The Toll-House Myth Involves Many Blasphemous Teachings

“But do not investigate the state of the soul after its departure from the body, because it is not for you or for me to know this. For, if we are unable to know the essence of the soul, how should we understand its repose?”
—St. Andrew of Crete, Homily on Human Life and Those Fallen Asleep

Mandean Gnosticism taught that the soul of man is imprisoned in the body and that death, though a dreadful, tortuous experience, liberated the soul from the physical body. Despite this “liberation,” the soul commenced a long and perilous journey through the astral planes. The soul, the Gnostics believe, must pass through a series of “gate houses” (telonia)seven, one for each of the Babylonian “astral planes” or planetary spheres, and sometimes an eighth one named for the demon Rukha. At each of these telonia or toll-gates, an archon (evil spirit) sought to detain the soul and prevent it from rising to the “region of light.” At each gate, there was a trial, and the archons, if they had sufficient evidence against the soul, or if the soul did not know the proper passwords or incantations, could cast the soul into hell. Even if the soul, being a faithful Mandean, knew the magic formula, it would have to face this trial in which its good works would be weighed on scales (the “avathier”). Since the Mandeans (and other Gnostics) considered man to be a tripartite creature, consisting of body, soul, and spirita doctrine now being actively advocated by those Neo-Gnostics who follow the “toll-house” teachingthe spirit and soul were weighed together. Extraordinary asceticism during one’s lifetime was necessary to pass through these toll-booths. The faithful Mandean would be accompanied by a “helper spirit,” an “angel advocate” who was both psychopomp (guide) and barrister (defense attorney) for the soul.

Gnosticism was a powerful force in early Christian Egypt, which may explain why many of the texts the Toll-housers point to as “proof” originate there. Origen of Alexandria (d. ca. 254), a Platonist, was very much influenced by Gnosticism. He writes, “I know of other tax-collectors who after our departure from this present life inspect us and hold us to see if we have something that belongs to them.” And elsewhere: “I wonder how much we must suffer at the hands of those evil angels, who examine everything and who, when someone is found unrepentant, demand not only the payment of taxes, but also seize and hold us completely captive” (Commentary on Luke, Homily 23). Origen was a Hellenizer who espoused the same body-soul dualism found in the toll-house thanatology (doctrine of death) which not only equated personhood with the soul, but involved reincarnation.

Dr. Michael Azkoul writes, “Origenism never died. His theology reached East and West, even to Rome, where it became a fact of Christian thought. Augustine himself made use of Origenist writings (see J.W. Trigg, Origen: The Bible and Philosophy in the Third Century, Atlanta, 1973, p. 251f). Origenism was revived in the 6th C., impacted seriously the period of the ‘icon-breakers’ (Iconoclasm), a movement associated with the 10th-century Gnostic cognate, the Bogomil (Manichean) heresy in Northern Greecewhere, not so incidentally, Gregory of Thrace wrote his Life of Basil the New with its Theodora myth (dream of “the toll-houses”) which resuscitated the Gnostic thanatology. It enjoyed a brief popularity, perhaps underground, during the reign of the Byzantine Emperor Manuel I Comnenus (1143-1180), whose dalliance with the occult led to military catastrophe.1 To what extent the 15th-C. Byzantine renaissance affected Russian religious thought, we cannot say, but it is not without interest that the complete text of Gregory’s Life of Basil the New was translated into Slavonic at that time and has been preserved in Metropolitan Makary’s Cheti Menaya which became the basis for the Russian versions of the life, including St. Dmitri of Rostov’s version2 from whence it found its place in the Russian hagiographies. The Life must have had some circulation in Russia, along with other Slavic countries also. In any case, the ‘toll-house’ theory had a major revival in 19th-century Russia, probably under the impetus of German theosophy.”3

The toll-houses have been defended by several prominent hierarchs of the Russian Church, particularly in the “dogmatic theologies”4 written in the second half of the 1800’s, a restless period for Russian academia. Fr. Georges Florovsky once described that entire century as “the struggle for theology.”5 Bishop Sylvester, Rector of the Kiev Theological Academy, Archbishop Philaret of Chernigov, Metropolitan Makary of Moscow, Archpriest N. Malinovsky, Bishop Theophan the Recluse, Bishop Ignaty (Brianchaninov),6 all the authorities which the Toll-housers like to cite, were educated and taught in this period of Protestant and Latin Scholasticism. If nothing else betrays them it is their use of the phrase “dogmatic theology” a classification of the “theological science” found nowhere in the holy fathers.

As a more astute theologian who was always working to purge Western ideas from Russian theology, Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky) of Kiev (1863-1936), in his voluminous writings, never talks about toll-houses. In fact, we are aware of only one reference to the “toll-houses” in the metropolitan’s works, when he mentions them as “something the rustic folk would say.”

We should remember the words of St. Cyprian of Carthage warning us against accepting an error simply because it has been found in the Church in the past: “But if there be among us, most beloved brother, the fear of God, if the maintenance of the faith prevail, if we keep the precepts of Christ, if we guard the incorrupt and inviolate sanctity of His spouse, if the words of the Lord abide in our thoughts and hearts, when He says, ‘What think ye, when the Son of man comes, shall He find the faith on the earth?’ (Lk. 18:8), then, because we are God’s faithful soldiers, who war for the Faith and sincere religion of God, let us keep the camp entrusted to us by God with faithful valor. Nor ought custom, which had crept in among some, to prevent the truth from prevailing and conquering; for custom without truth is the antiquity of error. On which account, let us forsake the error and follow the truth, knowing that in Esdras also the truth conquers, as it is written: ‘Truth endures and grows strong to eternity, and lives and prevails forever and ever. With her there is no accepting of persons or distinctions; but what is just she does: nor in her judgments is there unrighteousness, but the strength, and the kingdom, and the majesty, and the power of all ages. Blessed be the Lord God of truth!’ This truth Christ showed to us in His Gospel, and said, ‘I am the truth’ (Jn. 14:6). Wherefore, if we are in Christ, and have Christ in us, if we abide in the truth, and the truth abides in us, let us keep fast those things which are true” (Epistle 73:9).

St. Barsanuphius the Great (6th C.), likewise, explains how sometimes the holy fathers speak according to the Holy Spirit, and sometimes they speak simply according to what they have been taught: “May all the fathers, all the saints who have pleased God, and the righteous men and the genuine servants of God, pray for me. But do not think that, even if they were saints, they were able to comprehend genuinely all the depths of God. For the apostle says, ‘We know in part and we prophesy in part’ (1 Cor. 13:9); and again: ‘To whom it is given through the Spirit’ (cf. 1 Cor. 12:8), the one thing and the otherand not all those things in one man but some things thus and other things differently.... Contriving, then, to become teachers of their own accord or being forced to come to this by men, they made very great progress, even beyond their teachers, and being filled with spiritual assurance formulated new dogmas, at the same time, however, remaining in the possession of the traditions of their teachers, lessons which were not correct. And after these things, progressing and having become spiritual teachers, they did not ask God about their teachers, whether they spoke through the Holy Spirit, but treating them as wise men and knowledgeable, they did not discern their words; and so the teachings of their teachers were mixed together in their own teachings, and they spoke at one time from the teachings that they learned from their teachers, and at another time from the genius of their own mind, and thus their words were written in their name. For receiving from others and progressing and being improved, they spoke through the Holy Spirit, if they were spiritually assured with something by it, and they spoke from the lessons of the teachers who were before them, not discerning the words, if they were obliged to be spiritually informed by God with assurance through entreaty and prayer if they were true. And the teachings were mixed together, and because they were spoken by them, they were written in their names. Therefore, when you hear from one of them (the holy fathers) that he heard from the Holy Spirit what he is saying, this is an answer of spiritual assurance and we are obliged to believe. When he speaks concerning those words and you do not find him saying this, then it is not from an answer of spiritual assurance but it is from the lessons of his first teachers, and paying attention to their knowledge and wisdom, he did not ask God concerning these things if they were true” (Answer 604).

In any case, pointing to men who believed in toll-houses is not sufficient to prove the truth of this teaching. The Toll-housers must show that their ideas are consistent with Orthodox dogma. Obviously this is impossible for them, since the whole scheme of this Gnostic fable is involved in numerous blasphemies and contradictions.

Firstly, let us consider that the holy fathers teach us, in no uncertain terms, not to investigate or profess knowledge about what happens to the soul after death.

St. John Chrysostom states: “Let us not, therefore, seek to hear from dead men what the Scriptures teach us much more clearly every day. For if God knew that resurrected dead men could be of profit to the living, then HeWho brings to pass all things for our benefitwould not have neglected or let pass [the opportunity to give us] such gain. But besides this, if dead men were to be raised up continuously to proclaim to us all things that are yonder, then in time this also would be set at naught, and moreover, the devil could introduce wicked doctrines with much ease. For he could often show forth apparitions, or further, he could contrive that certain men should seem to die,...and then he could show them as being risen from the dead, and by means of these men he could persuade the minds of the deluded of whatsoever he wished. If indeed, now, when there is no one who has risen from the dead, dreams very often appear in the likeness of the departed and have corrupted and led many astray, then if such a thing actually happened and it became established in the minds of men that many of the departed have returned again, how much more so could the despicable demon weave ten thousand wiles and introduce great delusion into this life. For this very reason God closed the doors and has not permitted that any man who has departed this life could return and express those things yonder, lest the devil, taking this opportunity, should introduce all his own doctrines. For when there were prophets, the devil raised up false prophets; when apostles, then false apostles; and when Christ appeared, then false christs; and when sound doctrines were brought in, he introduced corrupt ones, everywhere sowing tares. And so if this thing [mentioned above] also were to happen, he would attempt to feign the same through his own instruments, not truly raising up dead men, but by a certain deception he would deceive the eyes of the beholders, or else, as I just said, he would contrive that certain should seem to die and thus he would turn all things upside down and confuse them. But God, foreseeing all this,...does not permit that any man should ever come from thence and speak to the living about the things yonder, and hereby He teaches us to hold the divine Scripture to be more worthy of credence than anything else” (Homily 4, On Lazarus and the Rich Man, PG 48:1010B, 1011A).

St. Anastasios of Sinai says, “Regarding those things which are passed over in silence in the divine Scriptures, it is manifest that they must not be sought out. The Holy Spirit revealed to us those things which it is to our profit to learn, and again as for those things which are not profitable, He kept them hidden. But since man is an argumentative and inquisitive creature, whatever we have been able to learn from the holy fathers, as it were somewhat dimly, this also shall I attempt to make clear to you” (Answer 89).

We should be skeptical of any stories about people describing the afterlife.

St. Isaac of Nineveh: “Speech is the language of this world, but silence is the language of the world to come.... Indeed, [Apostle Paul] wrote that he saw divine visions and said that he heard words, but was unable to describe what were those words or the figures of those divine visions. For when the mind in the spirit of revelation sees these things in their own place, it does not receive permission to utter them in a place that is not their own. Even if it should wish, it could not speak of them, because it did not see them with the bodily senses. Whatever the mind receives through the senses of the body, this it can express in the physical realm. However, whatever the mind perceptibly beholds, hears, or apprehends within itself in the realm of the spirit, it has no power to express.... For this very reason the blessed Paul by one word closed the door in the face of all theoria and the exclusion thereof he anchored in silence, where even if the mind were able to disclose that which belongs to the realm of the spirit, it would not receive permission to do so. For he said that all divine visions which the tongue has power to disclose in the physical realm are fantasies of the soul’s thoughts, not the working of grace” (Epistle to Symeon of Caesarea).

Toll-housers say that the souls who fail the demonic interrogation are cast into “hell.” But the soul cannot receive final judgment and be condemned without the body, for man consists of body and soul, as St. Justin the Philosopher writes, “For what is man but the rational animal composed of body and soul? Is the soul itself man? No; but the soul of man. Would the body be called ‘man’? No, but it is called the body of man. If, then, neither of these is by itself man, but that which is made up of the two together is called man, and God has called man to life and resurrection, He has called not a part, but the whole, which is the soul and the body” (On the Resurrection, §8).

More importantly, the kingdom of God and hell do not exist yet. That reality will only be manifested after the Second Coming of Christ and the Last Judgment. How, then, can the toll-house demons cast unrighteous souls into hell?

Listen to the words of St. Mark of Ephesus: “But if, as was said, no one has entered either the kingdom or Gehenna, how is it that we hear concerning the rich man and Lazarus that the former was in fire and torment and spoke with Abraham? The Lord said everything about Lazarus in the manner of a parable, even as He spoke of the ten virgins and in the rest of the parables. The parable of Lazarus has not come to pass in actuality, because the sinners in Gehenna shall not see the righteous who are with Abraham in the kingdom, nor will any of them know his neighbor, being in that darkness.

“Accepting this opinion our Church thus is minded and preaches, and she is most ready and well prepared to defend it. Firstly, the Lord in the Gospel according to Matthew describes beforehand the judgment to come, saying, ‘Come, ye blessed of My Father, inherit...’ It is evident that they have not yet inherited ‘the kingdom prepared for you’; ‘prepared,’ He says, not ‘already given.’ But to sinners He says, ‘Depart, ye cursed’evidently they have not yet departedinto everlasting fire ‘prepared’ not for you but ‘for the devil and his angels.’ Here again He says ‘prepared,’ since [that fire] has not yet received the condemned demons. And how could this be, when the demons even till now and until that very day roam about everywhere in the air and work their deeds in those who obey them? This very thing they cry out to the Lord in another place, as it is recorded in the same Gospel, ‘Art Thou come hither to torment us before the time?’ So it is clear that they do not endure torment yet, since the time has not yet come. If, therefore, the wicked demons, the first to work evil, for whom hell has especially been prepared and stored up, if they have not yet paid the debt of their fitting condemnation and freely wander about wherever they wish, what reasoning could persuade us that souls which amidst sins have departed for hence are straightaway given over to fire and to those torments which are prepared for others (i.e., the demons)? Nay, but then what need is there of the Judgment, or even of the resurrection of the bodies of these (souls), and of the Judge’s coming to earth, and of that fearsome, universal theater, if each man has received his due before that day? And how is it that the Lord in the parable of the virgins says that the virgin souls who went forth to meet the Bridegroom ‘slumbered and slept while the Bridegroom tarried,’ which means that they died, but that they did not enter the bridal chamber until the Bridegroom came from heaven, awakening all the virgins as it were from sleep, and the one group He led within along with Himself, while the others He shut out, which thing clearly shall come to pass only on that day? For He says, ‘Then shall the kingdom of the heavens be likened to ten virgins.’ And how is it that having traveled into a far country and delivered unto His servants His goods, He summons all together upon His return and requires of each one his work, if even before the Master’s return each of the servants has laid bare his work and received his recompense?

“And again in the epistle to the Hebrews where he speaks concerning the saints who have gone before us, ‘And all these, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise, God having provided some better thing for us, that they should not be made perfect without us’ (Heb. 11:39, 40). This we must think concerning all the faithful and righteous who lived until the Master’s coming. For just as those who have gone before have not been made perfect without the apostles, so neither are the apostles without the martyrs, nor the martyrs without those who after them have entered and shall enter into the good vineyard of the Church. This is indeed taught most lucidly by the parable where at different times there were different callings for workmen into the vineyard, but the recompense was given to all at the same time, and those who came first received nothing more. The great Evangelist John the Theologian says the same in Revelation: ‘And when he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held, and they cried with a loud voice saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost Thou not judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” And white robes were given unto every one of them and it was said unto them that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellow servants and also their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled’ (Rev. 6:9-11). From all these things, therefore, it is evident that neither are the saints in perfect enjoyment of those good things and of the blessedness to come, nor have sinners already received condemnation and been sent away to torment. And, indeed, since they are incomplete and, as it were, cut in half, being bereft of their bodies which they wait to receive incorruptible after the resurrection, how could they attain to those perfect rewards? Hence the apostle says, ‘Christ the first-fruits, then those who are Christ’s at His coming, then cometh the end’ (1 Cor. 15:23, 24); then, he says, they shall appear, then they shall be perfected. And the Lord says, ‘Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of the heavens’ (cf. Mt. 13:43)” (“Ten Arguments Against Purgatory”).

In the same way, St. Aphrahat the Persian Sage describes the state of the soul after death as experiencing a foretaste of its eternal lot, comparing it to a sweet sleep: “Blessed shall be the faithful and the righteous in that resurrection, in which they expect to be awakened and to receive the good promises made to them. But as for the wicked who are not faithful, in the resurrection, woe to them, because of that which is laid up for them! It would be better for them according to the faith which they possess, were they not to arise. For the servant for whom his lord is preparing stripes and bonds, while he is sleeping desires not to awake, for he knows that when the dawn shall come and he shall awake, his lord will scourge and bind him.... But the good servant, to whom his lord had promised gifts, looks expectantly for the time when dawn shall come and he shall receive gifts from his lord. And even though he is soundly sleeping, in his dream he sees something like what his lord is about to give him, whatsoever he has promised him, and he rejoices in his dream and is gladdened. As for the wicked, his sleep is not pleasant to him, for he imagines that, lo, the dawn has come for him, and his heart is broken in his dream. But the righteous sleep, and their slumber is pleasant to them, and they have no perception of all that long night, and like one hour is it accounted in their eyes. Then in the watch of the dawn they awake with joy. But as for the wicked, their sleep lies heavy upon them, and they are like a man who is laid low by a great and deep fever, and tosses on his couch hither and thither, and he is terrified the whole night long, which lengthens itself out and he fears the dawn when his lord will condemn him. But our Faith teaches thus: that when men fall asleep, they sleep this slumber without knowing good from evil. And the righteous receive not their promises nor do the wicked receive their sentence of punishment until the Judge come and separate those whose place is at His right hand from those whose place is at His left” (Demonstration 19).

The Confession of the Eastern Patriarchs (q. 61) reads, “Inasmuch as an accounting will not be required of each one separately on the day of the Last Judgment, since all is known to God, and inasmuch as at death each one knows his own deeds, after death each one also learns of the recompense for his deeds. For if each one knows his deeds the sentence of God upon him is also known, as Gregory the Theologian says in his discourse (eulogy) on Caesarius, his brother. Thus, one must think of the souls of sinners only from reversed perspective, i.e., that they know and foresee the torments which await them. Neither the righteous, nor the sinful receive the full reward for their deeds before the Last Judgment. Moreover, not all souls are found in the same state nor are they sent to one and the same place.”

And St. Justin Martyr concurs: “The souls of the pious remain in a better place, while those of the unjust and wicked are in a worse, waiting for the time of judgment” (Dialogue with Trypho, Ch. 5).

It is also important to lay aside any carnal conceptions of a material “heaven” that departed souls can now inhabit. Departed souls are not in a physical place (as they are immaterial), but rather in a state or condition of either joy or torment in the realm of the dead (Hades). And “Surely,” writes St. Gregory of Nyssa, “the ‘Hades’ which we have just been speaking of cannot reasonably be thought a place so named; rather we are there told by Scripture about a certain unseen and immaterial situation in which the soul resides” (On the Soul and the Resurrection, 54).

St. Mark of Ephesus: “You asked: what do we mean by saying that the saints are with God in heaven together with the angels? We reply that heaven is not a physical place where the angels dwell like as we, but it is a noetic place surpassing sense perception, if indeed this should be called a place at all; but more properly, it must be called ‘the place of God.’ For John the Damascene says in his thirteenth Theological Chapter entitled ‘On the Place of God’: ‘The place of God is said to be that which [or, he who] has a greater share in His energy and grace. For this reason the heaven is His throne, for in it are the angels who do His will’; and again, ‘A noetic place is where the noetic and bodiless nature both functions noetically and exists, both is present and active.’ We say, then, that such a place, supercelestial and supermundane, noetic and bodiless, contains both the angels and the saints, and we are accustomed to call it ‘heaven.’ And we have believed that in it more than elsewhere and especially God is and appears and is active, since we possess the Master’s words, ‘Our Father Who art in the heavens.’ For just as the noetic natures are something akin to Divinity and are comprehended by the mind alone, while every nature in the realm of the senses is completely alien to Divinity, according to Gregory the Theologian, so the place and world of the noetic and unmaterial natures is akin to God and was created by Him first, according to the same Theologian, but this earthly place and world is in every wise alien to Him” (“Orations and Replies to the Cardinals on the Orations,” PO 15:109-154).

But let us look more closely now at the original “Tale of Elder Basil the New,” a 10th-C. document of Bogomil origin, which unfortunately was accepted (and edited) by certain overly-credulous hagiographers, particularly in Russia, and has become the most important source material for the toll-house myth.

In Elder Basil’s “Life,” if in fact he ever existed, he prays that his disciple, Gregory of Thrace, might have a vision in order to understand what happens to the soul after death. Then Gregory has a vision (or is it in a dream-world?), in which a woman named Theodora explains how her soul passed through the toll-booths after her death. At the twenty toll-houses, each dedicated to some particular sin, the demons, who have knowledge of all of Theodora’s sins, accuse her of her sins while her two guardian angels defend her and make excuses for her. If her good deeds outweigh her sins at each station, she is released to proceed to the next toll-house.

We are immediately struck by the great authority that is given to the demons, God’s enemies, in this scenario. No longer is Christ the judge of the living and the dead, as we confess in the Creed, but He has given the destiny of the souls, for whom He suffered and died, into the hands of filthy, apostate creatures who hate Him. The Son, to Whom “all judgment hath been given” (cf. Jn. 5:22), Whose “judgment is true” (Jn. 8:16), Who “shall declare judgment to the nations” (Mt. 12:18), Whom the Father gave “authority to execute judgment” (Jn. 5:27), “because true and righteous are His judgments” (Rev. 19:2), is the only Judge of His creation. “In His humiliation,” when He became incarnate, “His judgment was taken away” (Acts 8:33), during which period “He came not that He might judge the world, but that He might save the world” (cf. Jn. 12:47), and until the completion of the age, He “judges no one” (cf. Jn. 8:15), and the souls under the altar who were slain on account of the word of God cry out for Him to judge and avenge their blood (Rev. 6:9, 10). But at the end, He shall come again in heavenly glory to judge the living and the dead, and His kingdom shall have no end.

Why would God give such an awe-inspiring role of judgment to the wicked demons? What did they do to deserve such an honor? for they would certainly take much pleasure in consigning souls to everlasting suffering.

Yet the holy fathers teach quite the contrary, and although the demons may assail us at the hour of death, slandering and trying to disturb us, they have no real power over our eternal destiny. “For if,” states St. John Chrysostom, “while the soul dwells in the body the devil cannot bring violence upon it, it is obvious that when it departs he likewise cannot” (Homily 2 on Lazarus and the Rich Man).

St. Anthony the Great (as recorded by St. Athanasios the Great) says, “But the demons, as they have no power, are like actors on the stage changing their shape and frightening children with tumultuous apparitions and various forms, from which they ought rather to be despised as showing their weakness” (Life, §28). And again, “Since they have no power to effect anything, they do nought but threaten” (ibid.). St. Anthony also says that once the devil appeared to him and said, “‘Why do the monks and all the other Christians blame me undeservedly? Why do they curse me hourly?’ Then I answered, ‘Wherefore dost thou trouble them?’ He said, ‘I am not he who troubles them, but they trouble themselves, for I am become weak. Have they not read, “The swords of the enemy failed in the end, and thou hast destroyed the cities”? I have no longer a place, a weapon, a city.’... Then I marveled at the grace of the Lord and said to him, ‘...Even against thy will thou hast spoken truly. For the coming of Christ hath made thee weak, and He hath cast thee down and stripped thee’” (§41).

Toll-house proponents, since they cannot argue based on logic, the Scriptures, or Orthodox doctrine, like to hide behind a preponderance of quotations from the Church fathers, some of which are spurious, and almost none of which actually mention toll-houses. There are many vague references to demons accosting someone at the time of his death. These quotations do not prove anything. They certainly never mention that the demons are responsible for judging a soul after its departure. No one denies that the demons have been occasionally said to accuse and slander Christians at the hour of death. To use this as proof that souls must pass through demonic “toll-houses” is an incredible leap in logic.

In fact, in his Commentary on the Epistle to the Ephesians (Homily 22:1), St. Chrysostom implicitly denies any doctrine of aerial toll-houses. Explaining the verse, “Put on the full armor of God, for you to be able to stand against the wiles of the devil; because for us the wrestling is not against blood and flesh, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the cosmic rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of evil in high places. For this cause take up the full armor of God, in order that ye might be able to withstand in the day, and having counteracted all things, to stand” (Eph. 6:11-13), St. John writes that the word “wiles” means that the demons have no power to compel us to any course of action. They use strategy against us. They are rulers of “the world” or “age,” not as governing the world, for, as the Scriptures are wont to do, “world” is equated with “wicked practices.” The demons dwell in “high places,” in the “air” or “places in the heavens.” The “evil day” exists in the “present evil age” (Gal. 1:4). In a word, these verses do not, as Toll-housers think, apply to the encounter of the departed soul with the demons.

Furthermore, as Michael Azkoul points out, “The teaching of Fr. Seraphim Rose...is not careful to distinguish between the experience of the righteous and the reprobate. We read in his work, ‘When the soul of a Christian, leaving its earthly dwelling, begins to strive through the aerial spaces towards the homeland on high, the demons stop it, strive to find in it a kinship with themselves, their sinfulness, their fall, and to drag it down to hell prepared for the devil and his angels (Mt. 25:41). They act thus by the right they have acquired’ (Bishop Ignaty, Collected Works, vol. 2, pp. 132-133).’ (The Soul After Death, p. 74). He leaves me confused: initially, my impression was that the souls of all the dead must face the demonic collectors, not merely the Christians (a word he fails to define). Then, I supposed it was the damned who encountered the toll-houses; then, only the saved? Finally I wondered why anyone would need to be tested by them, since the saved would surely pass their tests and the damned would surely flunk. How, in any case, can one be released to heaven and the other cast into hell when neither heaven nor hell are yet accessible?”7

We should also be careful not to take literally any account that says the bodiless demons “take hold” of the wicked ones and drag them off to punishment. In the first place, the Scriptures say rather that the angels are the executors of God’s will. Consider the parable of the wheat and the tares (darnel): “‘Let both grow together until the harvest; and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, “Gather together first the darnel and bind them into bundles in order to completely burn them; but bring together the wheat into my storehouse.”’... Then Jesus sent the crowds away and went into the house. And His disciples came to Him, saying, ‘Declare to us the parable of the darnel of the field.’ And He answered and said to them, ‘The One Who soweth the good seed is the Son of Man. And the field is the world, and the good seed, these are the sons of the kingdom; but the darnel are the sons of the evil one. And the enemy who sowed them is the devil, and the harvest is the consummation of the age, and the reapers are the angels. Therefore even as the darnel is gathered together and burned completely, thus it shall be in the consummation of this age. The Son of Man shall send forth His angels, and they shall gather together out of His kingdom all the stumbling blocks, and those doing lawlessness; and they shall cast them into the furnace of the fire. There shall be there the weeping and the gnashing of the teeth’” (Mt. 13:30, 36-42).

Yet, if we raise our perceptions even higher than the pedagogical words of the parable, we may surmise that the Last Judgment will be more lofty and unimaginable than angels simply throwing the reprobate into a torture chamber. We shall discuss later what the “furnace” better denotes and how we should understand the “fire” of everlasting torment.

But before we proceed any further, we must examine the following fundamental problem: the holy fathers tell us that the demons are unable to see the souls of men, nor do they know what a man thinks or ponders in his heart. St. Isaac the Syrian says that there are three orders of spiritual beings: angels, souls, and demons. Concerning the demons he writes, “The demons, though they are extremely polluted, are not concealed from one another in their own orders; howbeit they do not see the two orders (souls and angels) that are above them” (Homily 67).

St. John Cassian also testifies in the First Conference of Abba Serenus: “But the demons cannot possibly come near to those thoughts which have not yet come forth from the inmost recesses of the soul. And the thoughts, too, which they suggest, whether they are actually or in a kind of way embraced, are discovered by them not from the nature of the soul itself but from the motions and signs given by the outward man” (§15). “For just as thieves are in the habit of examining the concealed treasures of the men in those houses which they mean to rob, and in the dark shadows of night sprinkle with careful hands little grains of sand and discover the hidden treasures which they cannot see by the tinkling sound,...so these too, in order to expose the treasures of our heart, scatter over us the sand of certain evil suggestions, and when they see some bodily passion arise corresponding to their character, they recognize it as if by a sort of tinkling sound proceeding from the inmost recesses, what it is that is stored up in the secret chamber of the inner man” (§16).

And St. John the Solitary: “The devil cannot touch the nature of the soul, nor can he draw near it at all to harm it.... The devil does not touch or see the soul, but the members of the body only,...and by harming one of the members he disturbs the thoughts which are active within them. For indeed, if he could draw near the soul so as to harm it, then he would also be able to harm it after it departed from the body, but this he would have to do while being unable to see it and having no power over it, because his power extends only as far as the body” (Sixth Dialogue with Thomasios).

Thus, how is it that the toll-house demons have a list of every man’s sins? Certainly they are not witnesses of our most profound inner sins, those dispositions that originate in the heart. “For out of the heart cometh forth evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false testimonies, blasphemies. These are the things which defile the man” (Mt. 15:19, 20). It is God alone Who knows the hearts of men, as Scripture assures us: “He knew all men, and needed not that any should testify of man; for He knew what was in man” (Jn. 2:25); “And all the churches shall know that I am He which searcheth the reins and hearts; and I will give unto every one of you according to your works” (Rev. 2:23); “For the Logos of God is living and effective, and sharper than every two-edged sword...and is a discerner of the ponderings and intents of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). God alone knows the true purity or impurity of our souls. This fact alone makes the rest of Theodora’s narration doubtful, to say the very least.

At each toll-booth, a reckoning is made of all Theodora’s good deeds as compared with her bad deeds. If her virtues outweigh her vices, she can make it through each station.

This procedure of weighing and buying off a bad deed with a good deed is very strange and introduces a foreign element into Christian morality. Good works are not some sort of quantity or money whereby we can buy our way into the kingdom of the heavens, or something we can show to God and He is obliged as a debtor to give us salvation. “So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants; we have done that which was our duty to do’” (Lk. 17:10). Good works are nothing but a demonstration of good faith, as Apostle Iakovos says, “I will show thee my faith by my works,” and “Faith without works is dead” (Jas. 2:18, 20); but it is by faith that we are justified (or, accounted righteous) as Apostle Paul says in many places, “We believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified” (Gal. 2:16), and “Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace. For we through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith” (Gal. 5:4-6). Clearly, a man is not saved by the number of his good deeds, but by God in Whom he believes. If, however, we think that it is the number of our good deeds which redeems us from our evil deeds (sins), Christ has certainly become of no effect to us.

St. Mark the Ascetic writes the following in his treatise entitled “On Those Who Think to Justify Themselves by Works”: “When Scripture says, ‘He will reward every man according to his works,’ do not imagine that works in themselves merit either hell or the kingdom. On the contrary, Christ rewards each man according to whether his works are done with faith or without faith in Himself; and He is not a dealer bound by contract, but God our Creator and Redeemer” (§22). Further he says, “However great our virtuous actions of today, they do not repay but condemn our past negligence” (§44). How, then, can good deeds “buy off” sins, as Gregory claims? St. Mark also brings up another point about good deeds: “The self-controlled refrain from gluttony; those who have renounced possessions, from greed.... Similarly, those who pray are protected from despair; the poor, from having many possessions; confessors of the faith, from its denial; martyrs, from idolatry. Do you see how every virtue that is performed even to the point of death is nothing other than refraining from sin? Now to refrain from sin is a work within our natural powers, but not something that buys us the kingdom” (§25).

Therefore, even though we have practiced all the virtues and done innumerable good deeds, we are still “unprofitable servants” and have not attained to sonship and divinization. So St. Mark continues, “While man can scarcely keep what belongs to him by nature, Christ gives the grace of sonship through the Cross” (§26).

It is the grace of sonship that saves us, not works. St. Isaac the Syrian writes: “Believe in your heart that the Lord is merciful and gives those who seek Him the recompense of grace, not in proportion to our works, but according to the earnestness and faith of our souls” (Homily 56).

In like manner, therefore, we must also say that a man is not condemned by his evil deeds but by his lack of faith and, as a consequence, the absence of the gift of sonship. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.... He that believeth on Him is not condemned; but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only-begotten Son of God” (Jn. 3:16, 18). But if our judgment is to be strictly according to the weight of our good and evil deeds, not a single man will be saved. For the Psalmist says, “If Thou shouldest take note of lawlessness with exactitude, O Lord, O Lord, who shall withstand? For with Thee there is expiation” (Ps. 129:3, 4), and St. Ephraim the Syrian exclaims, “If yonder there shall be no mercy, would that I had never left my mother’s womb!” (Homily on the End, lines 30, 31).

The justice of God is not scales, weights, and measures; this is man’s justice. St. Isaac the Syrian writes: “Do not call God just, for His justice is not manifest in the things concerning thee,...for although thy debt to Him is so great, yet He is not seen exacting payment from thee, and for the small works thou doest, He bestows great rewards upon thee.... Where, then, is God’s justice, for while we are sinners Christ died for us? But if here He is merciful, we may believe that He will not change” (Homily 60). And again, “Mercifulness is opposed to just judgment. Just judgment is the equality of the even scale, for it gives to each as he deserves.... As a grain of sand cannot counterbalance a great lump of gold, so by comparison God’s use of just judgment cannot counterbalance His mercifulness. As a handful of sand thrown into the great sea, so by comparison are the sins of all flesh with respect to the providence and mercy of God” (Homily 58).

“God is love” (1 Jn. 4:8) and mercy; He does not condemn men according to human justice, but He saves them according to divine mercy. “For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved” (Jn. 3:17). It is men who condemn themselves by not availing themselves of His free gifts. But if we believe, like Gregory, that our condemnation is by a divine justice which requites us “eye for eye and tooth for tooth” according to our deeds, then God is for us an Avenger Who abandons His merciful tendencies for the sake of justice. Surely this is foreign to Christ’s teaching.8

At one point, during the haggling between the angels and demons over Theodora’s sins, Elder Basil (who is still alive), appears and gives the angels a purse filled with gold, saying, “Take these and with them buy off this soul when it passes through the telonia of the air, for by the grace of Christ I am exceedingly rich as regards my soul. I amassed these gold pieces by my own toils and sweat, and I give them to her so that by them you may free her from the spirits of wickedness when she is soon to encounter her debts” (f.76v).

These words of the Elder Basil are filled with strange doctrines. First of all, the very idea that a man can possess an excess of righteousness so as to have “riches” left over is contrary to the very nature of virtue. St. Mark the Ascetic says, “If we are under an obligation to perform daily all the good actions of which our nature is capable, what do we have left over to give God in repayment for our past sins?” (ibid., §43).

But if we have nothing left for our own past sins, what shall any man have for someone else’s sins? Divine Scripture says, “A brother cannot redeem; shall a man redeem? He shall not give to God an expiation for himself, nor the price of the redemption of his own soul, though he toil to the age and shall live to the end” (Ps. 48:7, 8). Therefore, the Elder Basil’s boast is simply absurd. As for his personal riches (if he has any) being of help to Theodora’s soul, St. John Chrysostom writes: “We must set our hopes for salvation in our own achievements, not enumerating fathers, grandfathers, and great-grandfathers, nor kinsmen, friends, relatives, and neighbors. ‘A brother cannot redeem; shall a man redeem?’” (PG 48:1007) And again, “Neither kinship, nor friendship, nor affection, nor any other thing in existence can be of profit to the man who is betrayed by his own way of life,...nor can the virtue of other men be of any help to us then” (PG 48:1005).

Here we have in clear terms a summary of the doctrine that is being taught here. Surely no Orthodox Christian reader can suspect that this document is Orthodox in its content. The Roman Catholic doctrine of supererogatory merits is quite clearly being presented, that is, the teaching that the “extra” grace accumulated by a holy person (the Virgin Mary, the saints) can be dispensed to someone elsea doctrine that, incidentally, necessarily implies that grace is created.

First of all, what is this gold which the Elder Basil provides? Clearly it is not gold in the material sense. But let us suppose that it represents the grace of God. Does the Elder Basil own God’s grace and dispense it as he pleases? Moreover, the last things the demons want is the grace of God, which is for them a consuming fire. But what is there that can “buy off” sins? And why should this, whatever it is, be paid to the demons, when it is God Whom we have sinned against? Sins do not have to be “paid off,” but they have to be forgiven by God; and they are forgiven by God not because He has received their price, but because of our Savior’s free gift of the grace of redemption to those who believe in Him and love Him. Thus Apostle Paul writes, “For all sinned and are coming short of the glory of God, being justified (made righteous) freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, Whom God Himself hath set forth to be an expiation through faith in His blood, for a showing forth of His righteousness on account of the paralysis of the sins which were done aforetime” (Rom. 3:23-25).

Likewise, St. Mark the Ascetic writes, “To fulfill every commandment is a duty, whereas sonship is a gift given to men through His own blood” (ibid., §2), and “‘Christ died on account of our sins in accordance with the Scriptures’ (1 Cor 15:3); and to those who serve Him well He gives freedom” (§2). Gregory of Thrace, however, overthrows the doctrine of our redemption and salvation by Jesus Christ and establishes it on the principles of human justice, where there is no “free” gift of God.

Throughout this whole toll-house story, Jesus Christ is conspicuously absent. He plays no role in the salvation of a soul. Deliverance is achieved only by personal virtue (Pelagianism).

More than this, we are never told by Seraphim Rose9 and the Toll-housers what is the place of grace in their thanatological scenario.10 If a member of Christ has been shaped by grace, the devil has no power over him in this world, let alone in the next, as the fathers maintain. If, too, the demons carry the reprobate to his Particular Judgment, of what purpose are the toll-houses? Concerning what, and to what purpose, do they interrogate the soul? It has no “test” to pass; it is already consigned to Hades where it anticipates the torments of hell. With what does the soul pay the demons? A recitation of its good works? Have we come to the point that salvation comes by works?

Let us return to the question of Basil’s gold. Whatever it signifies, why was it given to the demons? The meaning of the word telonion in Greek is a place where a tax or toll is collected; in the Gospels, St. Matthew was sitting at one when the Savior called him (Mk. 2:14). The tax collector was in the service of the government or owner of the road, for whom he collected the toll. Since the demons are the ones who collect the Elder Basil’s gold, we must conclude that either they are in the service of God and are going to hand over the gold to Him (perhaps He wants His grace back?), or that the path to heaven belongs to Satan, whom the demons serve. Since we know that the first alternative is impossible, because the demons are rebels from God’s authority and strive against Him in every way they can, then we must embrace the second, if we are to believe in the Theodora fable and Gregory’s hallucination. But this, again, is Manichean, something Massalians and Bogomils would teach, but a concept that would never even occur to any Orthodox Christian. In fact it is blasphemous.

We would do better to not even waste our time on this fantastic tale of Gregory of Thrace; for, according to St. Barsanuphius the Great, “Whenever a sinful person receives a vision, it is evident that it is from the evil demons in order to deceive the wretched soul into perdition. One should never, therefore, give credence to such visions, but be conscious of one’s own sins and his weakness and lead one’s life always in fear and trembling” (Answer 414).

St. Isaac the Syrian, the bane of all Toll-housers, likewise explicitly rejects all fantasies concerning the soul’s celestial pathway to heaven, writing, “Whatever the intellect perceptibly beholds, hears, or apprehends within itself in the realm of the spirit, it has no power to express when it turns again towards the body. It merely remembers that it saw them, but how it saw them, it knows not to express with clarity. This convicts the false scriptures called ‘revelations,’ which, being composed by the originators of the corrupt heresies under the influence of demonic fantasies, describe the celestial dwellings in the firmamentthe pathways into heaven, the places set apart by the Judgment, and manifold figures of the celestial hosts, and their diverse activities. But all these things are shadows of an intellect inebriated by conceit and deranged by the working of demons” (Epistle to Abba Symeon).

Quite apart from the unscriptural nature of this “vision,” it is just plain silly. Moreover, as we pointed out, it is not possible that the demons know all a man’s sins, unless we are to believe that the sins committed in the heart are not sins, although the Savior speaks of committing adultery in the heart (Mt. 5:28). It is perfectly clear from the holy fathers quoted earlier that the demons cannot know the inner man or penetrate the soul.

As Theodora’s soul supposedly traverses the mythical telonia, we witness how the angels and the demons argue over each of her sins. For instance, as a slave she was joined to a man by her master, without a church wedding, and she lived with him and seems to have had children by him. But she also “fell into sin with other young men who were in the house of my master, being deceived by them and because I did not know about these terrible toll-houses and bitter investigations” (f.94r). Now since this was the toll-house of adultery, the demons claimed that this was adultery because she was already married, but the angels said that since there was no church Matrimony, it was fornication and did not belong to that toll-house. Presumably the angels strove to have these sins reckoned as fornication and not adultery because fornication in their eyes is less serious a sin. Even so, it is hard to see what difference it makes whether one is dragged off to Hades at the toll-house of fornication or the toll-house of adultery. One wonders, also, how long it took the demons and angels to haggle over every sin, even the most trifling. Obviously this would take much longer than it would to commit the sins, so this process must take many lifetimes, if there is any sort of time reckoning there. Since, however, Theodora’s soul was already allotted to Basil because of his accumulated supererogatory merits, why should the angels have taken all this trouble?11

In fact, I believe that some Toll-housers say that the passage through the telonia is completed on the fortieth day after death and that this is the reason for the memorial service (pannikhida) that is traditionally performed on that day. This idea may be based on an apocryphal story (“homily”) attributed to St. Makarius of Egypt, in which an angel tells him that a departed soul, for two days, is permitted to roam the earth wherever it wills. On the third day, the soul ascends to the heavens to worship God. Then, from the third to the ninth day the soul tours the joys of heaven; and from the ninth to the fortieth day it gets to witness the torments of hell and its different departments of torments, before finally being judged and assigned its final resting place by God. It is strange that the Toll-housers use this spurious, and rather silly, text as evidence in their favor, since it contradicts their own afterlife scheme in so many ways.

Moreover, the fact that the text allegedly came from Egypt is not without significance, for in this land are found the non-Greek roots of Gnosticism. Pagan Egyptian mythology teaches that the soul cannot rest until the body has been properly buried and, therefore, the soul must wander until the embalming ritual for the dead is completed. During this period, the soul is judged and weighed by forty-two nome-gods.12

Setting aside the obvious horror of spending thirty-one days in “hell,” as posited by the pseudo-Makarian homily, the Church fathers know nothing about any forty-day journey of the soul, any peripatetic wandering of departed spirits. St. John Chrysostom declares, “Nor indeed is it possible for a soul, once torn away from its body, to wander here any more. For ‘The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God’ (Wis. 3:1); and if [those souls] of the righteous, then those children’s souls also: for neither are they wicked. And the souls, too, of sinners are straightway led away hence” (Hom. 28 on Matthew, 28:3).

The Lord Jesus Christ, while hanging on the Cross, said to the good thief, “Today thou shalt be with Me in Paradise” (Lk. 23:43).

There is no delay, no interval of time, between death and the soul’s recompense. As St. Gregory the Theologian meditates, at the funeral of his brother Caesarios: “I believe the words of the wise, that every fair and God-beloved soul, when, set free from the bonds of the body, it departs hence, at once enjoys a sense and perception of the blessings which await it, inasmuch as that which darkened it has been purged away, or laid aside—I know not how else to term it—and feels a wondrous pleasure and exultation, and goes rejoicing to meet its Lord” (Paneg. Frat. Caes., 21).

In the Funeral Service for a layman, Ode 4 of the canon reads, “Mercifully enable him who hath now appeared before Thee to obtain Thy glory unspeakable, O Christ, where is the abode of those who rejoice, and the voice of gladness pure.” The departed soul is in the presence of Christ now. Later, in Ode 6 we find: “When Thou wast nailed to the Cross, Thou didst gather unto Thyself the company of the martyrs who imitated Thy Passion, O blessed One. We beseech Thee, therefore: Give rest unto him who hath now been translated to Thy presence.” And Ode 8: “Those who have continued faithful in godly living, and now are translated unto Thee, do Thou accept, O Master. Graciously give rest, forasmuch as Thou art of tender compassion, unto those who exalt Thee unto all the ages.” Among the troparia sung at the last kiss, we chant, “O thou who savest those who fix their hope on thee, the Mother of the Sun that knoweth no setting, O progenetrix of God: With thy prayers entreat, we beseech thee, the God exceeding good, that unto him who hath now been translated He will give repose where the souls of the righteous rest. Manifest him an heir of good things divine, in the courts of the righteous, unto everlasting memory, O all-undefiled one” (Theotokion).

Despite the contrived explanation of the third, ninth, and fortieth-day memorial services as expounded by the author of the spurious Makarian “homily,” the true meaning behind these services is much more simple. Three, nine, and forty are special, symbolic numbers for Orthodox Christians. The Lord Jesus Christ rose from the dead on the third day. There are nine orders of the angelic bodiless hosts. Our Savior ascended to the heavens on the fortieth day after His Resurrection. Or, according to St. Symeon of Thessalonica, “The tritia (third-day service) is celebrated for the reason that [the departed] received his being through the Trinity and having passed to a state of good being and being changed he shall appear [at the resurrection] in his original state or one superior. The ennata (ninth day) is celebrated that his spirit dwell together with the holy spirits, the angels, being immaterial and naturally similar to themfor these spirits are nine in order, and by them they triply proclaim and praise the God in Trinityand so that he may be united with the holy spirits of the saints. The tessaracosta (fortieth day) is celebrated because of the Savior’s Ascension, which came to pass so many days after His Resurrection” (On Things Done for the Departed).13

We explicate here the teaching of the Church based only on the clear theological statements of the fathers, not from allegorical expositions intended to encourage monks in their struggles, to frighten illiterate sinners into contrition, or the recitation of “dreams,” often made up by an elder as a moral fable for the spiritual instruction of people too spiritually immature and imperceptive to grasp the real, theological explanation of the matter.

Another thing: Toll-housers protest that their doctrine is nothing like the Roman Catholic idea of Purgatory. We would have to agree. The concept of Purgatory makes much more sense than the bizarre toll-houses. Purgatory supposedly cleanses one from sins by “fire” on the way to the heavenly kingdom. It involves the remission of sins for the purpose of purification. But it is hard to find a clear purpose for the toll-houses. What goal do they serve? Cannot God judge His creatures without a sadistic gauntlet of prosecuting demons? Thus, even the heresy of Purgatory makes more sense than the Gnostic toll-houses. We are told by more level-headed Toll-housers that the whole scheme should be understood “metaphorically.” But what is a metaphorical toll-house or a metaphorical demon? Do the demons not confront us, then? What is the metaphorical interrogation the soul is given? Does the soul after death not literally encounter demons that judge its fitness for heaven? If Toll-housers do not take their theory literally, all their arguments are for nothing, a complete waste of time.

If we return now to the perilous journey of the soul of Theodora, we notice that, strangely, among all the sins represented by toll stations, there is no toll-house of blasphemy, that most serious sin, and none for sacrilege, though Apostle Paul says, “If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy” (1 Cor. 3:17). Still more strange is the placement of the toll-house of “idolatry and all heresies” (f.92v), it holding the fifteenth position. For since, as St. Cyprian of Carthage says, “There is no salvation outside the Church” (“Epistle 72”), and “Now it is manifest that they who are not in the Church of Christ are reckoned among the dead” (“Ep. 70”), and St. Mark of Ephesus says, “This is our boast, our Faith, the good inheritance of our fathers. With this we hope to stand before God and receive the forgiveness of our sins; but without this I know not what righteousness will deliver us from eternal torment” (“Epistle to the Monastery of Vatopedi,” PO 17:340), then this toll-house should be first in line. Obviously it would be pointless to balance out the good and evil deeds of idolaters and heretics, since they have no share in salvation anyway. And since, as the angels informed Theodora, a man receives an angel at Baptism, idolaters and heretics have no angels to help their souls and to present their good deeds, for they have no Baptism.

But we still have not answered that important question: if there are such things as toll-houses like Gregory describes, what is their purpose? For nothing created or permitted to exist by God is without a purpose. The purpose of the toll-houses, as explained to Theodora’s soul by the angels, is to hinder from ascending to heaven a soul whose sins outweigh its good deeds; then demons seize it and drag it down to Hades to dwell there until the fearful and inexorable Judgment. So actually this extremely intricate and tortuous system was devised by God only to determine where souls are to dwell till His Second Coming: either a soul continues on to heaven, or the demons drag it off to Hades. After the Second Coming, they will again be judged, with their bodies (although the Lord’s own Last Judgment seems pretty moot at this point, after such a dramatic and painstaking investigation has been carried out by the demons). The first problem that arises here (besides those already discussed with regards to weighing good and evil deeds and human justice) is that we have already established that demons do not have the power to lay hands on, or even see, the human soul after death. St. John Chrysostom writes, “Let us not be persuaded by the demon at all, but though he say something true, let us flee and turn away from him. For sound and saving doctrine are not to be accurately learned from demons, but from divine Scripture. Now so as to know that a soul which departs from the body does not fall under the tyranny of the devil, listen to what Paul says, ‘He who is dead is freed from sin,’ that is, he no longer sins. For if while the soul dwells in the body the devil cannot bring violence upon it, it is obvious that when it departs he likewise cannot.... ‘And it came to pass,’ He says, ‘that the beggar died and was carried away by the angels.’ Not only the souls of the righteous, but also the souls of those who have lived in wickedness are carried away thither.... ‘Thou fool, this night they shall demand thy soul of thee’ (Lk. 12:20). See how there He says ‘carried away by angels,’ here ‘they shall demand’? The one the angels led forth as one in bonds, the other they escorted as a champion” (PG 48:984).

St. Chrysostom thus interprets “they shall demand thy soul of thee” to refer to the angels.

It is, therefore, doubtful (and especially because the holy fathers declare that demons are not even able to see it) that the demons have any power whatsoever over the soul of a man after his death, though they would like us to believe the contrary (and this explains the source of this whole tale about Theodora and the toll-houses). Where and to what the souls of departed Christians go is God’s inscrutable decision, for they are His servants, and the demons have no part in it, as Apostle Paul writes, “Who art thou that judgest another man’s household servant? To his own lord he standeth or falleth” (Rom. 14:4).

St. Irenaeus also writes, “The souls go away to the invisible place ordained for them by God, and there they dwell until the resurrection, awaiting the resurrection. Thereupon they shall receive back their bodies and be resurrected in their entirety, that is, bodily, even as the Lord arose, and thus they shall go before the countenance of God” (Against Heresies, Bk. V, §31).

Not surprisingly, this is part of St. Irenaeus’ refutation of Gnosticism.

God determines these things with all-knowing simplicity, and they are executed by His angels, not by His enemies.

But to return to the question concerning the purpose of the toll-houses, it is clear that God and God alone is the judge of souls and determines what is best for them. Therefore God has no need of the toll-houses.

Moreover, St. Mark of Ephesus brings up this further argument, showing that since the will is inactive after death, the soul cannot improve its state: “In order to gain bliss, both the uprightness of the will is requiredwhose proper object is the universal goodand the good deeds deserving of recompense which are a consequence of this will. However, both the motion of the will and that of works must necessarily be confined to this present life; this you (the Latins) also think, since you say that the will of those held in Purgatory is immovable.... Now since Purgatory does not make an evil will a good will, but the uprightness of will is required for bliss, then Purgatory contributes nothing towards the reception of bliss. But that which has no function exists in vain. And since God did not create a single thing in vain, Purgatory does not exist” (“Ten Arguments Against Purgatory,” Patrologia Orientalis XV 424).

How, therefore, can the soul be profited by going through the toll-houses? By the anguish it suffers? But this would be another form of Purgatory, which, as St. Mark proves, cannot exist. To return to the narration of Theodora, we see that her soul had to pass through the toll-houses even though it was already saved though the prayers of Elder Basil. Therefore no profit was expected from them; and further, if some profit was to be had, surely the angels would have pointed it out to Theodora. Hence we can conclude that the toll-houses do not exist for the sake of human souls.

We are, then, obliged to think that the toll-houses exist for the demons’ sake. What would they gain hereby? In their eyes, a great deal. Firstly, since they are very passionate creatures, they would be able to satisfy somewhat their unquenchable malice against mankind by bringing forth each and every sin to torment and dismay the wretched soul, and with luck they would even be able to drag it off to Hades to dwell with them. Secondly, it would bolster their overweening pride, that they have not become weak by Christ’s incarnate ekonomia, that they can still wreak their vengeance by leading a man into sin and after his death by tormenting him with it. It would show that they are not simply “condemned criminals,” but that they still have their rights: if they find more evil deeds than the angels find good ones, they can tell the angels, “Get away! By rights this soul is ours!” And thirdly, it would give them possession of the pathway to heaven, that is, to His presence, as we have seen. But is it conceivable that God would show such favor to these rebellious and accursed creatures? It is blasphemy even to think that God allows the existence of this intricate system of toll-houses just to please the demons (for ultimately even they derive no profit from this)! Since it is impossible that the toll-houses exist for the demons’ sake, they have no purpose at all. And in the words of St. Mark of Ephesus, “That which has no function, exists in vain. And since God did not create a single thing in vain,” the toll-houses do not exist.

Gregory’s tale, however, leads us to believe that God permits the existence of the toll-houses just to please the demons and to fulfill the necessity demanded by human justice. For this is the explanation of why Theodora’s soul had to pass through the toll-houses though it was already saved: it gave satisfaction to the demons (even though in the end they were cheated by Basil’s supererogatory merits). The demons are here presented as the rightful owners of man’s sins, and these sins must be bought from them. This is a blasphemy against God, for the Prophet David says, “Against Thee alone did I sin and commit evil before Thee” (Ps. 50:4); Gregory puts the demons in the place of God. Further he instills in us great fear of the demons; our holy fathers, however, exhort us to the opposite: “But if the demons had power not even against the swine, much less have they any over men formed in the image of God. So then we ought to fear God only, and despise the demons, and be in no fear of them” (St. Anthony the Great, Life, §§29, 30). Indeed, the Lord Jesus Christ explicitly states, “Do not become afraid because of those who kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul; but rather fear the One Who is able to send away both soul and body into Gehenna” (Mt. 10:28). Who is “the One” with this authority? God.

When we also take into consideration the fact that Gregory of Thrace was subject to many other strange visions and that the origin of the idea of aerial toll-houses is pagan and pre-Christian, and was preserved only in Gnostic literature, we must conclude from all these points that Gregory’s vision, if not outright fiction, was inspired by demons for the delusion of men.14

Most heresies that have ever assaulted the Church have come about because of rationalism. Gnosticism is just that: it is human reason pretending to go where it cannot. God has given to His Church all that can be known about life after death. But heresy is the attempt to supersede the limits of divine revelation, to pry into the unutterable mysteries that are not to our profit to know. There are many such “revelations” recorded in the lives of the saints, but many of these stories come from completely unknown and unverified sources. They cannot be used to formulate doctrine, especially when the stories contradict the universal teachings of the Church fathers.

We also bring to mind certain Scriptures that seem to turn the idea of toll-houses on its head. St. Paul asks, “Ye know that we shall judge angels, do ye not?” (1 Cor. 6:3). So how can we conceive that angels will judge us? “Ye know that the saints shall judge the world, do ye not? And if the world is being judged in you, are ye unworthy of the smallest judgments?” (1 Cor. 6:2). These passages point once again to the true nature of what the Scriptures call “judgment,” as also does the following: The Lord said, “Verily, verily, I say to you, that the one who heareth My word and believeth the One Who sent Me hath everlasting life, and cometh not into judgment, but hath passed over out of death into life” (Jn. 5:24). “The one who believeth in Him is not judged; but the one who believeth not hath already been judged, because he hath not believed in the name of the only-begotten Son of God. And this is the judgment, that the light hath come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light, for their works were evil” (Jn. 3:18, 19). “I have come a light into the world, that everyone who believeth in Me should not abide in the darkness. And if anyone hear My words and believe not, I judge him not; for I came not that I might judge the world, but that I might save the world. The one who rejecteth Me and receiveth not My words, hath that which judgeth him—the word which I spoke, that shall judge him in the last day” (Jn. 12:46-48).

For the departed soul, there will be no oral examination in some kind of throne room of Christ. Our sins are not listed on a record-sheet of God but rather in our own consciences. When, in the Apocalypse, it is written, “And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged out of those things having been written in the books, according to their works” (Rev. 20:12), St. Bede the Venerable explains, “He means the memory of our actions, and not that the Discerner of hidden things has a memorial book.... And so they appear to me to speak more correctly who interpret the opened books above to be the consciences and works of each one; and ‘the book of life’ the foreknowledge of God” (Explanation of the Apocalypse, tr. by E. Marshall, Bk. III, 20:12, 15, pp. 140-142).

St. Basil the Great: “In like manner they which have grieved the Holy Spirit by the wickedness of their ways, or have not worked for Him Who was given [to them], shall be deprived of what they have received, their grace be transferred to others; or, according to one of the evangelists, they shall even be wholly cut asunder, the cutting asunder meaning complete separation from the Spirit.... This cutting asunder, as I have observed, is the separation forever of the soul from the Spirit. For now, although the Spirit does not suffer admixture with the unworthy, He nevertheless does seem in a manner to be present with them that have once been sealed, awaiting the salvation which comes from their conversion; but then He will be wholly cut off from the soul that has defiled His grace. For this reason ‘in Hades there is none that makes confession, nor in death any that remembers God’ (cf. Ps. 6:4), because the succor of the Spirit is no longer present. How then is it possible to conceive that the judgment is accomplished without the Holy Spirit, wherein the Logos points out that He is Himself the prize of the righteous, when instead of the earnest, is given that which is perfect, and the first condemnation (‘particular judgment’) of sinners, when they are deprived of that which they seem (Lk. 8:18) to have?” (On the Holy Spirit, para. 40).

St. Kyril of Jerusalem: “Let us dread, then, brethren, lest God condemn us, Who needs not examination or proofs to condemn.... Out of thine own conscience shalt thou be judged, the ‘thoughts the meanwhile accusing or else excusing, in the day when God shall judge the secrets of men’ (Rom. 2:15, 16). The terrible countenance of the Judge will force thee to speak the truth; or rather, even though thou speak not, it will convict thee.... How then does the shepherd make the separations (of the sheep and goats)? Does he examine out of a book which is a sheep and which a kid-goat? Or does he distinguish from their evident marks? Does not the wool show the sheep, and the hairy and rough skin the goat? By thy vesture shalt thou be known as a sheep” (Catechetical Lecture 18, sec. 14, 15).

“For within the soul’s conscience,” affirms St. Symeon the New Theologian, “you will discover whether you have loved the world, whether you have preferred the world to God, whether you have sought the glory of men, or whether you have longed for the glory which is God’s gift alone. You will look into yourself as into a chest and will feel around for what is lying at the bottom, and, tossing out the contents one by one, you will know everything clearly” (“First Discourse,” § XII, The Ethical Discourses, Vol. 1, p. 70).

Again St. Basil the Great (ca. 330-379) writes, “The mind of each one of us will, in an instant of time and with ineffable power, be transferred mentally to all the deeds, representing and imagining all that it has done as if looking into a mirror. The mind will also see the Judge and the results of the divine tribunal. At the same time, the Judge Who will judge our deeds, omnisciently and impartially, will make manifest His reasons for justice, according to which He will make recompense justly to each one of us, relative to our deeds. Thus, those who will be condemned will agree absolutely that the judgment against them was most just” (On the Prophet Isaiah, 3:120, 119, PG 30:312BD).

Exactly what is revealed to the soul through the conscience after it departs the body? We do not know this. Will the souls that have rejected God’s grace and failed to struggle for the acquisition of the Holy Spirit see some spiritual vision of demons, and understand that it has chosen to place itself in their milieu, having followed their suggestions during their lifetimes; while the souls of those who have been robed in divine grace and the Holy Spirit in this life see some spiritual revelation of God’s angels, and understand that they, being robed in a “wedding garment” are destined to abide with them and partake of the eternal wedding feast? We do not know this and cannot make rationalistic speculations upon it.

Also of interest are the words of Fr. Nikolai Malinovsky (1861-1917) concerning the “partial” or “particular judgment”: “Apostle Paul says, ‘It is appointed to man once to die, and after that comes judgment’ (Heb. 9:27). In these words, the judgment is presented as taking place immediately following the death of a person. How does the particular judgment take place? Scripture does not speak of this. One can only clarify this to oneself by examining the idea of judgment as it applies to God. Judgment (in its earthly sense) has two sides: the examination of the rightness or guilt of the one being judged and the bringing down of a sentence upon him. When however, judgment is being made by the all-knowing God, to Whom the moral condition and worthiness of the man are always known, the first side of the judgment must be understood exclusively in the sense of the soul being brought to the acknowledgment of its own moral condition. This condition of the personal awareness [or, acknowledgment] of a person is revealed by means of the conscience. The conscience also judges the actions of a person in the present life. After death, upon the divestment of the body, before the countenance of the all seeing God, the voice of the conscience will, no doubt, stand up even more clearly and incorruptibly [or, with greater integrity], judging the entire path followed in life. No self deceit, earthly excuses or self justifications will have a place. By means of the conscience, at the particular judgment, the soul can be brought, by God, to an acknowledgment of its moral condition. In exactly the same way, the pronouncement of a sentence by the almighty One cannot be understood in the sense of the announcement to the soul of a judicial decision. God’s will is at once an action of His will, and thus the decision of the all powerful Judge is at once a beatification of the soul or the rejection of it from the kingdom of eternal life. Undoubtedly, the soul itself, being judged by the conscience, will clearly acknowledge the justice of the judgment of God Who has decreed its fate” (Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, p. 460).

St. Ambrose of Milan: “Christ...judges by His knowledge of hearts and not by interrogation of the deeds, to reward virtue and condemn impiety” (Commentary on Luke, 10:49). He says elsewhere, “Therefore, while the fullness of time is awaited, souls await the reward due them. Punishment awaits some, glory others, and yet the former are not meanwhile free from suffering, nor the latter without reward. For the former ‘are disturbed’ seeing that for those observing the law of God a reward of glory is set aside, their dwelling places are kept by the angels, but for them future punishments, shame and confusion for their negligence and obstinacy, so that while looking on the glory of the Most High, they are ashamed to come into His sight Whose commands they violated. Their confusion is just like the sin of Adam, for just as he fell by his neglect of the heavenly commandments, and hid himself out of shame for his fall, not daring to submit to the splendor of the divine presence because of the shame of his sinful conscience, so also the souls of sinners will be unable to bear the splendor of His shining light, because by their own testimony they recall that they have sinned” (On the Good of Death, 47).

“Sinners will be unable to bear the splendor of His shining light.” This is precisely the case. It is not that God takes vengeance on sinners and punishes them in the world to come—for punishment is only useful when there is the opportunity for correction—but rather, the reprobate are tormented of themselves, according to their bad dispositions. In the light of God, the righteous rejoice and are warmed, but the sinners, who do not love God, are scorched and tormented forever. This is the meaning of hell.

St. Irenaeos (ca. 130-ca. 200) writes, “To as many as continue in their love towards God does He grant communion with Him. But communion with God is life and light and the enjoyment of all the benefits which He has in store. But on as many as, according to their own choice, depart from God, He inflicts that separation from Himself which they have chosen of their own accord. But separation from God is death, and separation from light is darkness; and separation from God consists in the loss of all the benefits which He has in store. Those, therefore, who cast away by apostasy these aforementioned things, being in fact destitute of all good, do experience every kind of punishment. God, however, does not punish them immediately of Himself, but that punishment falls upon them because they are destitute of all that is good. Now, good things are eternal and without end with God, and therefore the loss of these is also eternal and never-ending. It is in this matter just as occurs in the case of a flood of light: those who have blinded themselves, or have been blinded by others, are forever deprived of the enjoyment of light. It is not that the light has inflicted upon them the penalty of blindness, but it is that the blindness itself has brought calamity upon them; and therefore the Lord declared, ‘The one who believeth in Me is not judged’ (cf. Jn. 3:18), that is, is not separated from God; for he is united to God through faith. On the other hand, He says, ‘The one who believeth not hath already been judged, because he hath not believed in the name of the only-begotten Son of God’ (Jn. 3:18); that is, he separated himself from God of his own accord. ‘And this is the judgment, that the light hath come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light.... For everyone who practiceth bad things hateth the light and cometh not to the light, lest his works should be reproved; but the one who doeth the truth cometh to the light, in order that his works might be made manifest, that they have been wrought in God’ (Jn. 3:19-21).... In this world, some persons betake themselves to the light, and by faith unite themselves with God, but others shun the light and separate themselves from God” (Against Heresies, Bk. V, Ch. XXVII, ¶ 2, Ch. XXVIII, ¶ 1, ANF I:556).

And St. Basil remarks: “In the requital which awaits us after this life, a mysterious voice seems to tell us that the double nature of fire will be divided (cf. Ps. 28:7); the righteous will enjoy its light, and the torment of its heat will be the torture of the wicked” (The Hexaemeron, “Homily VI,” § 3, p. 83).

The fire of the age to come is the uncreated energy of God, enlightening the righteous and burning the condemned.

St. Ambrose asks, “What is the outer darkness? Surely, there is not there a prison and stone cells to be endured? By no means. But whoever are outside the promises of the heavenly commandments are in the outer darkness, because God’s ordinances are light, and whoever is without Christ is in darkness, because Christ is the inner light. Thus, neither is there any gnashing of corporeal teeth (Mt. 22:13; Lk. 13:28), nor any perpetual fire of corporeal flames (Mt. 25:41), nor is the worm corporeal (Mk. 9:43-48). But because just as fevers and worms arise from much bitterness, so one who does not boil away his sins, so to speak, with the interposed soberness of abstinence, but by mixing sins with sins combines the bitterness of old and new transgressions, is burned with his own fire and devoured by his own works (Is. 66:24). Hence, Isaias, too, says, ‘Walk in the light of your fire, and in the flame which ye have kindled’ (Is. 50:11). There is a fire which sorrow for transgressions engenders, and a worm, inasmuch as the irrational sins of the soul—which are born like worms from each as from the body of a sinner—goad the mind and understanding of the guilty and devour the flesh of conscience. Then the Lord declared this through Isaias, saying, ‘And they shall go forth, and see the carcasses of the men that have transgressed against Me: for their worm shall not die, and their fire shall not be quenched’ (Is. 66:24). The gnashing of teeth betrays the vehemence of the indignant, inasmuch as each belatedly repents and sighs and is angry with himself, because he has offended by such stubborn wickedness” (Exposition of Luke, Bk. VII, §§ 204-206).

St. Leo (5th C.), Pope of Rome, says: “The brightness of the true Light will not be able to be seen by the unclean sight; and that which will be happiness to minds that are bright and clean, will be a punishment to those that are stained” (“Sermon XCV,” § VIII, NPNF2, XII:205). Thus, God is not the cause of the evils in hell. “God is love” (1 Jn. 4:8), and as St. Isaac the Syrian tells us, “Those who are scourged in hell are tormented with the scourgings of love” (Mystical Treatises, “Treatise XXVII,” p. 136).

Let us lay aside, then, all gloomy thoughts of being dragged away by demons from a heartless Deity, Who looks upon our testing in the toll-houses with cold indifference. The souls of the dead are “in the hand of God” (Wis. 3:1), and if they responded to His love, they will forever experience the warm embrace of their Father. “Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s” (Rom. 14:8).

St. John Chrysostom shares our hopeful outlook. “We ought not to lament and wail for those who have fallen asleep. Let no man, therefore, beat himself any more, nor wail, neither disparage Christ’s achievement. For indeed, He overcame death. Why then do ye wail for nought? The thing is become a sleep. Why lament and weep?... Do ye not hear the psalm that says, ‘Return, O my soul, to thy rest, for the Lord showed beneficence to thee’ (Ps. 114:6)? God calls it ‘beneficence,’ and do ye make lamentation?... Why, if there must be mourning, it is the devil who ought to mourn.... This lamentation befits his wickedness, not you.... Yea, for death is a fair haven. Consider, at any rate, with how many evils our present life is filled; reflect how often thou thyself hast cursed our present life.... For, He says, ‘In sorrow thou wilt bring forth children’; and, ‘In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat thy bread’; and ‘In the world ye shall have tribulation.’ But of our state there, no such word at all is spoken, but all the contrary; that ‘grief and sorrow and sighing have fled away’ (Is. 35:10). Why, then, disgrace the departed? Why dispose the rest to fear and tremble at death? Why cause many to accuse God, as though He had done very dreadful things?... Thou art, therefore, fighting and warring with thyself on account of his having entered into harbor.... How shall we persuade the heathen when we fear death and shudder at it more than he?” (Hom. 31 on Matthew, 31:2-4).

The saint says also, “Would ye learn, that ye may know that this is no time for tears? For it is a very great mystery of the wisdom of God. As leaving her dwelling the soul goes forth, speeding on her way to her own Lord, and do ye mourn? Why then, ye should do this on the birth of a child; for this in fact is also a birth, and a better one than that. For here she goes forth to a very different light, is loosed as from a prison, comes off as from a contest.... For as the sun arises clear and bright, so the soul, leaving the body with a pure conscience, shines joyously...when the soul having left the body is departing in company with angels. Think what the soul must be then! In what amazement, what wonder, what delight! Why do ye mourn?” (Hom. 21 on Acts, 21:5).

The holy Gospel clearly teaches that Christ is the Victor over death and Hades. By His Crucifixion and Resurrection, He has conquered, subjugated, and annulled all the spiritual powers and dark forces that have ever separated us from God. “Having blotted out the bond written against us” (Col. 2:14), “and having put off from Himself the principalities and the powers, He made an example of them openly, triumphing over them in it” (Col. 2:15), “Who went into heaven and is at the right of God, and angels and authorities and powers have been made subject to Him” (1 Pet. 3:22). The Toll-housers, thus, are preaching a “different gospel” (Gal. 1:6), and “if anyone preach a gospel to you besides what ye received, let such a one be anathema” (Gal. 1:9).

“For I have been persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things coming, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38, 39).



1We cannot be certain that the emperor was a toll-house advocate. The Greek hagiographies (menaion) up to that time did not include the life of any Elder Basil the New. He seems never to have been recognized as a saint by the Orthodox Church of Greece.

2It is noteworthy that footnotes in both these works show that the compilers were uneasy about the story. Both advised the readers of the Life of Basil the New not to take the dream of Theodora literally but to understand it in a spiritual senseperhaps as a metaphor or allegory. Unfortunately, neither Bishop Gregory (Grabbe) nor Fr. Seraphim (Rose) heeded these caveats.

3Dr. Michael Azkoul, “The Return of the Toll-houses.” www.new-ostrog.org/return_tollhouses.html.

4“We should not be surprised to hear that Fr. Michael Pomazansky, author of Orthodox Dogmatic Theology (trans. by Hieromonk Seraphim Rose, Platina, 1981), attended the Kievan Theological Academy (1908-1912). He has the same authorities for his opinions on the toll-houses as does Bishop Grabbe. The order and treatment of subjects in the Dogmatic generally follows the procedure of the typical Scholastic manual (Sources of Christian doctrine, Our Knowledge of God, the Trinity, the Creation, etc.). According to Fr. Seraphim, the division of theology into ‘categories’ and ‘systematization’ (‘which the present book follows’) used by his teachers is a ‘modern device borrowed from the West, but solely as an external organization of the subject matter;...therefore, the accusations of scholasticism...are completely unfair’ (footnote 24, p. 41). We must not forget that method affects content, and this fact is evident in Fr. Michael’s treatment, for example, of Marriage (pp. 302-304). Hieromonk Seraphim is ‘completely unfair’ to compare these nineteenth century (Russian) systems to the work of St. John of Damascus who in his Exposition of the Orthodox Faith did no more than summarize the Orthodox Faith and give a certain order to it.” [Dr. Michael Azkoul, “The Return of the Toll-houses.”] “Moreover, Fr. Seraphim’s appeal to Fr. Michael Pomazansky is unjust, because in a letter to Lev Puhalo, Fr. Michael expresses exactly the opposite opinion. He states that the entire ‘Theodora dream’ is, after all, only a dream, and that all the elements of it are purely metaphorical. Indeed, he instructs that the ‘toll-houses’ should be considered a metaphor for one’s own conscience.” [Michael Azkoul, The Toll-House Myth: The Neo-Gnosticism of Fr. Seraphim Rose (Dewdney, B.C.: Synaxis Press, 2005), p. 44.]

5Ways of Russian Theology (vol. 5), in The Collected Works of Georges Florovsky. Trans. By R.L. Nichols, Belmont, 1979, pp.162-268.

6As it happens, Bp. Ignaty, renowned for his ascetical writings, also fell into some serious errors in his “Sermon on Death,” saying that souls and angels have material bodies. It was this publication that served as Fr. Seraphim’s basic authority for the toll-house teaching. Yet both S.A. Pervukhin and Bishop Theophan the Recluse were sharp critics of this work of Bp. Ignaty. In his correspondence, Pervukhin discusses the input of European theosophists in the ideas of Brianchaninov about the nature of the soul. In a letter of 1890 to the Protopriests Smirnov and Elagin, Bp. Theophan laments that, despite his clear refutation of Brianchaninov, “there are both male and female disciples of Bishop Ignaty who will not yield...but strive to defend him.” [Collected Letters of Bishop Theophan (Moscow 1901) pp. 225, 254.]

7Dr. Michael Azkoul, “The Return of the Toll-houses.”

8L. Puhalo, The Tale of Elder Basil ‘the New’ and the Theodora Myth, pp. 25-27.

9The “chief inspirations” for Fr. Seraphim’s book The Soul After Death were two nineteenth century “fathers”Bishops Ignaty Brianchaninov (1807-1867) and Theophan the Recluse (1815-1894). Fr. Seraphim also relied heavily upon Metropolitan Makary of Moscow and St. John Maximovich of San Francisco. The first three of these bishops were contemporaries, living at a time when Russia was experiencing a great influx of Western “mystical literature”Meister Eckhart, Jacob Boehme, Emmanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772) whom Fr. Rose quotes at length (Ibid., pp. 101-105, 114- 116, 121f.). Jung-Stillung, Madame Guyon, etc. were also “popular and widely read.” Gnostics allor in modern parlance, “theosophists”they were men and women who boasted of a secret knowledge of another world. To Holy Russia they brought a mentality alien to her culture and religion. Both Brianchaninovthe leading defender of the Orthodox [sic] teaching of the aerial toll-house in 19th-century Russia” (The Soul After Death, p. 94.)and Theophan were well read in this foreign literature. Bishop Ignaty was more cautious about it than the latter. He disapproved of the Western methods of meditation, particularly as practiced by Thomas à Kempis, Francis of Assisi, and Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits. Such writers, he said, attached too much importance to the imagination “which leads to unhealthy excitement and to delusion” (S. Bolshakoff, Russian Mystics, Kalamazoo, 1976, p. 162). Bp. Theophan, on the other hand, was better disposed to Latin mysticism. He often recommended to his spiritual children the reading of Latin spiritual writers, e.g., Bernard of Clairvaux, Francis de Sales, and Thomas à Kempis, etc.... As far as Fr. Seraphim is concerned, the matter has long been settled. Bishop Theophan has corroborated the words of Bishop Ignaty on the toll-houses. Two leading lights of 19th-C. Orthodoxy have spoken. None may doubt that the toll-house theory is a truth of the Orthodox Faith. Such is the nature of his sloppy research.... [Fr. Michael Azkoul, The Toll-House Myth, pp. 3-5.] “Fr. Seraphim never understood the place of grace in the Orthodox religion. His toll-house theory proves it. If salvation is becoming like God through grace; and if this process of salvation or deification begins in the Church and continues into the next life, what possible role can toll-houses play in God’s plan? How shall the devil and his demons judge His elect? Can they condemn God’s own (1 Pet. 2:9)? Can they condemn us? Can they purge our sins? No, all these things are the action of God’s grace.... Fr. Seraphim was a Gnostic. The toll-house theory is taken from that ancient heresy. Condemned by the Church, Gnosticism is a stubborn theological virus. It clings tenaciously to the hull of the Church, a barnacle of destruction to the unwary. The monk from Platina was a victim. Not that he consciously sought to change the teachings of the Church on ‘the last things’ (eschatology), but unduly impressed by certain nineteenth century ‘Russian mystics’ smitten by the heresy, he too was led astray. His pride did not permit him to correct his error.” [Ibid., pp. 52, 54.]

10It is interesting how Seraphim Rose could simultaneously promote the Pelagianistic toll-house theory of salvation, so devoid of grace and Orthodox synergy, and at the same time be an ardent advocate of the sanctity of the heresiarch Augustine of Hippo (d. 430), whose predestination and monergism are diametrically opposed to the idea of salvation through personal effort.

11L. Puhalo, The Tale of Elder Basil ‘the New’ and the Theodora Myth, pp. 27-32.

12See M. Eliade, A History of Religious Ideas [vol. 2] (Chicago, 1982), pp. 403-407.

13See also the explanation in the Apostolic Constitutions, Bk. 8, Ch. XLII.

14L. Puhalo, The Tale of Elder Basil ‘the New’ and the Theodora Myth, pp. 37-40.

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