The term is derived from the Greek word for "suspended," and it concerns the official separation from the church of members guilty of persistent heresy or grave moral offenses. St. Paul pronounces anathemas on those who do not love the Lord (1 Cor 16:22), or who preach a gospel other than his (Gal 1:8). The Council of Elvira (c. 306) is the earliest occasion of the anathematization of offenders by a church council. Anathemas have been distinguished from excommunication, which only excludes from the sacraments and worship of the church. Anathemas involve total exclusion from the Christian community.
Glossary definitions provided courtesy of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY,(All Rights reserved) from "An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church, A User Friendly Reference for Episcopalians," Don S. Armentrout and Robert Boak Slocum, editors.