As Iron Sharpens Iron

An ongoing and online discussion between: an Orthodox informed Ecumaniac without a denominational home, an ordained Baptist youth pastor with an open mind, a Calvinist worship leader/seminarian with a staggering vocabulary and ability to make a point, and a cradle Catholic with a love/hate relationship to Rome.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Tollhouse Cookies

Edwin, what is your understanding of Purgatory?

Gerontissa (Elder) Gabrielia (1897-1992), also known as Gavrilia, was a 20th century saintly Greek Orthodox nun
The other day a lady asked me what would happen with the 'toll booths' after death. I said to her, " I will tell them the Light of Christ shines to All! You however are in darkness and I don't see you!"
Excerpt from Orthodox Article on what happens after death:
In our tradition, this teaching about the need to be purified to enter into the kingdom got developed into a kind of allegory called the 'tollbooths'. You can read in some of he Christian literature that you have to go through around 20 or 22 tests in order to make it into the kingdom of God. Then I think some weird teachings developed which are not Orthodox and not according to the Scripture, but like every crazy teaching have a kernel of truth. The crazy teachings are that when you die you have to be punished for the things that you do and go through each of these tool-booths in order to get punished by the demons for that particular sin. So you go through the tollbooth of lust to get punished for your lust, you go through the tollbooth of greed to be punished for your greed, you go through the tollbooth of anger to be punished for anger, and so on until you are punished enough and make it.

In the western church, even before the Reformation, there was a teaching that if you pray for these people you can get some of the punishment off. It was called temporal punishment due to your sin and those were called were called indulgences and then you could actually go to church to light a candle, say a prayer or give some money to get the time off from the punishment. This was called the "purgatorium" (or the "purgatory") connected with the doctrine of punishment and inflicted pain that had to be done away with. This is not our Orthodox teaching.

The Orthodox teaching is that we do have to be tested by every possible demon and be victorious over that demon by the grace of God, the intercessions of the Saints, and anything that we can do to open ourselves in faith to God so that we can be delivered. So the truth of the tollbooth myth or allegory is not that the soul will go through some "astral space" getting tempted by demons and getting punished for sin. The right interpretation is that, as taught by many holy fathers such as Sts John Klimacus and Athanasias, death is the moment of truth and every demon is going to try to get you to apostatise, hate God and try to make you cling to corporeal things. They would like to stop you from letting go of everything so that you can only love God and let God save you. So the tests will see if we hang on to our pride, arrogance and so on. These tests you have to pass through are symbolically represented by the tollbooths; you have to be 'tried'.

Then we that the prayer of the Church and the prayer of the Saints do help us to resist the demons and to be faithful and to be faithful and trust God, but this is true at any moment of our life. We pray for one another now, we are prayer for by the Saints now so that we will not succumb to lust, greed, power etc, so that when we die we are ready to float right through and not have to deal with all that at the very end of our life. However, the teaching is this, deal with it we must because we must do the work that Jesus Christ Himself did. Jesus said, "He who believes in Me will do the work that I do". We must conquer the devils like He did. We must resist the temptations like He did. We must destroy death the way that He did. That is what He gives us the power to do through the gift of the Holy Spirit, the Sacraments and the life of the Church.


Blogger fra edwin said...

On the most basic level, I see a purgatory as being like a wadding pool where I can wash my feet before entering the gates of heaven.

In practical terms, I like to think of a purgatory as that place I can go to drop off those last "worldly" desires and attachments before I go to the great wedding that is heaven. There is no need for marriage in heaven because the level of intimacy there is far greater than between husband and wife here. In heaven we stand spiritually naked before God and before each other. I like to think that before I go there, I will have the opportunity to finally rid myself of my last "sins" and resentments. Of course, this is purely personal, and not grounded in any theology.

My understanding of our relationship to the souls in Purgatory comes from the second book of Maccabbees. The survivors of battle prayed so that their prayers might be accepted in the place of those who died for the forgiveness of sins.

My understanding is illuminated by the mystic rather than theologic tradition of the Church. One of my favorites is the story of Drithelm who, in a near death experience, visited a place of expiation:

There are other saints as well who have had these visions.

Lastly, I believe in the power of prayer. I believe we can pray for those who can not or will not pray for themselves (here or in a purgatory). I believe that "the prayers of the just man availeth much." I believe God listens and is readily merciful.

2:33 AM  
Blogger The Poor Blogger said...

Thanks. That's good, and thanks for the link too.

11:55 AM  

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