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Ladder.jpgLiterature on the subject of the “tollhouses” presents two fundamental views on the subject. One reads that “tollhouses” are a “metaphor,” an “allegory” for the struggle between man and the devil in the human soul. Thus, “tollhouses” metaphorically denote the conflict within the soul for “dispassion” (apatheia). Such a position generally involves the belief that after the separation of the body from the soul (death), God’s angels carry the righteous or “strugglers” to “Paradise” or “Abraham’s Bosom,” while demons carry the unrepentant, the indolent, and the unbeliever to a “place of torment,” the “left side of hades,” as St Makarios of Egypt refers to it (Spiritual Homilies 22:1). This is the Orthodox usage of the allegorical expression “toll-houses” or “publicans.”

The second and unOrthodox conception of the “tollhouses” teaches that after death the soul is taken by demons or “aerial spirits” to an objective noetic reality for “the testing of souls as they pass through the spaces of the air” which have been “established by the dark powers as separate judgment places and guards in a remarkable order. In the layers of the underheaven, from earth to heaven itself, stand guarding legions of fallen spirits. Each division is in charge of a special form of sin and tests the soul in it when the soul reaches this vision. The aerial demonic guards and judgment places are called in Patristic writings the tollhouses, and the spirits who serve in them are called the tax collectors.”1

Within the last two decades the “tollhouse controversy” has been revived, sparked by Seraphim Rose’s The Soul After Death (Platina, 1980). Alarmed by its syncretism (Tibetan Book of the Dead, modern theosophy, parapsychology, etc.) as well as its Gnosticism, Deacon (now Archbishop) Lev (Lazar) Puhalo responded with The Soul, the Body and Death (Chilliwack, BC, 1980).2 In comparison with Rose’s dubious scholarship and questionable Orthodoxy on this matter, the Deacon’s refutation is a landmark of Orthodox apologetics. Nevertheless, after assurances to him at the highest levels concerning the probity of his work, without warning, a session of bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia quickly assembled to censure him in absentia (19 Nov/2 Dec, 1980). The Council announced that “at the present time” there must be “the cessation in our magazines of controversy on dogmatic questions concerning life after death. This controversy must be ended on both sides, and Deacon Lev Puhalo is forbidden to lecture in the parishes until he signs a pledge satisfactory to the synod to terminate his public statements on the questions of internal disputes between Orthodox on subjects which may provoke confusion among the faithful.”3

The controversy would not go away, largely because Fr Rose’s book gained even greater popularity, reaching outside the United States, even to Russia where it seems to have alarmed members of the Patriarchal hierarchy which may explain, in part, the many reprintings of The Soul, the Body and Death, as well as other literature by Synaxis Press, exposing the theory of “tollhouses.”4 Perhaps, the most public reaction to this exposing of the tollhouse myth has come from the Monastery of St Gregory Palamas (Etna, California), which has put on its website a 1980 declaration of the Russian Church Abroad. That monastery has also distributed N.P. Vassiliadis’, The Mystery of Death, which supports the Gnostic theory of the “tollhouses.” In addition, the Etna group (a.k.a. The Orthodox Christian Information Center),5 reprinted Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky’s “Our War is not Against Flesh and Blood: On the Question of the `Tollhouses’” (in Selected Essays Jordanville, 1996) which Archbishop Chrysostomos of Etna hailed as “one of the best I have ever read on the `tollhouses,’ and it should serve as a model for our Orthodox, and proper scholarly approach to the very important question of the after life. It is a superb answer to pseudo-experts who are filling the Internet with teachings that entail a virtual theory of soul sleep under the guise of quasi-sophisticated ideas that claim to set aside the primitiveness of the Church’s teachings.” In his essay on the “tollhouses,” Fr Pomazansky asserts that some of the critics of this theory “ignoring liturgical and theological evidence, and overstating their case…have made various theologumena, unfortunately, on matters of intense debate. Likewise, misusing philosophy and misrepresenting the Patristic use of classical philosophical ideas and images, attributing with naivete what would embarrass a first-year philosophy student in the most mediocre schools, they pontificate about neo-Gnosticism and neo-Platonic influences on Orthodox thinking, artlessly using the very arguments against the teachings to which they object that the most polemical Westerners have used against the Eastern Fathers” (1 of 9).

My present paper is a reply “against such words” (antilogoumena), against these calumnies and falsehoods. May it become clear that none may hold any theological or ethical opinion, even so-called “pious opinions,” and that none should express “words about God” (theologoumena) which are in opposition to the teachings of the Church. The form in which the “tollhouse” theory is presented by Father Seraphim Rose is heretical. He followed the definition of this theory given by Bishop Ignati, quoted above, who is largely responsible for popularizing “tollhouses” in its modern and malignant form.6

We are called once more to the battlements despite the clarity of the theological and historical evidence. The Gnostic origins of the tollhouse theory have been identified. As those familiar with the literature on the subject know, the pseudo-Christian adaptation of the “tollhouses”7 has its roots in the ancient Egyptian religion. Osiris, we are told, was the great Judge, attended by 42 assessors (Fr Rose has 24) which the soul must face once it has separated from the body. It must be examined by each one of them. If the soul successfully passes the tests, it can say, “I am pure” and is transferred to “the sky,” where it enjoys a material paradise, such as was the lot of kings, according to the Pyramid Text. The fate of the unworthy was torture and destruction by the myriad of demons who inhabited the underworld. The wicked soul might be torn to pieces by the 42 terrible judges, burned in furnaces, or drowned in the abyss.8 The similarities between Egyptian thanatology (doctrine of death) and the Gnostic belief is astonishing: and also the likeness between Gnosticism and the pseudo-Christian or neo-Gnostic “tollhouse” theory of Fr Seraphim.9

Noteworthy, too, is that the “Christian” source of the tollhouse theory is Egypt, specifically the notorious heretic, Origen of Alexandria, by whom Platonism attempted to creep into the Church. An “early Christian author,” as Vassiliadis calls him,10 asserts, “I know of other tax-collectors who after our departure from this present life inspect us and hold us to see if we have something that belongs to them.” For this idea of “taxation,” Origen abuses the words of St John the Theologian (Jn. 14:30), “…for the ruler of this world is coming, but he has no power over me. I wonder how much we must suffer at the hands of those evil angels, who examine everything and who, when someone is found unrepentant, demand not only the payment of taxes, but also seize and hold us completely captive” (Comm. on Luke, Homily 23). Origen was a Hellenizer who espoused the same body-soul dualism found in the tollhouse thanatology which not only equated personhood with the soul, but involved reincarnation. Although Origen claimed to reject Gnosticism, he was very much influenced by it.

Origenism never died. His theology reached East and West, even to Rome where it became a fact of Christian thought. Augustine himself made use of Origenist writings.11 Origenism was revived in the 6th century, impacted seriously the period of the “icon-breakers” (Iconoclasm), a movement associated with the 10th century Gnostic cognate, the Bogomil (Manichean) heresy in Northern Greece – where, not so incidentally, Gregory of Thrace wrote his Life of Basil the New with its Theodora myth (dream of “the tollhouses”) which resuscitated the Gnostic thanatology. It enjoyed a brief popularity, perhaps underground, during the reign of the Byzantine Emperor Manuel I Comnenus (1143-1180) whose dalliance with the occult led to military catastrophe.12 To what extent the 15th century Byzantine renaissance affected Russian religious thought, we cannot say, but it is not without interest that the complete text of Gregory’s Life of Basil the New was translated into Slavonic at that time and has been preserved in Metropolitan Makari’s Cheti Menaya which became the basis for the Russian versions of the life,13including St Dmitri of Rostov’s version14 from whence it found its place in the Russian hagiographies. The Life must have had some circulation in Russia, along with other Slavic countries also.15 In any case, the “tollhouse” theory had a major revival in 19th century Russia, probably under the impetus of German theosophy.16

Here briefly is the history of the “tollhouse” theory. We are obviously in conflict with Makari, Metropolitan of Moscow, upon whose authority both Fr Seraphim Rose and Fr Pomazansky rely. His Eminence Metropolitan Makari argued, giving extensive quotes from many of the Eastern Fathers and Orthodox Service Books, that “such an uninterrupted, constant, and universal usage in the Church on the teaching of the tollhouses, especially among the teachers of the fourth century, indisputably testifies that it was handed down to them from the teachers of the preceding centuries and is founded on apostolic tradition” (Orthodox Church Dogmatic Theology [vol.II] St Petersburg, 1883, p.535). Not everyone agrees with him, and there is every reason to believe that the “tollhouse” theory is neither universal in time or space.17

This heresy may not be traced to the Scripture or the Fathers, nor the Service Books of the Church. The Orthodox religious writers who turn to the Fathers, for example, to confirm their impiety are careless in their scholarship, having confused traditionalism with conservatism, fidelity with recalcitrance, as if somehow longevity is the signature of truth.

Furthermore, the “tollhousers” fail to distinguish between the authentic writings of the Fathers and works attributed to them (dubia et spuria), such as the pseudo-Cyril (of Alexandria),Departure of the Soul or pseudo-Chrysostom, On Remembering the Dead. They often fail to check the current translation with the Greek, Latin or Syriac original. Worst of all, the “tollhouse” advocates read their beliefs into the writings of the Fathers (and the Scriptures). Sometimes they have deliberately altered the text 18 for the sake of their misconceived beliefs. Often their confusion over the activity of the demons in this present life with their ostensible activity during the soul’s ascent to the Particular Judgment, may have determined their interpretation of crucial texts.

It is a shame when devout Orthodox err in matters of the Faith; but it is a warning that none is free from the vicissitudes of our mortal life. There are no certainties outside the Church, no assurances without diligence. Special care must be taken not to confound personal discoveries with divine communications, nor intellectual trends with ecclesial truth. Therefore, it is disconcerting when they fail to understand the issue raised by Fr Seraphim’s book, and persist in pursuing, to the detriment of the Faithful, a matter theologically settled by Archbishop Lazar’s refutation. The Soul After Death initiated a controversy with no justification, and now, from quarters sympathetic to him, there is another attempt to redefine the Apostolic Tradition with precisely the same tools. As already mentioned, The Orthodox Christian Information Center has redistributed an extract from the Minutes of the Session of the Russian Church Abroad concerning “controversy” over the theory of “tollhouses” caused by Deacon Lev Puhalo.19 The bulk of this paper is a critique of those Minutes or, more precisely, the review of The Soul, the Body, and Death made to the Synod by Bishop Gregory (Grabbe).

Having read the reviews more than once, I am convinced that His Grace did not give the book the attention it deserves. He drew upon his own learning and background. He did not test the details of Archbishop Lazar’s work against its sources. Bishop Gregory makes no mention of the impressive excerpts from the writings of the Greek, Latin and Syriac Fathers, nor is there any reference to the pages of icons of the Last Judgment with their erudite interpretations. There is a certain dishonest cunning in his allusions to “Archpriest Malinovsky, the author of a dogmatic theology,20 valued highly by Metropolitan Anthony” (Khrapovitsky). He presumes to insinuate this saint and perhaps the greatest Orthodox patristic theologian of this century into a “controversy” on the side of his own prejudices. He has no knowledge and, therefore, has no right to even suggest that the Metropolitan professed this theory.21

Bishop Gregory introduces the familiar argument that the “tollhouses” are found in the divine services of the Church. We are not informed where he obtained his translations of the troparia(found also in Fr Rose’s book) used to support his contention. “Mention of them is also made in the Octoechos of St John Damascene,” His Grace tells us (2 of 4). Where? What is the context? What kind of “tollhouses” – of the ascetic or the Gnostic type? Perhaps, like Fr Rose and Fr Pomazansky, St John equates the “tollhouse” with the Particular Judgment? Likewise, we are to believe that the Damascene and the other Fathers provided us with the Lord’s words – “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth My word, and believeth on Him that sent Me hath everlasting life and shall not enter into condemnation, but is passed from death unto life” (Jn.5:24) – as evidence that “the righteous can pass through these toll-stations unhindered”? (2 of 4). His Grace, convinced by what he imagines to be the overwhelming proof in favour of the “tollhouse” theory (according to Hieromonk Seraphim), concludes, “Minimizing the significance of the fear in the face of the consequences of a sinful life and after the departure of the soul from the body, the teaching of Fr Lev can weaken in the souls of his readers one of the stimuli to do battle with sin” (2 of 4). In fact, the “tollhouse” thanatology could lead some to despair, as indeed it has.

Let us explore in more depth the accusations of Bishop Grabbe’s report to the Synod of the Russian Church Abroad. He begins with the charge that “Fearing, as is natural for an Orthodox Person, the possibility of a Western or non-Orthodox influence, Deacon Lev Puhalo has gone to the opposite extreme and contradicts teachings which have long been accepted in Orthodox Dogmatic Theology” (1 of 4). This is an important statement for several reasons. We should have read these words at the end of his investigation, not at the beginning. Bishop Gregory has given us his conclusion before he proved his case. How much validity is there to the charge? Quoting St Theophan the Recluse, he commands Deacon Lev “to terminate any speculation as regards the accounts of what takes place in the spiritual world” (3 of 4). An interesting proposal inasmuch as it can be shown, as it has been, that it is the “tollhousers” who had done the speculating.

The origin of this speculation can be traced to the Russian academia in the second half of the 19th century. Not by accident does Bishop Grabbe (and Fr Pomazansky) appeal to the “dogmatic theologies” of that restless period. Fr Florovsky describes the entire century as “the struggle for theology.”22 Bishop Sylvester, Rector of the Kiev Theological Academy, Archbishop Philaret of Chernigov, Metropolitan Makari of Moscow, Archpriest M. Malinovsky, all the authorities which the accusers of Deacon Lev Puhalo cite, were educated and taught in this period of Protestant and Latin Scholasticism. If nothing else betrays them it is the use of the phrase “dogmatic theology”23 a classification of the “theological science” found nowhere in the holy fathers. They recognized only a distinction between “theology” (knowledge of God) and “economy” (all other Christian teachings). The Orthodox mind has no tolerance for rationalism, or any break with Tradition. In other words, Deacon Lev did not go “to the opposite extreme” in his reaction to Fr Seraphim’s theory which pays no attention to the Orthodox doctrine of Grace, and a theory which views salvation as a “works-righteousness” – accounting to the demons for sins and good deeds who, if dissatisfied with the soul’s answers, cast it into hell.

Supporting this falsehood is of benefit to those who wrongly accuse Deacon Lev of representing the soul as unable “to function in any way whatsoever without the assistance of the body” (Grabbe, 1 of 4). Reading this charge, one may doubt that Vladika had even read The Soul, the Body and Death. The Deacon makes it very clear in more than one place that the soul after death cannot function as it did when united to the body. He states that the soul is self-conscious and acts in ways we cannot comprehend. “At death too,” he says, “one ceases to function in any sensual or psychophysical manner and, indeed, he does not function at all relative to anything the human mind can conceive. The `intelligent faculty,’ the soul, the image of God in man continues to be alive because God wills it so. It is alive and, therefore, it `perceives’ that it is in an `intermediate state,’ and whatever else it perceives in the realm of Grace.” He is likewise correct to affirm that death puts a temporary end to the “person,” inasmuch as the human personality is the union of soul and body. Only the Platonist identifies the individual with his soul, an act of contempt for the body 24. Incidentally, it is Bishop Gregory himself who here presents a clearly heretical concept of anthropology, because all the Fathers of the Church who wrote against Gnosticism, as well as St Gregory Palamas, make a point of stating categorically that the soul alone is not the person 25. The report’s continuing criticisms of Deacon Lev’s thanatology are not only wrong but superfluous, since they presuppose the erroneous premise that he believes the soul to be paralyzed and insensible after its separation from the body.

Next, we obtain a minor concession from Bishop Grabbe. “Actually, no one can dogmatically establish the existence of the tollhouses precisely in accordance with the form described in the dream (or fantasy) of Gregory recounted in his Life of Basil the New, insofar as no direct indication thereto is to be found in the Scriptures. However, this tradition has been preserved with varying details, from profound antiquity and contains nothing that is contrary to piety. It is cited in all texts of dogmatic theology” (2 of 4). What he gives with the right hand, he takes away with the left, but he may have given too much, and taken away too little. It is an outrageous generality to state so unequivocally that “tollhouses” in any form are “contained in all texts of dogmatic theology.” Again, he assumes the point of contention is proved – illogical, unworthy of Vladika Gregory.

His examination of the Scriptures ends the same way. “In this encounter with the powers of darkness, that have caused a man to stumble in the course of life and strive also to suggest to his soul that by its constitution it belongs to them and not to the Kingdom of Heaven,” Grabbe muses, “is the particular judgment accomplished. On the other hand, in accordance with the Saviour’s words, the righteous can pass through these tollhouses unhindered, `Verily, verily I say unto you, He that heareth My word, and believeth on Him that sent Me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come to condemnation, but is passed from death unto life’ (Jn5:24). The soul of one on earth which has completed the course of faith, thereby frees itself from evil. The demons have nothing in common with it and cannot touch it” (2 of 4). This is a personal interpretation of the Biblical text – not an uncommon practice of those who find nothing in the Fathers to support their opinions. St John Chrysostom, for example, treats John differently. There is no reference here to the Particular Judgment in St John’s exegesis, but there is obviously no mention of “tollhouses,” but this Father applies the declaration of Christ to the resurrection and the Judgment, and everlasting life (Comm. On St John, Homily 39:2).

In fact, in his Commentary on the Epistle to Ephesians (Homily 22:1), Chrysostom implicitly denies any doctrine of the aerial “tollhouses.” Explaining the verse, Put on the whole armour of God that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Wherefore, take unto you the whole armour of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and have done it, to stand(Eph.6:11-14), St John writes that the word “wiles” means that the demons have no power to compel us to any course of action. They use strategy against us. They are rulers of “the world” or “age,” not as governing the world, for, as the Scriptures are wont to do, “world” is equated with “wicked practices.” The demons dwell in “high places,” in the “air” or “places in the heavens.” The “evil day” exists in the “present evil age” (Gal.1:4). In a word, these verses do not, as “tollhousers” think, apply to the encounter of the departed soul with the demons. In another discourse, St John makes precisely this observation. “Now so as to know that a soul which departs from the body does not fall under the tyranny of the devil, listen to St Paul who 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 palpable that when it departs he likewise has no power over it.” (Hom. De Lazaro II. 2 PG48 984).26

What patristic authorities does Bishop Grabbe bring against such evidence as this? He sets text against text, one authority against another, perhaps accidentally, as most do who have not made a serious study of the question. Aside from invoking the troparia of the divine services – by whom translated we do not know 27 – if he does not paraphrase passages from patristic writings, he selects a sentence or two from them, content that their words shut the door on any objections to the “tollhouse” theory. Vladika Grabbe thinks to bring the testimony of The Confession of the Eastern Patriarchs (q.61) to his side. “Inasmuch as an accounting will not be required of each one separately on the day of the Last Judgment, since all is known to God, and inasmuch as at death each one knows his own deeds, after death each one also learns of the recompense for his deeds. For if each one knows his deeds the sentence of God upon him is also known, as Gregory the Theologian says in his discourse (eulogy) on Caesarius, his brother. Thus, one must think of the souls of sinners only from reversed perspective, i.e., that they know and foresee the torments which await them. Neither the righteous, nor the sinful receive the full reward for their deeds before the Last Judgment. Moreover, not all souls are found in the same state nor are they sent to one and the same place”.28

I am astonished that Bishop Grabbe does not recognize a refutation of the entire “tollhouse” theory in this paragraph. Here is a recitation on the Particular Judgment with no reference to the “tollhouses,” which, as its proponents have insisted is an aspect of the Particular Judgment. If the “tollhouse” doctrine had any substance, then the Patriarchs missed a wonderful opportunity to validate a tradition which its proponents insist has “apostolic foundations.” The total silence by the Confession on the subject speaks loudly. Also of interest is the allusion to St Gregory the Theologian’s Panegyric (eulogy) to his brother, Caesarius. “I believe the words of the wise, that every fair and God-beloved soul, when set free from the bonds of the body, departs hence, at once enjoys a sense and perception of the blessings which await it, inasmuch as that which darkened it has been purged away, or laid aside – I know not how else to term it – and feels a wondrous pleasure and exultation, and goes rejoicing to meet the Lord….Then, a little later, it receives its kindred flesh which once shared in its pursuits of things above, from the earth which both gave and had been entrusted with it, and in some ways known to God, Who knit them together and dissolved their union, enters now with it upon the inheritance of glory there. And as it shared through their close union, in its hardships, so also it bestows upon it a portion of the joys, gathering it up entirely into itself, and becoming with it one in spirit and mind and in God, the mortal and the mutable being swallowed in life” (Paneg.Frat. Caes. 21).

Is this not precisely what Deacon Lev/Archbishop Lazar has been saying from the beginning of this “controversy”? “Every fair and God-beloved soul” is taken to “Abraham’s Bosom,” to a condition in which the soul awaits its blessed destiny, having been escorted there “immediately and suddenly” by God’s angels, while the unrighteous and the unbeliever are taken by demons to their particular Judgment where they foresee their miserable end (The Soul, the Body and Death p.14, 16) and has His Eminence not said, with the Holy Fathers, that the soul without the body is not fully a person, even as St Gregory implied? (ibid) He has quoted every Orthodox source, patristic (sixty-one pages), liturgical, iconographic, Scriptural as argument against the “tollhouses” but still his enemies persist. One must be thankful that Bishop Grabbe’s report does not accuse him of rejecting “out of body experiences” and “astral bodies.” It is curious that Hieromonk Seraphim was not condemned for professing such occult nonsense. In a word, it is a report which generated an official rebuke, neither of which is justified, and which failed to restrain and silence those who actually are guilty. 


“The subject of tollhouses is not specifically a topic of Orthodox theology,” writes Fr Pomazansky, “it is not a dogma of the Church in the precise sense, but comprises material of a moral and edifying character, one might say pedagogical” (“Our War…,” 1 of 1). It was a promising beginning to his investigation of the matter, but, in the end, it took us nowhere, in fact, it raised new questions and left the problem where it was before. First, he does not tell us what is “specifically a topic of Orthodox theology” and, second, he left me wondering what is “a dogma in the proper sense.” He refers to the “tollhouse” theory as “edifying, one might say pedagogical” and fails to explain this observation. He is right, however, that the answer to the question starts with an understanding of “the foundations and spirit of the Orthodox world view.” It is the vision, he says, of the Church in two dimensions, the earthly and the heavenly, which are in “constant communion.” None may argue with him; but, then, Fr Michael introduces the “tollhouses” as a component of that “world view” unable to show, as none of its proponents can, any direct connection between this Gnostic theory and the “constant communion” between the earthly and heavenly aspects of the Church. He makes no more than the simple statement that the earthly Church confronts the devil and his demons while the heavenly Church has overcome them.

From a strictly logical point of view his remarks provoke new questions which the “tollhousers” find difficult to answer. First, if the two aspects of the Church are in “constant communion” and the soul of the departed is a faithful Orthodox, that soul is “carried away by the angels” to Paradise ó what role do the “tollhouses” play here? Perhaps, God’s angels stop with the soul before each “tollhouse,” and given a pass by the demons, continue on their way to heaven? Who teaches this absurdity? Bishop Ignati, as we saw, speculates that the “Christian soul” must engage these demonic revenuers; but how, since the angels of God protect the soul and it is shielded by the walls of the Church which extend to heaven?

And more than this, we are never told by the “tollhousers” what is the place of Grace in their thanatological scenario. Grace, as Fr Pomazansky, et. al., must admit is essential to the Orthodox “world view.” If a member of Christ has been shaped by Grace, the devil has no power over him in this world, let alone in the next, as the Fathers maintain. If, too, the demons carry the reprobate to his Particular Judgment, what purpose the “tollhouses”? Concerning what, and to what purpose, do they interrogate the soul? It has no “test” to pass, it is already consigned to hades where it anticipates the torments of hell. With what does the soul pay the demons? A recitation of its good works? Have we come to the point that salvation comes by works?

What does St Basil mean when he exclaims in his liturgy, “we have done no good deed upon the earth?” Human goodness exists by the power of Grace, and our “good works” are no more than the Holy Spirit acting in cooperation with our wills to perfect us that we might become holy as God is holy, i.e. deification. The demons fight with us in this world to derail the spiritual process, hoping thereby to take another soul, on its separation from the body, to hades. They cannot judge anyone, least of all, the elect, and indeed, why shall they examine the condemned who have been judged already? In a word, the “tollhouse” doctrine is illogical and superfluous, with no Scriptural, patristic or liturgical “foundation.”

Protopresbyter Michael Azkoul


1. Brianchaninov, Ig., Collected Works (vol.3). St Petersburg, 1883, p.136 (in Russian). When Bishop Ignati’s Homily on Death first appeared in 1863, he was sharply rebuked by many of his contemporaries, especially St Theophan the Recluse in his Souls and Angels are not Bodies but Spirits (see the 4th edition of The Soul, the Body and Death, pp.141-142). Another important critique is V. Rev. Pavel Matveevsky’s, “A Review of Bishop Ignati Brianchaninov’s Word on Death,” which appears in the theological journal Strannik, Issue 9, 1863. That “review” will appear on the New-Ostrog Website and in the forthcoming book A Continuing Question: the Toll-House Debate.

2. Now in its 4th edition (1996) and sixteenth printing.

3. Taken from Orthodox Life XXXI, I (1981), pp.23-37.

4. Translated by F. P.A. Chamberas. Athens, 1993, especially pp.378-392.

5. http://www.orthodoxinfo.com/praxis/tollhousedebate.htm. (E-Mail). This article surprised me. In a letter to Deacon Lev Puhalo (pp.159-162, first edition of The Soul, the Body and Death, his tone was different [this letter appears in full on our own website]. We are left with the impression that he was not a supporter of “tollhouses” a la Seraphim Rose.

6The Soul After Death, p.2

7. There were also Jewish and Hellenistic versions of Gnosticism, all with the tollhouses.

8. “Soul” in The Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics (vol.II). Ed. by J. Hastings. New York, 1921, p.753.

9. See K. Rudolph, Gnosis, the Nature and History of Gnosticism. Trans. by R.J. Wilson; San Francisco, 1983, p.68f. The Gnostics recognize twenty tollhouses and demonic tax collectors. Compare this with the number that Fr Seraphim requires the soul to pass in order to reach heaven (The Soul After Death, ibid., p.256).

10The Mystery of Death, p.385.

11. See J.W. Trigg, Origen: The Bible and Philosophy in the Third Century. Atlanta, 1973, p.251f. A connection between Origen and Augustine is not so strange, considering that Origen may have been the inspiration for the Platonist Bishop of Hippo’s notion of “original sin,” and that Gnosticism is related to Manicheism which was an undying influence on both of them.

12. We cannot be certain that the emperor was a “tollhouse” advocate. The Greek hagiographies (menaion) up to that time did not include the life of any Elder Basil the New. He seems never to have been recognised as a saint by the Orthodox Church of Greece. He was never part of the Antiochian Orthodox Church of which I was a member for half my life. Today, however, some Greek Old Calendarists have accepted this questionable Life and, the “dreams of Theodora.” For an erudite and scholarly study of this questionable document, see Archbishop Lazar’s book, “Life of Elder Basil `the New’: Study of a Gnostic Document” (Synaxis Press, 1997).

13. There is more than one version of this Gnostic fable and they do not all agree in sometimes significant details.

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

15. There is no better example than Bishop Nicolai Velimirovic’s first volume of The Prologue to Ochrid (translated by Mother Maria; Birmingham, 1981). Part 1 (January-March) contains the entry for “Basil the New” (26 March) who “could perceive everybody’s secret thoughts, foretell the future, and perform miracles. The elder (sic) Theodora (30 Dec) was his novice, the same Theodora who appeared after her death to Gregory (of Thrace), another of Basil’s novices, and described to him the twenty-two tollhouses through which every soul must pass. St Basil died peacefully on March 25th, 944, and took his place in the wondrous heavenly company. After his death, he was seen by a citizen of Constantinople, shining with great glory in heaven” (p.331). Excepting the “tollhouses” for the moment, the Bishop Nicolai’s life of Basil contains several errors. There is no mention of the Particular Judgment, with exceptions no one has entered heaven; and the vision of one private citizen of Constantinople (about whom we know nothing) is not a reliable witness. Then, we have the comments of Mother Maria, who says, that “a considerable problem arose concerning the historical accuracy of some of Bishop Nikolai’s sources. I am referring to the legendary material to which he draws freely….With regard to the legendary material, I have joyfully remained faithful to the text, with the strong hope that it will sustain and uphold the simple, child-like faith with which the marvels are recounted and which can be ours also, although the prevalent atmosphere of debunking of such legends can make their acceptance difficult” (p.6, part 1). I leave her attitude towards the value of truth without further comment.

16. See, for example, the correspondence between S.A. Pervukhin and Bishop Theophan the Recluse, which took place between 1863 and 1892. Both men were sharp critics of Bishop Ignati Brianchaninov’s “Word on Death,” which is Fr Seraphim Rose’s basic authority. Pervukhin discusses the input of European theosophists in the ideas of Brianchaninov about the nature of the soul. In a letter of 1890 to the Protopriests Smirnov and Elagin, St Theophan laments that, despite his clear refutation of Brianchaninov, “there are both male and female disciples of Bishop Ignati who will not yield…but strive to defend [lit: exculpate] him…” (Collected Letters of Bishop Theophan (Moscow 1901) pp.225, 254.

17. “…for the vast majority of Orthodox teachers of the faith of the Church,” Dr Stanley Harakas observes, “such views (tollhouses) are either unknown (not mentioned), acknowledged as having some minor elements of tradition supporting them, but not official doctrine, or, finally, simply erroneous misinterpretations to be condemned. It is in this last opinion that many of Fr Rose’s `old calendarist’ critics have adopted. I tend to agree with them on this matter.” (The Hellenic Chronicle. 6 Dec., 1984).

18. See Fr Rose’s treatment of St Macarius’ Spiritual Homilies (The Soul After Death, pp.257-258); and my The Toll-House Myth: The Neo-Gnosticism of Fr Seraphim Rose. Dewdney, B.C., 1996, pp.28-31).

19. The OCIC edited the Minutes with the sarcasm: “the controversy raised by Deacon Lev Puhalo (Ed. (now known as Archbishop Lazarus – Synaxis Press)…”

20Orthodox Dogmatic Theology. Sergiev Posad, 1909 Vol IV. pp.448-454. We have not been informed about what belongs to the Apostolic Tradition and what is an appeal to human authority (argumentum ad homenem). For the interest of the reader, here are the words of N. Malinovsky concerning the “partial or particular” judgment (Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, p.460):

“Apostle Paul says, `It is appointed to man once to die, and after that comes judgment’ (Hb.9:27). In these words, the judgment is presented as taking place immediately following the death of a person.

“How does the particular judgment take place? Scripture does not speak of this. One can only clarify this to oneself by examining the idea of judgment as it applies to God. Judgment (in its earthly sense) has two sides: the examination of the rightness or guilt of the one being judged and the bringing down of a sentence upon him. When how ever, judgment is being made by the all knowing God, to Whom the moral condition and worthiness of the man are always known, the first side of the judgment must be under stood exclusively in the sense of the soul being brought to the acknowledgment of its own moral condition. This condition of the personal awareness [or, acknowledgment] of a person is revealed by means of the conscience. The conscience also judges the actions of a person in the present life. After death, upon the divestment of the body, before the countenance of the all seeing God, the voice of the conscience will, no doubt, stand up even more clearly and incorruptibly [or, with greater integrity], judging the entire path followed in life. No self deceit, earthly excuses or self justifications will have a place. By means of the conscience, at the particular judgment, the soul can be brought, by God, to an acknowledgment of its moral condition. In exactly the same way, the pro nouncement of a sentence by the Almighty One cannot be understood in the sense of the announcement to the soul of a judicial decision. God’s will is at once an action of His will, and thus the decision of the all powerful Judge is at once a beatification of the soul or the rejection of it from the kingdom of eternal life. Undoubtedly, the soul itself, being judged by the conscience, will clearly acknowledge the justice of the judgment of God Who has decreed its fate.”

In what way does this differ from what Deacon Lev has said in The Soul, the Body and Death?

21. In fact, we know of only one reference to the “toll-houses” in Metropolitan Antony’s writings. At one point he mentions them as “something the rustic folk would say.”

22Ways of Russian Theology (vol.5), in The Collected Works of George Florovsky. Trans. By R.L. Nichols, Belmont, 1979, Pp.162-268.

23. We should not be surprised to hear that Fr Michael Pomazansky, author of Orthodox Dogmatic Theology (trans. by Hieromonk Seraphim Rose. Platina, 1981), attended the Kievan Theological Academy (1908-1912). He has the same authorities for his opinions on the “tollhouses” as does Bishop Grabbe (pp.41f). The order and treatment of subjects in the Dogmatic generally follows the procedure of the typical Scholastic manual (sources of Christian doctrine, our Knowledge of God, the Trinity, the Creation, etc.). According to Fr Seraphim, the division of theology into “categories” and “systematization” (“which the present book follows”) used by his teachers is a “modern device borrowed from the West, but solely as an external organization of the subject matter…: therefore, the accusations of scholasticism…are completely unfair” (footnote 24, p.41). We must not forget that method affects content, and this fact is evident in Fr Michael’s treatment, for example, of marriage (pp.302-304). The hieromonk is “completely unfair” to compare these nineteenth century (Russian) systems to the work of St John of Damascus who in his Exposition of the Orthodox Faith did no more than summarize the Orthodox Faith and give a certain order to it. To be fair, while living in Volhynia he did come under the influence of St Anthony Khrapovitsky who was its bishop for several years.

24. See The Soul, the Body and Death, appendix 1. The excerpts from the writings of the fathers on this matter are ample and convincing.

25. “See by experience that the soul only exists completely in the body,” wrote St Ephraim the Syrian (Nisibean Hymn II, 4). That the Christian idea of “personhood” includes body and soul and, therefore that God’s Judgment will encompass the entire person, body and soul together. Archbishop Lazar (Deacon Lev) has so clearly demonstrated this in his section of citations from the Holy Fathers in The Soul, the Body and Death, that one does not need to add further references.

26. In this same discourse, St John deals with the story of Lazarus and the Rich Man (Luke 16:28-31), where he states that, “the beggar died and was carried away by the angels.” He departed as a “champion.” The Rich Man died and was carried away by the demons. He left “bound” as a slave. The latter gives no account to the devil; he already belongs to him. Contrast this thanatology with the teaching of Fr Seraphim Rose who is not careful to distinguish between the experience of the righteous and the reprobate. We read in his work, “When the soul of a Christian, leaving its earthly dwelling, begins to strive through the aerial spaces towards the homeland on high, the demons stop it, strive to find in it a kinship with themselves, their sinfulness, their fall, and to drag it down to hell prepared for the devil and his angels (Mt.25:41). They act thus by the right they have acquired (Bishop Ignatius, Collected Words, vol.2, pp.132-133).” (The Soul After Death, p.74). He leaves me confused: initially, my impression was that the souls of all the dead must face the demonic collectors, not merely the Christians (a word he fails to define). Then, I supposed it was the damned who encountered the “tollhouses;” then, only the saved? Finally I wondered why anyone would need to be tested by them, since the saved would surely pass their tests and the damned would surely flunk. How, in any case, can one be released to heaven and the other cast into hell when neither heaven nor hell are yet accessible? The hieromonk seems to disagree with Bishop Grabbe and Fr Pomazansky who, although endorsing the “toll house” theory, do not follow the radicalism of Fr Rose.

27. Let us take one example. Here is Bishop Grabbe’s translation of Canticle 8 of the “Office for the Parting of the Body and Soul: ” The Prince of the air, the oppressor, the tyrant who standeth on the dread paths, the relentless accountant thereof: do thou vouchsafe me who am departing from the earth to pass [O Theotokos]” (2 of 4), and Fr Rose: “O thou who gavest birth to the Lord Almighty, remove far from me the Chief of the bitter tollhouses, the ruler of the world, when I am about to die, that I may glorify thee forever, O Holy Theotokos”: and Hapgood (1922 edition, pp.364-365): “O thou who didst bear the Lord Almighty, banish thou far from me when I come to die, the Chieftain of bitter torments who ruleth the universe, and I will glorify thee forever, O holy Birth-giver of God,” this seems to be a deliberate alteration of the text. It is certainly not in the Greek original. With regard to the Octoechos, I contacted the Holy Transfiguration Greek Orthoodox Monastery, who could find no allusions to “tollhouses” in the Greek original. My own examination had the same result.

28. Bishop Gregory might also have invoked the declaration of the Synod of Constantinople (1672): We believe that the souls of the departed are in either repose or torment as each one has wrought, for immediately after the separation from the body they are pronounced either in bliss or in suffering and sorrows, yet we confess that neither their joy nor their condemnation are yet complete. After the general resurrection, when the soul is reunited with the body, each one will receive the full measure of joy or condemnation due to him for the way in which he conducted himself, whether well or ill. (in Frank Gavin, Some Aspects of Contemporary Greek Orthodox Thought. (Milwaukee, 1936). p.51. Of course, these words of the Synod of Constantinople would be most troubling for the “tollhousers,” since they state that “immediately after the separation from the body….” and there is neither mention of tollhouses nor time alloted for any passage through them.

St Gregory Regarding Philosophers