18 January 2013

State of the Soul After Death According to the Teachings of Saint John Damascene

This article by Hieromonk Dionysios is reprinted from the DIAKONIA journal for Eastern Christian Studies

The Orthodox view of the state of the soul after death is presented in the teachings and writings of Saint John of Damascus. The Orthodox world has debated the state of the soul after death (active versus soul slumber) and the tollhouses (real or imaginary). It is thus my intent to draw mainly from the writings and hymnology of Saint John of Damascus to show what the Orthodox view actually holds and the reality of the toll houses. I will also discuss the resurrection of the dead, a resurrection of soul AND body when the resurrected enter the joy of their Lord or suffer eternal torment.

In the Octoechos attributed to Saint John of Damascus, we find a clear reference to the tollhouses. The eigth canticle from the canon at Matins reads, "O Virgin, in the hour of death rescue me from the hands of the demons, and the judgment, and the accusations, and the frightful testing, and the bitter tollhouses and the fierce prince, and the eternal condemnation, O Theotokos." By this hymn, we see clearly Saint John of Damascus’ belief in a judgment at death. This judgment involves some type of meeting with demonic spirits (rescue from the hands of demons, the fierce prince) and the testing of souls. It is the testing of souls itself, which occurs at the various tollhouses. The tollhouses are the places of judgment of the soul after death. The questions then become: what judgments actually occur, who is the judge, and who does the accusing.

In another hymn attributed to Saint John of Damascus we read, "When my soul shall be released from the bond with the flesh, intercede for me, O Sovereign Lady.. that I may pass unhindered through the princes of darkness in the air." Last among these canticles of Damascene is "Grant me to pass through the noetic satraps and the tormenting aerial legions without sorrow at the time of my departure, that I may cry joyfully to Thee, O Theotokos, who heard the cry, ‘Hail’:Rejoice, O unshamed hope of all."

Bishop Ignatios Brianchaninov states that the teaching of the tollhouses is an accepted teaching throughout the Divine Services of the Orthodox Church. It certainly is made clear in numerous hymns attributed to Damascus. Father Seraphim Rose states the teaching of the tollhouses is given to us that we might learn to struggle against the demons of the air in this life and in our meeting with them at death obtain victory. The Orthodox teaching taught and held by Saint John of Damascus according to Father Seraphim is that the tollhouses are indeed real, not imaginairy places. These tollhouses are a series of judgments and the angels are the judges. They also stand to defend the soul against the false accusations of the demonic spirits. In reality, however, it is the persons themselves who determine their own fate, for the soul will cling to that which fits it nature, be it the nature of the demons or the heavenly nature of the angels. The accusers are the demons who stop us at various tollhouses and continue to tempt us and show forth how by our actions we lived as one of them and not as a true servant of God. The first two days after death, the soul spends on earth, visiting places with which it was familiar. At the third day, it begins its ascent through these aerial tollhouses, being tested by the various legions of demonic spirits. This is what Saint John of Damascus refers to when he speaks of the ‘princes of the air’ and the ‘frightful testing’. Until the ninth day, the soul is given a glimpse of the beauty of Paradise prepared for those who loved and served the Lord. At the ninth day, the Orthodox Church holds a special commemoration for the soul, as it is from this time forth until the fortieth day that the soul sees the torments of Hell, this is the ‘eternal condemnation’ to which Saint John of Damascus refers. At the fortieth day, the judgment is complete, the soul has either a foretaste of Heaven (its fulfilment in the Second Coming of Christ) or a foretaste of Hell. Saint John goes further in his explanation of the mystery of death:
Truly most frightening is the mystery of death, how the soul is violently separated from the body, and by divine decree, the most natural bond of their cohesion is severed. Wherefore, we implore Thee, O Giver of Life who loves mankind, to grant rest to the soul to the newly departed one in the dwelling of the righteous.
Vespers of Friday of the Plagal Tone (Tone 1), not written by Saint John of Damascus but closely related to the theme of his hymnology, states, "O Christ, spare me, thy servant, when my soul is separated from the body at the command given by Thee, Who didst unite dust and spirit by divine beckoning, spare me from the assault and ill treatment of invisible enemies that lie in wait to wrench me away mercilesly." From this, the time of our death rests in the will of God. At the separation of the soul from the body, we see the demonic spirits mentioned again, the invisible enemies who wait to take our souls to their abode.

Can the soul after leaving earth and passing through the judgment experience any change in its state? Indeed, according to Saint John of Damscus, until the time of the Second Coming and the general judgment of Christ the state of the soul can be changed for the better. He states:

Do not reject bringing oil for the sacred lamp at the tomb and lighting candles there when entreating Christ God, for these are acceptable to God and bring great return. For the oil and wax are sacrifices of a burnt offering, the bloodless sacrifice (Eucharist) is an expiation, and benevolence extended to the poor are an addition to every good return.

2 Maccabees 12:44 attests to the offering of prayer for the sake of souls, for its benefit even after death. "For if he had hoped that they who were slain should have risen again, it had been superfluous and vain to pray for the dead" The Gospel of Matthew also attests to this: "Jesus answered and said unto them, Ye do err, not knowing the Scripture, nor the power of God…God is not the God of the dead, but the living." The implication here is that the dead are truly alive. I will deal with this further in my discussion of ‘soul slumber.’

The soul thus can change its state as it awaits the General Judgment. At the General Judgment all things are final, all things are sealed, and the state of the soul at this time determines the state of the resurrected person for eternity. The resurrection, the uniting of the soul and body once again, occurs at the Second Coming of Christ and the General Judgment as Damascus states:

We also believe in the resurrection of the dead. For in truth it will happen, there will be a resurrection of the dead. But when we say resurrection, we mean a resurrection of bodies. For resurrection is a second standing of that which has fallen. And souls are immortal, hence, how can they rise again? For if death is defined as a separation of soul from body, resurrection is surely the rejoining of soul and body and the second standing of the dissolved and fallen creature. It is, then, the very body that is corrupted and dissolved that will resurrect incorruptible. For He who formed it in the beginning from the dust of the earth is not incapable of raising it up again after it has again been dissolved and returned to the earth from which, by decision of the Creator it was taken. Therefore, there will be, indeed, there will be a resurrection. For God is just, and He is the rewarder of those who await Him patiently. Now, if the soul had engaged in the contests for virtue itself, then it would be crowned alone. And if it indulged in the pleasures, then it alone would be justly punished. But since the soul pursued neither vice nor virtue without the body, it will be just for them both together to receive that which is their due. Moreover, the divine Scriptures also witness that there will be a resurrection of bodies. Therefore we shall rise again, with our souls once more united to our bodies, which will have become incorrupt and put off corruption. And we shall stand before the fearful judgment seat of Christ.

It is necessary now having examined what occurs to the soul to define the nature of the soul according to Saint John of Damascus. The soul is not contained; it is immaterial yet intimately connected to the body.

Every man is a combination of soul and body…The soul is a living substance, simple and without body, invisible to the bodily eyes by vir of its peculiar nature, immortal, rational, spiritual, without form, using the bodily organ, in which it occassions for growth, sensibility, and productiveness. The mind is not something apart from the soul, but its purest part, since what the eyes are to the body, such is the mind to the soul. The soul is independent, with a will and energy of its own, and changeable, capable of altering itself, since it is a created thing.

Thus, the soul is connected to the mind.

Within the body, and as Damascus states, the soul changes form, as a result of its being a created thing, and having free will. The soul is a reflection of the nature of God, and while immortal, is still a created thing, subject to change, and connected intimately with the body.

Bodily place is the limit of that which contains, by which that which is contained is contained: for example, the air contains but the body is contained. But it is not the whole of the containing air which is the place of the contained body, but the limit of the containing air, where it comes into contact with the contained body…But there is also mental place where mind is active, and mental and incorporeal nature exists; where mind dwells and energizes and is contained not in a bodily but in a mental fashion…But the (soul) is circumscribed alike in time and in place and in apprehension.

There are some Orthodox who have argued that the soul does not pass through the tollhouses, but rather is in a state of slumber. This term ‘slumber’ means that the soul is inactive, and as Father Michael Azkoul, one of the proponents of the soul slumber theory states, "(the soul) is in a condition of inactivity, a sort of inactivity in which it does not function, hear, or see." Father Seraphim argues against this notion, comparing it to the common misconceptions of the Adventists and Jehovah’s Witnesses. He states rather that the souk is quite alive and aware. To give evidence to this argument he qoutes from Saint Dorotheos, "(the soul) remembers everything at its exit from this body and more clearly and distinctly once freed from the earthliness of the body." He cites Saint John Cassian, "(the soul) becomes yet more alive (after death)." We must ask if the idea of soul slumber is true, then what is the purpose of prayer for the dead if they are in a state in which their souls are inactive and cannot change state. The reasoning of Father Michael Azkoul and those ahderents to his position has no solid patristic basis nor is it sensible in light of the Church’s prayer for the dead. Also we must realize that even Christ Himself descended to Hades, and that his soul was certainly not inactive after his death that was life-restoring. In the Divine Liturgy, the priest prays, "In the tomb with the body, in Hades with the soul, on the throne with the Father and the Spirit, was thou, O Christ infinitely filling everything." This prayer in itself disproves any notion of soul slumber. Lastly as recorded in Saint Archbishop John Maximovitch’s writing on the Life After Death, he argues as well that the soul does remain conscious. He also quotes from Saint John Cassian who sets forth clearly the active state of the soul: "Souls after the separation from this body are not idle, do not remain without consciousness; this is proved by the Gospel of the rich man and Lazarus…The souls of the dead not only do not lose their consciousness, they do not even lose their dispositions."

A final argument among the Orthodox is whether or not the tollhouses are real or imaginary Father Azkoul rejected the notion of the reality of the toll houses, stating not only that they are not present in the Church;s tradition (this has been addressed in the above arguments) but stating as wel that such an idea must be rejected because it makes the demons as the determiners of one’s salvation, and through ‘excess merits’ of saints, the ‘toll’ is paid. He thus rejects the tollhouses believing it to parallel the Latin idea of Purgatory.

Father Seraphim Rose refuted this idea of comparing the tollhouse to purgatory as farfetched in that the toll houses are part of the Orthodox ascetic teaching and have to do solely with the testing of man for his sins committed by him. There is no idea whatsoever he states of there being a satisifaction to God, ‘excess merits’, and the purpose is certainly not ‘torture’ as Father Michael Azkoul suggested. Within the Church’s tradition in regards to the reality of the toll houses exist not only the previous mentioned hymnology and quotations from the Fathers, but also detailed descriptions of the dying experiences and the passages through the tollhouses by such holy ones as Saint Theodora. Saint Theodora gives a detailed account of the reality of the toll houses and her passage through them before her soul returned to her body. Saint Makarios of Egypt gives a clear expression of the reality of these tollhouses:
When the soul of a man departs out of the body, a great mystery is there accomplished. If it is under the guilt of sins there come bands of devils, and angels of the left hand, and powers of darkness that overtake the soul, and hold it fast on their side. No one ought to be surprised at this. If, while alive in this world, the man was subject and compliant to them, and made himself their bondsman, how much more, when he departs out of this world, is he kept down and held fast by them."
He continues in Homily 43: "Like tax collectors sitting in the narrow ways, and laying hold upon the paserby, and extorting from them, so do the devils spy upon souls, and lay hold of them: and when they pass out of the body, if they are not perfectly cleansed, they do not suffer them to mount up to the mansions of Heaven and to meet their Lord, and they are driven down by the devils of the air. 
We can find numerous references to the reality of the tollhouses within the writings of the Philokalia. One example is from Saint Hesychios in which he states:
If the soul has Christ with it, it will not be disgraced by its enemies even at death, when it rises to heaven’s entrance; but then, as now, it will boldly confront them…the hour of death will come, and we will not escape it. May the prince of the world and of the air find our misdeeds few and petty when he comes, so he will not have good grounds for convicting us.
This quotation from the Philokalia this shows what occurs at death, and that there is indeed a confrontation (the toll houses) with demonic spirits. Saint John of Karpathos states:
When the soul leaves the body, the enemy advances to attack it, fiercely reviling it and accusing it of its sins in a harsh and terrifying manner. But if a soul enjoys the love of God and has faith in Him, evne though in the past it has often been wounded by sin, it is not frightened by the enemy’s attacks and threats. Strengthened by the Lord, winged by joy, filled with courage by holy angels that guide it, encircled and protected by the light of faith, it answers the malicious devil with great boldness. When the soul says all this fearlessly, the devil turns his back…"
The tollhouses and the judgment of the soul is and was nothing imaginary to the Fathers such as Saint Hesychios and John of Karpathos who described these things, but rather as a true spiritual reality.

In conclusion, the toll houses are indeed real and a part of the entire teaching of the Orthodox Church in regards to the state of the soul after death. Saint John of Damascus as well as other Church Fathers and the hymnology of the Church all attest to the judgment after death, the frightful testing, and our warring with the spirits in the air. The toll houses are not imaginary, and the soul is not in a state of slumber but active, hence the reason for the Church’s prayers for the dead, as the state of the soul can continually be effected upon until the final judgment.

17 January 2013

Our War is not Against Flesh and Blood (On the Question of the "Toll-Houses") by Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky

"We are fools for Christ's sake, but ye are wise in Christ." —I Cor. 4:10

A number of poor scholars and pseudo-scholars alike have, over the past several decades, made a case against the Orthodox Church's teaching on life after death, and especially the "toll house" image used by some Fathers and in many of our worship services. Misrepresenting the Fathers, ignoring liturgical and theological evidence, and overstating their case, some of these critics have made of various theologoumena, unfortunately, matters of intense debate. Likewise misusing philosophy, misrepresenting the Patristic use of classical philosophical ideas and images, and attributing, with a naivete that would embarrass a first-year philosophy student in the most mediocre of 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.

Admittedly, there are ecclesiastical writers who have too literally presented the complex teachings of the Orthodox Church on life after death and the "toll house" imagery. But they are guilty of poor expression, not heresy and neo-Gnosticism. Fundamentalism and literalism are a danger in any discussion of spiritual things that address another dimension of thought and experience. And we must be critical of any fall to such foibles. But we must never respond to such weaknesses with equally naïve fundamentalism under the guise of "scholarly" expertise which is nothing more than a superficial treatment of very intricate problems by individuals who approach theology, not with the desire to learn, but with definite axes to grind. And those who carry such axes are to the intellectual life what a cave man with a club is to reflective thinkers engaged in formal philosophical debate.

Father Michael Pomazansky, a true scholar and a theologian whose brilliance has been too long neglected, for many years quietly taught at Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville, NY. Unfortunately, he is known to English speakers primarily by way of an instructive, but basic, text on dogmatics. Thus, the wide scope and the great wisdom of his more subtle and nuanced writings have been largely overlooked. His following comments on the toll houses are evidence of his brilliance, balanced thought, and true knowledge of the Fathers and philosophy. This essay is one of the best I have ever read on the "toll houses," and it should serve as a model for our Orthodox, and proper scholarly, approach to the very important question of the afterlife. 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.
—Archbishop Chrysostomos of Etna

Our life is lived among a population which, although it is nominally Christian, in many respects has different conceptions and views than ours in the realm of faith. Sometimes this inspires us to respond to questions of our Faith when they are raised and discussed from a non-Orthodox point of view by persons of other confessions, and sometimes by Orthodox Christians who no longer have a firm Orthodox foundation under their feet.

In the limited conditions of our life we unfortunately are unable fully to react to statements or to reply to the questions that arise. However, we sometimes feel such a need. In particular, we now have occasion to define the Orthodox view of the "toll-houses," which is one of the topics of a book which has appeared in English under the title, Christian Mythology by Canon George Every. The "toll-houses" are the experience of the Christian soul immediately after death, as these experiences are described by the Fathers of the Church and Christian ascetics. In recent years a critical approach to a whole series of our Church beliefs has been observed; these beliefs are viewed as being "primitive," the result of a "naive" world view of piety, and they are characterized by such words as "myths," "magic," and the like. It is our duty to respond.

The subject of the toll-houses is not specifically a topic of Orthodox Christian theology: 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. To approach it correctly, it is essential to understand the foundations and the spirit of the Orthodox world-view. For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? Even so, the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God (I Cor. 2:11-12). We must ourselves come closer to the Church, that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God (I Cor. 2:12). In the present question the foundation is: We believe in the Church. The Church is the heavenly and earthly Body of Christ, pre-designated for the moral perfection of the members of its earthly part and for the blessed, joyful, but always active life of its ranks in its heavenly realm. The Church on earth glorifies God, unites believers, and educates them morally so that by this means it might ennoble and exalt earthly life itself—both the personal life of its own children, and the life of mankind. Its chief aim is to help them in the attainment of eternal life in God, the attainment of sanctity, without which no man shall see the Lord (Heb. 12:14).

Thus, it is essential that there be constant communion between those in the Church on earth and the heavenly Church. In the Body of Christ all its members are interactive. In the Lord, the Shepherd of the Church, there are, as it were, two flocks: the heavenly and the earthly (Epistle of the Eastern Patriarchs, 17th century). Whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honored, all the members rejoice with it (I Cor. 12:26). The heavenly Church rejoices, but at the same time it sympathizes with its fellow members on earth. St. Gregory the Theologian gave to the earthly Church of his time the name of "suffering Orthodoxy"; and thus it has remained until now. This interaction is valuable and indispensable for the common aim that we may grow up into Him in all things...from Whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the building of itself in love (Eph. 4:15-16).

The end of all this is deification in the Lord, that God may be all in all (I Cor. 15:28). The earthly life of the Christian should be a place of spiritual growth, progress, the ascent of the soul towards heaven. We deeply grieve that, with the exception of a few of us, although we know our path, stray far away from it because of our attachment to what is exclusively earthly. And, although we are ready to offer repentance, still we continue to live carelessly. However, there is not in our souls that so-called "peace of soul" which is present in Western Christian psychology, which is based upon some kind of "moral minimum" i.e., having fulfilled my obligation that provides a convenient disposition of soul for occupying oneself with worldly interests.

However, it is precisely there, where "peace of soul" ends, that there is opened the field of perfection for the inward work of the Christians. If we sin wilfully after that we have receive the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, but only a certain fearful expectation of judgement and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries... It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Heb. 10:26-27, 31). Passivity and carelessness are unnatural to the soul; by being passive and careless we demean ourselves. However, to rise up requires constant vigilance of the soul and, more than this, warfare. With whom is this warfare? With oneself only? We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against the spirits of wickedness under the heaven (Eph. 6:12).

Here we approach the subject of the toll-houses.

It is not by chance, that the Lord's Prayer ends with the words: Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the Evil One. Concerning this Evil One, in another of His discourses the Lord said to His disciples: I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven (Luke 10:18). Cast down from heaven, he became thus a resident of the lower sphere, the prince of the power of the air, the prince of the legion of unclean spirits. When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man but does not find rest for himself, he returns to the home from which he departed and, finding it unoccupied, cleaned and put in order, he goeth and taketh with himself seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there, and the last state of that man is worse that the first. Even so shall it be also unto this wicked generation (Matt. 12:43, 45).

Was it only a generation? Concerning the bent-over woman who was healed on the Sabbath day, did not the Lord reply: Ought not this woman being a daughter whom Satan hath bound, lo, these eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day? (Luke 13:16).

The Apostles in their instructions do not forget about our spiritual enemies. St. Paul writes to the Ephesians: In past times ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience (Eph. 2:2). Therefore, now put on the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil (Eph. 6:11), for the devil, as a roaring lion, seeketh whom he may devour (I Peter 5:8). Being Christians, shall we call these quotations from the Scripture "mythology"? Those warnings to previous generations found in the written word of God also relate to us. Therefore the hindrances to salvation are the same. Some of them are due to our own carelessness, our own self-confidence, our lack of concern, our egoism, to the passions of the body; others are in the temptations and the tempters who surround us: in people, and in the invisible dark powers which surround us. This is why, in our daily personal prayers, we beg God not to allow any "success of the evil one" (from the Morning Prayers), that is, that we be not allowed any success in our deeds that might occur with the help of dark powers. In general, in our private prayers and also in public Divine Worship, we never lose sight of the idea of being translated into a different life after death.

In the times of the Apostles and the first Christians, when Christians were more inspired, when the difference between the pagan world and the world of Christians was much more distinct, when the suffering of the martyrs was the light of Christianity, there was less concern to support the spirit of Christians by preaching alone. But the Gospel is all encompassing! The demands of the Sermon on the Mount were meant not only for the Apostles! And therefore, in the writings of the Apostles we already read not simple instructions, but also warnings about the future, when we shall have to give an account.

Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil...that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand (Eph. 6: 11, 13). For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries.. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Heb. 10:26-27, 31). On some have compassion, and others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire, hating even the garment spotted by the flesh (Jude, the brother of James, 22-23). It is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Sprit, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance, seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put Him to an open shame (Heb. 6:4-6).

Thus it was in the Apostolic age. But when the Church, having received freedom, began to be filled with masses of people, when the general inspiration of faith began to weaken, there was a more critical need for powerful words, for denunciations, for calls to spiritual vigilance, to fear of God and fear for one's own fate. In the collection of pastoral instructions of the most zealous archpastors we read stern homilies giving pictures of the future judgement which awaits us after death. These homilies were intended to bring sinners to their senses, and evidently they were given during periods of general Christian repentance before Great Lent. In them was the truth of God's righteousness, the truth that nothing unclean would enter into the kingdom of sanctity; this truth was clothed in vivid, partly figurative, close to earthly images which were known to everyone in daily life. The hierarchs of this period themselves called these images of the judgement which follows immediately after death the "toll-houses." The tables of the publicans, the collectors of taxes and duties, were evidently points for letting one go on the road further into the central part of the city. Of course, the word "toll-house" in itself does not indicate to us any particular religious significance. In patristic language it signifies that short period after death when the Christian soul must account for its moral state.

St. Basil writes, "Let no one deceive himself with empty words, for sudden destruction cometh upon them (I Thess. 5:3) and causes an overturning like a storm. A strict angel will come, he will forcibly lead out your soul, bound by sins. Occupy yourself therefore with reflection on the last day... Imagine to yourself the confusion, the shortness of breath, and the hour of death, the sentence of God drawing near, the angels hastening towards you, the dreadful confusion of the soul tormented by its conscience, with its pitiful gaze upon what is happening, and finally, the unavoidable translation into a distant place" (St. Basil the Great, quoted in "Essay in an Historical Exposition of Orthodox Theology," by Bishop Sylvester, Vol. 5, p.89).

St. Gregory the Theologian, who guided a large flock only for short periods, limits himself to general words, saying that "each one is a sincere judge of himself, because of the judgement-seat awaiting him."

There is a more striking picture found in St. John Chrysostom: "If, in setting out for any foreign country or city we are in need of guides, then how much shall we need helpers and guides in order to pass unhindered past the elders, the powers, the governors of the air, the persecutors, the chief collectors! For this reason, the soul, flying away from the body, often ascends and descends, fears and trembles. The awareness of sins always torments us, all the more at that hour when we shall have to be conducted to those trials and that frightful judgement place." Continuing, Chrysostom gives moral instructions for a Christian way of life. As for children who have died, he places in their mouths the following words: "The holy angels peacefully separated us from our bodies, and having good guides, we went without harm past the powers of the air. The evil spirits did not find in us what they were seeking; they did not notice what they wished to put to shame; seeing an immaculate soul, they were ashamed; seeing an undefiled tongue, they were silent. We passed by and put them to shame. The net was rent, and we were delivered. Blessed is God Who did not give us as a prey to them" (St. John Chrysostom, Homily 2, "On Remembering the Dead").

The Orthodox Church depicts the Christian martyrs, male and female, as attaining the heavenly bridal chamber just as freely as children and without harm. In the fifth century the depiction of the immediate judgement upon the soul after its departure from the body, called the Particular judgement, was even more closely joined to the depiction of the toll-houses, as we see in St. Cyril of Alexandria's "Homily on the Departure of the Soul," which sums up the images of this kind in the Fathers of the Church which preceded him.

It is perfectly clear to anyone that purely earthly images are applied to a spiritual subject so that the image, being impressed in the memory, might awaken a man's soul. "Behold the Bridegroom cometh at midnight, and blessed is the servant whom He shall find watching." At the same time, in these pictures the sinfulness that is present in fallen man is revealed in its various types and forms, and this inspires man to analyze his own state of soul. In the instructions of Orthodox ascetics the types and forms of sinfulness have a special stamp of their own;[1] in the Lives of Saints there is also a characteristic stamp.

Due to the availability of the Lives of Saints, the account of the tollhouses by the righteous Theodora, depicted by her in detail by Saint Basil the New in his dream, has become especially well known. Dreams in general express the state of soul of a given man, and in special cases are also authentic visions of the souls of the departed in their earthly form. The account of Theodora has characteristics both of one and the other. The idea that good spirits, our guardian angels, as well as the spirits of evil under heaven participate in the fate of man (after death) finds confirmation in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. Lazarus immediately after death was brought by angels to the bosom of Abraham. In another parable the unrighteous man heard these words: Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee (Luke 12:20); evidently, the ones who "require" are none else than the same "spirits of wickedness under the heavens."

In accordance with simple logic and as also confirmed by the Word of God the soul immediately after its separation from the body enters into a sphere where its further fate is defined. It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment, we read in the Apostle Paul (Heb. 9:27). This is the Particular Judgement, which is independent of the universal Last Judgement.

The teaching concerning the Particular Judgement of God enters into the sphere of Orthodox dogmatic theology. As for the toll-houses, Russian writers of general systems of theology limit themselves to a rather stereotyped note: "Concerning all the sensual, earthly images by which the Particular Judgement is presented in the form of the toll-houses, although in their fundamental idea they are completely true, still they should be accepted in the way that the angel instructed Saint Macarius of Alexandria, being only the weakest means of depicting heavenly things." (See Macarius, Metropolitan of Moscow, Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, Saint Petersburg, 1883, vol. 11, p.538; also the book of Bishop Sylvester, Rector of the Kiev Theological Academy. Archbishop Philaret of Chernigov, in his two volume work on dogmatic theology, does not comment on this subject.) [2] If one is to complain of the frightening character of the pictures of the toll-houses—are there not many such pictures in the New Testament scriptures and in the words of the Lord Himself? Are we not frightened by the very simplest question: How camest thou in hither not having a wedding garment? (Mat. 22:12).

We respond to the discussion on the toll-houses, a topic which is secondary in the realm of our Orthodox thought, because it gives an occasion to illuminate the essence of our Church life. Our Christian Church life of prayer is uninterrupted mutual communion with the heavenly world. It is not simply an "invocation of the saints," as it is often called; it is an interaction in love. Through it the whole body of the Church, being united and strengthened in its members and bonds, increaseth with the increase of God (Col. 2:19). Through the Church we are come unto the Heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to the solemn assembly and the church of the first- born, which are written in heaven, and the God the judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect (Heb, 12:22-23). Our prayerful interaction extends in all directions. It has been commanded us: Pray for one another. We live according to the principle of Faith: Whether we live or die, we are the Lord's (Rom. 14:8). Love never faileth (I Cor. 13:8). Love shall cover a multitude of sins (I Peter 4:8).

For the soul there is no death. Life in Christ is a world of prayer. It penetrates the whole body of the Church, unites every member of the Church with the Heavenly Father, the members of the earthly Church with themselves, and the members of the earthly Church with the Heavenly Church. Prayers are the threads of the living fabric of the Church body, for the prayer of the righteous man availeth much (James 5:16). The twenty-four elders in heaven at the throne of God fell down before the Lamb, each having harps and vials filled with incense, which are the prayers of saints (Apoc. 5:8); that is, they offered up prayer on earth to the heavenly throne.

Threats are necessary; they can and should warn us, restrain us from evil actions. The same Church instills in us that the Lord is compassionate and merciful, long-suffering and plenteous in mercy, and is grieved over the evil doings of men, taking upon Himself our infirmities. In the Heavenly Church are also our intercessors, our helpers, those who pray for us. The Most Pure Mother of God is our protection. Our very prayers are the prayers of saints, written down by them, which came from their contrite hearts during the days of their earthly life. Those who pray can feel this, and thus the saints themselves become closer to us. Such are our daily prayers; such also is the whole cycle of the Church's Divine services of every day, of every week, and of the Feasts.

All this liturgical literature was not conceived as an academic exercise.

The enemies of the air are powerless against such help. But we must have faith, and our prayers must be fervent and sincere. There is more joy in heaven over one who repents, than over others who need no repentance. How insistently the Church teaches us (in its litanies) to spend "the rest of our life in peace and repentance," and to die thus! It teaches us to call to remembrance our Most Holy, Most Pure, Most Blessed Lady Theotokos and all the saints, and then to commit ourselves and one another unto Christ our God.

At the same time, with all this cloud of heavenly protectors, we are made glad by the special closeness to us of our Guardian Angels. They are meek, they rejoice over us, and they also grieve over our falls. We are filled with hope in them, in the state we will be in when our soul is separated from the body, when we must enter into a new life: will it be light or in darkness, in joy or in sorrow? Therefore, every day we pray to our angels for the present day: "Deliver us from every cunning of the opposing enemy." In special canons of repentance we entreat them not to depart from us now nor after our death: "I see thee with my spiritual gaze, thou who remainest with me, my fellow converser, Holy Angel, watching over, accompanying and remaining with me and ever offering to me what is for salvation." "When my humble soul shall be loosed from my body, may thou cover it, O my instructor, with thy bright and most sacred wings." "When the frightful sound of the trumpet will resurrect me unto judgement, stand near to me then, quiet and joyful, and with the hope of salvation take away my fear." "For thou art beauteous in virtue, and sweet and joyous, a mind bright as the sun; brightly intercede for me with joyful countenance and radiant gaze when I am to be taken from the earth." "May I then behold thee standing at the right hand of my wretched soul, bright and quiet, thou who intercedest and prayest for me, when my spirit shall be taken by force; may I behold thee banishing those who seek me, my bitter enemies." (From the Canon to the Guardian Angel of John the Monk, in the Prayer Book for Priests.)

Thus, the Holy Church through the ranks of its builders: the Apostles, the great hierarchs, the holy ascetics, having as its Chief Shepherd our Saviour and Lord, Jesus Christ, has created and gives us all means for our spiritual perfection and the attainment of the eternal blessed life in God, overcoming our carelessness and light-mindedness by fear and by stern warnings, at the same time instilling in us a spirit of vigilance and bright hope, surrounding us with holy, heavenly guides and helpers. In the Typicon of the Church's Divine service, we are given a direct path to the attainment of the Kingdom of Glory.

Among the images of the Gospel the Church very often reminds us of the parable of the Prodigal Son, and one week in the yearly cycle of Church services is entirely devoted to this remembrance, so that we might know the limitless love of God and the fact that the sincere, contrite, tearful repentance of a believing man overcomes all the obstacles and all the tollhouses on the path to the Heavenly Father.

Translator's Notes
1. In ascetic literature sometimes the passions and evil demons are almost identified: the spirits who settle in the bodies of living men are the arousers of the passions; while the passions become infirmities not only of the body, but also of the soul, and therefore they remain in the soul as enticers of earthly passions even after death. Therefore one may also depict the toll-houses as an inward personal battle in the soul which has been separated from the body.

2. However, Metropolitan Macarius does speak quite in detail on the subject of the tollhouses, devoting ten pages of his second volume to it (pp.528-538), and giving extensive quotes from Saints Cyril of Alexandria, Ephraim the Syrian, Athanasius the Great, Macarius, the Great, John Chrysostom, Maximus the Confessor,and a number of other sources, including many texts from the Divine service books, and concluding that "such an uninterrupted, constant, and universal usage in the Church on the teaching of the toll-houses, 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" (p.535).

From Selected Essays (Jordanville, NY: Holy Trinity Monastery, 1996), pp. 232-241. 
The Introduction did not appear in the original.

16 January 2013

Life After Death: A Description of the First 40 Days After Death by Saint John Maximovitch

Limitless and without consolation would have been our sorrow for close ones who are dying, if the Lord had not given us eternal life. Our life would be pointless if it ended with death. What benefit would there then be from virtue and good deed? Then they would be correct who say: "Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die!"

But man was created for immortality, and by His resurrection Christ opened the gates of the Heavenly Kingdom, of eternal blessedness for those who have believed in Him and have lived righteously. Our earthly life is a preparation for the future life, and this preparation ends with our death. "It is appointed unto man once to die, but after this the judgment" (Heb 9:27). Then a man leaves all his earthly cares; the body disintegrates, in order to rise anew at the General Resurrection. Often this spiritual vision begins in the dying even before death, and while still seeing those around them and even speaking with them, they see what others do not see. [1]

But when it leaves the body, the soul finds itself among other spirits, good and bad. Usually it inclines toward those which are more akin to it in spirit, and if while in the body it was under the influence of certain ones, it will remain in dependence upon them when it leaves the body, however unpleasant they may turn out to be upon encountering them. [2]

For the course of two days the soul enjoys relative freedom and can visit places on earth which were dear to it, but on the third day it moves into other spheres. [3] At this time (the third day), it passes through legions of evil spirits which obstruct its path and accuse it of various sins, to which they themselves had tempted it.

According to various revelations there are twenty such obstacles, the so-called "toll-houses," at each of which one or another form of sin is tested; after passing through one the soul comes upon the next one, and only after successfully passing through all of them can the soul continue its path without being immediately cast into gehenna. How terrible these demons and their toll-houses are may be seen in the fact that Mother of God Herself, when informed by the Archangel Gabriel of Her approaching death, answering her prayer, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself appeared from heaven to receive the soul of His Most Pure Mother and conduct it to heaven. Terrible indeed is the third day for the soul of the departed, and for this reason it especially needs prayers then for itself. [4]

Then, having successfully passed through the toll-houses and bowed down before God, the soul for the course of 37 more days visits the heavenly habitations and the abysses of hell, not knowing yet where it will remain, and only on the fortieth day is its place appointed until the resurrection of the dead. [5] Some souls find themselves (after the forty days) in a condition of foretasting eternal joy and blessedness, and others in fear of the eternal torments which will come in full after the Last Judgment. Until then changes are possible in the condition of souls, especially through offering for them the Bloodless Sacrifice (commemoration at the Liturgy), and likewise by other prayers. [6]

How important commemoration at the Liturgy is may be seen in the following occurrence: Before the uncovering of the relics of St. Theodosius of Chernigov [7], the priest-monk (the renowned Starets Alexis of Goloseyevsky Hermitage, of the Kiev-Caves Lavra, who died in 1916) who was conducting the re-vesting of the relics, becoming weary while sitting by the relics, dozed off and saw before him the Saint, who told him: "I thank you for laboring with me. I beg you also, when you will serve the Liturgy, to commemorate my parents" -- and he gave their names (Priest Nikita and Maria). "How can you, O Saint, ask my prayers, when you yourself stand at the heavenly Throne and grant to people God's mercy?" the priest-monk asked. "Yes, that is true," replied St. Theodosius, "but the offering at the Liturgy is more powerful than my prayer."

Therefore, panikhidas (i.e., Trisagion Prayers for the Dead) and prayer at home for the dead are beneficial to them, as are good deeds done in their memory, such as alms or contributions to the church. But especially beneficial for them is commemoration at the Divine Liturgy. There have been many appearances of the dead and other occurrences which confirm how beneficial is the commemoration of the dead. Many who died in repentance, but who were unable to manifest this while they were alive, have been freed from tortures and have obtained repose. In the Church prayers are ever offered for the repose of the dead, and on the day of the Descent of the Holy Spirit, in the kneeling prayers at vespers, there is even a special petition "for those in hell."

Every one of us who desires to manifest his love for the dead and give them real help, can do this best of all through prayer for them, and particularly by commemorating them at the Liturgy, when the particles which are cut out for the living and the dead are let fall into the Blood of the Lord with the words: "Wash away, O Lord, the sins of those here commemorated by Thy Precious Blood and by the prayers of Thy saints."

We can do nothing better or greater for the dead than to pray for them, offering commemoration for them at the Liturgy. Of this they are always in need, and especially during those forty days when the soul of the deceased is proceeding on its path to the eternal habitations. The body feels nothing then: it does not see its close ones who have assembled, does not smell the fragrance of the flowers, does not hear the funeral orations. But the soul senses the prayers offered for it and is grateful to those who make them and is spiritually close to them.

O relatives and close ones of the dead! Do for them what is needful for them and within your power. Use your money not for outward adornment of the coffin and grave, but in order to help those in need, in memory of your close ones who have died, for churches, where prayers for them are offered. Show mercy to the dead, take care of their souls. [8]

Before us all stands the same path, and how we shall then wish that we would be remembered in prayer! Let us therefore be ourselves merciful to the dead.

As soon as someone has reposed, immediately call or inform a priest, so he can read the Prayers appointed to be read over all Orthodox Christians after death.

Try, if it be possible, to have the funeral in Church and to have the Psalter read over the deceased until the funeral.

Most definitely arrange at once for the serving of the forty-day memorial, that is, daily commemoration at the Liturgy for the course of forty days. (NOTE: If the funeral is in a church where there are no daily services, the relatives should take care to order the forty-day memorial wherever there are daily services.) It is likewise good to send contributions for commemoration to monasteries, as well as to Jerusalem, where there is constant prayer at the holy places.

Let us take care for those who have departed into the other world before us, in order to do for them all that we can, remembering that "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy."


[1] But his soul continues to live. Not for an instant does it cease to exist. Our external, biological and earthly life ends with death, but the soul continues to live on. The soul is our very existence, the center of all our energies and our thoughts. The soul moves and gives life to the body. After its separation from the body it continues to live, to exist, to have awareness.

St. Theophan the Recluse, in a message to a dying woman, writes: "You will not die. Your body will die, but you will over to a different world, being alive, remembering yourself and recognizing the whole world that surrounds you."

St. Dorotheos (6th century) summarizes the teaching of the early Fathers in this way: "For as the Fathers tell us, the souls of the dead remember everything that happened here -- thoughts, words, desires -- and nothing can be forgotten. But, as it says in the Psalm, 'In that day all their thoughts shall perish' (Psalm 145:5).

The thoughts he speaks of are those of this world, about houses and possessions, parents and children, and business transactions. All these things are destroyed immediately when the soul passes out of the body. But what he did against virtue or against his evil passions, he remembers and none of this is lost. In fact, the soul loses nothing that it did in the world but remembers everything at its exit from this body."

St. John Cassian (5th century) likewise teaches: "Souls after the separation from this body are not idle, do not remain without consciousness; this is proved by the Gospel parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:22-28). The souls of the dead do not lose their consciousness, they do not even lose their dispositions -- that is, hope and fear, joy and grief, and something of that which they expect for themselves at the Universal Judgment they begin already to foretaste."

[2] He who departs from this world experiences much consolation when he sees friendly people surrounding his dead body. Such a person discerns in his beloved friends' tears of pain their love and sincere dedication. The greatest earthly joy is undoubtedly the realization that we die honored and appreciated by all who knew us.

But just as at the hour of death the dead body is surrounded by relatives and friends, so also is the soul, which abandons the body and is directed towards its heavenly homeland, accompanied by the spiritual beings related to it.

The virtuous soul is surrounded by bright angels of light, while the sinful soul is surrounded by dark and evil beings, that is, the demons.

St. Basil The Great (4th century) explains it this way: "Let no one deceive you with empty words; for destruction will come suddenly upon you; it will come like a storm. A grim angel (i.e., a demon) will come to take and drag violently the soul that has been tied to sins; and your soul will turn toward here and will suffer silently, having already been excluded from the organ of mourning (the body). O how you will be troubled at the hour of death for yourself! How you will sigh!"

St. Macarius Of Egypt writes of this: "When you hear that there are rivers of dragons and mouths of lions (cf. Heb 11:33, Ps 22:21) and dark powers under the sky and burning fire (Jer 20:9) that crackles in the members of the body, you must know this: unless you receive the earnest of the Holy Spirit (2 Cor 1:22; 5:5), at the hour when your soul is separated from the body, the evil demons hold fast to your soul and do not suffer you to rise up to heaven."

This same Father also teaches us: "When the soul abandons the body a certain great mystery is enacted. If the deceased has departed unrepentant, a host of demons and rejected angels and dark powers receive that soul and keep it with them. The completely opposite happens with those who have repented: for near the holy servants of God there are now angels and good spirits standing by, surrounding and protecting them, and when they depart from the body, the choir of angels receive their souls to themselves, to the pure aeon."

The champion of Orthodoxy against the Nestorian heresy, St. Cyril Of Alexandria likewise teaches: "When the soul is separated from the body it sees the fearful, wild, merciless and fierce demons standing by. The soul of the righteous is taken by the holy angels, passed through the air and is raised up."

St. Gregory The Dialogist writes: "One must reflect deeply on how frightful the hour of death will be for us, what terror the soul will then experience, what remembrance of all the evils, what forgetfulness of past happiness, what fear, and what apprehension of the Judge. Then the evil spirits will seek out in the departing soul its deeds; then they will present before its view the sins towards which they had disposed it, so as to draw their accomplice to torment. But why do we speak only of the sinful soul, when they come even to the chosen among the dying and seek out their own in them, if they have succeeded with them? Among men there was only One Who before His suffering fearlessly said: 'Hereafter I talk not much with you: For the prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in Me (John 14:30)."

This truth is confirmed by various liturgical services. For example, in Small Compline we ask THE MOTHER OF GOD to "be merciful to me not only in this miserable life, but also at the time of my death; take care of my miserable soul and banish far from it the dark and sinister faces of the evil demons."

In a prayer of the Midnight Service of Saturday (addressed to THE SAVIOUR) we pray: "Master, be merciful to me and let not my soul see the dark and gloomy sight of the evil spirits, but let bright and joyous angels receive it."

Again, in another hymn to THE THEOTOKOS (from the Monday Matins service) we pray: "At the fearful hour of death free us from the horrible decision of the demons seeking to condemn us." Similar prayers, addressed to the Lord and to the Holy Angels, are found throughout the service for the Repose of the Dying.

[3] Here, St. John is simply repeating a teaching common to the Church. St. Macarius Of Alexandria (having received the teaching not from men but from an angel) explains: "When an offering (i.e., the Eucharist) is made in Church on the third day, the soul of the departed receives from its guardian angel relief from the sorrow it feels as a result of the separation from the body.

In the course of two days the soul is permitted to roam the earth, wherever it wills, in the company of the angels that are with it. Therefore, the soul loving the body, sometimes wanders about the house in which its body has been laid out, and thus spends two days like a bird seeking its nest.

But the virtuous soul goes about those places in which it was wont to do good deeds.

On the third day, He Who Himself rose from the dead on the third day, commands the Christian soul, in imitation of His Resurrection, to ascend to the Heavens to worship the God of all."

St. John Of Damascus vividly describes the state of the soul, parted from the body but still on earth, helpless to contact the loved ones whom it can see, in the Orthodox Funeral Service: "Woe is me! What manner of ordeal doth the soul endure when it is parted from the body! Alas! How many then are its tears, and there is none to show compassion! It raiseth its eyes to the angels; all unavailing is its prayer. It stretcheth out its hands to men, and findeth none to succor. Wherefore, my beloved brethren, meditating on the brevity of our life, let us beseech of Christ rest for him who hath departed hence, and for our souls great mercy."

St. Theophan, in writing to the brother of a dying woman, says: "Your sister will not die; the body dies, but the personality of the dying one remains. It only goes over to another order of life. It is not she whom they will put in the grave. She is in another place. She will be just as alive as you are now. In the first hours and days she will be around you. Only she will not say anything, and you won't be able to see her; but she will be right here. Have this in mind."

[4] There is absolutely no doubt that the teaching of the toll-houses is the teaching of the Orthodox Church. We find this teaching in Holy Scripture (cf. Eph 6:12), the writings of all the Church Fathers (both ancient and modern) and throughout the prayers of the Church.

St. ATHANASIUS THE GREAT, in his famous life of St. Antony, describes the following:
"At the approach of the ninth hour, after beginning to pray before eating food, Antony was suddenly seized by the Spirit and raised up by angels into the heights. The aerial demons opposed his progress: the angels disputing with them, demanded that the reason of their opposition be set forth, because Antony had no sins at all. The demons strove to set forth the sins committed by him from his very birth; but the angels closed the mouths of the slanderers, telling them that they should not count the sins from his birth which had already been blotted out by the grace of Christ; but let them present -- if they have any -- the sins he committed after he entered monasticism and dedicated himself to God.
In their accusation the demons uttered many brazen lies; but since their slanders were wanting in proof, a free path opened for Antony. Immediately he came to himself and saw that he was standing in the same place where he had stood for prayer. Forgetting about food, he spent the night in prayer with tears and groanings, reflecting on the multitude of man's enemies, on the battle against such an army, on the difficultly of the path to heaven through the air, and on the words of the Apostle who said: 'Our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities and powers of the air' (Eph 6:12; Eph 2:2).
The Apostle, knowing that the aerial powers are seeking only one thing, are concerned over it with all fervor, exert themselves and strive to deprive us of a free passage to heaven, exhorts: 'Take up the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day (Eph 6:13), that the adversary may be put to shame, having no evil thing to say of us (Tit 2:8)."
St. John Chrysostom, describing the hour of death, teaches:
"Then we will need many prayers, many helpers, many good deeds, a great intercession from angels on the journey through the spaces of the air. If when traveling in a foreign land or a strange city we are in need of a guide, how much more necessary for us are guides and helpers to guide us past the invisible dignities and powers and world-rulers of this air, who are called persecutors and publicans and tax-collectors."
St. Isaiah The Recluse (6th century) teaches that Christians should
"Daily have death before our eyes and take care how to accomplish the departure from the body and how to pass by the powers of darkness who are to meet us in the air."
St. Hesychius, Presbyter of Jerusalem (5th century) teaches:
"The hour of death will find us, it will come, and it will be impossible to escape it. Oh, if only the prince of the world and the air who is then to meet us might find our iniquities as nothing and insignificant and might not be able to accuse us justly."
St. EPHRAIM THE SYRIAN (4th century) thus describes the hour of death and the hour of judgment at the toll-houses:
"When the fearful hour comes, when the divine takers-away command the soul to be translated from the body, when they draw us away by force and lead us away to the unavoidable judgment place -- then, seeing them, the poor man comes all into a shaking as if from an earthquake, is all in trembling. The divine takers-away, taking the soul, ascend in the air where stand the chiefs, the authorities and world-rulers of the opposing powers. These are our accusers, the fearful publicans, registrars, tax-collectors; they meet it on the way, register, examine and count all the sins and debts of this man -- the sins of youth and old age, voluntary and involuntary, committed in deed, word and thought. Great is the fear here, great the trembling of the poor soul, indescribable the want which it suffers then from the incalculable multitudes of its enemies surrounding it there in myriads, slandering it so as not to allow it to ascend to heaven, to dwell in the light of the living, to enter the land of life. But the holy angels, taking the soul, lead it away."
St Cyril of Alexandria explains this further:
"As the soul ascends, it finds tax officials guarding the ascent, holding and preventing the souls from ascending. Each one of these custom stations presents its own particular sins of the souls.
But, by the same token, the good angels do not abandon the soul to these evil stations. At the time of its accounting the angels offer in turn the soul's good works.
In fact, the holy angelic powers enumerate to the evil spirits the good acts of the soul that were done by word, deed, thought and imagination. If the soul is found to have lived piously and in a way pleasing to God, it is received by the holy angels and transferred to that ineffable joy of the blessed and eternal life.
But, if it is found to have lived carelessly and prodigally, it hears the most harsh word: 'Let the ungodly be taken away, that he not see the glory of the Lord' (Isa 26:10).
Then the holy angels with profound regret abandon the soul and it is received by those dark demons so that may fling it with much malevolence into the prisons of Hades."

An early Church catchiest, referring to custom officials who collected taxes, relays to us the common Church teaching:

"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." The same catchiest goes on to say: "I wonder how much we must suffer at the hands of those evil angels, who inspect everything and who, when someone is found unrepentant, demand not only the payment of taxes simply, but also seize and hold us completely captive" (Origen).
This view is upheld by our great Father, St. Basil. Speaking about the courageous athletes of the faith, he teaches that they too will be scrutinized by the "revenue officials," that is, by the evil spirits. The same Father also says that the evil spirits observe the departure of the soul with so much more vigilant attention than do enemies over a besieged city or thieves over a treasury house.

St. John Chrysostom likewise calls demons "revenue officials" who threaten us and who are "overbearing powers with a fearful countenance that horrifies the soul that looks upon them."

In another place St. John says that these evil spirits are called "persecutors and revenue officials and collectors of taxes in the Sacred Scripture." According to St. John, even the souls of innocent infants must pass through these toll-houses, for the all-evil devil seeks to snatch their souls, too. However, the infants make the following confession (according to St. John):
"We have passed by the evil spirits without suffering any harm. For the dark custom officials saw our spotless body and were put to shame; they saw the soul good and pure and were embarrassed; they say the tongue immaculate and pure and blameless and they were silenced; we passed by and humiliated them. This is why the holy angles of God who met and received us rejoiced, the righteous greeted us with joy and the saints with delight said, 'Welcome, the lambs of Christ!'"
Probably the clearest and most comprehensive account of the toll-houses is that given by an angel of the Lord to St. Macarius Of Egypt:
"From the earth to heaven there is a ladder and a each rung has a cohort of demons. These are called toll-houses and the evil spirits meet the soul and bring its handwritten accounts and show these to the angels, saying: on this day and such and such of the month this soul did that: either it stole or fornicated or committed adultery or engaged in sodomy or lied or encouraged someone to an evil deed. And everything else evil which it has done, they show to the angels.
The angels then show whatever good the soul has done, charity or prayer or liturgies or fasting or anything else.
And the angels and the demons reckon up, and if they find the good greater than the evil, the angels seize the soul and take it up the next rung, while the demons gnash their teeth like wild dogs and make haste the snatch that pitiable soul from the hands of the Angels. The soul, meanwhile, cowers and terror encompasses it, and it makes as if to hide in the bosom of the Angels and there is a great discussion and must turmoil until that soul is delivered from the hands of the demons.
And they come again to another rung and there find another toll-house, fiercer and more horrible. And in this too, there is much uproar and great and indescribable turbulence as to who shall take that wretched soul. And shouting out aloud, the demons examine the soul, causing terror and saying: 'Where are you going? Aren't you the one who fornicated and thoroughly polluted Holy Baptism? Aren't you the one who polluted the angelic habit? Get back. Get down. Get yourself to dark Hell. Get yourself to the outer fire. Get going to that worm that never sleeps.'
Then if it be that that soul is condemned, the demons bear it off to below the earth, to a dark and distressing spot. And woe to that soul in which that person was born. And who shall tell, holy Father, the straits in which the condemned souls will find themselves in that place!
But if the soul is found clean and sinless, it goes up the Heaven with such joy."

Descriptions of the aerial toll-houses may also be found in the following Saints' lives:

  • St. NIPHON OF CONSTANTIA in Cyprus (4th century)
  • St. SYMEON THE FOOL FOR CHRIST (6th century)
  • St. JOHN THE MERCIFUL (7th century)
  • St. MACARIUS THE GREAT (4th century)
  • St. COLUMBA (6th century)
  • St. ADAMNAN (8th century)
  • St. BONIFACE (8th century)
  • St. BASIL THE NEW (10th century)
  • The Soldier TAXIOTES
  • St. JOHN OF THE LADDER (6th century)

This very ancient teaching of the early Church Fathers and ascetic Saints is confirmed by the experience and teaching of saints more modern.

St. Seraphim Of Sarov relates:
"Two nuns passed on. Both had been abbesses. The Lord revealed to me that their souls were having difficulty getting through the aerial toll-houses. Three days and nights, I, a lowly sinner, prayed and begged the Mother Of God for their salvation. The goodness of the Lord, through the prayers of the Most Holy Mother Of God, finally had mercy upon them. They passed the aerial toll-houses and received forgiveness of sins."
Likewise, St. Theophan The Recluse writes:
"No matter how absurd the idea of the toll-houses may seem to our 'wise men,' they will not escape passing through them.
What do these toll-gatherers seek in those who pass through? They seek whether people might have some of their goods. What kind of goods?
Therefore, in the person whose heart is pure and a stranger to passion, they cannot find anything to wrangle over; on the contrary, the opposing quality will strike them like arrows of lightning.
To this someone who has a little education expressed the following thought: The toll-houses are something frightful. But it is quite possible that the demons, instead of something frightful, might present something seductive. They might present something deceptive and seductive, according to the kinds of passions, to the soul as it passes through one after the other.
When, during the course of life, the passions have been banished from the heart and the virtues opposed to them have been planted, then no matter what seductive thing you might present, the soul, having no kind of sympathy for it, passes by it, turning away from it with disgust. But when the heart has not been cleansed, the soul will rush to whatever passion the heart has most sympathy for; and the demons will take it like a friend, and then they know where to put it.
Therefore, it is very doubtful that a soul, as long as there remain in it sympathies for the objects of any passion, will not be put to shame at the toll-houses. Being put to shame here means that the soul itself is thrown into hell."
In another place, St. Theophan (continuing his letter to the brother of the woman who was about to die) writes:
"In the departed there soon begins the struggle of going through the toll-houses. Here she needs help! Stand then in thought, and you will hear her cry to you: Help! This is where you should direct all your attention and all your love for her. Immerse yourself in prayer for her in her new condition and her new, unexpected needs.
Having begun thus, remain in unceasing crying out to God to help her, for the course of six weeks, and indeed for longer than that.
In the account of Theodora, the bag from which the angels took in order to be separated from the tax-collectors was the prayers of her elder. Your prayers will do the same; do not forget to do this. This is love!"
Significantly, all of this testimony is confirmed by the liturgical prayers of the Church. St. Ignatius Brianchaninov cites over 20 examples of references to the Toll-houses in the Divine service books and this is not a complete list!

[5] According to the revelation of the angel to St. Macarius, the Church's special commemoration of the departed on the 9th day after death (apart from the general significance of the ranks of angels) occurs because up to then the soul is shown the beauties of Paradise, and only after this, for the remainder of the forty days, is sown the torments and horrors of hell, before being assigned on the fortieth day to the place where it will await the resurrection of the dead and the Last Judgment.

[6] The Church's teaching on the state of souls in heaven and hell before the Last Judgment is set forth in its clearest fashion by St. Mark Of Ephesus in his dialogue with the Roman Catholics over the Roman doctrine of Purgatory (which the Orthodox reject as false). It is an extensive collection of writings, and much of it is beyond the focus of this limited study. The following should suffice, however, to illustrate the Orthodoxy of St. John Maximovitch's words:

"Those reposed in faith are without doubt helped by the Liturgies and prayers and almsgiving performed for them, and that this custom has been in force from antiquity, there is the testimony of many and various utterances of the Teachers, both Latin and Greek, spoken and written at various times and in various places.
But that souls are delivered thanks to a certain purgatorial suffering and temporal fire which possesses such (a purgatorial) power and has the character of a help -- this we do not find in either Scripture or in the prayers and hymns for the dead, or in the words of the Teachers.

But we have received that even the souls which are held in hell and are already given over to eternal torments, whether in actual fact and experience or in hopeless expectation of such, although not in the sense of completely loosing them from torment or giving hope for final deliverance.

And this is shown by the words of the great Macarius the Egyptian ascetic who, finding a skull in the desert, was instructed by it concerning this by the action of Divine Power.

And Basil The Great, in the prayers read at Pentecost, writes literally the following:
'Who also, on this all-perfect and saving feast, are graciously pleased to accept propitiatory prayers for those who are imprisoned in hell, granting us a great hope of improvement for those who are imprisoned from the defilements which have imprisoned them, and that Thou wilt send down Thy consolation' (Third Kneeling Prayer at Vespers).
But if souls have departed this life in faith and love, while nevertheless carrying with themselves certain faults, whether small ones over which they have not repented at all, or great ones for which -- even though have repented over them -- they did not undertake to show fruits of repentance: such souls, we believe, must be cleansed from this kind of sins, but not by means of some purgatorial fire or a definitive punishment in some place (for this, as we have said, has not at all been handed down to us).

But some must be cleansed in the very departure from the body (as St. Gregory The Dialogist literally shows); while others must be cleansed after the departure from the body, 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, but not in order to remain forever in fire and torment, but as it were in prison and confinement under guard.

All such ones, we affirm, are helped by the prayers and Liturgies performed for them, with the cooperation of the Divine Goodness and Love for mankind.

And so, we entreat God and believe to deliver the departed (from eternal torment), and not from any other torment or fire apart from those torments and that fire which have been proclaimed to be forever."

St. MARK further explains the state of the departed in this way:
"We affirm that neither the righteous have as yet received the fullness of their lot and that blessed condition for which they have prepared themselves here through works, nor have sinners, after death, been led away into the eternal punishment in which they shall be tormented eternally.
Rather, both the one and the other must necessarily take place after the Judgment of that last day and the resurrection of all.
Now, however, both the one and the other are in places proper to them: the first, in absolute repose and free, are in heaven with the angels and before God Himself, and already as if in Paradise from which Adam fell and often visit us in those temples where they are venerated, and hear those who call on them and pray for them to God, having received from Him this surpassing gift, and through their relics perform miracles and take delight in the vision of God and the illumination sent from Him more perfectly and purely than before, when they were alive;
while the second, in their turn, being confined to hell, remain in 'the lowest pit, in darkness and in the shadow of death' (Ps 87:7), as David says, and then Job: 'to the land where the light is darkness' (Job 10:21-22).
And the first remain in every joy and rejoicing, already expecting and only not having in their hands the Kingdom and the unutterable good things promised them;
and the second, on the contrary, remain in all confinement and inconsolable suffering, like condemned men awaiting the Judge's sentence and foreseeing the torments.
Neither have the first yet received the inheritance of the Kingdom and those good things 'which eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man' (1 Cor 2:9); nor have the second part yet been given over to eternal torments nor to burning in the unquenchable fire. And this teaching we have as handed down from our Fathers in antiquity and we can easily present it from the Divine Scriptures themselves."
St. GREGORY THE GREAT, in answering the question, "Is there anything at all that can possibly benefit souls after death?" teaches:
"The Holy Sacrifice of Christ, our saving Victim, brings great benefits to souls even after death, provided their sins (are such as) can be pardoned in the life to come. For this reason the souls of the dead sometimes beg to have Liturgies offered for them. The safer course, naturally, is to do for ourselves what we hope others will do for us after death. It is better to make one's exit a free man than to seek liberty after one is in chains. We should, therefore, despise the world with all our hearts as though its glory were already spent, and offer our sacrifice of tears to God each day as we immolate His sacred Flesh and Blood. This Sacrifice alone has the power of saving the soul from eternal death, for it presents to us mystically the death of the Only-begotten Son."
Many incidents from the Lives of Orthodox saints and ascetics confirm this teaching.

[7] The Apostolic Constitutions (1st/2nd century) teach that Memorials for the dead be served with "psalms and readings and prayers" on the third day after the death of our beloved one, on account of the Lord Jesus "who rose after three days."

They prescribe Memorials on the ninth day "as a reminder of the living and the dead," as well as "on the fortieth day after death according to ancient practice."

This is how the people of Israel mourned for the great Moses. In addition to these we must have annual Memorials in remembrance of the deceased. This teaching is also given by St. Isidoros Of Pelusium, St. Symeon The New Theolgian and St. Gregory The Theologian.

In addition to these Memorials, our holy Church has ordained that the Sabbath (Saturday) be a day of commemoration of the Holy Martyrs and of all the deceased. For the Sabbath, as the seventh day from the beginning of creation, is the day which saw bodily death, imposed upon man by the righteous God. This day is continued, in as much as the death of man is also continued at the same time, Sunday, however, is the "day of the Resurrection, the eighth day, which symbolizes the anticipated age of eternity, the resurrection of the dead and the endless kingdom of God."

Our Mother Church has also ordained common Memorials twice a year: on the Saturday before Meatfare Sunday and on the Saturday before the great feast of Holy Pentecost.

St. John Of Damascus adds:
"The Apostles who speak for God and the spirit-bearing Fathers have decreed this with inspiration and in a manner pleasing to God."

14 January 2013

Here comes Cyril!

My wife and I would like to announce, that God-Willing, on April 1st, 2013, our second son, and my third child will be born. He will be named Cyril, taking as his patron saint, Cyril the Apostle to the Slavs. A nice name to compliment the childrens' patrons of Saint Anastasia of Rome and Prophet Daniel. Please pray for our family.

11 January 2013

The Theophanies of Christ in both the Old and New Testaments

The word "Theophany" derives from the Greek words Theos ("God"), and Phainesthai ("to show forth, appear"). Hence, a Theophany is an appearance or manifestation of God. While types of Christ in the Old Testament prefigure His coming in the flesh, Theophanies are recognized by the Church as being actual appearances of the pre-incarnate Son and Word of God. How this happens remains a mystery. But because the Son of God took on human nature in the fullness of time, each Theophany directly prefigures Christ's Incarnation. Saint John of Damascus wrote, "No one saw the divine nature, but rather the image and figure of what was yet to come. For the invisible Son and Word of God was to become truly Man."

An often cited Theophany of Christ occurs in the visit of the "three men" to Abraham and Sarah in Genesis 18:1-16: "Then God appeared to him at the oak of Mamre" (v. 1). Though three men are there, Abraham addresses them in the singular, "Lord." He responds in the singular (vv. 9-15). As Saint Ephraim the Syrian says, "Therefore the Lord ... now appeared to Abraham clearly in one of the three." The three are generally considered to be Christ the Lord, along with two attending angels.

At Genesis 32:25-31, Christ is the "man" who wrestles with Jacob, after which Jacob says, "I saw God face to face" (v. 30). Saint Cyril of Jerusalem asks the Jews concerning these Theophanies to, Abraham and Jacob, "What strange thing do we announce in saying that God was made Man, when you yourselves say that Abraham received the Lord as a guest? What strange thing do we announce, when Jacob says, 'For I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved'? The Lord, who ate with Abraham, also ate with us."

In the book of Daniel, a heathen king bears witness to another Theophany of Christ. When King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon peers into the fiery furnace, upon seeing a "fourth man" he exclaims, "The vision of the fourth is like the Son of God" (Daniel 3:92).

At times Christ appears as "the Angel of the Lord" or "the Angel of God." At Exodus 3:1-4:17, "the Angel of the Lord" appears to Moses in the burning bush and identifies Himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Exodus 3:6, 15, 16; 4:5). He also says that His name is "I AM WHO AM" (Exodus 3:14), which in Greek is represented by the three letters placed around Christ's head in the holy icons. Saint Ambrose of Milan observes, "Christ therefore is, and always is; for He who Is, always Ia. And Christ always Is, of whom Moses says, 'He that Is has sent me.'"

When God the Son became incarnate, this can be called an everlasting Theophany For having assumed human nature, Christ not only manifests God to the world during His earthly life (John 1:14; 14:9; Colossians 2:9; 1 John 1:1-3), but He ascends into heaven in the same glorified flesh in which He will return at His Second Coming (Acts 1:9-11).

At the baptism of Christ (Matthew 3:13-17), a further Theophany occurs, as all three Persons of the Holy Trinity are made known: the Father in the voice from heaven, the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove, and the Incarnate Son. Hence, the feast day commemorating this event is known as Holy Theophany. On this day the Church sings, "When Thou, O Lord, wast baptized in the Jordan, the worship of the Trinity was made manifest."

Additionally, at Christ's Transfiguration on Mount Tabor (Matthew 17:1-9), the Father again is heard, the Holy Spirit is present in the brightness of the cloud, and the Son shines with the gleaming radiance of His Divinity.

10 January 2013

2012/2013 Nativity Encyclical of Patriarch CYRIL of Moscow and All Russia

Patriarch KIRILL of Moscow and All Russia
to the Archpastors, Pastors, Monastics and All the Faithful Children
of the Russian Orthodox Church

Your Eminences the archpastors, honourable fathers, God-loving monks and nuns, dear brothers and sisters!

Today the Holy Church radiantly and with joy glorifies the mystery of the birth from the Most Pure Virgin of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

The Creator, in loving his creation, ‘was manifest in the flesh’, ‘became man’ and ‘like as we are, yet without sin’ (see: 1 Tim 3:16; Heb 4:15). The Infant lay in a manger in Bethlehem. He did this in order to save the world from spiritual and moral decay, to liberate the human person from fear of death. The Maker lays before us the greatest gift of all: his divine love and the fullness of life. In Christ we can find hope that conquers fear, we can attain holiness and immortality.

He comes into our world torn apart by sin in order that, through his birth, life, sufferings, death on the cross and glorious resurrection, he may establish a new law, a new commandment – the commandment of love. ‘A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another’ (Jn 13:34). The Lord addressed these words to his disciples and through them to the whole world: to those who lived then, to those who live now and to those who will live after us, right until the end of time.

Each person is called upon to respond to this commandment through his own deeds. In the way that Christ showed to us true mercy and unbounded forgiveness towards our faults, so too we are to be merciful and forgiving towards people. We must care not only for our own and for our neighbours, although we are to care for them in the first instance (see: 1 Tim 5:8), not only for our friends and for those who think like us, but also for those who have yet to find oneness with God. We are called to imitate the Saviour in love, to pray for those who oppress and despise us (see: Mt 5:44), to have always in our thoughts the good of our people, the homeland and the Church. Each of us, in accomplishing good works, can change for the better, if only to a small degree, the reality which surrounds us. It is only in this way that we can become stronger together, for lawlessness can never vanquish love as the darkness can never engulf the light of true life (see: Jn 1:5).

The history of our homeland knows many examples whereby our people has placed its hopes in God and has overcome tribulations, has emerged from the most difficult trials with dignity.
We have recalled many of these events in the past year. We celebrated the four-hundredth anniversary of the end of the Time of Troubles, culminating in the invaders being driven from Russia and the restoration of national unity. We marked too the two-hundredth anniversary of the Patriotic War of 1812 during which our forefathers rebuffed the invasion of the ‘twelve nations’ – the huge army gathered by Napoleon from all the ends of conquered Europe.

The year 2013 will be marked by the 1025th anniversary of the Baptism of Rus’ by the Holy and Equal-to-the-Apostles Prince Vladimir. The acceptance of the Christian faith was the beginning of a new era in the life of our nation. The light of Christ’s truth that once shone forth upon the blessed hills of Kiev today illumines the hearts of those who live in the countries of historical Rus’, teaching us the way of accomplishing good works.

In summing up the past year we give thanks to God for his great and rich mercies and for the afflictions which he allowed us to endure. Throughout her entire history the Church has never known long periods of well-being: after times of peace and tranquility there have inevitably come times of discord and tribulations. Yet in all circumstances the Church has, in word and deed, proclaimed God’s truth; she proclaims it today, testifying that a society built on the principles of gain, moral chaos, unlimited freedom, disdain for eternal truths and the rejection of authority is morally sick and threatened by many dangers.

I call upon all people to have that patience which is commanded to us by God and pray for the Mother Church, for the people of God and for our native land. Have in mind always the words of the apostles to the nations: ‘Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong. Let all your things be done with charity’ (1 Cor 16:13-14).

In expressing my heartfelt congratulations on today’s feast, I prayerfully entreat for all of us from the Divine Infant Christ spiritual and bodily strength so that each of us through his personal example may testify to the world that our Lord and God who has now been born is love (see: 1 Jn 4:8). Amen.

The Nativity of Christ
2012 / 2013

















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