do we believe in this?

edited December 1969 in Coptic Orthodox Church
"The teaching of aerial toll houses is subscribed to by some Orthodox Christians. According to this teaching, "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."

please support your answer with a verse from the bible or one of the fathers
thanks in advance


  • Allow me to preface this by saying that, in discussing this in the past, I have noticed that several people naturally tend towards not wanting to accept this as it is not something that most of us have learned about since we were children. Having said that...

    A biblical verse that has been used to cite support for this includes the following: 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. (Ephesians 6:12)

    Support is found mainly from the Church Fathers concerning the idea of tollhouses, including St. Anthony, St. Cyril of Alexandria, and St. Macarius the Great (to name a few of the prominent Church Fathers often referenced within our Church). The writings of each of the Fathers concerning this is found below in an article that was produced concerning the validity of the tollhouses.

    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. Then 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. Eustratius the Great Martyr (4th century), St. Niphon of Constantia in Cyprus (4th century), St. Symeon the Fool for Christ (6th century), St. John the Merciful (7th century), St Symeon of the Wondrous Mountain (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), etc. 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? Passions. 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 Brianchinov cites over 20 examples of references to the Toll-houses in the Divine service books and this is not a complete list!

  • Keep in mind that not everything is considered a dogma in the Orthodox Church.
    Some teachings are simply widely accepted, yet are not universal dogma that we all have to beleive in.
    Therefore don't be surprised to find things like these. Some church fathers may have supported these ideas, others havent.

    Personally I find this to be an interesting idea. Especially because in the agpeya prayers of the 11th hour we ask the Virgin Mary and the angels to be near unto us at the hour of death so that Hades may not devour our souls, to guard over us and bring us to paradise. We know that the devil at all times is trying to drag us down with him, so why not during these most crucial times when the soul departs from the body.

    May God give us the joy and blessing of seeing His Mother and angels and saints surround us at the hour of our departure from this world.

    Edit: i added the prayer from the agpeya
    And when my soul departs my body attend to me, and defeat the conspiracy of the enemies, and shut the gates of Hades, lest they might swallow my soul, O you, blameless bride of the true Bridegroom.
  • Childoforthodoxy, where did you find these quotes? What is your source for them?
  • The quotes were directly taken from an article that I had found concerning the topic. Confirming the quotes should not present as too much of a challenge; I personally recall having come across the writings found in the Life of St. Antony as well as St. Macarius' account.
  • Could you provide this article by any chance
  • Sure thing. It can be found here (the section I copied over was the fourth footnote):
  • [coptic]]meu`i je tenek`klycia `cnah] qen vai@ anon tyren[/coptic]
    I think that our church believes in that; all of us
    [coptic]oujai qen `P[C[/coptic]
  • Very interesting.. may i also add something to this:

    Near death experiences have shown that people, when their soul leaves the body, they enter into a tunnel of light.. (or something like that) - how does all this fit in with toll houses?

    Also, what else does the Church say about the experiences of the soul during the time of death??
  • dont wanna waste another thread but i read something about our faith and wanted to see if it was accurate:

    Orthodox: They believe if you die, you go to Hades. When translating scripture, "Hell" and "Hades" are different translations. Hell is the pain place, Hades is a "waiting place" In Hades, the dead wait kind of in a sleeping mode till the last Judgement. When the Lasr Judgment comes, they are judged to go to Hell or Heaven. Till then, they are all in a sleeping period. Some people immediatly go to Heaven or Hell. Those who are in Heaven are saints. THey dont know who is in Hell except for Judas, since Jesus said so in scripture."

  • That is not true, the righteous wait in paradise as CHRIST says to the thief, today you will be with me in paradise. Not hades and NO ONE can enter heaven until after judgement day,
  • i believe the topic of hades vs hell and heaven vs paradise has been discussed somewhere else in the forum, but I'll put in my 2 cents:

    when a person dies they either go to hades (bad) or paradise (good). after judgment day we either go to hell (very bad) or heaven (very good). the people in hades and paradise now are waiting for judgment day, but just because they're waiting doesn't mean they're
    "asleep", rather they can feel, see and hear everything. otherwise how would you explain people who have died (normal people, not just saints) who God send to people here on earth in order to console them? they are not asleep..they are just awaiting the last day, as we all are. also remember that the concept of time is different than what we understand here on earth. so for us it's been a little less than 2000 years since St. Mark died, but in paradise it might feel only as a mere minute.

    i hope i didn't confuse anyone
  • if i am correct i remember hearing about a saint that was taken to heaven, and the devil said "greetings (amba macarri?? not sure)" and he replied saying i have not reached heaven yet.

    honestly i dont know the story very well but i do remember this happening to a saint
  • the story goes: anba Makar's soul was carried by the angels to paradise, and the devil saw him as he was being lifted the devil says "you have beat me Makar", and out of anba Makar's humblness and humility he tells the devil "I have not made it yet. I don't know if God will allow me to enter those gates yet"...after he made it, he tells the devil "now I have beaten you".

    Hope this helps ;-)
  • doesent this defeat the purpose of repentance? i thought that after we repent that our slate is wiped clean and God does not remember our sins?
  • Actually, i wanted to ask a similar question...
    I know taht people like to take comfort in believing taht their loved ones who have passed on are in a "happier" places and with the Saints and God and yatta yatta yatta; however, don't we believe taht God will come on judgment day "to judge the living and the dead?" Don't we believe taht everyone will be judged on taht day? So how can someone be in a "better place"...or how can someone be waiting in hades or in paradise...that means SOME SORT of judging happened...
    And how can death be welcomed as a relief and release of the world and the mundane into a spiritual world when there is no better place until judgment day...? wouldn't that mean that death is actually just a loss of opportunity to repent and gain forgiveness?
  • [quote author=omelnour link=topic=8290.msg106044#msg106044 date=1252104781]
    the story goes: anba Makar's soul was carried by the angels to paradise, and the devil saw him as he was being lifted the devil says "you have beat me Makar", and out of anba Makar's humblness and humility he tells the devil "I have not made it yet. I don't know if God will allow me to enter those gates yet"...after he made it, he tells the devil "now I have beaten you".

    Hope this helps ;-)

    I think there is something not right with this story. How would the Devil attempt to deceive us after death?

    Regarding Toll Houses, St.Macarius the Great said:

    “When the soul of man departs out of the body,a great mystery is there accomplished. If it is under the guilt of sins, there come bands of demons, and angels of the left hand, and powers of darkness that take over that soul, and hold it fast on their side. No one ought to be
    surprised at this. If, while alive and 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. That this is the case, you ought to understand from what happens on the good side.God’s holy servants even now have angels continually beside them, and holy spirits encompassing and protecting them; and when they depart out of the body, the hands of angels take over their souls to their own side, into the pure
    world, and so they bring them to the Lord"

    “Like tax-collectors sitting in the narrow ways, and laying hold upon the passers-by, so do the demons spy upon souls and lay hold of them; and when they pass out of the body, if they were 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 demons of the air. But if whilst they are yet in the flesh, they shall with much labour and effort obtain from the Lord the grace from on high, assuredly these, together with those who through virtuous living are at rest, shall go to the Lord…”(Homilies, XLIII, 4, 9)

    I can not find St. Cyril of Alexandria’s writing on the subject titled: Homily on the Departure of the Soul from the Body
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