The theory of Aerial Toll-Houses regards the soul's journey after its departure from the body.
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."
According to teaching of the Church, 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.
According to Hagiografies, and the accounts of saints that have passed the aerial toll-houses, and talked about it in their appearances to various holy man, the demon often accuse the soul of sins that they tempted her with, but it didn't comply with, 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 persons has sins that it didn't repent for, and does not have enough good deeds to pay them off, the demons of that toll-house grab him, and take him to hell.
- On the first aerial toll-house, the soul is questioned about the sins of the tongue, such as- empty words, dirty talk, insulting people, ridicule, singing worldly songs, too much or loud laughter, and similar sins
- The second is the toll-house of lies- besides plain lying also- braking oaths, braking vows given to God, taking God's name in vain, hiding sins during confession, and similar
- The third is the toll-house of slander- judging, humiliating, embarassing, mocking and laughing at people, and similar
- The fourth is the toll-house of gluttony- overeating, drunkenness, eating between meals, eating without prayer, not holding fasts, choosing tasty over plain food, eating when not hungry, and similar
- The fifth is the toll-house of laziness- where the soul is questioned about every day and hour spent in laziness, neglect of serving God, of prayer, and missing Church services, and also not earning money by honest and hard word, not working as much as you are paid, and all similar sins
- The sixth toll-house is the toll-house of theft- stealing, robbery, whether small, big, light, violent, public, hidden
- The seventh is the toll-house of covetousness- love of riches and goods, not giving to charity, and similar
- The eight is the toll-house of usury, and also loan-sharking, overpricing, and similar
- 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
- 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
- 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- generally injuring people
- The fifteenth is the toll-house of magic- divination, conjuring demons, making poison, all superstitions, and similar
- 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 unmercyfulness, failing to show mercy and charity to people, and being cruel in any way
There is controversy regarding the validity of this theory within the Orthodox Church. Some, including Archbishop Lazar (Puhalo) of Ottawa, consider this teaching controversial, even false (describing it as gnostic or of pagan origin). Proponents argue that the main source for it are the Hagiographies (Life of saint Anthony the Great, written by saint Athanasius the Great, life of saint Basil the New, saint Theodora, etc), Liturgical books of the Church, the Ladder of Divine Ascent, the Philokalia, Dogmatics of the Orthodox Church (by saint Justin of Celie), secondly, that not a single Church Father ever wrote even one sentence expressing doubt about this teaching (which is present in the Church sense at least fourth century), and thirdly, that the biggest modern authorities of the Orthodox Church like saint Ignatius Brianchaninov and saint Theophan the Recluse insisted not only on the truthfulness, but on the necessity of this teaching in the spiritual life of a Christian.
- 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
- A Word on Death, chapter "Aerial toll-houses"
- What is spiritual life, and how to obtain it, chapter "Perfect preparation for the Mystery of Repentance"
- 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