The Roman Catholic Pope recently proclaimed “indulgences” as a means to hasten entry into heaven (at least according to what I read in the popular press).
Does Orthodoxy share this belief or one similar to it? If not, do you consider this one of several major differences between Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy?
While this is a complex issue, I will try to offer a clear and concise response.
The Roman Catholic tradition of indulgences dates back several centuries. In essence—and in short!—it was taught that Christ, the Virgin Mary, and the saints had more “merits” than necessary. As a result, these “extra merits” may be “transferred” to others and, consequently, used toward their salvation. Hence, in this framework, a person who would be expected to spend time in purgatory [the Orthodox Church does not believe in purgatory as a “third” or “alternate” state to heaven and hell] may have that time reduced through:
merits received by performing certain acts or prayers to which indulgences are attached, or
having the indulgences applied to the acts or prayers of another person transferred to them
This, according to this line of reasoning, reduces, or, in the case of a “plenary” indulgence, completely eliminates the amount of time one would have to spend in purgatory, during which his or her sins are “purged” in preparation for entrance into heaven.
I apologize for the brevity of this response, but in essence this is the nature of indulgences as seen by Roman Catholicism.
There is no similar concept of indulgences within Orthodox Christianity.