Concerning the Toll-houses

The Tale of Elder Basil “the New” and the Theodora Myth: Study of a Gnostic Document

by Lazar Puhalo
(Dewdney, B.C.: Synaxis Press, n.d.)
Abbreviated by Dormition Skete


The spread of Gnosticism in the Orthodox Church has become a far more serious problem than the influence of the New Age Movement. The influence of New Age ideas would remain shallow and without indelibility were it not for the underpinning by the rapidly spreading and spiritually deadly wave of the ancient and powerful heresies of Gnosticism. We are faced now again with what Patriarch Theophylact (+ 956) called “an ancient heresy, newly appeared” (Epistle to Tsar Peter of Bulgaria, concerning the Bogomils).

This resurgent Gnosticism, with its heretical view of the relationship between body and soul not only opens a floodgate for New Ageism but is introducing a sick and perverted view of human sexuality. {Footnote: All Gnostic cults, whether Marcionism, Montanism, Novatianism, Manichaeism, Bogomilism, or other varieties, have many things in common. Apart from their universal “dualism,” one can also discern in Gnostic writing a conviction that only the most rigid ascetics can have any hope of salvation. Moreover, the idea of personal purification, rather than synergia (i.e., spiritual struggle in cooperation with God’s grace), is also a dominant feature in many Gnostic writings.} Like the ancient heresies of Mandeanism, Marcionism, Manichaeism, the Paulicians, Massalians, and Bogomils, this new Gnosticism pits matter against spirit, soul against body. {Footnote: Mandean Gnosticism predates Christianity, but it became a pseudo-Christian sect. It is more directly related to Chaldean and other antique pagan systems than some of the Gnostic movements. Mandaism was a “baptism sect,” and it had a great deal of influence on other Gnostic systems. Because of its baptism rituals it has often been referred to as the “John Christians.” Historically, this sect has also been known as the Nasoreans. It is a primary source of the telonia or “toll house” myth, and we will discuss this later in the text.} Not only does it present a heretical concept of the nature of death and the condition of the soul after death, but much of it also seeks to render marital relations ugly and sinful. Inept and emotionally troubled “ascetic theologians,” mostly monastics, have drawn on the patent Massalianism that for centuries penetrated and informed various writings from the monastic communities from Egypt to Bulgaria in the 4th to 10th or even the 11th centuries. Adding to this the Platonistic and semi-Manichean ideas of Augustine of Hippo, a potent brew of spiritual and theological darkness has been produced. {Footnote: Manichaeism is visible in a considerable amount of Augustine’s works, and I suspect that his ideas about predestination of the chosen comes from Gnostic sources, because determinism was a universal feature of Gnostic thought.} Even as Apostle Paul warned that Satan appears as an “angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:14), so also this new Gnosticism appears to the uninformed as “ascetic illumination.”

There was always a certain lingering tinge of Bogomilism haunting the shadows of Slavic folklore, but it was given a theological manifestation in 1863 in the form of a booklet titled Homily (Word) About Death, by Bishop Ignaty Brianchaninov (published by V. Ashkochensky, St. Petersburg, 1863, 188pp.). Bishop Theophan the Recluse, in writing a very strong and persistent refutation of Bishop Ignaty’s tragic booklet, Homily About Death, states that his purpose is “the unmasking of the falsity of the positions contained in these booklets” and “obliterating the unpleasant impression which they produce” and “dispersing the darkness which they bring about.” {Footnote: As infected as Bp. Theophan’s own thought and writings were with some of the corruptions of Western theology (which was commonplace in 19th-C. Russia), he nevertheless recognized Bp. Ignaty’s “radical dualism” as Gnosticism, or at least as contradictory to the holy fathers. Actually, Bp. Theophan may not have studied the history of Gnosticism and may not have been able to clearly identify the sources of both radical dualism and the toll house myth. He saw the toll house story as a metaphor, however, and certainly recognized the serious spiritual harm done by Bp. Ignaty in portraying it as both a reality and a doctrine of the Church. That is not to say that Bp. Theophan did not respect Bp. Ignaty in general. He may have been as startled and mystified as we are about how a noted spiritual struggler and writer such as Bp. Ignaty could have fallen into such an error, especially considering the great value of his other writings.} And this is said only in the foreword where Bishop Theophan is stating his intent in writing the refutation. The text is much stronger. Moreover, Bishop Theophan did not rest at only writing a detailed and strong refutation of Bishop Ignaty Brianchaninov’s Homily About Death, but he persisted in his battle against its erroneous, Gnostic teaching about the nature of the soul for several years in an unrelenting manner. He did this because he understood the danger of the terrible errors into which Bishop Ignaty had fallen, and he was aware how much harm his writing on this subject could do, as we are aware how much spiritual and emotional harm similar writings in our own time are doing.

The purpose of this present work is to examine one of the touchstone documents of this new Gnosticism which is infiltrating Orthodox thought in our own time and expose it for what it is, thereby also exposing the writings which are based upon it or use it as their authority.


1. Gnostic Dualism

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.... And God saw everything that He had made, and behold, it was very good” (Gen. 1:1, 31).

Holy Scripture is profoundly clear that God created the entire spiritual and material world, from the highest angels to the smallest quark and leptonboth the soul and body of manand that all this was “very good.”

The Orthodox Christian understanding of the nature of creation, of matter, energy, and spirit, and of good and evil, is simple, logical, and straightforward: all material existence is created by God, and is therefore good and can be grace-bearing. The body bound with the soul is a human being, “a living soul.” All that God created is good, and therefore, evil is not a created entity or reality. Indeed, evil has no ontological existence; that is, it has neither being nor positive reality. The very fact that matter is created by God and does have being and positive reality precludes it from being evil. Indeed, matter itself cannot even be the cause of evil. Thus the human body cannot be evil. Evil is merely the absence of good, as it is the opposite of good. Evil cannot be manifested except by a free choice to be separate from good.

Evil, therefore, is not an existing thing, but a condition of separation from good. Somehow this simple reality escaped the mind of Gnostic thinkers, as it did many of the Greek philosophers, including Plato, and those who merged Gnosticism and Platonism, such as Augustine of Hippo and his later disciples. The quandary arrived at by the Gnostic and Platonic philosophers on the matter is the subject that interests us here. Their erroneous solution to the problem of the imagined co-existence of good and evil is called dualism. We are going to look briefly at this heresy of dualism in order to understand how the story of “Elder Basil the New,” the myth of “aerial toll-houses,” and the heretical teachings of similar writers in our own era, which incorporate this Gnostic dualism into New Age mysticism, create a spiritually catastrophic darkness in the field of Orthodox theology.

Philosophers and thinkers have meditated on the problem of good and evil from time immemorial. Uninformed by Scripture and divine revelation, an entire religious system was based on the concept that God has a dual nature, that He is both the principle of good and the principle of evil. In various forms, this concept was expressed not as a single, internally divided God, but as two opposing deities: one good, one evil. The “good deity” created spirit, the “evil deity” created matter. The evil deity lured spirit into this matterspecifically, he lured the naturally immortal, pre-existing soul into the created, material body and imprisoned it there during the lifespan of the human. Generally, this teaching renders Satan an equal and opposite deity with God.

This is the first selected aspect of Gnostic dualism that concerns us here. In a somewhat modified form, it is a necessary element of the aerial toll-house myth, which makes Satan equal with God in the realm of the judgment of the human soul.

The second element of this Gnostic dualism which concerns us here is its teaching of an opposition between soul and body, and a completely independent existence of the soul as a disembodied spirit, yet with “subtle” visible form. Gnostics had two conceptions of matter (including the human body). They held either that matter was inherently and eternally evil, or they placed a Demiurge, a “divine emanation” between the god and matter. This Demiurge, whose nature was corrupted, created the material world. In the Gnostic system, man himself is also a dualistic creature, consisting of a spiritual soul of divine origin, and a material body which is variously a “trap,” a “prison,” a “weight which makes the soul earthbound,” and even “ineradicably evil.” In every form of Gnostic or Platonistic dualism, there is implicit the ancient Hellenistic myth of the soul coming down to earth from its heavenly abode and being imprisoned in the darkness of the material body. The soul forever longs to escape from its body in order to return to its home. The body, the Gnostics would say, is the tomb of the soul, in which it is imprisoned in the darkness of matter. The Demiurge (the co-equal deity) seeks by all means to prevent the soul from escaping back through the astral spheres to its former heavenly abode. In Gnostic, as in Chaldean cosmology, there are boundaries between the astral spheres, which correspond to the orbits of the astrological planets. Each sphere has a customshouse or toll booth guarded by a ferocious archon (demon) who serves the Demiurge in trying to find some treacherous means to keep the escaped soul from passing through the toll gate into the next astral plane.

In all Gnostic sects, the only redemption is death, when the soul is liberated from the body. This is why Gnosticism, whether the full-blown cultism of Gregory of Thrace and Elder Basil the New, or its weak and shallow New Age version, is so fond of the delusion of “out of body experiences.”

Michael Khoniates (1140-1222) as Metropolitan of Athens, was among a number of hierarchs and theologians who felt compelled to respond to such heretical teachings, and he presented his treatise against the Bogomil teachings, such as those expressed in The Tale of Basil the New, in a format similar to that very document (a popular literary form of the era).

Making use of Gregory the Theologian’s poetic monologue of the soul’s battle against the “flesh,” Michael Khoniates wrote his treatise On Death. This work contains an interesting defense of Orthodoxy against the ideas of Gnostic dualism. This treatise, in the form of a dialogue, was written to expose the heretics of the time, the Bogomils and Massalians, as well as those who hold the Platonic view that matter is evil. It stands as a refutation to those same heretical teachings current today among Augustinians and other Neo-Platonists.

2. The Dangerous Journey of the Soul Myth (Telonia, Aerial Toll Houses, Gatehouses, or Watchtowers)

The primary focus of The Tale of Elder Basil the New is the myth of the “dangerous journey of the soul after death.” This is, in fact, classical and pure Gnosticism. The journey of the soul after death through a series of toll stations, variously called “purgatories,” “watchtowers,” “gatehouses,” and “toll booths” (telonia in Greek Gnostic literature; mitarstvo in Slavic literature which follows the Bogomil tradition), is common to all Gnostic literature and cosmology. This myth is especially well developed in the Mandean Gnosticism of Chaldea, where it was syncretized directly from the myth of the astral planes.

The following outline follows the Mandean myth, but the concepts occur in similar fashion in all Gnostic systems.

Unlike Manichaeism, Mandean Gnosticism did not originate in early pseudo-Christian Gnostic sects, but appears to predate them. {Footnote: The early pseudo-Christian Gnostic sects were syncretistic (i.e., Ecumenistic in the modern sense of the word). The Gnosticism we know originated on the fringes of Hellenistic Judaism. Mandaism appears to have originated around the Jewish exile community in Babylon, with a heavy influence from both the Greek (Alexander the Great) and Persian conquerors of that region. Mandaism did, in fact, at some time become a pseudo-Christian sect.} We offer only a brief sketch here.

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.

We find the whole scheme of this telonia or aerial toll-houses myth laid out in the famous Nag Hammadi Gnostic Codices from which the fraudulent “Homily of Cyril of Alexandria” was taken.

Anyone familiar with the Bible will know that the toll-house stories expressed in The Tale of Elder Basil the New and in the work of the Neo-Gnostic philosopher Seraphim Rose (The Soul After Death) not only have no basis in Scripture, but in general are contradictory to Christian Scripture. They also have no bases in the works of the holy fathers of the Orthodox Church.


It is surely no mere coincidence that a story so laden with Gnosticism and pagan mythology is set in 10th-century Thrace and Constantinople. The tale of Elder Basil “the New” (or “the Younger”) takes place at a time when Gnostic dualism and eschatological fantasy were rampant in the empire, filtering even into some of the best homes in Constantinople and causing both political and theological alarm to Church and state officials alike. During this era, the militant Paulician sect controlled much of Thrace, Massalianism was rampant in the Thracian, Bulgarian, and Macedonian monasteries, and the tidal wave of Bogomilism began crashing heavily against the jetties and bulwarks of the Byzantine Church. The waves rolled westward in the form of the Cathars and Albigensians, but remained centered in Macedonia and Constantinople. {Footnote: Conditions in Rome and Western Europe do not concern us here, but the great Gnostic movements of Italy and France always considered the Bogomil leaders of Constantinople to be their “patriarchs.”}

A brief examination of these historical and spiritual developments will shed much light on the Gnostic tale of Elder Basil the New and the Theodora Myth and give us insight into the mentality and tragedy of those who assert that the myth of the “aerial toll-houses” is an Orthodox Christian doctrine, and seek to make Seraphim Rose’s heretical book, The Soul After Death, a touchstone document of their dark, corrupted theology, seeking to impose it into the thought and teaching of the national Orthodox churches.

1. The Eastern Borders

From the Tale of Elder Basil the New: A company of imperial magistrates on official business were passing through the mountains of eastern Asia Minor where they chanced upon a certain man wearing the garb of a local village type and wild in appearance as being an inhabitant of the mountains (§2 in the Acta Sanctorum edition). Suspecting this man of being a spy, they leapt from their horses and captured him. They brought him back forcibly to Constantinople. There he was handed over to a Moslem of patrician rank named Samonas, for interrogation. {Footnote: “A Moslem of patrician rank...” It is stated in precisely those words in the original of the “Life” of Elder Basil the New.} This man cruelly tortured him to force him to say who he was, where he was from, and what his name was, but the elder absolutely refused to say a word.

As the Orthodox Christian Faith solidified its position in the Roman Empire, it began to press against the various heretical movements which not only caused confusion among the faithful, but contributed to disunity in the empire. During the fourth century in particular, the followers of the ancient heretic Marcion, who had clashed with Apostle John, were forced eastwards, away from the capital. Their heretical teaching of a conflict between spirit and matter, between soul and body, their excessive asceticism, based on a supposed struggle to “liberate the soul from the body,” and many other heresies, were refuted and rooted out by the teachers of the Orthodox Church. In order to preserve their sect intact, the Marcionites began, in the fourth century, to settle in the mountains of Armenia at the eastern end of the Roman Empire. Marcionite communes and villages began to appear in the remote valleys and wild regions of the eastern borderland. Gradually, other Gnostic sects, such as the Vorvoni, came into active contact with the Marcionites. Most dramatic of all these encounters was the arrival of the Paulicians. The Paulicians were an intensely militaristic sect of Manicheans, who claimed to be the direct spiritual descendants of St. Paul and the churches founded by him. During the early 7th C., they began to move out of their stronghold in Armenia (where the sect began) and into the eastern borderlands of Byzantium. A Manichean sect, they came into contact with the Marcionites and with various Gnostic sects which produced more systematic metaphysics for all of them. While many of the Marcionites were absorbed into the Paulician movement, many remained. All developed a unique “ascetic theology” (a trademark of Gnosticism) which was not informed and moderated by the theology and patristic sacred tradition of the holy Church. The Massalians were intensely monastic, while the Paulicians had a strong disdain for monasticism, but all shared in common the dualistic metaphysics and anthropology of Gnosticism, and all received an inclination to ancient Chaldean cosmology and eschatology from their Manichean “mother church.” {Footnote: The Paulicians eventually excoriated Mani [the 3rd-C. founder of Manichaeism], but they remained to the end Manichean. If the Manichean movement was the mother church of the later Gnostic sects, it should be remembered that Manichaeism grew out of the heresies of Marcion and Bardasanes, and thus it was based in heretical Christianity. Mani was far from the first of the Gnostics to blend Chaldean and Egyptian paganism with Christian teachings. The reader should also bear in mind the phenomenal success of Manichaeism both in its own time, and of Neo-Manichaeism in medieval times. The 19th-C. manifestation of Manichaeism is called “theosophy” (although theosophy in general did not ascribe to the tenets of extreme asceticism).}

All these Gnostic heresies were intensely missionary-minded and often quite militant in proselytizing. The imperial military patrols were always on guard for their missionaries (and in the case of the Paulicians, their spies) along the eastern boundary. The Massalians, [who taught that individual prayer was the only way to reach perfection and a sensory vision of the essence of God,] were often found in monastic garb, Marcionites might dress as monks even if they were not, but Paulicians dressed in rustic attire, never as monastics. When arrested and interrogated, all of them were capable of giving Orthodox responses, while in themselves considering their answers to be only allegorical (though the more bold of them might refuse to answer at all). {Footnote: This is according to Prebyter Cosmas, in his published sermon, Against the Heretics (cited in The Bogomils), and his book on the same subject published in 990. Anna Comnenos also mentions this fact in her chronicle called The Alexiad.}

2. The Inundation of Thrace

The inundation of the Roman provinces of Thrace and Macedonia, and of Bulgaria with the Gnostic sects has a peculiar and singularly ironic history.

In a furious outpouring of primeval energy, wave after wave of Asiatic tribes raged across the steppes of central Asia into the black earth region of Northern Ukraine. Driving earlier tribes before them, they poured into Dacia (modern Romania), spilled out over the Pannonian plains and laced themselves along the Danube. Slavs, Bulgars, Pechenegs, Polovtsi, Avars, and Tartars: pressing one against the other, they set their eyes on the wealth and splendor of Byzantium. Raids turned into battles and battles grew into wars. Hard pressed to defend the vast borders of the state, Emperor Constantine Copronymos initiated a series of tragic, but probably unavoidable, mistakes. In 745 he began deporting troublesome elements from the eastern regions of the empire to the northwestern borders of Thrace. He hoped to form a buffer between the heartland of the empire and the warrior tribes on the Danube and in the Rhodope Mountains of modern Bulgaria. Again in 755-757, because plague had depopulated large areas of Thrace, he deported thousands from Syria and Armenia to his northern flank. The first group were mostly Monophysites, who largely assimilated into the Orthodox population. The second group contained thousands of Pauliciansthose war-loving, militant Gnostics who caused such havoc on the eastern frontier. The choice of Paulicians for the deportation was intentional. They were skilled, well-trained warriors, and it was felt that the deportation would strengthen the western flank militarily, while helping to break up Paulician colonies in the East. Between 778 and 780, Emperor Leo IV added to this number and greatly increased the number of Massalians and, perhaps, remnant Marcionites. From that time, Gnostic dualism was firmly established on the western flank, with Thrace as its center. From the beginning of the 800’s, both the Paulicians and Massalians were proselytizing aggressively in Macedonia and Bulgaria. The Paulicians converted large numbers in towns and villages, while the Massalians captured most of the monasteries.

Massalianism laid the foundation for the larger and more dangerous heresy of Bogomilism, which would penetrate from Cappadocia to France, from Ochrid to Novgorod. {Footnote: Patriarch Theophylact, in his letter to Tsar Peter of Bulgaria (written ca. 954) describes Bogomilism as “Manichaeism mixed with Paulicianism.” This is not likely correct, except to the extent that the Massalians were a branch of Manichaeism. Moreover, the Bogomils were more peaceful than the Paulicians and the older Dragovitsa sect was much closer to Paulicianism in its outward manifestations. Bogomilism certainly drew its doctrines from one or another branch of Manichean Gnosticism, but direct Manichaeism was not known in Bulgaria. [Bogomils were anti-hierarchical and did not use churches and believed that God created man’s soul but that matter was the invention of Satan, God’s older son.]}

Bogomilism began its shadowy development in the 800’s, but it was solidified and formed into a distinct sect by a Macedonian priest named Father Bogomil at the turn of the century. By 930, it had appeared in the capital city of Constantinople and had become a visible threat. Much of its success, it must be said, is attributable to the corruption and arrogant, aloof clericalism of the Orthodox hierarchy and priests.

By the 940’s, both the Tsar of Bulgaria and Patriarch Theophylact of Constantinople (933-956) found it necessary to deal with the Bogomils.

It was during the tenure of Patriarch Theophylact, and the rising struggle with the Bogomils, that Gregory appears from Thrace, the Gnostic capital of the empire, and gives us his tale about Elder Basil the New, a story so patently Gnostic that it is astounding that it survived in a collection of “Lives of Saints” (from which, by evident oversight, it was translated into a Serbian collection), and more astonishing still that its Gnosticism was missed by a reputedly scholarly Greek Old Calendarist group who endorsed it in recent times. {Footnote: Following the chronology in Gregory of Thrace’s autobiography, Basil would have died in 944, that is, during the time when Patriarch Theophylact and Tsar Peter of Bulgaria were struggling with the rising power of Bogomilism and with the Massalian heresy in the Thracian and Bulgarian monasteries, and when Manichean Gnosticism had taken hold in some of the best homes in Constantinople. Considering how pregnant the “Life” of Elder Basil the New is with sheer Gnosticism, this cannot be a mere coincidence.} The content of the teaching attributed to “Elder” Basil, and especially the doctrines put forth in Gregory’s highly delusional visions, leave only one logical conclusion: Basil the New and Gregory of Thrace were integral elements of the Gnostic movements clouding Byzantium during this era, and tragically, they have been elevated to the level of a dogmatic writing by a Neo-Gnostic movement in our own time. How this heretical document managed to infiltrate the Russian collection of “Lives of Saints” and find its way into the Greek Synaxarion in modern times will be explored as we study the history of the document itself in the next section of this present work.


The document entitled The Life of Elder Basil is peculiar in many respects. Perhaps the most ironic aspect of the document, considering the harmful influence that it has had, is the fact that we are left uncertain as to whether the characters depicted in the narrative (apart from the author) ever actually existed. The Elder Basil and Theodora began to be commemorated as saints in the Russian Church solely on the basis of this highly questionable and patently heretical document. This in itself is startling, the more so in light of the fact that the purported “life” was rejected in Byzantine times and considered to be a novel. One may surmise that it worked its way into the Russian collection by a mistake in identity. There is, in fact a Saint Basil the New in the Byzantine synaxariste, but this saint has nothing whatsoever to do with the fantastic Elder Basil of toll-house fame. Considering how much of Dimitry of Rostov’s collection of the Lives is taken from Roman Catholic sources rather than from older Orthodox ones, it is feasible that the tale of Basil the New came into the Russian collection via the Latin Acta Sanctorum. We see in our own time an unwise penchant for accepting into Orthodox collections of lives of saints every Western mystic or purported holy person who happened to live before an evidently magical year of 1054 (the “official” date of the Schism), notwithstanding that the Roman Orthodox Church had been destroyed many centuries before that and replaced with the Franco-Latin pseudo-Church, already divorced from the authentic legacy of sound theology and theologically governed asceticism.

The so-called Life of Elder Basil was actually a platform for its author, Gregory of Thrace, to record his fantastic “visions.” The text of these visions, recorded under the guise of the Life of Elder Basil was written in the middle of the tenth century (the 900’s). The complete text of this document is found in Greek manuscripts of diverse centuries which have now been scattered throughout the libraries of the world. In the 17th century the Greek Life of Elder Basil was published in the Latin Acta Sanctorum (March, Vol. 3), but this text omits Gregory’s claimed vision concerning Theodora’s soul and also the vision concerning the end of the world; it is, therefore, greatly abbreviated. In the 1890’s, however, these omissions were published by the Royal Academy of Sciences of St. Petersburg in the journal “Sbornik Otdeleniia Russkago Iazyka i Slovesnosti,” Volumes 46 and 53. The Greek manuscript of the Synodal collection #249 was employed for this, since it contains the most complete text available. The visions concerning Theodora in this manuscript covers folio pages 66 verso—113 verso (47 folio pages or 94 book pages), and the vision concerning the end [of the world] covers 147 verso—351 recto (204 folio or 408 book pages). The life ends on folio 378v., so we can see that three quarters of the tale of Basil “the New” consists in nothing but Gregory’s visions.

The integral Greek collections of the lives of saints do not include the life of Basil. The story itself was rejected in Byzantium and neither his existence nor his sainthood were recognized by the Greek Orthodox Church. {Footnote: It seems, however, that among some Old Calendarist sectarians in Greece, this “life” has become a “cult piece” and is being greatly advocated, to the point that this Elder Basil has appeared in some collections.} The primary reasons for the rejection of the biography are the dubious nature of Gregory’s interminable visions (which cast logical doubt on his sanity), and also certain strange actions and words he ascribes to Basil which clearly cast doubt upon the Orthodoxy and sanctity of Basil. There are a great many visions and “revelations” preserved in various Greek manuscripts, but they are so complex, frenzied, and absurd that they appear more as classic schizophrenic hallucinations and cannot be seen as true and free of demonic delusion (plani, prelest); the fact that they have been handed down by manuscript tradition does not ensure their soundness. At the turn of this century the Elder Pachomios of Chios (1840-1905) employed references to Gregory’s vision concerning Theodora’s soul, but it was quickly pointed out to him by Church authorities that this vision is not accepted as valid by the Church; thereafter the elder ceased mentioning the vision.

In the fifteenth century, the complete text of Gregory’s life of Basil was translated into Slavonic and has been preserved in Metropolitan Makary’s Cheti Meneya. This was taken as a basis for the Russian version of the Life, and also Dmitri of Rostov’s Slavonic version, and then placed in the Russian Lives of Saints. As a result, among the Russians this Basil is known as “Saint Basil the New,” and the vision concerning Theodora’s soul is considered valid. The vision concerning the end of the world was not retained (fortunately), even in an abbreviated form. It was simply too fantastic and too full of aberrations for the Russian hagiographers. In the Russian (and St. Dmitri’s Slavonic) version, the vision concerning Theodora has been greatly altered from the Greek original in an attempt to make it less suspicious, less clearly Manichean in nature. Thus the Russian version is not at all consistent with the original (a fact which already negates any veracity and usefulness of the Russian version). For example, although Gregory wishes to assure us that he in true reality was in ecstasy and saw everything of his visions noetically, the Russian version says that it was “a vision of sleep,” i.e., a dream. Further, the entire story about how he finally got to see Theodora is omitted in the Russian, probably because of its excessive and fabulous nature. In the Russian version, the details about the telonia (toll-houses) are greatly abbreviated and also most of her sins are passed over in silence. Where the original Greek says that she had not a single sin of pride (and of vainglory and many others), the Russian says that, for these sins, “we gave a very small quantity of that [gold] which Saint Basil had given, and I was freed,” that is, she had small sins (but nothing serious!). Further, although the Greek is explicit that she never confessed her sins of fornication, the Russian dilutes this, saying, “Because she never sincerely and completely repented before her spiritual father concerning her previous sins and hid much from him.” The entire vision of heaven and the saints and of sinners in hell is omitted. Then, whereas in the Greek Gregory is led to Basil sitting at a dinner table in the “other world,” though Basil is still living, the Russian compilers arbitrarily re-wrote this section (one would like to think they did this because they recognized the heresy and delusion of the idea) and discontinue the vision before this point, then re-edit this into a new vision which Gregory supposedly saw after Basil had died, and this becomes the end of the life. However, in the original, this is only one third of the way through the text, and there are many more episodes in the life of Basil before he finally dies. If the unaltered text of this and the other visions had been available to Russian readers, it is doubtful that many would have taken it seriously and the tale would have the same repute as it had in the Byzantine Church. {Footnote: It is interesting that even the Latin editors of the Acta Sanctorum thought it unwise to include Gregory’s visions, although there is much in the vision concerning Theodora’s soul which is akin to their doctrines of purgatory and merits. Also, for similar reasons it seems, the Latins made no mention of this in the arguments at the Council of Florence, though it is very likely that they knew of Gregory’s visions from their occupation of Constantinople.}

It must be remembered that the Russian edition of the “Life” was considerably rewritten and altered, so that it does not always agree or correspond with the original texts. This is an interesting fact to bear in mind if one wishes to take this so-called “Life” seriously. Which version and which set of details does one “take seriously,” the original (which is just too embarrassing) or the sanitized, rewritten, heavily edited version?


The Elder Basil:

Gregory tells us nothing about the early life of this Basil, but begins his narration at the point when certain magistrates on official business are passing through the mountains of eastern Asia Minor and discover a certain man “wearing the garb of a local village type and wild in appearance as being an inhabitant of the mountains” (§2 in the Acta Sanctorum edition). They suspect this man to be a spy (a logical surmise considering the presence of Paulicians in that area and the evident Gnosticism of Basil’s teachings), and they must have had some reason for their suspicions. Leaping from their horses, they captured him and brought him back forcibly to Constantinople. There he is handed over to a Moslem of patrician rank named Samonas, for interrogation. This man cruelly tortures him to force him to say who he was, where he was from, and what his name was, but Basil absolutely refuses to say a word. According to the tale, Basil was thrown to wild beasts in the theater, [a strange practice for 10th-century Christians in Constantinople,] but they did not touch him, and so finally Samonas ordered that he be drowned in the sea by night. He was cast in, but two dolphins miraculously carried him to shore and thereupon his bonds were miraculously unloosed. {Footnote: One is impelled to compare this with the fully historical details of Basil the Bogomil, who was executed in Constantinople in A.D. 1111. According to his followers, when Basil the Bogomil’s cloak was cast into a fire in the stadium, it floated above the flames and was caught away to heaven. When Basil himself was thrown into the fire, so the “Life” goes, he himself was wafted away and did not actually burn. (See The Alexiad of Anna Comnenos, for example. She was an eyewitness to the events and records them in her work.) This Basil Bogomil was not the founder of the sect, which began in the 800’s, but he was considered to be its “pope” not only by the Slavic and Byzantine Bogomils, but by the Cathars and Albigensians of Western Europe.} Basil the New then returned to the city where he encountered a man suffering from a high fever, whom he healed. This man, John by name, took him to his house and provided a room for him. Slowly, Basil’s fame now began to grow because of the healings attributed to him and his knowledge of men’s sins and of what is to befall them. He became a well-known fortune teller, in other words. Many people came to him and finally an illustrious man named Constantine, “the former barbarian,” extended an invitation to him to abide in his mansion, and there Basil remained until his death. {Footnote: While we have no historical confirmation that this Elder Basil actually lived, these details would be consistent with the troubles of the mid-900’s in Constantinople, when Bogomilism and other forms of Gnosticism were infiltrating many of the wealthier homes in the city. Indeed, by the reign of Emperor Manuel I (d. 1148), the Patriarch of Constantinople Cosmas Atticos (1146-47) could be suspected by many of Bogomilism (because of his sympathy for the convicted Bogomil monk Niphon, Patriarch Cosmas was deposed on these charges), and a council during this reign would convict and depose two other bishops for being Bogomils (see Runciman, pp. 63-93refer to Select Bibliography). There were rumors connecting Emperor Manuel himself to Bogomilism, but these may have arisen from his acknowledged respect for foreign cultures.}

According to the tale, Constantine gave him a cell and an old woman named Theodora to look after his needs. Basil supposedly became quite well known, so that even the emperors ask to see him, and the great men of the city came to him. Gregory does not tell us how long Basil dwelt in Constantinople before his death, but calculating by the historical events mentioned in the story, it must have been about thirty years, and this Basil would have died in 944. The life does not claim that Basil was a monk, and it is certain that he did not dress like one. It seems more likely that he was a self-styled ascetic, and indeed, there were a number of such men during the mid-centuries of the East Roman (Byzantine) Empire, even as there were during the Russian Empire. In the 900’s and 1000’s, many, if not most, such wandering self-styled elders were Bogomils and Massalians.

Gregory of Thrace:

What we know about Gregory comes to us from the autobiographical sections of his story of Basil. When Gregory met Basil he was a young man, perhaps in his twenties. He was a land owner of small means who lived in Constantinople and returned to his estates in Thrace from time to time to collect revenues and the profits received from the harvest. While in the capital, he developed an interest in spiritual things and had a spiritual father named Epiphanios, a eunuch and ascetic who dwelt in one of the monasteries of the city. After the death of this man, Gregory heard of the fame of Basil and sought him out. At their meeting, Gregory says, Basil called him by name without having seen him before, and Gregory thereafter became his spiritual child. Under Basil’s direction, Gregory lived a sort of ascetical life but was subject to many temptations and falls, as he himself relates. By supernatural means, Basil rescued him from his temptations and also revealed many things to him in visions. It seems, however, that Gregory did not know Basil very long before the latter’s death, and at the death of Basil our information concerning Gregory comes to an end.


Theodora was a slave woman from birth, as we know from her supposed conversation with Gregory after her death, and was joined by her master (presumably Constantine who later gave shelter to Basil) to a manwithout a church weddingfrom whom she had several children. It seems, however, she led a rather wild life in her youth, despite this fact. In her old age she became very pious and was assigned to look after Basil and attend to his visitors. After serving Basil for some years, she reposed. Then Gregory became consumed with curiosity about the fate of her soul, and disregarding the teachings of the holy fathers, Basil arranged for him to find out about this. Here begins the tale of Gregory’s vision concerning the soul of Theodora. At several points in the life, Theodora is called “amma,” the feminine equivalent of “abba.” This title is used here in the sense of “venerable old lady”; there is no evidence that she ever received monastic tonsure before her death. This is not surprising, since it seems that the Elder Basil himself was not a monk.

One Final Point About the Personages:

In the Greek lists of saints, there is a “St. Basil the New,” but this is not the Basil we are speaking of. The actual St. Basil the New, [who also lived in the tenth century,] was the brother of St. Paul of Mt. Latros and dwelt in the monastery of St. Elias the Prophet on Mt. Olympus; he became abbot and reposed there in peace. [He has been confounded with the fictitious Elder Basil in the life of St. Paul of Mt. Latros.] Also, Gregory of Thrace should not be confused with St. Gregory of Decapolis, who lived during the time of the iconoclasts. And this Theodora, if she actually existed at all, is not St. Theodora of Thessaloniki (+ 879).

There is another point which needs to be contemplated seriously. We are not obliged to accept some person as a “saint” just because someone has written a story about them and published it. It is possible for anyone to write a story about anyone they are personally attached to and call the person a saint.


A summary of the heretical doctrines taught in the document.

1. Gregory’s Claims of a “Noetic” Ascent to Heaven, While Still Alive

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?” (Saint Andrew of Crete, Homily on Human Life and Those Fallen Asleep)

At the death of Theodora, Gregory is troubled in his mind and wonders to himself, “‘What recompenses has she received in that age (or “world”), those of the right, or those of the left? And has she gained enjoyment of anything on account of her service of the righteous man (Basil) and the tarnished ministration which she blamelessly fulfilled for him each day?’ And turning these things over in my mind, I went to the righteous man, and falling at his precious feet, I entreated him with fervent tears to tell me what has become of her” (f.67v). At first Basil categorically refuses to tell him anything, but at length he addresses Gregory: “Do you truly wish to see Theodora and what state she has received?” When Gregory cries, “Yes,” Basil continues: “You shall truly see her, my child, even as I have asked in prayer” (ibid.).

Gregory’s inquisitiveness is not something which the holy fathers condone, because they write that we should not ask for special revelations and the knowledge of such mysteries. Before we continue with Gregory’s tale, let us see what actual Orthodox Christian elders and fathers would answer to such an arrogant desire and request as Gregory’s. When we take up his narrative again, we shall see just how arrogant and in how great a state of spiritual delusion (prelest) this Gregory truly was, and we will better understand the reticencenay, the refusal—of the Orthodox holy fathers to permit such speculations and unhealthy curiosity. Moreover, we will become even more convinced that this Gregory and his Elder Basil were Gnostic heretics, most likely Bogomils (for reasons we will discuss later).

St. John Chrysostom strictly warns us: “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).

We shall now see how sound and prophetic are these words of St. John Chrysostom, and we shall see how astonishingly unsober and un-Orthodox are both Gregory and his elder, Basil the New.

That night, Gregory tells us, while he was going to sleep a youth appeared to him and instructed him to get up if he wanted to see Theodora. He leapt up and discovered that he had been mystically transported to the door of Basil’s house. The people he encountered there told him that Basil had gone to see Theodora, and so Gregory asked if anyone there could tell him the way. Someone gave him directions and it seemed to him that he was on the way to the church of Vlachernae.

“Suddenly I found myself going up a steep and extremely narrow passageway, and traversing this with great fear and agony [Why?], I came to a gate which was locked very securely. Then I peeked through a hole, seeking to catch sight of someone who could open the gate for me. Within there was a house of extraordinary beauty and glory” (f.68v).

Inside he sees two beautiful women. He attracts the attention of one of them and asks her whose house it is. She answers that it is the house of our father Basil. He asks whether Basil is in, and she replies, “Yes, he has come to visit his children.” Gregory declares that he is also one of Basil’s children and wants to come in, but the woman replies that unless Lady Theodora gives permission, she cannot open the gate.

“But I,” says Gregory, “becoming then more audacious, began to beat violently on the door and boldly to cry out, ‘Open up!’ Theodora, hearing the commotion from within, came up to the gate so as to peek through a hole to spy upon and see who was making the disturbance. For the aforesaid woman whom I called out to so that she would open up, told her that ‘a certain stranger has approached the gate and is bothering me to open up to him’” (f.70r). [Apparently there are slaves in heaven to serve as doorkeepers.] Theodora, seeing that it is Gregory, happily commands that the gate be opened. Then she says to him:

“‘Who has brought you to these parts, my sweetest child Gregory, nay, from that vain world to this unwaning day? Have you, indeed, died, having come here and been liberated from the vain cares of that world and having attained to this blessed way of life?’ But I marvelled at these things and was completely unable to understand what she said to me, because I did not think that I was in ecstasy and that I saw all these things noetically, but I thought that I was in a waking state and saw all these things with my physical eyes. And I said to her, ‘My lady Amma, I have not died yet, but by the prayer and help of our holy father I have come here, being still in life. I came here on account of you, to see your venerable face and to learn what portion and place you have attained’” (f. 70v).

Firstly, one wonders what this narrow passageway is that Gregory ascends by his own power, unguided. Moreover, what is this house which Gregory sees and which belongs to the Elder Basil? Is this what the Lord meant when He said, “In My Father’s house there are many mansions” (Jn. 14:2)? Here we are taught that Basil has a “house” in the heavenly kingdom which he visits, though he is still alive and living on earth. But let us see what the “many mansions” our Savior promised us really consist of.

St. Isaac the Syrian writes: “The Savior calls the many mansions of His Father the noetic degrees of those who dwell in that land, I mean the distinctions and differences of the spiritual gifts which they noetically enjoy. For by ‘many mansions’ He spoke not of different places, but of the order of gifts (of grace)” (Homily 56).

Having established what these “mansions” are, let us further inquire: do these many mansions belong now, properly speaking, to the souls of the saints? Immediately after He mentioned the “many mansions,” our Savior says, “I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you unto Myself, that where I am, there ye may be also” (Jn. 14:3). Clearly the Lord speaks of His Second Coming and the resurrection, after which the righteous shall receive their “mansions.” Why? St. Irenaeus says: “For it is just that in the very condition (i.e., in the bodily state), in which the righteous toiled or were afflicted, being proved in every way by suffering, they should receive the reward of their suffering” (Against Heresies, Bk. V, §31).

Proceeding further, we are astonished to see that Theodora cannot perceive that Gregory is not dead and is unlike her, being still alive. This raises many questions. What state is Gregory in? Death is, by definition, the separation of body and soul (St. John Damascene, Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, Bk. IV, §27). Theodora is, therefore, a soul bereft of a body. If she cannot discern that Gregory is not dead, this raises many serious questions and doubts about her condition, her “blessedness,” and the condition of Basil, who is also there, though still in his earthly life. This must mean that both Gregory and Basil are there somehow outside their body, and clearly she does not see a body standing before her in that immaterial place. Despite the description, the place must be immaterial, since those dwelling there have no bodies; indeed, Theodora says this later on.

At this point in his delusion, Gregory of Thrace himself attempts to explain in what state he is found.

One would like to think that all the strange things thus far encountered by the reader can be explained away by the fact that this is just a dream and in dreams there are many irrational elements (in which case, even a person who was not overly sober and reasonable would immediately dismiss the entire story as mere fantasy). Caution is required here, however, because Gregory is eager to assure us that this is not just a dream, but that it is a revelation of the highest order. He says that he thought he was in a waking state and seeing everything with his bodily eyes, which itself would be superior to a simple dream, but he discovers that he is in “an ecstasy” and he sees everything noetically. At the end of the vision he describes all this with great exactitude so that we should not suppose that he is recording just a dream. Beholding the beautiful garden which is the fruit-bearing labors of the Elder Basil, Gregory says to Theodora, “‘I beseech you, my lady, who planted this garden? I never saw such a thing.’ And she replied to me, ‘And where would you see such a thing, living still in that vain world, and how should you find such gladness? For these things which you see were fashioned noetically by the hand of the Most High. All these things are noetic and incorruptible and we ourselves live here noetically’ (f.112r). But I, being astonished and thunderstruck at these words, namely that we existed (there) noetically and not palpablyfor I supposed that I was there in body, and in a waking state, not noeticallyI tried to feel myself to determine whether that body which I appeared to have was flesh or not, and I wished to grasp one hand with the other, and I felt myself to see if my body had any bones, and I tried to examine all my members; but by the sense of touch I understood myself, that I possessed nothing of this sort. I found that I was like a flame of fire or a sunbeam, and I thought I could take hold of this sunbeam with my hand, but I was completely unable to grasp it. For I could not perceive at all that I touched any of my members, since I was there noetically and not in a waking state” (f.113r). When Gregory finally “comes to himself,” he calls all this a “terrible and wonderful vision” (f.113v). In his view, at least, he was not simply dreaming. {Footnote: It may have been a dream which he, being Gnostic, took quite seriously. On the other hand, it would not have been at all unusual for a Manichean writer (Bogomil, Paulician, or Massalian) to fabricate such a story in order to spread Gnostic doctrine by means of it. Considering the utterly fantastic nature of the rest of the tale, it could also have been a psychotic delusion, but I suggest that the entire tale was fabricated by an ardent Bogomil as a vector for Gnostic doctrine.}

There is one other point that must be made here, and that is Gregory’s reference to his being having the sense of a flame or a sunbeam. Gregory has actually told us in this delusion that he is bodiless in the sense of the material body He says that he has a form, but that it is like a flame or a sunbeam. Now this is classic Gnosticism. In Gnostic systems, the soul is a “divine spark,” a “flame,” and the substance of light, which comes into its own only after it is “liberated” from the material body. Gnostics conceived the soul as having a “subtle body” of its own. It is clear that Gregory of Thrace consistently speaks with Gnostic concepts, and this entire Tale of Basil the New is replete with Gnostic doctrine.

Let us turn now to Gregory’s strange and deluded use of the term noetic.

2. Gregory of Thrace’s Novel Concept of “Noetic”

Noetic, in Greek, means simply that which pertains to the intellect or mind, nous. According to St. Basil the Great, the intellect (nous) is “the soul’s faculty of sight, naturally united to it,” it is “a certain natural power” of the soul (Ascetical Statues II, §1). The soul “noetically” beholds the glory of God, but it cannot noetically “be” somewhere. What Gregory here calls “noetic” is not noetic at all, but something else very strange, something we will find in Massalian and Bogomil teachings. He says that he is outside his physical body but that he still has some sort of “body,” an intangible body which not only seems to have members, but can feel with natural, physical senses. Then again, it seems to be like a flame of fire or a sunbeam; he has hands for feeling but nothing to feel! His description brings to mind Gnostic fables and the so-called “astral body” which modern day occultists speak about and which is clearly a demonic delusion. But men have one body only, not two, and moreover, they are not even complete human beings without their bodies, according to the doctrine of the Orthodox Church, reflected in the writings of the great Church fathers. 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).

3. The Heretical Doctrine About the Nature of Man Taught by Gregory of Thrace and Basil the New

As soon as Gregory meets with Theodora, he asks her not about her state, as he claimed was his desire to know, but “Tell me, my lady, how did you depart under the compulsion of death, and how did you pass through the evil spirits of the air?” (f.71r). At this point Theodora’s long and famous tale begins.

Theodora begins to narrate how, when she was lying on her deathbed, the ugly hordes of the demons surrounded her, terrifying her with their appearance and cries. Then two handsome youths appeared and rebuked the demons (f.73r).

While this is going on, another being arrived, “whose appearance was sometimes like a roaring lion, sometimes like an audacious, barbarian youth, holding in his hands swords, sickles, saws, chisels, skewers, adzes, axes, and many other dreadful instruments of torture, wherewith he brings to pass the common death of all men” (f.74r). {Footnote: Not surprisingly, this is a perfect description of the way the Mithraic deity Kronos was often portrayed. This is one more piece of clear evidence of Gnostic origins for this story.} This being slowly began to dissect Theodora’s body, cutting off her twenty finger and toe nails, then all her joints, causing her unspeakable pain, then beheading her and finally giving her something extremely bitter to drink (though since her head was already severed from her body, it could not have gone very far), by which her soul was forced from her body (f.74v).

One wonders whether this cruel being was a devil or an angel. The writings of the fathers, however, state clearly that the angel of death is an angel of God, not a tormentor, as depicted in this delusion, but one who fulfills God’s almighty decrees. St. Andrew of Crete writes, “Radiant angels, bearers of royal scepters, awesome to behold, come from above; choirs of hosts clad in white, whose figure is the likeness of light, fire-breathing, robed in fire, these hasten and surround him who is lying and abruptly demand the deposit (i.e., the soul), and we, do we not show reverence?” (Homily on Human Life and Those Fallen Asleep, PG 97:1284D).

For St. Andrew of Crete the hour of death is an awesome and holy spectacle where the angels of God are present to fulfill God’s commands. But for Gregory it is a gruesome and hideous spectacle of torture, though Theodora was a pious Christian.

After Theodora’s soul had been wrested from her and the two angels had grasped it, she said, “And I saw my tabernacle lying there dead, without breath, motionless and inactive, and I marveled with great astonishment, perceiving it to be the same as if someone took off his cloak” (f.74v). For Gregory, the body is no more than a cloak which is taken off with great difficulty; after the separation of soul and body, Theodora is still the same Theodora. This is sheer Platonism and nothing more. According to St. Gregory Palamas, “The word ‘man’ is not applied to either soul or body separately, but to both together, since together they have been created in the image of God” (Prosopoppeiae, PG 150:1361C).

St. Methodios of Olympus writes: “In reality man is by his nature neither a soul without a body, nor again a body without a soul, but that unity formed of the combining of soul and body into the likeness of the Good (God). But Origen said that the soul alone is man, as did Plato” (Fragments on the Resurrection, PG 18:292).

It is more likely that Gregory of Thrace is speaking in Bogomil (i.e., Manichean) terms.

Immediately after Theodora gives up her soul and the angels grasp it, the demons surround them, trying to snatch away Theodora’s soul from the angels. 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).

We cannot have it both ways. Either the so-called “Life of Basil the New” is heretical, or the fathers of the Church are. 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 quick and powerful and sharper than any two-edged sword...and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). It is known to everyone that our Savior taught us not to be content with external deeds of righteousness and abstention from external sinful deeds, but to strive for perfect purity of heart. Therefore He rebukes the Pharisees: “Woe unto you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye are like unto white-washed sepulchers, which indeed appear beautiful outwardly but within are full of dead men’s bones and of all uncleanness” (Mt. 23:27).

It is clear that the demons are not witnesses of our most profound [inner] sins but can only surmise them. This fact alone makes the rest of Theodora’s narration doubtful, to say the very least, as we shall see.

[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.]

4. The Heretical Teaching About Works and Salvation

Theodora says that after leaving her body the demons attempted to seize her soul from the angels, and thereupon a sort of trial took place. “Those divine youths investigated all my good works” (f.75r), and sorting them out, they counterbalanced them with my ancient sins, buying off one with another. While they were busy with this, those Ethiopians and blackish demons mightily rose up against me and strove with the radiant angels of God, trying to wrest me from their hands and drag me down into the pit of Hades” (f.76v).

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 (James) says, “I will show thee my faith by my works,” and “Faith without works is dead” (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 deification (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 mark iniquities, 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 you,...for although your debt to Him is so great, yet He is not seen exacting payment from you, and for the small works you do, He bestows great rewards upon you.... 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.

5. Gregory of Thrace’s and Elder Basil’s Heretical Teaching About Works and Merits

Let us now return to the narrative.

At this point, Theodora and her psychopomps are arguing and bargaining with the demons (actually the archons of the astral planes). {Footnote: In pagan mythology a psychopomp was a spirit which guided a departed soul through the passageways and labyrinths of the astral planes. In certain mythologies the psychopomp was thought to ward off negative spirits. We use the term here because the teaching being presented by Gregory of Thrace and/or Elder Basil is clearly pagan and not at all Christian, thus one could not properly call the angels seen in this tale anything but the pagan mythological psychopomps. In Mandean Gnosticism, the psychopomps (Theodora’s “angels”) are called “helper spirits.” See, for example, Rudolf in the Select Bibliography.} There is a great matter made of weighing on a scales her bad deeds against her good deeds (much as Thoth did to the souls in pagan Egyptian mythology and the archons did in Mandean Gnosticism). Just as the demons are getting the upper hand, the Elder Basil appears, though he is still living in the flesh. This suddenly changes matters and the whole business of the scale is strangely abandoned before any outcome is reached. The Elder Basil tells the angels, “‘My lords, this soul has been allotted to me, for it ministered much unto me and gave rest to my old age. Therefore I entreated the Lord for it and His goodness gave it to me.’ Taking out from his breast a scarlet purse filled with pure gold, he gave it to the two youths and said to them, ‘Take these and with them buy off this soul when it passes through the toll booths 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). Seeing this, the demons are startled and depart howling.

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, as we have seen. 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).

But we shall see greater heresy and falsehood yet in this “Tale of Basil the New.” Let us look ahead and see what the angels do with the money given them by this Basil (quite clearly a teaching of supererogatory merits is being presented here). At the toll-booth (telonion) of anger, Theodora says, “And my champions, those most beloved youths, made a defense concerning these things also and gave to them (i.e., the demons) the gifts that were due, not from my own good deeds, for these were already spent (by the fifth toll-booth), but from the divine gifts which our righteous father Basil had given me; and then we ascended, leaving them...” (f.81v). {Footnote: We must pause to ask: what precisely is “due” to the demons? Are they rewarded by God for their evil and wickedness by being allowed to collect something that baptized Christians now owe to them? Think about this for a moment or two. [Moreover, if the entirety of the good deeds of a pious Christian woman are already “spent” by only the fifth toll-house, what hope is there for most Christians to make it through all twenty of these demonic torture stations?]} At the toll-booth of wine-bibbing and drunkenness: “And giving them what was due from the rich gifts of my master and our holy father Basil, my good guides and helpers bought off my sins” (f.84v). At the toll-house for gluttony: “Giving them their due, my guides bought off all my sins with the gifts of my master and holy father” (f.92r).

At the toll-house of fornication, where Theodora’s soul gets into real trouble, the demons say, “‘Either forsake this soul and depart, or by good works of equal weight buy off those things which we have brought forth against it.’ Then those holy youths brought forth from the pouch a portion of that which my most holy father and Christ’s servant Basil had given them for the redemption of my soul, and they gave to them a measure equal to the weight of those true charges they had brought against me” (f.97r).

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 Latin 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 if Gregory were to tell us that it is “noetic” gold, what, again, is that? But let us suppose that he thinks it is 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, “All have missed the mark and come short of the glory of God, being justified (made righteous) freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in His blood, to declare His righteousness for the remission of sins that are past” (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).]

If someone were to attempt to defend this heretical “life” by saying that “No one in the world would take these things literally, and so there is no danger in Gregory’s heretical teachings,” we would have to reply that the Latins already proved this naive, because this is exactly what they believe. Moreover, we do encounter “Orthodox” people who accept all this. The entire system of merits (Theodora’s good works), supererogatory merits (Basil’s gold), purgatory (the possibility of paying off sins somehow), and juridical atonement (divine justice being appeased) is clearly found here. Moreover, can anyone assure with certainty that those who attempt to present this “life” as an authentic Orthodox Christian document do not accept all this as actual doctrine? If they do not accept the doctrines and teachings of this Manichean document, then why do they continue to advocate it?

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 as well as heretical.

Let us, bracing ourselves for yet more blasphemy, continue the narration.

After the Elder Basil gives his purse to the angels, Theodora says, “Lo, once more my master Basil came, bringing to us countless jars filled with pure olive oil; and there were also venerable and handsome youths with him carrying these jars. The righteous man then commanded them and they opened up the jars and poured out the oil, I mean the oil in each one of the jars, upon my head, and I became filled with oil and mercy and spiritual fragrance, and my face was cleansed” (f.77r). The purpose of all this is never explained and it does not come up again in the narration. {Footnote: This is just another example of supererogatory merits which so exceeded Basil’s own needs that they could be poured out like precious oil in superabundance.} Hereafter the Elder Basil says to the psychopomps guiding Theodora’s soul, “My lords and fellow servants, when you have completed that which is this soul’s duty (to undergo), store it away in my divine place of rest which the Lord has prepared and made ready (for me)” (f.77v). Remember that Basil had also said in the beginning, “This soul has been allotted to me” (f.76v). Stop and think: if this is the case, what was the purpose of Theodora’s passage through the “toll houses” and of Basil’s gold being paid out? Since everything has already been decided, is not the rest an absurd spectacle? But if it is not absurd, who is it for? We shall return to this point later, and we shall see that this entire hallucination is totally absurd and meaningless, except in the context of Manichean Gnosticism.


After the toll-house of remembrance of wrongs, the angels explain to Theodora’s soul how the demons know everything evil that a man has done and also how the toll-houses work. Interestingly, but not surprisingly, they repeat a fable which is common in Mandean Gnosticism and appears in the Nag Hammadi Gnostic Codices. The fable they contain is, in Gregory of Thrace’s retelling:

Do you not know that every Christian has, from the time of his Baptism, his own good angel to guard him and to lead him into every good work and to write down his good deeds all through his life, but parallel to this, by divine permission, an angel of evil goes with him, following him and himself recording all the bad deeds that he performs, so long as he is in this life, all life long? These angels of evil report all misdeeds in detail to the guardians of each gate, so that those who lie in wait to stop and hold each human soul who dies and takes this way of ascent, may drive it off into the abyss of fire and the depth of Hades, where they also have their place, unless the soul has properly repented of what it has done, and with the aid of a guardian angel is able to produce good deeds that clearly measure up and are balanced against the sins and base thoughts displayed by the accusers, and thus the soul will be able to escape their hands. But if it is not found with more, or an equal number of, good points to balance bad deeds, that by them the soul may be bought off, they drag it away violently and mercilessly beat and bind it up and as was said, thrust it down in the abyss of Hades in darkness and the shadow of death until the fearful and inexorable Judgment. So it is that they know all the sins of men in this world” (f.87r-88r). (The “following angels” myth comes to us from Persian Zoroastrianism via Manichean and Mandean Gnosticism.)

One does not even need to discuss the heretical concept of salvation being taught in this passage. Clearly it is a doctrine of salvation by good deeds and merits. [Where are the concepts of grace, mercy, or forgiveness in the toll-house myth?]

Quite apart from the unscriptural nature of this fabulous tale, 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, incidentally, 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?

Theodora’s soul has difficulty at some toll-houses, like those of anger, slander, foolish speechwhich comprises bawdy songs which she sang and taught to others, licentious walking about, uncontrolled laughter, ribald jestingdrunkenness, gluttony, adultery, and fornication, but at others it is determined that she never sinned throughout her entire life. This is marvelous in itself, but we are even more astonished when we find that these toll-houses include: malice, pride, vainglory (or vanity), love of money, remembrance of wrongs, stealing, and a number of others. Theodora claims that not one sin of remembrance of wrongs was found, but she is clearly seen to remember wrongs even in this narration. She tries to excuse herself from her acts of fornication by saying that young men led her astray, that is, they wronged her, and she also blames God for not having taught her about the toll-houses. But from the other toll-houses we see that she was engaged in singing bawdy songs, ribald jesting, drunkenness, lascivious dancing, and so on. She was no victim of evil men, but quite enjoyed herself. She should, therefore, have had the humility to blame herself here and not others. Furthermore, she never confessed the sins of fornication (f.96v), and the only reason for this can be her pride and vainglory, though she is reputed to be wholly sinless in this respect. In fact, it is doubtful that there has ever lived another human being so holy as Theodora, except our Savior of course, because she never committed a single sin of pride or vainglory. Imagine, a human being without vanity, especially a person whose life was so questionable in many other realms! St. John Chrysostom even suspects that the Theotokos was subject to “superfluous vanity” when she asked that our Savior come out to speak with her (Homily 44 on Matthew). In truth, vainglory is inescapable for all men. St. John of the Ladder writes, “The sun shines on all alike, and vainglory beams on all activities.... When I talk I am defeated and when I am silent I am again defeated by it. However I throw this prickly pear, a thorn stands upright” (The Ladder of Divine Ascent 22:5).

As for pride, it is the chief human illness which nestles in the very depths of the heart, it is the origin of all the sins and the cause of man’s downfall. For this reason even the greatest saints struggled mightily with this passion, whereas the rest of us are totally submerged in it. St. John of the Ladder says: “Where a fall has overtaken us, there pride has already pitched its tent; because a fall is an indication of pride” (23:4).

Is there any man who has never fallen in his life? We already know about Theodora. But Theodora says, “How and of whom could I desire to be proud, being a poor slave woman from birth?” (f.81v). If she is deluded enough to believe this, the demons are not.

Strangely, 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 bring forth their good deeds, for they have no Baptism.

From these observations alone we can conclude that Gregory’s tale about the toll-houses is untrue and that either he simply made it up, or he was led astray by some demonic vision. In order to advocate their teachings, Gnostic writers often contrived entire “gospels” and frequently produced whole works and series of works which they falsely attributed to apostles or famous Christian writers and fathers.

St. Isaac the Syrian writes, “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).

Although everything Gregory saw was “noetic,” it differs in no way from what surrounds us here. But St. Isaac tells us most clearly that there is nothing there which has any likeness to things here, and St. Paul says the same: “And I knew such a man (whether in the body or out of the body, I know not; God knoweth), that such a one was caught up into paradise and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter” (2 Cor. 12:4). And again, “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him” (1 Cor. 2:9).

Before continuing with Theodora’s story we should take note of something the angels tell her: “But if men knew of these things (the toll-houses), they would strive greatly to be delivered from such dire circumstances, even as some of them actually do and pass unscathed through the toll-houses, though these be very rare and one out of a thousand or ten thousand. But since they do not know about them, they live negligently” (f.85v). Theodora also says that she would not have committed fornication if she had known about the toll-houses. Apart from the doubt this passage casts on the character of God, Who must thus purposely withhold this knowledge, Gregory is teaching something here which is grossly wrong and which our Savior Himself condemned. In the parable about Lazarus and the rich man, the rich man asks Abraham to send back Lazarus to tell his brothers about what he (the rich man) is suffering, “lest they also come into this place of torment.” Abraham answers (in the words of our Savior), “They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.” When the rich man objects, “Nay, father Abraham, but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent,” Abraham answers, “If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rose from the dead” (Lk. 16:28-31). Here our Savior is condemning “special revelations” about things not revealed in Scripture, and He says that if a man will not come to repentance by listening to God through the Scriptures, he will not repent by listening to men or to the revelations of demons. But Gregory is full of special revelations and he thinks that this will greatly edify others, contrary to the words of the Savior.

Theodora’s soul finally traverses the toll-houses and passes through the “gates of heaven.” Once within, it is taken to worship the Holy Trinity and then shown around. Here Theodora’s story is similar to many other Gnostic tales about such heavenly visions and has the usual materialistic descriptions. Indeed, this section of the narration follows closely the Massalian document falsely attributed to St. Makarios of Egypt. {Footnote: That is, the fable that the soul of a deceased person wanders in familiar places for three days, and that it is then taken to heaven to reverence God, and afterwards taken to Hades to witness the torments of the damned.} For Gregory claims that she was then taken to Hades, and forty days after her death, her soul was taken to Basil’s house. This in itself is a heretical teaching which has been so clearly refuted by St. Mark of Ephesus that one simply marvels that the supporters of the toll-house heresy and this clearly Manichean “Life” are unaware of it. St. Mark of Ephesus says:

“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”).

Must we really believe that this so obviously Manichean Gregory of Thrace was a far greater Church father than St. Mark of Ephesus, and that St. Mark’s writings are dubious, while this monstrous tale is of greater value?

It is difficult to understand how Theodora knew that forty days had passed when, in that place, as she herself says, “the day is unwaning” (f.70v). In any case, what meaning could earthly time have in a “noetic” realm, since time is the measure of the motion of material objects?

At this point, the tale returns to Gregory, and Theodora’s “soul” leads Gregory inside the Elder Basil’s house where he, on a lofty throne (though still alive on earth, mind you), is sitting at table with his departed spiritual children, feasting with them. Gregory falls at his feet and Basil says, “Welcome,” touches him (though Gregory couldn’t touch himself), and tells Theodora’s soul to show him around the house and the gardens (f.110r-111r). Afterwards Gregory “as it were comes to himself” and ponders that awesome and wondrous vision (f. 113v).

After all this, one more question still needs to be asked: if there are such things as toll-houses like Gregory describes, what are their purposes? 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. [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.]

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 disposed 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).

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. 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 only have I sinned and done evil in Thy sight” (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). When we also take into consideration the fact that Gregory 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 was inspired by demons for the delusion of men.


“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” (St. Barsanuphios the Great, Answer 414).

In the Tale of Elder Basil the New, Gregory records two other visions, one occurring immediately before the vision concerning Theodora, and the other somewhat afterwards. We cannot examine these visions in detail because the second is some two hundred folio pages in length, but we will discuss certain passages which further reveal the document to be of Gnostic (likely Bogomil) origin.

The first vision supposedly occurs when Gregory has gone to his country estate in Thrace to collect his profits. {Footnote: It is worth recalling that Gregory’s actual home is in Thrace and he spends considerable time there. At that time, Manichean Gnosticism was practically a state religion in Thrace.} On the way he stops at a house to spend the night. There he finds a belt belonging to the daughter of the owner of the house and decides to keep it, since it is worth two nomismata. The girl looks for it and even asks Gregory if he has seen it, but he denies that he took it, saying to himself, “She has many goods, but I am a poor man; I shall sell it and give its worth to the needy” (§42 in the Acta Sanctorum edition). Continuing his way, the Elder Basil appears to him in a dream and rebukes him for stealing the belt. Gregory denies it, saying, “I did not steal it, I found it” (§43). The Elder Basil continues to rebuke him and also says that he should be careful, lest he fall into a greater temptation. When he arrives at his estates, a certain newly-married woman, Melitine by name, takes a liking to him and tries to seduce him. This woman was the daughter of a powerful witch and caused great evils to whomever resisted her desires, and to her husband if he objected to her behavior. Here we enter into a scenario which is the stuff of sheer fairy tales. Melitine is the name of a mythological demi-goddess/witch who appears in fables and fairy tales in various countries, including early France, with sometimes a variation in the ending of the name. Gregory sees that it would be unwise to get involved with her and finally gets up the courage to castigate her. Thereafter he sees in sleep a black cloud over him and a voice says to him from the cloud, “Take what Melitine has prepared for you” (§46), and immediately he becomes grievously ill. Being in such straits he sees the following vision.

“I saw myself as it were sinking into the earth and I beheld a very deep chasm, the walls of which were very high and faced east and west. Now I was standing on the west wall, but gradually I began to be dragged down while gazing into the dreadful depth of that chasm.... But I saw that there was another world beyond the gorge, a world which earthly tongues cannot describe” (§47).

Gregory then calls upon St. Stephen the First Martyr, for whom he has great reverence. St. Stephen suddenly appears and Gregory asks him to explain the meaning of what he sees.

“‘What are these walls, my lord, and what is this deep chasm?’ Answering he said to me: ‘This is the wall of death, and the chasm is that which all men who died must traverse with great effort and difficulty, and then they dwell in that region beyond. The wall on the opposite side is the ascent which leads to the other world. By this ascent the souls of all who have died go up to the summit and by this they behold that world without end, whither all, both great and small, must go to give account for what they have done in their lives.’ Then I said to the saint, ‘And so I, as I see it, my lord, am about to die?’ And he said, ‘Since you have come here, what else do you expect?’” (§47).

Gregory bewails his fate, but then St. Stephen says to him that he will tell him certain words which, when he prays them to the Lord, will deliver him by the aid of St. Stephen.

And when I asked what were those words by which I could be delivered from this place, the saint ordered me to utter a certain formula (Gk. syntheken, incantation) of most terrible words (in prayer to the Lord) comprising the [names of the] cherubim, the seraphim, and all the heavenly powers,...and turning to the east, I ardently prayed to the Lord all that the first martyr had told me. Then I was again carried down into that terrible chasm from which I was brought up. The saint then again appeared to me and asked, ‘Have you done all that I told you?’ And I said, ‘Yes, saint of God!’ He immediately took my sleeve by his right hand and forcefully dragged me forwards, causing me to go up from whence I descended, that is, to that terrible height on the west wall. And the saint said to me, ‘Behold, how you have been drawn forth from the Hades of death!’” (§48).

Firstly the reader wonders what this chasm of death could possibly be, since Scripture does not teach the existence of any such place. St. Stephen’s explanation does not help very much in clarifying the matter. There are, however, a great many parallels to this in pagan mythology and mystery cults (put water in it, for example, and we have the River Styx). To compound the error, Gregory is delivered from death by a certain magical prayer formula! This is completely pagan. For this reason, the Russian version omits the passage, but it reinforces our evidence that Gregory of Thrace was, like the Elder Basil, a Bogomil, since the recitation of name-formulas is common in Gnostic teaching, as it was in Egyptian paganism. This entire story, and especially the name-formula incantation, is still further proof that this entire tale is sheer Gnosticism, but there is more evidence yet to come.

After being thus delivered, St. Stephen takes Gregory to a certain “courtyard” where there are stored hundreds of stone jars filled with “noetic oil.” St. Stephen explains to Gregory that “these belong to the Elder Basil; with these he anoints sinners and cleanses them from their sins, ‘making them sons of God’” (§49). Here again we see that the Elder Basil somehow possesses the grace of God as his own, and has the ability by anointing someone with his good works (for Gregory earlier establishes that this is what Basil’s oil is) to make them “sons of God.” Then the Elder Basil himself appears, coming forth from the bedchamber, and he and St. Stephen decide to free Gregory completely. They take him to a dark vault. The Elder Basil’s face shines like the sun, and in this light they see an enormous rat, which is the demon that tried to kill Gregory. Then the Elder Basil takes a huge stone and crushes its head and afterwards tells Gregory and St. Stephen to take up rocks and stone the dead rat, which Gregory takes great pleasure in doing. Then Gregory is healed from his illness and soon “the vision ceased, and I came to myself and was greatly astonished in spirit.” He wanted to go and murder Melitine but decided (after some consideration) that it was not the Christian thing to do. This entire vision is so filled with strange and psychologically questionable things that one is left with the reasonable impression that Gregory is demented.

Gregory’s great vision concerning the Last Judgment and the end of the world is at least a little more coherent than the vision described above. The vision takes place in this manner. One day while he was sitting by himself and contemplating how he could be delivered from his sins, suddenly the thought occurred to him that “the Jewish faith is pious, and they do well by worshipping the Maker of heaven and earth (f.147v).... And how is it that their faith is evil and ours is good?” (f.148v). Thinking this over in his mind, Gregory decides to go see the Elder Basil. On the way he passes by the stadium when the chariot races are just beginning, and he is carried away by the desire to see who is going to be the winner of the races of the “First Day of the Palms,” a special event in the racing season. So he watches the races, thinking to himself that “there is no sin in it, since I did not come here for this reason, but chanced to pass by here” (f.150r). Let us pause for a moment to reflect on the confused and disjointed way in which Gregory reasons, or rationalizes, his every action and deed. It appears as if he has no stable concept or right and wrong and very little control over his thought patterns and actions. Since he is in such a state of moral and even rational confusion, how are we to believe that he is sanctified and purified enough to be receiving revelations of such magnitude from God or any visions at all). Surely such revelations and visions occur only to those who are already glorified and called as prophetsor at least who have a clear grasp of right and wrong and some modicum of self-control.

Following the races, Gregory goes his way to the Elder Basil, who severely rebukes him for thinking that the Jews believe rightly and for going to the chariot races. Basil takes great pains to demonstrate to Gregory that the Jews have departed from true worship, but Gregory continues to have his doubts (remarkable enough for a man who claims to be granted revelations and visions from God), so he, having learned absolutely nothing at all from his “toll-house” vision, entreats the Elder Basil: “I beseech Your Perfection...that also by means of some divine vision I may receive even greater assurance of these things and that thus you may completely heal my feeble mind and those also who like me, the sinner, fall into such evil thoughts and beliefs and may lead us to the light of the truth. And the righteous man said to me, ‘The Lord, my child, will do for you that which is good and profitable; go now rejoicing, and He will fulfill this request of yours’” (f.158r).

At this point, one cannot help but call to mind the words of St. Barsanuphios 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).

Gregory (and the purveyors of the “Life of Elder Basil the New”) wish us to believe that Gregory, who has just brought his own faith in Christ into question, is receiving revelations and visions in the grace of the Holy Spirit. It is indisputable that he is in a very unstable spiritual state and it is not time for him to be receiving great and terrible revelations about the Judgment and the end of the world, but for him to get a hold on himself and struggle with his passions. The Elder Basil’s readiness to provide him with visions makes one question his spiritual discernment (if, indeed, Basil ever actually existed). Since the holy fathers call discernment the greatest of the spiritual virtues, it is certain that Basil is sorely lacking in this virtue, and so we must once again question the nature of his magic oil and meritorious gold coins.

Nevertheless, this pitiful, deluded tale continues. The same night, a little after midnight, Gregory finishes his prayers and sits down, and he immediately “sees himself in a certain verdant plain” (f.158v). Here his vision begins and the description goes on to folio page 350v, that is 400 ordinary pages! An angel meets him on that plain and they begin to journey upwards through the air and into diverse realms, “in mystic divine vision conjoined with ineffable sweetness and boundless ecstasy we proceeded onwards” (f.160v). In one of these realms they come to a beautiful city. Gregory asks the angel what city it is and the angel explains to him that after the Savior completed the mystery of His incarnate dispensation, after His Ascension and “after the passage of forty days He built this for His holy disciples and apostles, and for the prophets and all who believed in Him through their preaching” (f.165r). This was done in fulfillment of His promise to prepare for His disciples a place in His Father’s house (Jn. 14:2). But we have already discussed this carnal and erroneous interpretation of the Savior’s words.

Soon after this, Gregory begins to see the beginning of the end of the world and the Judgment. He sees an awesome angel dressed in white carrying a “tome in his hand which was like fire. In this book was an epistle from the Lord addressed to Satan, whose kingdom, they said, was completed, he having reigned over the face of the earth for three years” (f.168r). The angel proceeds to read this letter to Satan; it commands that Satan together with all his host be surrendered to torments “and to non-being and to depart completely from the world and be forgotten” (f.168v). It is most absurd to think that the Savior would write Satan a letter, like a king to his vassal, and it is contrary to the Church’s teaching that the devil would be consigned to non-being and cease to exist. Gregory, however, is anxious to assure us that he did not make these things up, and he says:

“I shall relate to you terrible and astonishing and really marvelous and strange mysteries; therefore I beseech you, my hearers, to listen to my words with all attention and sobriety and perfect fear of God, for these things are dreadful and unheard of and hard for any human to hear and believe, and so most will not believe them, especially the more simple men. Hence I entreat you, my brethren, let no one be scandalized at what is said and so lose a blessing and a reward. For as one who stood at the dreadful and unerring throne of the dread and just Judge, I have set down in this book with all exactitude that which I saw, truthfully and changing nothing, and I have committed it to you for the general edification of those who read it. Therefore, one must pay attention to what is going to be said” (f.172v).

And this from a man who has just confessed that he could not make up his mind which was correct, Judaism or Christianity. One is simply stupefied at the arrogant presumption of these words. Gregory speaks with greater authority than the prophets and the apostles and all the saints, for nowhere does any of them make such claims. But to make matters worse, when one reads the preposterous things Gregory proceeds to write, one is forced to think that Gregory is totally mad, and makes God out to be utterly senseless. It is very hard to convey in a few words and by a few examples the picture which Gregory paints in 400 pages. We can mention but a few points.

Gregory sees how all men are resurrected, each man differing from another in his aspect, according to the deeds he has committed and according to his belief; a few are radiant, but most possess various shades of darkness. On the foreheads of each man are written his sins. The saved are called by category into the kingdom, and the damned are also grouped in categories, by race and by belief. The countless idolaters are quite perplexed by the goings on and “hearing the name of Christ, they say: ‘Who is this? We are totally ignorant of this name and have never heard it, for we worshipped many gods, ardently and sincerely serving them. If they have raised us up, we have no fear that evil will befall us.... But if this Christ Who is now called God has raised us up, then woe to us, the wretched sinners, for we shall be guilty of all condemnation and torment!’” (f.178r).

We are, therefore, to conclude that God is responsible for their damnation, since He did not inform them about Christ and they served their gods as best they knew; they are actually guiltless and innocent victims of the malice of a heartless deity; but this is completely wrong. God judges and condemns no one, but each receives according to his measure, the measure which a man has prepared for himself in this life. For a man to receive beyond this measure would in fact be a merciless torment to him, even as demons are burned by the grace of God but angels delight in it. Whatever capacity an ignorant idolater has created for himself, accordingly he will receive on that day, and this will be true justice. He will not be punished simply because he was ignorant of Christ, but his own conscience will afflict him for whatever knowing and voluntary evil he may have done, for the apostle clearly says, “For when the nations, who do not have the Law, do by nature the things contained in the Law, they, not possessing the Law, are a law unto themselves, who demonstrate the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also witnessing for them, and their thoughts also either accusing them or excusing them in the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my Gospel” (Rom. 2:14-16). On that day, a man is self-condemned, and according to the holy fathers, the words “the books shall be opened” mean that a man’s mind will be opened by divine grace to the naked truth of reality, no longer beclouded by the devil’s delusions and by a man’s passions. As the Savior says, “For everyone who doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deed should be reproved.” “This is the judgment” (Jn. 3:20, 19).

We will not take time here to debate the state of honestly ignorant idolaters, for we would also have to enter into a lengthy discussion of the nature of heaven and hell. We have a more immediate question in what follows in this “Apocalypse of Gregory of Thrace.”

Immediately after the cited passage relating to the pagans, the Jews are heard to say almost the same as the pagans said: “If it is the God of our fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,...we fear nothing;...but if it is the Son of Mary, woe to us” (f.178v).

Contrary to the details of these encounters of the pagans and Jews with the resurrection, it is not possible that at that boundless manifestation of God’s uncreated light and glory any created nature could withstand Him or be ignorant of Who He is. In fact, as the holy fathers say, created nature would then perish utterly if God did not sustain it. In that all-pervading light of truth, men will see and know perfectly what they did not know in this life; and in comparison to that knowledge, anything a man knows now is ignorance. Therefore what Gregory tells us is not only heretical but simply absurd.

Gregory describes endlessly all the different groups of the saved and all the groups of the damned, how each comes before the throne of the Son of God and receives either the kingdom or Gehenna. For the Macedonians, for example, who denied the divinity of the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit appears like a dove perched on a magnificent throne (f.275v). This blasphemous device would, in fact, probably be a final proof to the Macedonians that they were correct in their belief, for if the Holy Spirit really is of one essence with the Father and the Son in the Holy Trinity, why should He hope to prove this by appearing as a created being that is inferior to man himself. If He were to have appeared like a dove, a species completely differing from the Father and the Son in essence and being, would not the Macedonians be even more convinced in their error?

Among the many condemned to the left hand, Gregory beholds the following assembly come before the Lord’s judgment seat. “Their faces were like men suffering from melancholy, sometimes they were filled with shame and despondency, sometimes they shone, and their hands also were half and half, I mean, dark and light,...and also their feet...and likewise their eyes gazed sometimes in a kindly way, sometimes coarsely. And the Lord looked upon them and saw that they were one half evil and had not attained to the perfect degree of pleasing Him,...and He turned His face away from them and condemned them” (f.266v-267r). [How well this fits with the idea of toll-houses, where God is a cold, strict Judge, and only those who are perfected in virtue through personal effort, not grace, have any hope of being saved.]

Then the harsh angels of the fire come suddenly upon them and violently drag them to the ocean of fire as they turn their gaze towards the Lord and cry out pitifully, “Spare us, O long-suffering Lord Who forbears with evils; spare us, O compassionate and merciful King!” (f.267r). The Lord, seeing them dragged off to the fire, “seemed sometimes to show compassion, sometimes to be wroth with them, while all the holy angels silently wept over them and though tears flowed from their eyes they did not dare to intercede for them” (f.267v).

Now while God has difficulty here making up His mind and while the angels are too terrified of their Masteror perhaps of Justice, which also seems here superior to Godto speak out, suddenly a beautiful maiden descends “from the highest,” preceded by a suite of angels like a queen. She quickly bows before the Judge and runs off in pursuit of the condemned assembly. She then halts the angels of fire, saying, “As the face of my Father in the heavens lives, and of His only-begotten Son, and by the divine power of His all-holy Spirit, this assembly shall not be punished!” (f.269r). The angels of the fire recognize her as the “first daughter of the King,” that is, almsgiving (or mercifulness) and return the assembly to the Lord’s judgment seat. Then the maiden (almsgiving, mercifulness) embraces the Lord’s feet and says to Him, “My Lord, I know that because of fornication and impurity and every kind of unlawful activity this wretched assembly is guilty of the Gehenna of fire, for they were not converted and did not propitiate by repentance and confession the sovereignty of Thy kingdom. But because of their almsgiving and the abyss of Thy mercy, through me, remit to them their transgressions” (f.269v).

While the assembly is trembling like a leaf, the Lord then gives the following sentence: “On account of your almsgiving I spare you and remove you from the terrible punishment of unquenchable fire; but on account of your fornication and impurity which you did not abandon until your last breath [Is this considered “half evil”?], I shall not lead you into this My beautiful and wondrous city,...nor will you behold My kingdom” (f.270r).

Thereupon he beckons to the angels to prepare a place for them, “a place of rest, but deprived of the necessities of eternal life” (f.270v). Is this other than the teaching of “limbo,” a reintroduction of certain pagan forms of the Hades myth? This is certainly a heresy already condemned by the Church and it is seen nowhere else except in the writings of Augustine (the fate of unbaptized infants) and in Roman Catholic doctrine.

There are many absurdities in this description, such as the divided state of these men, the helplessness of the Savior before the demands of Justice, and the personification of almsgiving, which somehow acts independently of God to influence Him toward mercy (and thus one may say that she acts in a manner morally superior to God). But worst of all, in order to satisfy Justice, Gregory teaches the existence of some middle realm, some limbo, as we mentioned whither every man will go who has not “attained to the perfect degree of pleasing God,” neither suffering punishment nor enjoying the kingdom, but being at rest, will not possess eternal life. This would include every human being who has ever lived, though, for which man can truly be said to have “attained the perfect degree of pleasing God”? St. Isaac the Syrian writes concerning this:

“What is more senseless and foolish than those who say that ‘it is sufficient for me to escape Gehenna, but I take no thought to enter into the kingdom’? For to escape Gehenna means precisely to enter the kingdom, even as to fall away from the kingdom is to enter Gehenna. Scripture has not taught us the existence of three realms” (Homily 56).

The climax of all this is the judgment of the Jews, for which reason Gregory had the vision in the first place (since he himself could not make up his mind whether the Jews or the Christians were correcta lack of faith and conviction which, we are supposed to believe, qualified him for a vision and revelation equal to that of Apostle John the Divine). When they are brought to judgment, Christ first rebukes them, saying, “O foolish and blind, senseless and mindless sons of Israel, am I not the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God and God, the King of the ages, the only just Judge, He Who bowed the heavens and came upon earth?... And having become man, I spoke to you in your synagogues,...saying to you, ‘I am the light of the world,’ and, again, ‘I and the Father are one,’ and ‘He that honors not the Son honors not the Father...’” (f.300v).

After this long speech, the Jews begin to cry out after Moses, blaming him since they simply followed his statutes. Then Moses appears and harangues them that they have erred, that Christ is God, that they should worship Him, and about the meaning of the Law, and so on. But the Jews are not satisfied with this and begin to cry out: “O God of our fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, O God of the Law, have mercy and save us from this dire hour, and turn away Thy wrath from us by Thy compassionate mercy; for besides Thee we know no other God, and to no other God have we stretched out our hands” (f.310v).

Suddenly “a terrible lightning blazed and stretched out over the entire face of that earth” (f.310v). The light of this lightning was white as snow and it overshadowed God the Word (Logos) so that Gregory could no longer see Him. Then, “That most radiant cloud which encompassed the Lord was parted a little before the visage of His divine countenance, and lo, we (i.e., Gregory and the angel) saw another throne like unto the throne of judgment, and upon it God the Father rested, like the Ancient of Days, and sat together with His only-begotten Son and Word” (f.311r).

God the Father then speaks to the Jews: “And lo, a voice like the sound of a trumpet...says to that miserable and wretched synagogue (or gathering): ‘Whom else will ye call the God of your fathers and the God of the Law? Is not He My only-begotten Son and Word, Whom I sent to you to save you? But not only did you not receive Him, you unjustly gave Him over to a dishonorable death...’” (f.311v).

Gregory asks us to believe many strange and heretical things here. He says that he saw God the Father, that he saw Him like the Ancient of Days, and that the Father remonstrates with the Jews in order that they not complain about their condemnation. Gregory does not believe in the words of our Savior, “He that seeth Me, seeth Him that sent Me” (Jn. 12:45) and thinks that the Father has a circumscribable, depictable, and created form, one differing in appearance from the Son’s incarnate form. But since the Father has no created form, He is invisible to created beings. For this reason the Savior says, “Ye have neither heard His voice at any time, nor seen His form” (Jn. 5:37), and again, “Not that any man hath seen the Father, except He that is of God, He hath seen the Father” (Jn. 6:46). The Son, being perfect God, uncreated in essence, can see the Father, but no one else. But we can see the Son, because He is become like unto us; in the Son we see the Father (because of the identity of essence), but not separate from Him or side by side, as Gregory tells us. Gregory thinks that the Ancient of Days, mentioned in the book of the Prophet Daniel, is the Father, but this is very wrong. St. John Damascene says, “And Daniel saw a likeness of man, and as the son of man coming upon the Ancient of Days; it was not the nature of God that anyone beheld, but the type and image of Him Who is to become” (“Third Sermon on the Holy Icons”); and St. John Chrysostom: “But what can I say, or what can I utter? The miracle astounds me. The Ancient of Days became an infant!” (“Sermon 4 on the Nativity,” PG 58:385). So clearly the Ancient of Days is the Son, not the Father, Whom no man has ever seen. Now Gregory also says that the Father appeared in order to rebuke the Jews because they did not believe in the Son; this was supposedly conclusive proof of the Son’s divinity. This, however, is contrary to what the Savior tells us, “Ye neither know Me, nor My Father; if ye had known Me, ye should have known My Father also” (Jn. 8:19). It is not possible that the Jews could acknowledge God the Father if they did not acknowledge God the Son, and if they were not going to acknowledge the Father, why would the Father even appear to them (assuming that they could see Him, which they certainly could not), unless perhaps, He did not know what the Jews’ reaction would be? But there are endless absurdities to Gregory’s vision, and we have seen enough that it is not worth the time to expose still more of them now.

At the end of the great vision, Christ Himself speaks to Gregory for many pages, giving him messages for the clergy and the leading monastics of Constantinople. [This reminds one of the Roman Catholic “apparitions” containing important messages to be relayed to the Church.] He tells Gregory to record everything he has seen: “My grace will give you strength and knowledge to understand everything you have seen and everything you have heard from Me, and to relate all this to My churches and all My people. Blessed is he who will receive all of this with faith and without inquisitiveness,...but woe to the evil man among them who will not believe these things, for he shall not be among the portion and lot of the saved!” (f.343r).

And this to a man who could not yet make up his mind whether the Jews or Christians were correct! Further, the delusion (prelest) which Gregory thinks is Christ foretells to him that there will be those who doubt and make fun of this vision, but they are self-condemned. Thus, according to Gregory of Thrace, everyone who does not accept his psychotic hallucinations [or just fictions] and the outrageous heresies and delusions they teach, will without fail go to hell.

We must leave Gregory of Thrace and his tales and fantasies of Elder Basil the New and Theodora to the Neo-Gnostics and deluded sectarians; they have nothing to say to Orthodox Christians. The late Neo-Gnostic philosopher Fr. Seraphim Rose and his disciples have done a tragic disservice to Orthodox Christians everywhere, and to those who are seeking the truth by ignorantly introducing the toll-house myth as if it constituted Christian doctrine rather than Manichean fantasy, and for advancing the fabulous Tale of Elder Basil the New without discernment or understanding of its contents. It is tragic that this tale entered the Russian collection of Lives of Saints, inherited from Bogomil sources. [We are aware that many holy people have been misled by the toll-house fable, even the great St. John Maximovitch. There is no doubt that they would have utterly rejected this nonsense if they were aware of all the information presented above.] It may be true that a form of ill-advised humility kept many from questioning it, and yet many have cautioned readers not to take its toll-house tale in a real or literal sensean injunction clearly ignored by Fr. Seraphim Rose’s more theosophical followers. It is sad that no one, realizing the suspicious nature of the contents of this “life,” researched the original document and the entire story. We hope to have undone some of the harm and tragedy by presenting this survey of this sorrowful document.

APPENDIX: A General Outline of Gnostic Toll-House/Pathways to Heaven Myths

In Gnostic systems, a blend of both Chaldean astrological myths and Egyptian death-rite myths were used to form the arcane doctrines which the Gnostic mystics called “eternal mysteries beyond the tomb.”

In general, the Gnostics, and most particularly the Mandean and Manichean varieties, were interested in establishing a rite of passage through the “planetary spheres” or astral planes of the astrology myths. The basic concept of the Gnostics is as follows:

The space between heaven and earth is divided into planetary spheres or “astral planes.” The boundary between each of these planetary spheres is guarded by archons (spiritual beings with “subtle bodies,” according to some, or with powerful physical bodies, according to others). These archons are implacable customs officials who extract a toll from each soul that seeks to pass through the telonia (customs booths or toll-houses). The journeying soul requires either special passports or special toll tokens to satisfy the archons and pass over the borders of the planetary spheres. If the soul cannot produce these, it is seized and hurled into Hades.

In certain cases, the passport might be a specific formula, recited by the soul itself. In other cases, it was a precisely recited formula of a priest. The injunction to the Gnostic priest would be “You must not omit a single word of the formula, for if you do, you bring the soul to great perils.”

In still other instances in Gnostic doctrine, the toll tokens were intercessions of others, good works, or simply the correct pronunciation of the name (or names) of the archon. Other Gnostic sects provided amulets, seals, headbands on the body of the deceased and/or magic passwords for the passage of the soul through the aerial toll-houses.

This “dangerous and perilous ascent of the soul” appears in the form of the neatly, hierarchically organized Buddhist spiral, the planetary spheres and demons of Babylonian mythology, the judgment passage past the nome gods of Egypt, or the aerial toll-houses of the Gnostic cults, which syncretized the others and sometimes systematized them. Much of this mythology remained in popular Eastern European folk myth and literature, largely because of the long presence of the Bogomils.

Ideas such as the archon toll collectors at the toll gates between the astral planes or planetary spheres were already known in the Hellenistic world. It was for the Gnostics to render the myth arcane and synthesize the various magical methods for dealing with the passage through these “toll-houses.” Ultimately, it was Bogomilism which slipped the concept into sub-Christian thought in the East Slavic Christian countrieswhere much fruitless labor was bestowed on a vain attempt to Christianize this Gnostic myth.

It is interesting that one Russian hierarch, who found it too embarrassing to actually defend the doctrine of aerial toll-houses, but who was reticent to dismiss it completely, came up with this novel justification for it: “The story has moral value because it is the only place where sins are clearly categorized and ranked. This helps us to struggle against them.”

This is hardly accurate, however, since both the judgment path of the forty-two nome gods of Egypt, and the “judgment stars” of the ancient Chaldeans had centuries before already categorized and ranked these sins. The Gnostics who introduced the aerial toll-house myth into the literature of the Eastern Christian world were not being creative, they were merely collating.

Our holy father Abba Isaac the Syrian was directly refuting the aerial toll house myth of the Gnostics when he wrote: “This convicts the false writings called ‘revelations’ which, being composed by the originators of the corrupt heresies under the influence of demonic fantasies, describe the celestial dwelling in the sky,...the pathways to heaven, the places set apart for judgment, the manifold figures of the hosts of the sky, and their diverse activities. But all these things are shadows of a mind inebriated by conceit and deranged by the working of demons. 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. May your holiness therefore, keeping these things in mind, beware of the fantasies of profound thoughts. This warfare especially assaults monks who are keen-witted, who inquire into empty opinions, yearn for novelties, and are superficial” (“Epistle to Symeon of Caesaria”).


Besevliev, V. Bulgarisch-Byzantinische Aufsatze (Variorum Press, London, 1978).

Foerster, W. “Das Wesen der Gnosis,” in Welt als Geschichte. Nr. 15, 1955.

Kalomiros, A. The River of Fire (St. Nectarios Press, Seattle, 1985).

Krause, M. Essays on the Nag Hammadi Texts (Leiden, 1978).

Nag Hammadi Codices, Facsimile Edition, UNESCO, 1979. There are a number of translations of these, and discussions of them. The discussions by M. Krause are especially useful. See his Essays on the Nag Hammadi Texts. These are in German, but his English presentations at the Oxford International Conferences on Patristic Studies (1975 and 1979) are especially valuable.

Obolensky, D. The Bogomils (AMS Press, N.Y., 1976).

Puhalo, L. The Soul, the Body, and Death (Synaxis Press, 1989).

Rudolf, K. Die Gnosis: Wesen und Geshichte einer spatantiken Religion (Koehler and Amelang, Leipzig, 1977).

Rudolph, K. Gnosis: The Nature & History of Gnosticism (Harper, San Francisco, 1987). This is the same text as Die Gnosis... above. The author of this present study used the German edition in his research, so it is cited here together with the English edition which was not available to the author at the time.

Runciman, S. The Medieval Manichee: A Study of the Christian Dualist Heresy (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1982).

Spencer, C. The Heretics Feast (Fourth Estate Publishing Co., London, 1994).

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