Aerial Toll-Houses

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An Iconographic depiction of the Toll Houses

The heretical teaching of Aerial Toll-Houses regards the soul's journey after its departure from the body, and is related to the particular judgment. In its most general form, it refers to the idea that Christ and being faithful to the end to the Orthodox life is not enough, but rather somehow after death, the demons gain greater powers than Christ in us and are able to drag a soul away from Christ to drag the soul to Hades. While the angels and the prayers of the living defend the soul if it can be defended. Whether the soul is finally seized by the demons, or taken to heaven depends on the state of the soul at death. In either case, the soul then experiences a foretaste of what it can expect after the final judgment. Fr. Thomas Hopko's broadcast on toll houses opposes much of what is taught by Seraphim Rose on toll houses, but he does allow for some parts of the toll houses to be allowed. [1]

Holy Scripture

The idea or theology of toll houses contradicts much of what has been revealed in Holy Orthodox Scriptures. Although we do not know all that happens after death, we know that at the moment of death, our first Holy Saint, St. Stephen, saw our LORD Jesus Christ standing to receive his soul. There is no mention whatsoever of any demons appearing to terrify the soul of our Holy Martyr at moment of death, but rather, we have much rejoicing in the writings of Holy Scripture regarding the defeat of death and our Hope in Christ at moment of death.

" being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, and said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God." [2]

Also our Apostle Paul mentions his yearning for death to be so strong cause he was going to be in the presence of our LORD Jesus Christ [3] "I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body." Again , no mention of any trepidation of demonic activities post death as taught by proponents of toll houses. As St. John Chrysostom said: "The cause of much evil is the lack of knowledge of Holy Scriptures".

Even a man caught in sin and dying on the cross, is promised to be in paradise with our LORD. "One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!" But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Obviously our LORD and Head of our Orthodox Church grants no credence to such faulty ideas about demons having powers to overcome the repentant or the faithful Orthodox.

We know that our Holy Apostle warned us that even if an Angel were to appear and teach something contradictory to our Orthodox Theology of Faith, that we were to cling to what has been taught in our Holy Tradition, and not change our doctrines for even an angel or any man. [4]

So when we look at the writings of the fathers, there are times when some taught as Origen and St. Macarius supposedly taught, the belief in Salvation of all including demons, but since this contradicts The Theology of The Church, we cannot and must not accept it no matter who said it. Some present "Patristic" proof texts to back up their belief in heretical gnostic toll houses.

Patristic evidence

It is falsely reported that all Church fathers buy into this idea of toll houses as taught by modern neo-gnostics hidden within the walls of Orthodox Churches. For example, one tried to attribute to St. Anthony the Great the idea of these demonic powers by referencing the following [1], but ST. Anthony The Great's biography by St. Athanasius provides no evidence for toll houses; however St. Anthony's vision of the death of one does provide more reason to doubt the teachings of toll houses [5] The iconography of the Church also contradicts this attribute to St. Anthony The Great since St. Anthony is shown as one who "used to " be afraid of God, but now he loves God. [6]

It is said that some Celtic St. supposedly saw visions of his wife's soul fighting off demons with help of angels [7]

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" has its roots in the ancient Egyptian religion. Osiris, we are told, was the great Judge, attended by 42 assessors 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 says ArchBishop Lazar Puhalo and Fr. Michael Azkoul [9]. "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." [10]

Archbishop Lazar's work has excerpts from the writings of all Church Fathers from the Greek to Latin and Syriac Fathers, soundly repudiating the idea that toll houses are supported by the fathers of our Church. Unfortunately, there are some modern pious Saints who can be traced to the Russian academia in the second half of the 19th century to support even the shocking idea that The Theotokos was so fearful of her death and meeting of the demons that she had to have her Son come and rescue her from having to face her sins after her death. We must thank God that The Orthodox Church has never taught the infallibility of a Bishop or a Saint, but rather The Church and our Apostolic Tradition help guard us from the onslaught of the enemy who seeks to lead astray the faithful.

" 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)." [11]

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).

Majority of the ideas supporting modern strange neognostic heresy of toll houses can be found in a writing attributed to one Gregory of Thrace supposed written in the 10th century. There the demons accuse the soul at each toll-house of sins. In some cases the demon might accuse the soul of sins that they tempted her with, but it didn't comply with, or of sins that she repented for, and in that cases one of the angels, the one which was the persons guardian angel, speaks for the person, saying that those are lies, and that payment is not necessary, taking the soul to the next toll-house. If a person has unrepented sins, and does not have enough good deeds and prayers of the living to pay for them, the demons of the corresponding toll-house grab him, and take him to hades to await the final judgment. This vision recounts the toll-houses in the following order:

  • At the first aerial toll-house, the soul is questioned about sins of the tongue, such as empty words, dirty talk, insults, ridicule, singing worldly songs, too much or loud laughter, and similar sins.
  • The second is the toll-house of lies, which includes not only ordinary lies, but also the breaking of oaths, the violation of vows given to God, taking God's name in vain, hiding sins during confession, and similar acts.
  • The third is the toll-house of slander. It includes judging, humiliating, embarrassing, mocking, and laughing at people, and similar transgressions.
  • The fourth is the toll-house of gluttony, which includes overeating, drunkenness, eating between meals, eating without prayer, not holding fasts, choosing tasty over plain food, eating when not hungry, and the like.
  • The fifth is the toll-house of laziness, where the soul is held accountable for every day and hour spent in laziness, for neglecting to serve God and pray, for missing Church services, and also for not earning money through hard, honest labor, for not working as much as you are paid, and all similar sins.
  • The sixth toll-house is the toll-house of theft, which includes stealing and robbery, whether small, big, light, violent, public, or hidden.
  • The seventh is the toll-house of covetousness, including love of riches and goods, failure to give to charity, and similar acts.
  • The eight is the toll-house of usury, loan-sharking, overpricing, and similar sins.
  • The ninth is the toll-house of injustice- being unjust, especially in judicial affairs, accepting or giving bribes, dishonest trading and business, using false measures, and similar sins.
  • The tenth is the toll-house of envy.
  • The eleventh is the toll-house of pride- vanity, self-will, boasting, not honoring parents and civil authorities, insubordination, disobedience, and similar sins.
  • The twelve is the toll-house of anger and rage.
  • The thirteenth is the toll-house of remembering evil- hatred, holding a grudge, and revenge.
  • The fourteenth is the toll-house of murder- not just plain murder, but also wounding, maiming, hitting, pushing, and generally injuring people.
  • The fifteenth is the toll-house of magic- divination, conjuring demons, making poison, all superstitions, and associated acts.
  • The sixteenth is the toll-house of lust- fornication, unclean thoughts, lustful looks, unchaste touches.
  • The seventeenth is the toll-house of adultery.
  • The eighteenth is the toll-house of sodomy: bestiality, homosexuality, incest, masturbation, and all other unnatural sins.
  • The nineteenth is the toll-house of heresy: rejecting any part of Orthodox faith, wrongly interpreting it, apostasy, blasphemy, and all similar sins.
  • The last, twentieth toll-house is the toll-house of unmercifulness: failing to show mercy and charity to people, and being cruel in any way.

Are They Literal?

For obvious reasons, Orthodox theologians do not accept these false ideas regarding demonic powers over the Saints and The Theotokos after death. In Fact, even supposed supporters of "the toll house heresy", like Fr. Thomas Hopko, maintain that one should not try to associate a particular time after death to the process, nor should one take the toll-houses as being literally "in the air," or necessarily twenty in number. Likewise, he makes no mention in his argument for them of the doctrine of bargaining for sins (which is similar in some ways to the Latin doctrine of merits). Instead, his description, drawing on St. John Chrysostom and the Fifty Homilies of St. Macarius of Egypt, among others, takes the toll-house encounters to describe the attempt of the demons to assault the soul with its own vulnerability to sin, or to entice it away from God, and describes passing through the toll-houses as the purification of the soul.[12].

St. Theophan the Recluse likewise said that what the demons are seeking is "passions," and suggested that, although the toll-houses are often depicted as frightening, the demons might equally well try to entice the soul by appealing to one of its weaknesses. Some others go so far as to say that the demons and angels are metaphors for the sins and virtues of the soul.


Fr. Seraphim Rose's popularity has caused the most problems for the Orthodox circles these days. Archbishop Lazar Puhalo and Fr. Michael Azkoul and other Orthodox theologians are doing all they can to stop this heresy before it takes root in more Orthodox circles. Obviously we cannot allow pagan doctrines to enter our Church.



See also

External links



Modernist supposed support