Beloved Abraham Kurian,
The Church does not believe in such a concept as purgatory. This is
unique to the Papal church.
Before I answer your questions individually, let me first give a
little explanation of what the papists teach "purgatory" to be. The
idea of "purgatory" emerged in the Papal church because of their
academic approach to theology. (See Councils of Florence and of
They teach that it is a final purging (hence "PURGatory") of one's
imperfections before one goes to heaven (where all things are perfect
by definition). This idea emerged as the RCC tried to explain why
we pray for the dead. The practical result was indeed the
indulgences and other commercializing of the faith that you have
While purgatory can be considered Orthodox in a certain sense, the
reality is that it is one of those things that keeps the Papal
church from being Orthodox. We reject it.
The Orthodox Christian position is that all imperfect things are
perfected in Christ before they unite with God in heaven. The RCC
would call it "purgatory" (and give an academic justification of
it), where as we simply call it the grace of God.
(Leading into your questions...)
>1. Do we have a distinction of heaven, hell and
>purgatory as the catholic church teaches or Paradise,
>purgatory and inferno as Dante had written in divine
We do not have a dogmatic distinction like the papal church. That
said, the fathers of the Orthodox Church do use poetic language to
explain away She'ol and Heaven.
Some Orthodox Christian fathers have explained heaven and hell to
ultimately be the same thing: a reckoning with reality. As some
have been decieved by the devil, they will appose ultimate reality
and experience an unrelenting fire. For those whose hearts yearn
for mercy, they will experience the burning light of God; as our
imperfections are burned away, we are embraced by the same light.
This is unity with God. This is the true "Shayno wa Shlomo."
>2. In the hymn at the end of the Qurbana, we sing
>'Paathakanam Rubelinnu Jeevan Moosha, mriga baliya
>nalkiyenkil ... '. Was the 'jeevan' that Reuben receives
>that of one from Purgatory to Paradise or was it from
>Hell to Paradise?
The "life" that Reuben received would be from She'ol (the place of
the dead). But we must keep in mind that time works differently (or
irrelevantly) for God.
>3. On Holy Saturday we believe that Christ ministered
>to the lost souls, was this in hell or purgatory, or do
>we have a distinction at all?
There is a hymn chanted in Malayalee churches between the time of
the Qyomto (Easter) and the Pentacost; the opening line says:
"When Thy glorious tomb was opened, She'ol was sitting in mourning."
The rest of this hymn goes on to revere the Resurrection. She'ol,
the place of the dead sat in mourning because Christ had risen (in
other words, had departed She'ol).
>4. I have read that the catholic church used to sell
>indulgences during the middle ages apparently to liberate
>souls of departed from purgatory an send them to heaven.
>Not withstanding the commercial aspect that is evident in
>the 'sale', do we have a teaching that one can pay for
>the sins for another?
With money? No. But you can pray for God's mercy to be upon the
To conclude, let's remember again that these issues deal with how
human beings deal with space and time, which God transcends. It is
natural that imperfect ideas, like the RCC's idea of "purgatory"
will emerge as philosophical outgrowths of mankind trying to explain
the unexplainable. The Orthodox are content to be thankful for
God's grace and leave it at that.