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Anonymous wrote:

Hi, guys —

There is something that really bothers me. First, let me share with you a little bit of my background.

I am 15 years old and come from the Balkans area. I recently accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior about one year ago. About two months ago, I got baptized as a Orthodox Christian however, along with everyday life, I have many shortcomings and struggles with sin, but thanks to God, I still am able to get up and go back to Him. Recently, I have been drawn to convert to Catholic Christianity. Before I was baptized, I was unsure whether I should choose the Orthodox or Catholic Church.

In my area, the most of the people are Eastern Orthodox, so it was normal for me to become Orthodox. My mom said that it didn't matter which Church I chose, so I decided on the Orthodox Church, but now, I feel like I should convert, and become a Catholic. I don't know if my mother and my father will accept it, and I still have many questions, which I would like to get answers to, like, "Why do Catholics believe in Purgatory?". Orthodox Christians deny it, and there are no Bible passages on it.

  • How then can you believe in Purgatory?

I also have one other big struggle and would really appreciate some advice. There are times, like today, when I feel like I am away from God, and cannot return to Him. It seems like
I have committed an unpardonable sin. I worry but want to walk with Christ and do God's will.
I feel helpless in such cases; It's like depression or something.

If you can help me, it would be great.

Thanks in advance. : )

Anonymous

  { How do I deal with my interest in becoming Catholic and feelings of unworthiness? }

Eric replied:

Thanks for writing, Anonymous.

  • First I'd say, if your mother didn't care which church you got baptized in, why should she care if you convert?

In any case, it is wonderful that you desire to convert, and I urge you to continue to pray about this and learn about the Catholic faith. Should you decide to join, you will take part in a Catholic Church that follows the Byzantine Rite that the Eastern Orthodox follow. In any case, you'll be unable to enter until you are 18.

As for Purgatory, there is a verse for it, two in fact, and patristic evidence as well. For that reason, I've always been somewhat puzzled by the Orthodox opposition to Purgatory.

First, let's clarify what the Catholic Church believes about Purgatory.

Purgatory is a state of being where, after death, those who die in God's friendship are purified,
if necessary, from the remaining vestiges of sin that encrust our souls. Nothing unclean can enter Heaven (Revelation 21:27), and so those who die, who are not fully holy or who are still attached to sin, need to be purified fully before entering Heaven. The only two dogmatic aspects of Purgatory are that:

  1. it is a state of purification after death, and
  2. the dead can be helped by our prayers.

One very clear verse is in 2 Maccabees. This tells of some soldiers who fell in battle. Surveying the deaths, Judas Maccabeus notes that they were wearing amulets sacred to a pagan goddess. So he offers a sacrifice in the temple for them. The text explains,

"In doing this he acted in a very excellent and noble way, inasmuch as he had the resurrection of the dead in view; for if he were not expecting the dead to rise again, it would have been useless and foolish to pray for them in death. But if he did this with a view to the splendid reward that awaits those who had gone to rest in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Thus he made atonement for the dead that they might be freed from this sin."

2 Maccabees 12:43–45

This is then why we pray for the dead.

Another verse is 1 Corinthians 3:9-15.

"For we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, you are God's building. According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it. But let each one take heed how he builds on it. For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one's work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one's work, of what sort it is. If anyone's work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone's work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire."

1 Corinthians 3:9-15

This state cannot be Heaven, because no one suffers in Heaven, but it cannot be Hell, because no one is saved in Hell. Therefore, it must be a third state, during which our works are tested and all the dross is purified from our lives.

Another example is the Passion of Ss. Perpetua and Felicity (2:3-4) around 202 A.D. In this patristic account, briefly, she sees a vision of her deceased brother suffering in a place of punishment; she prays for him, and then sees another vision of him in comfort and glory.
In detail:

After a few days, while we were all praying, [all of] a sudden, in the middle of our prayer, there came to me a word, and I named Dinocrates; and I was amazed that name had never come into my mind until then, and I was grieved as I remembered his misfortune. And I felt myself immediately to be worthy, and to be called on to ask on his behalf. And for him I began earnestly to make supplication, and to cry with groaning to the Lord. Without delay, on that very night, this was shown to me in a vision. I saw Dinocrates going out from a gloomy place, where also there were several others, and he was parched and very thirsty, with a filthy countenance and pallid colour, and the wound on his face which he had when he died. This Dinocrates had been my brother after the flesh, seven years of age who died miserably with disease— his face being so eaten out with cancer, that his death caused repugnance to all men. For him I had made my prayer, and between him and me there was a large interval, so that neither of us could approach to the other. And moreover, in the same place where Dinocrates was, there was a pool full of water, having its brink higher than was the stature of the boy; and Dinocrates raised himself up as if to drink. And I was grieved that, although that pool held water, still, on account of the height to its brink, he could not drink. And I was aroused, and knew that my brother was in suffering. But I trusted that my prayer would bring help to his suffering; and I prayed for him every day until we passed over into the prison of the camp, for we were to fight in the camp-show. Then was the birth-day of Geta Cæsar, and I made my prayer for my brother day and night, groaning and weeping that he might be granted to me.

Then, on the day on which we remained in fetters, this was shown to me. I saw that place which I had formerly observed to be in gloom was now bright; and Dinocrates, with a clean body well clad, was finding refreshment. And where there had been a wound, I saw a scar; and that pool which I had before seen, I saw now with its margin lowered even to the boy's navel. And one drew water from the pool incessantly, and upon its brink was a goblet filled with water; and Dinocrates drew near and began to drink from it, and the goblet did not fail. And when he was satisfied, he went away from the water to play joyously, after the manner of children, and I awoke. Then I understood that he was translated from the place of punishment.

Other patristic support can be found at:

Even the Orthodox funeral/memorial service suggests Purgatory. It says,

"You descended into Hades to deliver those who were bound there in suffering; grant rest also to the soul of this, your departed servant."

There is not only the concept of rest (why would you wish rest to someone in Heaven?),
but the connection to suffering. And again,

"Let us pray for the repose of the soul of the departed servant of God, N., that to him (her) may be remitted every transgression, both deliberate and indeliberate."

Here the "repose" (again, rest — from what, if Heaven?) is linked to the remission of sin.
And again,

"forgive him (her) every sin he (she) has committed by thought, or word, or deed".

I think opposition to the doctrine comes from:

  • some wild speculation that became popular culture in the Catholic Church centuries ago, and
  • the issue of indulgences, where belief in Purgatory was exploited, by some, for fund raising purposes or otherwise abused.

Nevertheless, you can't throw out the baby with the bath water. Those concerns pretty much don't exist anymore anyway.

As for your other question, don't worry about having committed the unforgivable sin. If you are repentant and seeking communion with God, you can be assured you haven't committed the unforgivable sin. Often God withdraws from our senses in order to allow us to grow in faith, much as a parent may stop holding up a child as they learn to walk, so that their child may learn to walk on their own, without help, or how a parent may choose not to respond to a crying baby immediately, so that the baby becomes less dependent on the parents. It could very well be that Satan is tempting you to believe that you cannot return to God. Never rely on feelings in the spiritual life. They are not reliable indications of where you stand before God. Persevere in prayer, commending yourself and your whole life to Christ-God, entrusting yourself to the Most Holy Theotokos. God loves you, and loves you dearly. Whatever your sins, Christ will forgive them, for he is the merciful one and the lover of mankind. Follow Him in every decision you make, accepting Him as Lord and Savior, obeying His commandments and relying on His grace.

Think of Mother Teresa of Calcutta. For the last several decades of her life, she was completely bereft of any sign of God's favor or comfort but she kept persevering. She felt much like you feel: Abandoned. Depressed. The best thing you can do is allow yourself to grow more humble and learn to rely more and more on God's grace for everything. Give thanks to Him under all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18) and praise Him whenever you feel down or depressed. Remember that spiritual growth takes a long time. Here is an encouraging verse:

Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.

2 Corinthians 4:16-18

And again,

Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.

James 1:12

Keep persevering, and God will bring you through in the end. I am confident of this, that "he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus."
(Philippians 1:6).

Eric

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