Dn. Andrew Werbiansky summarizes the theory (described in Fr. Seraphim Rose's book The Soul After Death) as follows: "following a person's death the soul leaves the body and is escorted to God by angels. During this journey the soul passes through an aerial realm which is ruled by demons. The soul encounters these demons at various points referred to as "toll-houses" where the demons then attempt to accuse it of sin and, if possible, drag the soul into hell."
It is a teaching that owes much of its recent popularity to the teachings of Fr. Seraphim Rose, a controversial figure in the modern Church. It is a belief that preys upon the simple-minded and emphasizes guilt and punishment as a way to keep the faithful "in line." The idea of toll-houses ignore the ineffable love, compassion and forgiveness of the our Lord and, in spirit, has much in common with other fundamentalist sects of religions around the world.
According to this teaching, every person has demons that attack him, and "shoot their arrows at them", as Church Fathers say, that "arrows" being thoughts that suggest commiting sins. These demons write down every sin that they persuaded people to do, and even thoughts that people accepted and complied with, but did not, for what ever reason, actually actualize them. When a person repents for a sin, and confesses it in the Holy Mystery (/Sacrament) of Confession , it is by God's Grace and Power erased from the demon's papers.
When the soul dies, on the third day it is carried by angels towards Heaven. On that way, they must go past 20 aerial toll-houses, which are huge groups of demons arranged according to specific kinds of sins. When a soul accompanied by angels gets to a toll-house, demons that tempted that soul during her life approach and accuse it for sins. The sins that are written on papers of demons have to be "payed for" by persons good deeds in life, such as prayer, fasting, asceticism, doing works of mercy, etc.
Many believe that this teaching is one that hearkens back to ancient, pagan Greek religion -- when figures like Charon had to be paid to ferry souls across the River Styx.
A Fringe Belief
Toll-houses are a fringe, fundamentalist belief within the Orthodox Church. Most mainstream church leaders, including Archbishop Lazar (Puhalo) of Ottawa, consider this teaching controversial, even false (describing it as gnostic or of pagan origin).
- Death and the Toll House Contraversy by Deacon Andrew Werbiansky
- if there is an opportunity for that, if not, confession without a priest is sufficient, as in the case of the Good Thief
- Death and the Toll House Contraversy by Dn. Andrew Werbiansky
- The Debate Over Aerial Toll-Houses Extract from the Minutes of the Session of the Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (1980)
- Evidence for the Tradition of the Toll Houses found in the Universally Received Tradition of the Church
- State of the Soul After Death According to the Teachings of Saint John Damascene by Hieromonk Dionysios
- Death and the Toll-Houses by Vladimir Moss
- Life After Death by St. John Maximovitch
- On the Question of the "Toll-Houses": Our War is not Against Flesh and Blood by Fr. Michael Pomazansky
- The Taxing of Souls by Metropolitan Hierotheos (Vlachos)
- Answer to a Critic (Deacon Lev Puhalo), Appendix III from The Soul After Death by Father Seraphim Rose of Platina
- The Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus About Life After Death. From Life After Death, by Metropolitan Hierotheos (Vlachos)
- Illumined Heart Podcast Interview of Fr. Thomas Hopko
- Fr. Seraphim Rose in Greece (Postcards From Greece Podcast, by Fr. Peter Heers)
- Against the Gnostic Story of the Judging Demons - the "Toll-Houses"
- Two troubling teachings reported by Archbishop Lazar Puhalo
- Regarding the Toll Houses various articles by Archbishop Lazar, Fr. Michael Pomazansky, and others
- Questions and Answers: Archbishop Lazar Puhalo