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#396316 07/03/13 09:50 PM
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Or at least, in two instances where I have been to confession with a Melkite priest.

This is part of a rather warm discussion I am having with some Roman Catholic folk on another board.

So I ask you: where are we in the East with the understandings of

Merit

Indulgences

Penance

Purgatory as place rather than state.

Would appreciate your help. I have a need to do some learning in these areas.

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Hello sir!

As I understand it, Eastern Christian spirituality emphasizes the "healing" aspect of the epitimia given in the Mystery of Confession.

Also, there is absent in the East the kind of "accountant" spirituality in the West that is demonstrated by indulgences and merits "obtained" through penances and when we die, if the "balance" doesn't put us in the "black" spiritually, then we go to a place/state of purgatory.

I believe God does respond to what must be our continual cries and acts of penitence throughout our life by bestowing upon us His mercy and forgiveness. But we cannot know how much He bestows. The Roman Catholic system is also unsure in the realm of indulgences since it affirms that only when there is an absence of an inclination toward sin in us may we obtain a "plenary indulgence" - otherwise it is only partial. And who among us can say we are completely free of the inclination to sin? Great Saints, perhaps. I don't know about you, but I'm just not there yet.

The juridical character of the RC penitential system also seems to me to be placing way too much emphasis on me rather than on God.

As long as we breathe and are in this life, we must ceaselessly repeat the Jesus Prayer, pray the Psalms, fast etc. Theosis is a long and arduous process in which we open ourselves to our own sinfulness as we, at the same time, come to rely solely on the mercy of God. This is what spiritual exercises are all about.

I think you will find that Eastern penitential spirituality is much more vigorous than in the West in general nowadays. It takes a great deal of active effort on our part. The idea that I used to entertain growing up that if I did this and that and therefore obtained a plenary indulgence, then I could sit back and relax spiritually.

And that, sir, is just plain dangerous to our spiritual health.

This is why I rejected entirely the Western concepts and focus on the Eastern perspective of: Confession and Holy Communion, prayer, prayer and more prayer, fasting, spiritual reading and more prayer.

Alex

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Thank you.

I have been studying at St. Cyril and Methodius for three years now and I have become aware of the differences in the Eastern and Western approaches to salvation and holiness. You specifically hit the nail on the head when you mention the highly juridical aspects of the Roman system.

Unfortunately, what has devolved from my questions and assertions is that I am, according to some, a heretic for not accepting what the Church (i.e. the ROMAN Church) teaches in these regards.

One particular chap, who has a rather annoying habit of writing down Greek phrases and words without corresponding interpretation (which to me seems an awful lot like showing off) has warned me that I am in dangerous territory and I don't know what I am talking about regarding penances. His claim is that penances go back to the Early Fathers.

Perhaps, but as you point out, not in the way that the Latins like them. Their legal approach to them is not our medicinal approach, is it.


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Dear Sir,

On the other hand, there have been Eastern Saints who appear to have accepted certain aspects of what we have come to know as the Western system.

St Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain and others DID believe in indulgences given in a writ of such for fulfilling certain penitential acts.

In western Ukraine where there was often a "back and forth" of ownership of parish churches between Catholics and Orthodox, there are today Orthodox parishes who celebrate "Vidpusty" (literal translation "indulgenced pilgrimages") in honour of their locally venerated miraculous icons (the great Russian religious writer, Poselianin, mentions dozens of such parishes in his book "Bogomater").

I don't know how the Orthodox there understand "vidpust" but it seems to me that this is a sure carry-over from the EC's.

Penances are a form of the Greek "epitimia" but, as you said, this is entirely a "medicinal" or "healing" exercise rather than a punitive, juridical one.

It is a fact that the early Church had a whole series of such penances/epitimias for various sins which included periods of excommunication (not being able to go to Holy Communion) for specific sins. If our RC friends you mention want to be really traditional, then they should go back, as they say they are, to those canonical penances (which are still in vogue in many areas of the Orthodox world). Somehow, I don't think they would want to . . . wink

Our Eastern therapeutic spiritual approach in prescribing prayer and fasting for our human weakness and sinfulness is the better approach, I would say.

Eastern Saints also performed exasperating acts of physical penance, such as carrying heavy chains on their bodies and the like. In Spain, they sell about 3 million hair-shirts a year around Lent and a million whips for self-flagellation. When Pope Paul VI died, those who prepared his body for burial saw that he wore a hairshirt.

East and West can compete for the "who punishes themselves more" prize, but it is the perspective that distinguishes them.

Cheers,

Alex

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Here is a conversation I had with others:

Quote
Originally Posted by "Thomist"
Quote
Light of the East Tue Jul 02, 2013 6:39 am
the Eastern mind does not understand the need for the Immaculate Conception.
There is no leeway for failing to understand the need for a reality – the reality is expressed by the dogma – understanding the dogma may need to be worked on, but the assent required is absolute.

Quote
Tue Jul 02, 2013 7:31 am
I am not obligated to believe in Purgatory

The CCC:
"1031 The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned.604 The Church formulated her doctrine of faith on Purgatory especially at the Councils of Florence and Trent. The tradition of the Church, by reference to certain texts of Scripture, speaks of a cleansing fire:605
"As for certain lesser faults, we must believe that, before the Final Judgment, there is a purifying fire. He who is truth says that whoever utters blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will be pardoned neither in this age nor in the age to come. From this sentence we understand that certain offenses can be forgiven in this age, but certain others in the age to come.606"

Quote
Obi-Wan Kenobi Tue Jul 02, 2013 11:24 am
Please don't let a Greek Orthodox tell us (or you) what Catholics believe.

Hear, hear!



Statement number one: The Immaculate Conception. Fr. Alexander Schmemann, in his marvelous book FOR THE LIFE OF THE WORLD, shows that the Immaculate Conception is not seen as necessary by the Orthodox mind. As an Eastern Catholic, and understanding the difference between Eastern and Western anthropological understandings, am I required to accept the Immaculate Conception to avoid being a heretic? Or is this something that I can say "belongs to Rome, not ours." I am told that to be "really Catholic" (i.e. non-heretical in my beliefs)I MUST accept this.

Statement Number Two: I believe in cleansing of the soul after death. I just don't believe in a place or the other Roman ideas of what life after death is anymore than I believe in the idea of the tollhouses of the soul.

Statement Number Three: My response would be "And we don't let Rome tell us what it means to be Catholic in the East." Is that a bit ... ummmmmm ... in yer face, as a response?

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Dear Irish Ruthenian,

Yes, we are often at a disadvantage when we debate others on the internet for a variety of reasons, as you know.

In this particular debate, we might want to not use the work of an Orthodox theologian only because the RC Trads will say that we have been "infected" by schismatic/heretical views and have otherwise become "invincibly ignorant of the true Catholic faith." wink

Suffice to say that the Immaculate Conception became a necessity for the West as a result of its acceptance of the Augustinian view of Original Sin. The Cappadocian Fathers, for examnple, see Original Sin in terms of the impact of the personal sin of disobedience of our Forefather Adam, on human nature ever since. So if the Mother of God died, as the liturgical texts for the Dormition clearly state, then she did come under the impact of Original Sin. She never had any sort of sinful "stain" on her soul and was completely sanctified by the Holy Spirit at her Conception (as shown by the celebration of the Conception of St Anne - only feasts of Saints may be celebrated). She was always "All-Holy" and without blemish throughout. For the East, it would have been unthinkable to see the Theotokos as having had a stain of any kind of sin on her soul. This is why the Immaculate Conception dogma is entirely irrelevant for the East. But we can see why it was a necessity for the West with its Augustinian presupposition about Original Sin.

Purgatory is a Western construct intended to define, against Protestantism, that what is not yet completely sanctified, cannot enter Heaven, but is not consigned to hell.

For the East, the final Judgement at the Second Coming of Christ is when we, as composite beings, body and soul, will be consigned to heaven or hell.

Until such time, souls enter a "forecourt" of heaven or a "forecourt" of hell. Those in the latter category can be released from there by the Divine Liturgy and the prayers of the Church here.

St Peter Mohyla of Kyiv did use the word "Purgatory" in his Catechism. The Eastern Patriarchs expunged it from their final "edit" of his Catechism, but Mohyla insisted on using it within his Metropolia. John Meyendorff mentions other Orthodox who understood the doctrines of the Immaculate Conception and Purgatory and who did not hesitate to use it. The Ukrainian Orthodox Saint Dmitri Tuptalenko of Rostov and others even belonged to Immaculate Conception Brotherhoods and took the Western "bloody vow" to defend to the death the IC etc.

So not only Latin Catholics, but Greek Catholics and, historically, individual Orthodox, also hold to the Western definitions on these issues.

Rather than your final statement, you might want to say something like "The Catholic Church commands Eastern Catholics to know and practice their own theological, canonical and ecclesial traditions "nec plus, nec minus, nec aliter. Our traditions are different from those of the West, but no less Catholic. Indeed, our traditions reach all the way back to the original Apostolic Faith of the Catholic Church of Christ that first arose in the East."

Alex

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Originally Posted by Orthodox Catholic
St Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain and others DID believe in indulgences given in a writ of such for fulfilling certain penitential acts.


Dear Alex, the only "penitential acts" needed for these "indulgences" was to drop some cash into Constantinople's treasury. They were not indulgences but Certificates of Absolution which you could purchase in advance for future sins (and for past sins of course.) We know that Saint Nicodemus purchased a couple of these Certificates of Absolution and gave them as presents to friends. It's an extraordinary aberration in the church life of Constantinople and fortunately it did not endure.

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Originally Posted by Orthodox Catholic
there are today Orthodox parishes who celebrate "Vidpusty" (literal translation "indulgenced pilgrimages")


Alex can you explain this some more? Indulgences require the existence of a large supply of superfluous merits/grace which some church authority (normally the Pope) is permitted by God to make use of, transferring it to individuals who are in need of these merits (to shorten their time in Purgatory.)

Are there such Orthodox authorities in the Ukraine? (in other Orthodox countries?) What treasury of merits are they accessing to empower the indulgences? Since there is no Orthodox belief in Purgatory nor in any temporal punishment due to sin, what are the Orthodox indulgences accomplishing?

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Bless Father,

That is a very good question. Professor Poselianin in his "Bogomater" lists numerous (very numerous) Orthodox parishes that hold "vidpusty."

No Orthodox to date has been able to explain these to me. The only thing that seems plausible to me is that these were formerly Eastern Catholic parishes who held indulgenced pilgrimages which, of course, were "vidpusty."

And when they returned to Orthodoxy at some point, they continued to hold them and to call them as such.

What they were supposed to accomplish given Orthodoxy's eschatology, as you've said, is anyone's guess.

There is an Orthodox parish in Horodyschenske, Ukraine that has a picture of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Poselianin calls it the "Karmylskaya" Mother of God and it is locally venerated as a miraculous image of the Theotokos - a borrowing to be sure.

Treasuries of merits aside, why do Orthodox Christians and saints of the East engage in all sorts of "podvigs" of prayer etc.?

Yes, these epitimiai are medicinal, they are meant to transform us in Christ through the Holy Spirit.

Is that all these ascetical practices were meant to do? What about the inclination to want to, shall we say, "make restitution" of some sort for damage caused by my sinfulness?

I can go to Confession, of course. But I surely must make restitution in some way (if I can) for what my sins have done to others, no?

As for my comments on purgatory etc., well, yes, how to understand those doctrines which have historically defined EC's as being 'in union with Rome' and how they square with Orthodox theology is a critical issue with me (and I know for others here).

Views on this vary here, from "No, we're EC's and those doctrines are Western so we don't have to accept them," to "If we don't accept them, how are we in union with Rome?"

I'm somewhere in between.

And I really didn't like your comment that the Theotokos was conceived in the same way as the Dalai Lama.

We don't liturgically celebrate the conception of the Dalai Lama.

If that is what Orthodoxy really believes, then . . . Viva Il Papa!

Alex

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Originally Posted by Orthodox Catholic
Views on this vary here, from "No, we're EC's and those doctrines are Western so we don't have to accept them," to "If we don't accept them, how are we in union with Rome?"

I'm somewhere in between.

And I am on the side of those who say "No, we're Eastern Catholics and those doctrines are Western so we don't have to accept them." laugh

Originally Posted by Orthodox Catholic
And I really didn't like your comment that the Theotokos was conceived in the same way as the Dalai Lama.

We don't liturgically celebrate the conception of the Dalai Lama.

But Fr Ambrose is correct. There is nothing unique about the conception of the Theotokos. As far as liturgical commemoration is concerned, we also liturgically commemorate the conception of St. John the Baptist and yet his conception was perfectly normal.

Were the Theotokos and St. John the Baptist subject to the original sin? Yes. There is nothing immoral about being subject to the sin of Adam, and so there is no reason to devise a theory to protect the Theotokos (or St. John) from its effects.

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Originally Posted by Apotheoun
As far as liturgical commemoration is concerned, we also liturgically commemorate the conception of St. John the Baptist and yet his conception was perfectly normal.


If you think the conception of St. John the Baptist was perfectly normal, you might want to go reread Luke 1.

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Originally Posted by JBenedict
Originally Posted by Apotheoun
As far as liturgical commemoration is concerned, we also liturgically commemorate the conception of St. John the Baptist and yet his conception was perfectly normal.


If you think the conception of St. John the Baptist was perfectly normal, you might want to go reread Luke 1.

It was perfectly normal in the sense that he was not conceived in some kind of "immaculate" manner. His conception did not contradict nature or suspend nature, nor was he conceived in any particular state that differs from that of any one else conceived since the fall of Adam. Did God bless his barren mother, yes, but the same can be said about Samuel's mother (and millions of other women who were barren and yet - through prayer and fasting - conceived a child). But there was no need for a theory that protects him from the ancestral sin.

Isaac's conception can be seen in the same manner. Was he also "immaculately conceived"? I think not. There is no need for an "immaculate conception" theory unless you hold to the doctrine of original sin as expounded by St. Augustine, and yet even he had no such theory.


Postscript: My dearly departed mother was told that she would not be able to conceive a child again after my birth, but five years later - after much prayer - she conceived and gave birth to my sister. Was my sister immaculately conceived because my mother was "barren"?

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Isn't it true to say that God is involved in the conception of every child?

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The "immaculate conception" theory has led to another Latin Catholic belief that has no counterpart in Eastern Christianity, i.e., the notion that the Virgin Mary was (is) impeccable. Perhaps new obstacles to the restoration of communion between the East and the West would not be created if the West would stop speculating about things that really do not have any bearing on the process of salvation.

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Originally Posted by Orthodox Catholic
And I really didn't like your comment that the Theotokos was conceived in the same way as the Dalai Lama.
Well, for the Orthodox who do not accept the Immaculate Conception, she was. It's not offensive to say that; it is simply our belief. But I regret that it offends you. Apologies.

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