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Eastern Catholicism and Purgatory
Question from Jake Stewart on 4/29/2019:

I have recently begun researching the Eastern Catholic Churches, and what I've been finding on the doctrine of Purgatory is surprising. I've always thought of purgatory as essentially "hell with parole", where a soul is punished for sins and suffers greatly for it. Yet, Eastern Catholics seem to frame it as more a process of growth and a fundamentally positive experience, and specifically exclude the word "punishment."

So I have two questions for you. First, why are Eastern Catholic Churches allowed to diverge from the traditional Latin concept of purgatory in such stark terms, and still be in communion with the pope? Second, in the Eastern view, is purgatory something to be feared/dreaded?

Answer by Robert Klesko on 4/29/2019:

Thank you for the question. First, it is a mistake to see the Eastern Christian approach to Purgatory as an error, especially since it is rooted in the theology of the Patristic Fathers (especially Clement of Alexandria and John Chrysostom). Diversity in the theological tradition does not impede communion with Rome. The Union of Brest (1595-96), for example, states that there would be no debate about Purgatory (Article V), thus allowing for a diversity of theology within the tradition.

Contemporary Western theology on Purgatory, such as Cardinal Ratzinger's book on Eschatology, moves away from the Medieval imagery associated with Purgatory and tries to square the teaching within the Patristic tradition. Particularly helpful is the image of Purgatory as "the fire of the Lord's judgment". The encounter with Christ post-mortem has to be a necessarily painful encounter. The process of judgment and seeing how Christ loves us in compairison to how we have loved Him (and neighbor) in our earthly lives has to involve pain. The East would see this encouter as part of the process of purification for Heaven but would not attach terms of duration nor of juridical punishment. The East prays in the Divine Liturgy, "That we might have a good defense before the awesome judgement seat of Christ", certainly this is something to be feared but not without hope of mercy.

In the end, there are two critical aspects of Purgatory that must be believed East and West:

There is a place of transition/transformation for those en-route to Heaven, and 2) prayer is efficacious for the dead who are in this state.

*For more information see Fr. Deacon Anthony Dragani's website, https://east2west.org/faq/doctrine/, which also helped in forming this answer.



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