In recent years we have been hearing the term “excommunication” quite a lot. In theByzantineChurchthe word “anathema” is also used. Basically they both mean the same thing.
We are talking about the most severe ecclesiastical penalty that can be imposed by the church. This penalty can be imposed on a layman or a cleric. In short it means that the church declares that said persons are condemned to be separated from the church because they no longer believe with the church. They are no longer part of the church which also means that they cannot receive the Holy Eucharist or any of the Holy Mysteries (Sacraments) of the church. They are thrown out of the church and given over to Satan. There is a biblical basis for this; 1 Corinthians 5.5 and 1Timothy1:20.
The most famous excommunication in Christian history happened in 1054 during the year of the great schism. Both the Pope and the Patriarch excommunicated each other. This lasted until 7th December 1965 when Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras I met inJerusalem, kissed and lifted the excommunication their churches had imposed on each other some 900 years earlier.
All churches use the power of excommunication for various reasons. However, one has to admit that Catholic andOrthodoxChurchesuse it more than others. Ever since the break up of theSoviet Union,Eastern Europehas heard these words far too often. In one sense, it is sometimes necessary to use this extreme form of discipline but on the other, it may be over used and is only an example of poor pastoral practice.
Only Bishops can excommunicate but in the Catholic Church at least, there is a very strict canonical form which must be followed. If any of the steps are missing then the proclamation is not valid. This has happened recently inUkraine, when excommunications by our church over dissident priests, was overturned temporarily by the Holy See. After a few months the penalty was reimposed when the process was done correctly.
Let’s be honest, to excommunicate anyone is a very terrible and horrible thing to do. It should never be done lightly. The evil done must be very terrible indeed. In the above case the complaint was that certain priests were splitting the church.
In Orthodox Churches inUkrainewe hear about excommunication far too often. In a sense all it really says is that there is disunity within the church and that leadership is not being practiced properly.
In the post Soviet Eastern Europe one can understand why these things happen, but we should all try to work very hard to try to solve our problems in more Christian ways.
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