To discuss the issue of “suffering after death” is difficult, because there is much more involved to this particular issue than meets the eye (as discussion in this thread has thus far indicated.)
Fundamentally, Orthodox Christianity and Catholicism have two different soteriologies (doctrine of salvation) which need to be understood before one could even begin to talk about “purgatory” as such.
The “western” position as it now exists (which is common to both Catholicism and Protestantism in it’s different varieties) is summarized in the view articulated by [i:te1az19d]Anselm of Canterbury[/i:te1az19d] – an understanding which basically understands sin as an offence against “God’s honour.” His honour being offended, God demands satisfaction. “Salvation” then, in this view, is being saved [i:te1az19d]from[/i:te1az19d] God.
This view in some form is so deeply ingrained in the western religious psyche now, that they (and this includes me – to this day I still find myself unlearning this way of thinking) have a difficult time [i:te1az19d]not[/i:te1az19d] reading it into the Holy Scriptures. Thus, when they read of “justification” or “atonement” or “ransom” or “dying for sins”, etc. etc. this all is read through a sort of “Anselmian filter” and is given a meaning which the texts themselves [b:te1az19d]do not require.[/b:te1az19d]
The deep truth which you’ll find all of the Fathers were keenly aware of, is that God is [i:te1az19d]essentially[/i:te1az19d] unknowable. That means, we cannot know or examine His [i:te1az19d]essence[/i:te1az19d] – He is in this respect unfathomable, beyond our comprehension. What we [i:te1az19d]can[/i:te1az19d] know of Him, is revealed in His activities – the most important of which obviously, is His act of self-expression (revelation) to us. However, even this involves a lot of condescension on His part, employing verbal languages (which always have their limitations, no matter how carefully used), etc. It’s also important to note, that when we speak about God’s revelation, we’re also in the same breath speaking of our own experience of it. So in those respects then, one can say many things which [i:te1az19d]seem[/i:te1az19d] to be on the surface, contradictory, but yet are all 100% true.
For example, you will read many passages in the Holy Scriptures about God’s “wrath.” We cannot white wash – that is what they say. And this wrath is visited upon sin.
Yet, more deeply (and this in large part has to do with the superiority of the New Testament – not that the Old is not true, but rather that it is not the deepest of truths, and certainly not in such clarity as came with the revelation of the Son of God), [b:te1az19d]God is love[/b:te1az19d]. This is the profound thing the Lord Jesus Christ was conveying when He spoke as follows…
[i:te1az19d]That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.[/i:te1az19d] (St.Matthew 5:45)
What this all means then, is that God’s “wrath” is how those [b:te1az19d]in sin[/b:te1az19d] (whether decidedly, or who still have darkness in parts of them…which is true of most of us here) experience this manifold grace of a fundamentally [b:te1az19d]loving[/b:te1az19d] God. “Gehenna” will be the experience of God of those who have no heart for Him – it is the highest form of salvation that such evil souls are capable of.
God corrects, He chastises – but it has nothing to do with “offended honour” as the medieval westerners were starting to understand it. Nor does it have to do with God being under some kind of “compulsion” – that He needs to be satisfied with someone’s misery, or that He needs something to forgive.
Christ’s ransom was Himself, paid to the grave. That’s what a ransom is – the giving over of something to gain captives. Speaking of His “Precious Blood” is a reference to the shedding of His Blood, His Death; again, that ransom. What He offered to His Father, was humanity as it ought to be – perfect obedience, in grace and perfect freedom. This is why, while Orthodoxy does believe the Holy Eucharist is an Oblation, it understands this in an entirely different way than the medieval Latin Church came to.
Also, while specific sins matter, this is ultimatly tied to the condition of the one committing them. God forgives – boy does He forgive. If someone [i:te1az19d]can[/i:te1az19d] detach themselves from sin (which we believe is the gift of grace – for without Christ we would remain prisoners, dead in sin and the tyranny of satan), and falls before Him, He will not fail to forgive their sins. He knows mens hearts. That is the tyranny of sin though – the place it has in our hearts as an idol. It’s “another master”, and it competes with [i:te1az19d]The[/i:te1az19d] Master. Choosing the right Master, in the depths of our being…that’s the work of a lifetime for most of us.
The word sin itself is [i:te1az19d]amartia[/i:te1az19d] the Biblical Greek – meaning “missing the mark.” This puts sin in it’s context, as something wanting in us and our loyalties and ability to love God and His creatures properly – and not as something which can wound or do harm to God.
Besides this, we believe that God would not ask us to practice virtues He Himself does not. According to the Gospels, our Lord taught that we must forgive, continuously. That we must “turn the other cheek” when offended. Aside from the sad truth that few of us can really do this well, or consistantly, is the truth that our Lord would not ask this of us, if He Himself did not do it too. This truth of revelation, is incongruent with the “offended God” motif.
So in that sense then, we cannot accept the doctrine of Purgatory. Not because we don’t believe people can suffer after death, but because of the judicial paradigm which underlies it. This in turn, begets a false understanding of the value of praying on behalf of the dead.
Another aspect of this, is also the reality that a specific place/state called “purgatory” that is definately differen than Hades (the Grave) or the Paradise of the Saints, is not to be found in the Divine Revelation. Whatever one might think about such a notion “making sense”, for us, you cannot just “invent” places, however logical they may seem, however neatly they may tie everything together.