The Greek word "anathema" consists of two words:
"ana," which is a preposition indicating movement upward and
"thema," which means a separate part of something. In military
terminology, "thema" meant a detachment; in civil government
"theme" meant a province. We currently use the word "theme,"
derived from "thema," to mean a specific topic of a written and
"Anathema" literally means the lifting
up of something separate. In the Old Testament, this expression was used both
in relation to that which was alienated due to sinfulness as well as, to that
which was dedicated to God.
In the New Testament, in the writings of the
Apostle Paul it is used once in conjunction with "maranatha," meaning
the coming of the Lord. The combination of these words means separation until
the coming of the Lord; in other words being handed over to Him (1 Cor. ).
The Apostle Paul uses "anathema" in
another place without the addition of "maranatha" (Cal. 1:8-9). Here "anathema" is proclaimed against
the distortion of the Gospel of Christ, as it was preached by the Apostle, no
matter by whom this might be committed, whether by the Apostle himself or an
angel from the heavens. In this same expression there is also implied:
"let the Lord Himself pass judgement," for who else can pass
judgement on the angels?
St. John the Theologian in Revelation (22:3) says that in the
New Jerusalem there will not be any anathema. This can be understood in two
ways: giving the word anathema both meanings: 1) there will not be any lifting
up to the judgement of God, for this judgement has already been accomplished;
2) there will not be any special dedication to God, for all things will be the
holy things of God, just as the light of God enlightens all (Rev. 21:23).
In the acts of the Councils and the further course
of the New Testament Church of Christ, the word "anathema" came to
mean complete separation from the Church. "The Catholic and ApostolicChurch anathematizes," "let him be anathema,"
"let it be anathema," means a complete tearing away from the Church.
While in cases of "separation from the communion of the Church" and
other epitimia or penances laid on a person, the person remained a member of
the Church, even though his participation in her grace-filled life was limited.
Those given up to anathema were thus, completely torn away from her until their
repentance. Realizing that she is unable to do anything for their salvation, in
view of their stubbornness and hardness of heart, the earthly Church lifts them
up to the judgement of God. That judgement is merciful unto repentant sinners,
but fearsome for the stubborn enemies of God. "It is a fearful thing to
fall into the hands of the living God . . . for our God is a consuming
fire" (Heb. ; ).
Anathema is not final damnation because until
death, repentance is possible. "Anathema" is fearsome, but not
because the Church wishes anyone evil or God seeks their damnation. They desire
that all be saved. However, it is fearsome to stand before the presence of God
in the state of hardened evil as nothing is hidden from Him.
"It is fearsome to fall into the hands of the
living God: this is a tribunal of thoughts and movements of hearts. Let no one
enter tempting the unblemished faith: but in meekness and fear let us come
before Christ, that we may receive mercy and find grace for help at the proper
time" (Stichera of the Aposticha, Palm Sunday, Vespers).