The teaching of Aerial Toll-Houses
regards the soul's journey after its departure from the body, and is related to
theparticular judgment. In its
most general form, it refers to the idea that after death, the demons attempt
to find a basis for taking the soul to Hades, while the angels and the prayers
of the living defend the soul if it can be defended. Whether the soul is
finally seized by the demons, or taken to heaven depends on the state of the
soul at death. In either case, the soul then experiences a foretaste of what it
can expect after thefinal
judgment. According to Fr. Thomas Hopko, the teaching of the Toll Houses is
found in virtually every Father of the Church
life of St. Anthony the Great, he saw a vision of souls rising towards heaven
and some being stopped by a large demon and cast down. LikewiseSt. Bederecorded certain visions of a Celtic
Saint who saw a soul arising and fighting off demons with the help of angels
and his reposed wife's soul.
In the Philokalia, St. Diadochos of
Photiki (ca 400 – 486 a.d.)
states:"If we do not confess our involuntary sins as we should, we shall
discover and ill-defined fear in ourselves at the hour of our death. We who
love the Lord should pray that we may be without fear at that time; for if we
are afraid then, we will not be able freely to pass by the rulers of the nether
world. They will have as their advocate to plead against us the fear which our
soul experiences because of its own wickedness. But the soul which rejoices in
the love of God, at the hour of its departure, is lifted with the angels of
peace above all the hosts of darkness. For it is given wings by spiritual love,
since it ceaselessly carries within itself the love which 'is the fulfilling of
the law' (Rom. 13:10)."
In the Alphabetical Sayings of the
Desert Fathers, Theophilus of Antioch (who reposed in 412 a.d.) we find:"The
same Abba Theophilus said, "What fear, what trembling, what uneasiness
will there be for us when our soul is separated from the body. Then indeed the
force and strength of the adverse powers come against us, the rulers of
darkness, those who command the world of evil, the principalities, the powers,
the spirits of evil. They accuse our souls as in a lawsuit, bringing before it
all the sins it has committed, whether deliberately or through ignorance, from
its youth until the time when it has been taken away. So they stand accusing it
of all it has done. Furthermore, what anxiety do you suppose the soul will have
at that hour, until sentence is pronounced and it gains its liberty. That is
its hour of affliction, until it sees what will happen to it. On the other
hand, the divine powers stand on the opposite side, and they present the good
deeds of the soul. Consider the fear and trembling of the soul standing between
them until in judgment it receives the sentence of the righteous judge. If it
is judged worthy, the demons will receive their punishment, and it will be
carried away by the angels. Then thereafter you will be without disquiet, or
rather you will live according to that which is written: “Even as the
habitation of those who rejoice is in you.” (Ps. 87.7) Then will the Scripture
be fulfilled: “Sorrow and sighing shall flee away.” (Isaiah 35.10)."Then
your liberated soul will go on to that joy and ineffable glory in which it will
be established. But if it is found to have lived carelessly, it will hear that
terrible voice: "Take away the ungodly, that he may not see the glory of
the Lord." (cf. Isaiah 26.10) Then the day of anger, the day of
affliction, the day of darkness and shadow seizes upon it. Abandoned to outer
darkness and condemned to everlasting fire it will be punished through the ages
without end. Where then is the vanity of the world? Where is the vain-glory?
Where is carnal life? Where is enjoyment? Where is imagination? Where is ease?
Where is boasting? Riches? Nobility? Father, mother, brother? Who could take
the soul out of its pains when it is burning in the fire, and remove it from
St. Mark of Ephesus wrote:"But if
souls have departed this life in faith and love, while nevertheless carrying
away with themselves certain faults, whether small ones over which they have
not repented at all, or great ones for which – even thought they have repented
over them – they did not undertake to show fruits of repentance: such souls, we
believe, must be cleansed from this kind of sin, but not by means of some
purgatorial fire or a definite punishment in some place (for this, as we have
said, has not been handed down to us). But some must be cleansed in they very
departure from the body, thanks only to fear, as St. Gregory the Dialogist
literally shows; while others must be cleansed after the departure from the
body, either while remaining in the same earthly place, before they come to
worship God and are honored with the lot of the blessed, or – if their sins
were more serious and bind them, for a longer duration – they are kept in hell
[i.e., Hades], but not in order to remain forever in fire and torment, but as
it were in prison and confinement under guard."
In both the Greek and Slavonic
Euchologion, in the canon for the departure of the soul by St. Andrew , we find
in Ode 7: "All holy angels of the Almighty God, have mercy upon me and
save me from all the evil toll-houses."
Likewise, in the Canon of Supplication
at the Parting of the Soul in The Great Book of Needs are the following
references to the struggle of a soul passing through the
toll-houses:"Count me worthy to pass, unhindered, by the persecutor, the
prince of the air, the tyrant, him that stands guard in the dread pathways, and
the false accusation of these, as I depart from earth." (Ode 4, p.
77)."Do thou count me worthy to escape the hordes of bodiless barbarians,
and rise through the aerial depths and enter into Heaven…" (Ode 8, p.
81)."[W]hen I come to die, do thou banish far from me the commander of the
bitter toll-gatherers and ruler of the earth…" (Ode 8, p. 81).
In the Octoechos, there are many
references to the Toll Houses:"When my soul is about to be forcibly parted
from my body's limbs, then stand by my side and scatter the counsels of my
bodiless foes and smash the teeth of those who implacably seek to swallow me
down, so that I may pass unhindered through the rulers of darkness who wait in
the air, O Bride of God."Octoechos,
Tone Two, Friday Vespers"Pilot my wretched soul, pure Virgin, and have
compassion on it, as it slides under a multitude of offences into the deep of
destruction; and at the fearful hour of death snatch me from the accusing
demons and from every punishment."Ode
6, Tone 1 Midnight Office for Sunday
In theSaturday Midnight Office, the prayer
of St. Eustratius, contains the following:"And now, O Master, let Thy hand
shelter me and let Thy mercy descend upon me, for my soul is distracted and
pained at its departure from this my wretched and filthy body, lest the evil design
of the adversary overtake it and make it stumble into the darkness for the
unknown and known sins amassed by me in this life. Be merciful unto me, O
Master, and let not my soul see the dark countenances of the evil spirits, but
let it be received by Thine Angels bright and shining. Glorify Thy holy name
and by Thy might set me before Thy divine judgment seat. When I am being
judged, suffer not that the hand of the prince of this world should take hold
of me to throw me, a sinner, into the depths of hades, but stand by me and be
unto me a savior and mediator..."
The Number of the Toll Houses
The most detailed version of the
toll-houses occurs in a vision of Gregory of Thrace, apparently from the 10th
century. The demons accuse the soul at each toll-house of sins. In some cases
the demon might accuse the soul of sins that they tempted her with, but it
didn't comply with, or of sins that she repented for, and in that cases one of
the angels, the one which was the persons guardian angel, speaks for the
person, saying that those are lies, and that payment is not necessary, taking
the soul to the next toll-house. If a person has unrepented sins, and does not
have enough good deeds and prayers of the living to pay for them, the demons of
the corresponding toll-house grab him, and take him to hades to await the final
judgment. This vision recounts the toll-houses in the following order:
At the first aerial toll-house, the
soul is questioned about sins of the tongue, such as empty words, dirty talk,
insults, ridicule, singing worldly songs, too much or loud laughter, and
The second is the toll-house of lies,
which includes not only ordinary lies, but also the breaking of oaths, the
violation of vows given to God, taking God's name in vain, hiding sins during
confession, and similar acts.
The third is the toll-house of
slander. It includes judging, humiliating, embarrassing, mocking, and laughing
at people, and similar transgressions.
The fourth is the toll-house of
gluttony, which includes overeating, drunkenness, eating between meals, eating
without prayer, not holding fasts, choosing tasty over plain food, eating when
not hungry, and the like.
The fifth is the toll-house of
laziness, where the soul is held accountable for every day and hour spent in
laziness, for neglecting to serve God and pray, for missing Church services,
and also for not earning money through hard, honest labor, for not working as
much as you are paid, and all similar sins.
The sixth toll-house is the toll-house
oftheft, which includes stealing
and robbery, whether small, big, light, violent, public, or hidden.
The seventh is the toll-house of
covetousness, including love of riches and goods, failure to give to charity,
and similar acts.
The eight is the toll-house of usury,
loan-sharking, overpricing, and similar sins.
The ninth is the toll-house of
injustice- being unjust, especially in judicial affairs, accepting or giving
bribes, dishonest trading and business, using false measures, and similar sins.
The tenth is the toll-house of envy.
The eleventh is the toll-house of
pride- vanity, self-will, boasting, not honoring parents and civil authorities,
insubordination, disobedience, and similar sins.
The twelve is the toll-house of anger
The thirteenth is the toll-house of
remembering evil- hatred, holding a grudge, and revenge.
The fourteenth is the toll-house of
murder- not just plain murder, but also wounding, maiming, hitting, pushing,
and generally injuring people.
The fifteenth is the toll-house of
magic- divination, conjuring demons, making poison, all superstitions, and
The sixteenth is the toll-house of
lust- fornication, unclean thoughts, lustful looks, unchaste touches.
The seventeenth is the toll-house of
The eighteenth is the toll-house of
sodomy: bestiality, homosexuality, incest, masturbation, and all other
The nineteenth is the toll-house of
heresy: rejecting any part of Orthodox faith, wrongly interpreting it,
apostasy, blasphemy, and all similar sins.
The last, twentieth toll-house is the
toll-house of unmercifulness: failing to show mercy and charity to people, and
being cruel in any way.
Are They Literal?
Many of the Orthodox who accept the
doctrine of the toll-houses do not take the form or all the teachings from the
vision of Gregory literally. Thus for example Fr. Thomas Hopko maintains that
one should not try to associate a particular time after death to the process,
nor should one take the toll-houses as being literally "in the air,"
or necessarily twenty in number. Likewise, he makes no mention in his argument
for them of the doctrine of bargaining for sins (which is similar in some ways
to the Latin doctrine of merits). Instead, his description, drawing on St. John
Chrysostom and the Fifty Homilies of St. Macarius of Egypt, among others, takes the
toll-house encounters to describe the attempt of the demons to assault the soul
with its own vulnerability to sin, or to entice it away from God, and describes
passing through the toll-houses as the purification of the soul. St. Theophan
the Recluse likewise said that what the demons are seeking is "passions,"
and suggested that, although the toll-houses are often depicted as frightening,
the demons might equally well try to entice the soul by appealing to one of its
weaknesses. Some others go so far as to say that the demons and angels are metaphors
virtues of the soul.
There is disagreement in certain circles regarding the status of this teaching
within the Orthodox Church. Some, including ArchbishopLazar (Puhalo) of Ottawa, consider this teaching controversial, even false (describing it as
gnostic or of pagan origin). These accusations were later declared to be wrong
by the Holy Synod of the Russian Church Abroad. The traditional proponents
of the teaching argue that it appears in the hymnology of the Church, in
stories of the lives of saints (for example, the Life of St. Anthony the
Great, written by St. Athanasius the Great, the life of St. Basil the New,
and St. Theodora), in the homilies of
St. Cyril of Alexandria in the Discourses of Abba Isaiah, the Philokalia, the Ladder of
Divine Ascent, and the Dogmatics of the
Orthodox Church by Blessed Justin
Popovich. Several contemporary Church figures speak about
toll-houses.Secondly, not a single Church Father ever wrote even one sentence
expressing doubt about this teaching (which is present in its most general form
in the Church since at least fourth century), although their discussions of the
topic are always about general struggles with "tax-collector" demons,
lacking the details present in Gregory's vision (apart from one pseudo-Makarian
story which also mentions numerous toll-houses and a bargaining over sins at
each one). Thirdly, some of the greatest modern authorities of the Orthodox
Church, such as St. Ignatius Brianchaninov and St. Theophan the
Recluse, insisted not only on the truthfulness, but
on the necessity of this teaching in the spiritual life of a Christian..