Does the Orthodox Church believe in the Purgatory?
The Roman doctrine of Purgatory is firmly rejected by the Orthodox Church, along with those teachings that proceed from it, such as the doctrine of indulgences. These teachings developed after Rome's departure from the Orthodox East and were officially adopted at the Council of Florence-Ferrara (1438-45). At that time St. Mark, Bishop of Ephesus, called the doctrine of Purgatory a heresy.
Purgatory is defined as a place where the departed faithful go for purification prior to entering heaven. This purification is necessary since, it is believed, every sin carries with it a temporal punishment that must be satisfied. Even when God forgives the guilt for sin, the temporal punishment remains. If one dies without having accomplished the penances necessary to fully cancel this temporal punishment, one will spend some period of "time" in Purgatory, until such purification is complete.
An indulgence is a remission of temporal punishment granted by the (Roman) Church in order to lessen one's time in Purgatory. Indulgences are given for certain general or specified good works, acts of self-denial, or piety. The indulgence is said to remove any remaining punishment for a sin or sins committed, either in total (a plenary indulgence) or in part (a partial indulgence). The Pope, as the successor of Peter, ultimately has the authority to dispense indulgences.
The source of indulgences is understood to be the "treasury of satisfactions." It is a sort of spiritual bank account in which are deposited the infinite merits/satisfactions of Jesus Christ and the superabundant merits of the Saints. As stated above, this treasury is dispensed by the Pope or those he delegates in the form of indulgences.
The doctrine and practice of indulgences was largely responsible for the Protestant Reformation. However, long before the Reformation, the Orthodox Church dismissed such teachings as being foreign to the mind of the Church, uncorroborated by Church Tradition, and absent from the deposit of faith and God's revelation to man.
© Fr. Michael Shanbour