentance and growth in repentance heal these wounds. But most Christians will not achieve to the state of perfect repentance and full holiness before they die. According to Pope Benedict, the encounter with the Risen Savior in the moment of death is able to cleanse us of all these remaining effects and thereby free us to be truly happy with God in heaven forever. This cleansing and healing encounter is what he calls "purgatory."
At the Council of Florence in 1439 AD, Saint Mark of Ephesus objected to the Roman Catholic doctrine of purgatory, particularly the notion of it being a "third place" distinct from heaven and hell containing literal fire.
- "But if souls have departed this life in faith and love, while nevertheless carrying away with themselves certain faults, whether small ones over which they have not repented at all, or great ones for which – even thought 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 sin, but not by means of some purgatorial fire or a definite punishment in some place (for this, as we have said, has not been handed down to us). But some must be cleansed in they very departure from the body, thanks only to fear, as St. Gregory the Dialogist literally shows; while others must be cleansed after the departure from the body, either while remaining in the same earthly place, before they come to worship God and are honored with the lot of the blessed, or – if their sins were more serious and bind them, for a longer duration – they are kept in hell [i.e., Hades], but not in order to remain forever in fire and torment, but as it were in prison and confinement under guard." 
From his defense of the Orthodox doctrine of the soul after death, we can learn that some who die are in need of a final cleansing of soul to make them ready for the joy of heaven. Father Seraphim Rose sums up Saint Mark's teaching in this way:
- In the Orthodox doctrine, on the other hand, which St. Mark teaches, the faithful who have died with small sins unconfessed, or who have not brought forth fruits of repentance for sins they have confessed, are cleansed of these sins either in the trial of death itself with its fear, or after death, when they are confined (but not permanently) in hell, by the prayers and Liturgies of the Church and good deeds performed for them by the faithful.
Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Kallistos Ware acknowledges several schools of thought among the Orthodox on the topic of purification after death. This divergence indicates that certain Catholic interpretations of purgatory, specifically the satisfaction model, more than the concept itself, are what is universally rejected. Also, there are Orthodox sources that indicate some sins can be forgiven after death but which also reject the teaching of purgatory because of the doctrine of indulgences and idea of literal purgatorial fire that are tied to it. Still other Orthodox hold to the notion of the Toll Houses and that those who pass through them after death have no assurance of final salvation.
Absent the satisfaction model and the overly literal understanding of purgatory, the doctrine of a final post-mortem preparation for heaven is an ancient ecumenical tradition which, due to the mysterious nature of the subject matter, Christians throughout history have interpreted and explained in a very wide variety of ways, some of which were strongly rejected by Eastern Orthodox Christians others of which are completely acceptable.
Cleansing from Minor Sins
As we have seen above, Saint Mark of Ephesus taught that those who have departed this life with minor sins unconfessed or small faults, or who have not brought forth fruits of repentance for sins are not abandoned by God but are saved by God in a final cleansing. The emphasis on repentance and bringing forth fruits of repentance is a very common teaching of the Church and the saints. The significance of this doctrine is for those who have not achieved perfect repentance in this life or complete purification of the soul from the passions before they die.
In the Bridegroom Matins of Holy Tuesday we recall the parable of the talents as we sing, "Come, O faithful, let us work zealously for the Master, for he distributes wealth to his servants. Let each of us according to his ability increase his talent of grace... Thus, we shall increase what has been entrusted to us, and as faithful stewards of grace we shall be accounted worthy of the Master's joy." Each Christian is given the grace of forgiveness and the gift of the Holy Spirit but it is our responsibility to cooperate with that grace and increase it so to speak by growing in godliness and holiness through a life of repentance and sanctification. But there is a real possibility that those who have been forgiven by God do not go on to increase the gift of grace by brining forth fruits of repentance. "How shall I, the unworthy one, appear in the splendor of thy saints? For is I dare to enter thy bridal chamber with them, my garments will betray me for they are unfit for a wedding. The angels will cast me out in chains. But cleanse the filth of my soul, O Lord, and save me in they love for mankind." But the failure to more fully repent does deprive us of all hope as we pray to God to save us, to cleanse us from the sickness and pollution of our souls by sin. "O Christ the Bridegroom, my soul has slumbered in laziness. I have no lamp aflame with virtues. Like the foolish virgins I wander aimlessly when it is time for work. But do not close thy compassionate heart to me O Master. Rouse me, shake off my heavy sleep. Lead me with the wise virgins into the bridal chamber, that I may hear the pure voice of those that feast and cry unceasingly, 'O Lord, glory to thee.' "
We must increase the grace of God by purifying our souls of sins and passions and growing in holiness, but even if we are not fully cleansed of sins before we die, God is still faithful to save us. If we love God and trust in the Lord for salvation, even if we aimlessly waste our life and fail to bring forth the fruits of repentance, he can still save us in the end by cleansing our souls of unconfessed lesser sins and the remaining passions. Saint John of Damascus sums up the patristic consensus on the doctrine like this:
- One who has departed unrepentant and with an evil life cannot be helped by anyone in any way. But the one who has departed even with the slightest virtue, but who had no time to increase this virtue because of indolence, indifference, procrastination, or timidity, the Lord Who is a righteous judge and master will not forget such a one. —(Saint John of Damascus)
Saint John taught that, while there is no forgiveness of sins after death for the unrepentant, yet for the faithful departed God will make up for what is lacking so that they can be maximally happy with him in heaven forever. It has been the conviction of Christians and Jews throughout history that their prayers for the faithful departed actually benefit them and help them to rest in peace and to finally receive their eternal happiness in the presence of God.
Cleansing or Purification
Saint Mark teaches that the faithful departed who have died with minor sins or small faults or who have not had time to bring forth fruits of repentance, "are cleansed of these sins either in the trial of death itself with its fear, or after death."
According to Orthodox theology, the way of spiritual progress moves beyond Baptism through three stages, Purification, Illumination, and finally Theosis. In the Beatitudes, Christ Jesus teaches us that only the pure in heart can see God (Mt 5:7, Rev 21:27). Contemporary Orthodox theologian Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos writes:
- Knowledge of God, as will be explained further on, is not intellectual, but existential. That is, one's whole being is filled with this knowledge of God. But in order to attain it, one's heart must have been purified, that is, the soul, nous and heart must have been healed. "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God." 
Kyriacos C. Markides also confirms that purification is necessary in order to "see" God:
- The soul's journey toward God, I explained to Emily that day, must go through three identifiable and distinct stages. At first there is the state of catharsis, or the purification of the soul from egotistical passions It is then followed by the state of fotisis, or the enlightenment of the soul, a gift of the Holy Spirit once the soul has undergone its purification. Finally comes the stage of Theosis, union with God, as the final destination and ultimate home of the human soul. The last two stages are impossible to attain without having the soul first pass through the fires of catharsis from egotistical passions. 
He goes on to explain that, according to the Athonite tradition, catharsis or purification is essential in assisting the soul to overcome the obstacles that keep us from the vision of God, namely, “the sum total of our worldly passions and desires. These passions are products of the enchantment and enslavement of our hearts and minds to the gross and transient material universe with its myriads of temptations and seductions.” In life these effects of sin are purified through acts of mortification. (See Romans 8:13-14, I Corinthians 9:25-27, Galatians 5:18-25, Colossians 3:5 “Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth: fornication, uncleanness, lust, evil concupiscence and covetousness, which is the service of idols.”)
Those who are being saved by Repentance and Baptism and participation in the sacramental life of the Church but whose sins, nonetheless, continue to create lasting effects such as passions, addictions, attachments to worldly things which inhibit their spiritual growth and progress toward Theosis, are given the grace of having these lasting effects expiated so that they can receive the Vision of God. In other words, those who die in a state of faith and repentance but before having fully completed these stages of spiritual progress, their eternal salvation is not in doubt. As Saint John of Damascus wrote, the "Lord Who is a righteous judge and master will not forget such a one." This does not however abrogate the need to pass through these stages. The grace of God that prepares a soul for the joy of heaven could be thought of as the completion of this very process.
The doctrine of Purgatory, far from being only concerned with a foreign legal metaphor, rather explains how a soul that has died prior to completing his or her purification, can finally attain union with God, through the grace of a final post-mortem expiation of the lasting effects of sin.
"Third Place" or Confinement Temporarily in Hades
As we have seen above, Saint Mark objected to the idea that purgatory was a literal physical place, a "third place" beside heaven and hell, containing literal fire. He wrote that those who died with minor sins or who were unable to bring forth fruit of repentance in this life, "must be cleansed from this kind of sin, but not by means of some purgatorial fire or a definite punishment in some place (for this, as we have said, has not been handed down to us). But some must be cleansed in they very departure from the body, thanks only to fear, as St. Gregory the Dialogist literally shows; while others must be cleansed after the departure from the body, either while remaining in the same earthly place, before they come to worship God and are honored with the lot of the blessed, or – if their sins were more serious and bind them, for a longer duration – they are kept in hell [i.e., Hades], but not in order to remain forever in fire and torment, but as it were in prison and confinement under guard." 
It wasn't the notion of a post-mortem cleansing that Saint Mark objected to, but rather the notion that this cleansing took place in a "third place." He clearly teaches that some of these souls being cleansed are detained temporarily in hades.
Seeing as Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI have clarified that purgatory does not signify a literal place but rather a condition of preparatory cleansing for heaven, the Catholic teaching does not seem now to be as objectionable to the Orthodox point of view.
Literal Fire or Encounter with the Risen Christ
One of the primary Orthodox objections to the classical Roman Catholic doctrine of purgatory is the supposed literal nature of the purgatorial fires. During the middle ages, the Western tradition began to lean more toward a literal interpretation of the fires and even tortur of the souls in Purgatory. A book entitled “St. Patrick's Purgatory” is a particularly egregious example of this tendency. However, over literalizing the afterlife to focus on fear and dread didn't only occur in the Roman Church. Medieval Orthodox piety also expressed an overly literal view of the Aerial Toll-Houses which also inspired a kind of dread and despair.
According to Jacques Le Goff, the conception of purgatory as a literal physical place arose in Western Europe towards the end of the twelfth century. According to him, this conception involved the idea of a purgatorial fire which may or may not have been literal. Concerning this fire, Jacques Le Goff wrote that it was thought to be "expiatory and purifying not punitive like hell fire".
At the Second Council of Lyon in 1247 AD, strong Eastern Orthodox opposition to the notion of a "third place" in the afterlife containing literal fire was one of the significant differences that prevented reunification of the Eastern Orthodox Churches with the Church of Rome.
Nonetheless, the council's teaching on purgatory made no mention of these notions -- that purgatory was a literal place containing literal fire. This notion was also absent in the declarations by the Councils of Florence and Trent at which especially the Roman Catholic Church formulated its doctrine on purgatory.
However, Roman Catholic teaching does not require a belief in literal fire. Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI have taught that purgatory does not signify a literal place containing literal fire but a state or condition of existence. In Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical Spe Salvi, he writes:
- Some recent theologians are of the opinion that the fire which both burns and saves is Christ himself, the Judge and Savior. The encounter with him is the decisive act of judgment. Before his gaze all falsehood melts away. This encounter with him, as it burns us, transforms and frees us, allowing us to become truly ourselves (Spe Salvi 47, ).
Catholic Apologist Jimmy Akin writes that the interpetation of purgatory’s fire has been complex. Historically, medieval theologians tried to understand how a physical fire could affect an immaterial soul. However, contemporary theologians including Fr. Joseph Ratzinger have proposed that the purgatorial fire might better be understood as a “symbol of a transforming encounter with Christ.”
- In writing his encyclical, Benedict XVI apparently wanted to give the new proposal official recognition without requiring theologians and the faithful to reject other understandings of purgatorial fire. By proposing it as a theological opinion—rather than a Church teaching—he made it clear that this is a permitted and even a favored view but not the only one possible. 
Father Seraphim Rose explained that the Latin Church Fathers taught about an allegorical fire which cleanses small unconfessed sins.  Some Church Fathers, such as St. Cyprian and St. Augustine of Hippo, seemed to believe in a purification after death. However, the character of this purification is never clarified, and especially (as St. Mark of Ephesus underlined at the Council of Florence) it seems there is no true distinction between heaven, hell, and the so-called purgatory. All souls partake differently in the same mystical fire. This mystical fire is, according to Saint Isaac of Syria, God's Love. But because of their spiritual change they are bound to different reactions: bliss for those who are in communion with him; purification for those in the process of being deified; and remorse for those who hated God during their earthly lives.
Because of this confusion and inability of the human language to understand these realities, the Church refrains from theological speculation. Instead, she affirms the unbroken Tradition of prayers for the dead, the certainty of eternal life, the rejection of reincarnation, and the communion of the Saints (those living and those who have fallen asleep in the Lord) in the same Body of Christ which is the Church. Private speculation is thus still possible as it was in the time of the Church Fathers.
A Condition of Waiting
Some Eastern Orthodox sources, including the Ecumenical Patriarchate, consider Purgatory to be among "inter-correlated theories, unwitnessed in the Bible or in the Ancient Church" that are not acceptable within Orthodox doctrine, and hold to a "condition of waiting" as a more apt description of the period after death for those not borne directly to heaven. This waiting condition does not imply a purification of the soul. The post-mortem purification is contradictory to their notion that "there is no hope of repentance or betterment after death." Prayers for the dead, then, are simply to comfort those in the waiting place.
The Orthodox prayers for the dead actually do ask God to grant the faithful departed the rest of eternal life and the happiness of the saints who enjoy the presence of God. [[Nicholas (Velimirović) of Žiča|Saint Nikolaj of Ohrid and Žiča in the Prologue from Ohrid retells the lives of many saints and martyrs. He describes the death of the saints variously, "The saint of God gave up his soul to his Savior," "took up his habitation among the citizens of heaven," "took up his habitation in the Kingdom of the Merciful God," "took up his habitation in eternal life," "died peacefully and took up his habitation with the Lord," "entered into eternity in ripe old age," "entered peacefully into eternity," "a heretic struck him with an axe and killed him. Thus, Andrew rendered his holy soul to God." The implication is that the saints of God are currently in the joy of heaven in the eternal presence of God. In the Panihida service we have this prayer "Give rest with the righteous, O our Savior, to thy servant(s) (N., N.). Establish them (him/her) in thy courts, as it is written. Disregard their (his/her) transgressions, both voluntary and involuntary, committed in knowledge or in ignorance, for thou art good and lovest mankind." And in the Troparion and Kontakion for the Departed the Church sings, "Among the spirits of the righteous made perfect, give rest, O Savior, to the soul(s) of thy servant(s), keeping them (him/her) in that blessed life which is with thee, the lover of mankind." "With the Saints, O Christ, give rest to the soul(s) of thy servant(s), where there is neither suffering nor sorrow, and no more sighing, but life everlasting." The "rest" which we humbly pray to God to grant to the faithful departed is not merely comfort to the souls of the departed in their condition of waiting but rather is identified as "life everlasting" and "that blessed life which is with thee." The meaning of the Church's prayers do seem to be requesting that they would be forgiven their sins and be "established" in heaven so as to join the saints who are currently in the glorious presence of God.
Where as it is true that there is no repentance after death, being forgiven one's remaining sins and being granted life everlasting with the God and his saints does seem to be a kind of "betterment after death." Indeed, Saint John Chrysostom wrote that "to mention the names of the departed in the awesome mystery of the Eucharist results in much benefit for the souls of the beloved."
The Catholic Encyclopedia indicates that, according to the doctrine of purgatory, the souls of the faithful departed who are detained temporarily in purgatory are "shut out for the time being from the sight of God." This is because, only the pure in heart can see God (Mt 5:7, Rev 21:27). Man's ultimate happiness is to know and love God and to be fully united to him forever. Because the soul is given to know this the soul suffers the loss of divine intimacy knowing he is separated even temporarily from the full vision and union with God. However, because in death the soul becomes incapable of sin (Rom 6:7), the souls in purgatory know they cannot loose eternal life through further sinning. Furthermore, being aware that their time in purgatory is only temporary the souls are happy that they are being made ready to enter into the fullness of divine life. The ancient Liturgies and the inscriptions of the catacombs speak of a "sleep of peace", which would be impossible if there was any doubt of ultimate salvation.
The teaching of Aerial Toll-Houses regards the soul's journey after its departure from the body. This doctrine, which is well attested to in Patristic writings and in the hymns of the Liturgy, teaches that every person, after they die, travels through succession of "toll gates" where they meet with demons who test them to determine whether they have been guilty of various sins during life and who tempt them to further sin. If they have not repented and been absolved of those sins, or if they give in to sin after death, they will be taken to Hell. According to some versions of the teaching, the souls going through the toll-houses are not assure that Christ will save them.
Many of the Orthodox who accept the doctrine of the toll-houses do not take the teaching literally. St. Theophan the Recluse taught that what the demons are seeking is "passions," and suggested that, although the toll-houses are often depicted as frightening, the demons might equally well try to entice the soul by appealing to one of its weaknesses. Other writers go so far as to say that the demons and angels are metaphors for the sins and virtues of the soul.
Fr. Thomas Hopko maintains that one should not try to associate a particular time after death to the process, nor should one take the toll-houses as being literally "in the air," or necessarily twenty in number. Likewise, he makes no mention in his argument for them of the doctrine of bargaining for sins (which is similar in some ways to the Latin doctrine of merits). Instead, his description, drawing on St. John Chrysostom and the Fifty Homilies of St. Macarius of Egypt, among others, takes the toll-house encounters to describe the attempt of the demons to assault the soul with its own vulnerability to sin, or to entice it away from God, and describes passing through the toll-houses as the purification of the soul..
Pope Shenouda III
The Orthodox Church has neither explicitly recognized the term "purgatory" nor officially accepted such a state, which is distinct from the more general being "asleep in the Lord." In his book entitled Why Do We Reject Purgatory?, Coptic Pope Shenouda III presents many theological and biblical arguments against Purgatory. For example, he refers to 1 Thess 4:16,17, "And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord", in which Paul describes the Last Day saying that those faithful who are still alive will meet the Lord with those who rise from the dead and then remain with Him always, and wonders, "Are these faithful (alive on the Last Day) exempt from Purgatory? Or is God showing partiality towards them?"
However, a response to this objection from the Catholics is perhaps found in the Summa Theologica of Thomas Aquinas, in the discussion of the Final Conflagration. The Final Conflagration is the fiery apocalyptic transformation, accepted by the Fathers, of the Old Heaven and Old Earth into the New Heaven and New Earth on the Last Day, immediately preceding the General Resurrection and General Judgment. It is said that for those still living at the time of the Conflagration, it will transform their bodies; thus technically, in Catholic thought, those found living may also die for a brief moment (ie, the "twinkling of an eye" mentioned in 1 Corinthians).
According to the Summa, the Final Conflagration will act as "purgatory" for those found living who still need cleansing/healing: "There are three reasons why those who will be found living will be able to be cleansed suddenly. One is because there will be few things in them to be cleansed, since they will be already cleansed by the previous fears and persecutions. The second is because they will suffer pain both while living and of their own will: and pain suffered in this life voluntarily cleanses much more than pain inflicted after death, as in the case of the martyrs, because "if anything needing to be cleansed be found in them, it is cut off by the sickle of suffering," as Augustine says (De Unic. Bap. xiii), although the pain of martyrdom is of short duration in comparison with the pain endured in purgatory. The third is because the heat will gain in intensity what it loses in shortness of time."
Sources and further reading
- Purgatory (Wikipedia)
- CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: Purgatory
- Purgatory: Eastern Orthodox beliefs — religioustolerance.org
- Death, The Threshold to Eternal Life — Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America
- Coptic Orthodox lecture about Purgatory, adapted from ‘Why Do We Reject Purgatory?’ by H.H. Pope Shenouda III
- The Orthodox Response to the Latin Doctrine of Purgatory
- Summa Theologica Supp.74.8
- "purgatory" Template:Webarchive, Merriam-Webster Dictionary
- Purgatory 2007-06-10 at the Wayback Machine in Encyclopædia Britannica
- CCC 1030. Archive.
- Template:Cite book
- name="Audience of 4 August 1999"
- Spe Salvi 47, 
- First Homily: Refutation of the Latin Chapters concerning Purgatorial Fire, by St. Mark of Ephesus. Qtd. In "The Soul After Death, p 208f)
- The Orthodox Response to the Latin Doctrine of Purgatory. 
- ;(Mt 12:32)
- Orthodox Psychotherapy Section The Knowledge of God according to St. Gregory Palamas by Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos published by Birth of Theotokos Monastery,Greece (January 1, 2005) ISBN 978-960-7070-27-2
- Markides, The Mountain of Silence
- First Homily: Refutation of the Latin Chapters concerning Purgatorial Fire, by St. Mark of Ephesus. Qtd. In "The Soul After Death, p 208f)
- LeGoff, Jacques. The Birth of Purgatory. Trans. Arthur Goldhammer. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1986, pp. 362–366
- Robert Osei-Bonsu, "Purgatory: A Study of the Historical Development and Its Compatibility with the Biblical Teaching on the Afterlife" in Philosophy Study, Template:ISSN April 2012, Vol. 2, No. 4, p. 291
- Karen Hartnup, 'On the Beliefs of the Greeks': Leo Allatios and Popular Orthodoxy (Brill 2004), p. 2008
- Template:Cite book
- name="Audience of 4 August 1999"
- Fr. Thomas Hopko on the Toll-houses, http://audio.ancientfaith.com/illuminedheart/hopko_tolls.mp3