Against the Gnostic Story
of the Judging Demons - the "Toll-Houses"

The "Tollhouse Account" presents the gnostic concept that demons sit in judgment over souls, usurping Christ's place, and involves the legalistic notion that one's sins must be "balanced" by an equal number of good deeds (or extrameritous prayers of one's spiritual father) else he will not attain heaven. There are 20 such "tollbooths" at each of which a different kind of sin is judged by the demons. If an insufficient amount of good works is found for the soul... off to hell with it! (And the un-Baptized non-Orthodox go straight to hell; they do not pass through the toll-houses.) This is found in the Theodora Vision, the foundational document for the tollhouse story.

The "Toll-House Story" stands in opposition to the clear and joyful true teaching of the Orthodox Church. From a Catechism of the Greek Orthodox Faith:

With death comes the separation of the soul from the body. The body returns to the earth from which it was taken. It decomposes but it is not lost. The time will come when it will be resurrected, spiritualized and made incorruptible, at the time of the just judgement. And then it will be united with the soul to be judged along with the soul. In the meantime, the soul which was separated, through death, from the body, lives in a middle state. It undergoes the particular judgement. "It is appointed for men to die once, and after that comes the judgement"(Hebrews 9:27). This means that immediately after death the soul is judged individually. It remains after this particular judgement until the final judgement, at the second Coming of Christ, having a foretaste of paradise or of hell.

At the final judgement, which will take place at the Second Coming of Christ, all people will be presented before Him to be judged. The evangelist Matthew tells us the following: "Before Him will be gathered all nations"(Matthew 25:32). At the final judgement, the souls will not be the only ones to be presented. We will be presented wholly, with our body and soul--with all our personhood. Body and soul will be judged. St. Paul tells us: "For we must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ, so that each one may receive good or evil, according to what he has done in the body" (2 Corinthians 5:10).

At the final judgement everyone will be judged according to their faith and their works. Christ will then separate the just from the unjust or sinners. "Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world" (Matthew 25:34), and to the sinners He will say: "Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels" (Matthew 25:41). Then "they [sinners] will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life"(Matthew 25:46). This will be the final judgement. After the final judgement, there will either be eternal life or hell--eternal punishment. There will be no changes after the final judgement. The just will be grounded in their righteousness and will always be righteous, and will live eternally. The sinners will be stabilized in their sin. They will not be able to change. They will live in hell. They too will live. They will not vanish, as some fools say. The above verse makes that vividly clear.

This will occur to man after death. In order for this to happen, two things must come first: the resurrection of the dead by which the soul will be reunited with the body, and the Second Coming of Christ.

With death, the soul is separated from the body. It receives a particular judgement and remains separated until the Second Coming of Christ and the final judgement. At the final judgement, man will be presented before Christ as a full person, with a body and soul. For man to be presented like this, his body must be resurrected and be united with the soul. This will happen immediately before the final judgement. Holy Scripture absolutely assures us of this.

---Taken (with slight editing) from "A Catechism of the Greek Orthodox Faith" by Metropolitan Sotirios of Toronto


Lex orandi, lex credendi!

From the Octoechos:

"When my soul is about to be forcibly parted from my body's limbs, then stand by my side and scatter the counsels of my bodiless foes and smash the teeth of those who implacably seek to swallow me down, so that I may pass unhindered through the rulers of darkness who wait in the air, O Bride of God." Octoechos, Tone Two, Friday Vespers

"Pilot my wretched soul, pure Virgin, and have compassion on it, as it slides under a multitude of offences into the deep of destruction; and at the fearful hour of death snatch me from the accusing demons and from every punishment." Ode 6, Tone 1 Midnight Office for Sunday

The prayer of St. Eustratius, which is said in the Midnight Office for Saturdays:

"And now, O Master, let Thy hand shelter me and let Thy mercy descend upon me, for my soul is distracted and pained at its departure from this my wretched and filthy body, lest the evil design of the adversary overtake it and make it stumble into the darkness for the unknown and known sins amassed by me in this life. Be merciful unto me, O Master, and let not my soul see the dark countenances of the evil spirits, but let it be received by Thine Angels bright and shining. Glorify Thy holy name and by Thy might set me before Thy divine judgment seat. When I am being judged, suffer not that the hand of the prince of this world should take hold of me to throw me, a sinner, into the depths of hades, but stand by me and be unto me a savior and mediatorÍ"

From the Pre-Nikonian Slavonic Texts

In the second Canon to the Guardian Angel, found in the "Old Orthodox Prayer book", one finds the following:.

In Ode 6: "Let shame and disgrace cover the dark, foul and fetid faces of the enemy when my poor soul is separated from the body. Let thy most sacred wings then protect my soul, O my guide."

In Ode 7 verse: "As a mind beautiful in goodness, sweet and happy, and bright like the sun, stand before me with smiling face and merry glance, when I shall be taken from the earth, O my guide."

"In thy mercy, loving-kindness and the exceeding copiousness of thy love toward man, O my guardian, protect me under the shelter of thy wings when I depart from the body, that I may not see the hideous faces of the demons."

In Ode 9 verse: "When my spirit is forcibly parted from me, may I see thee, my defender and guardian, calm and radiant, standing at the right of my passionate soul and driving away the bitter demons who seek to seize me."

As the highlighted lines of these holy texts show, the time being referred to is the hour of death - not any point afterward - when demonic hosts gather in the air about the deathbed and tempt the person all the more strongly at this moment when he is most vulnerable due to the natural rebellion of human nature at unnatural death, the rending of the one integral person into two unnaturally separate parts, the soul and body, and the grief at parting (however short a time it may be) from his loved ones.

From Ode 8, of The Canon of Supplication to our lord Jesus Christ and the Most Holy Theotokos, the Mother of the Lord, at the Parting of the Soul from the body of any Orthodox, page 81, vol 3, Book of Needs, Published by St. Tikhon's Monastery:

"O thou that gavest birth to the Lord Almighty, when I come to die, do thou banish from me the commander of the bitter toll-gatherers and ruler of the earth, that I may glorify thee unto the ages, O holy Theotokos."

If this referred to the mythical tollhouses, it would read, "after I have died" rather than "when I come to die." Keeping to what the text *says* - rather than what you would like to read into it - it refers to what happens AT death.

And, I might add, it correctly portrays the demons who assail us on this side of the grave as rapacious tax-collectors (metaphor!) who tempt us to despair at this most harrowing time.


Discussion on the "Toll-Houses"

"Tollhouses: Dogma and a Logic of Damnation"


A Letter from Father Michael Pomazansky to Deacon Lev [Archbishop Lazar] Puhalo

A Letter from Father Panagiotes Carras, reporting to

The Toll-House Myth: The Neo-Gnosticism of Father Seraphim Rose
(booklet also available from Synaxis Press)

A Note from Archbishop Lazar - December 1,1998

by Rev. Dr. Michael Azkoul

The Human Body According to St Gregory Palamas
by V Rev Dr George Papademetriou

A Review of Homily on Death and of The Soul After Death

An Open Letter and Response to the Tollhouse heresy

by George S. Gabriel

* * * * *

QUESTION: I have read some of your writing against Gnosticism. I think you are right that this old heresy is posing a new threat in the Church. Can you offer some simple guidelines that might help us recognize Gnostic teachings without reading all the books you reference in the bibliography of Tale of Elder Basil the New?


I would strongly recommend the Introduction of Hans von Balthasar's The Scandal of The Incarnation: Irenaeus [of Lyons] Against the Heresies (Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 1990). I am going to present some extracts from that Introduction here, with a few explanatory notes, for those who might not have access to the book.

St Irenaeus was perhaps the foremost ancient expert on the Gnostic threat and dedicated much of his writing to exposing it. It may come as a surprise to some, but he actually did refute the Gnostic "aerial toll house" teaching.

Much of the current threat from this ancient system of heresy comes from an organized attempt to infiltrate it into the Orthodox Church. There is a general lack of careful study of the theological history of the Church. The great 9th-10th century struggle with the Bogomil and Paulician Gnostic movements is actually unknown even to many seminary graduates. A substantial number of the clergy of all ranks are unaware of that great struggle, or have heard of it only in some passing references. Nevertheless, the New Age Movement is replete with profoundly Gnostic ideas and a group which has infiltrated every jurisdiction of the Orthodox Church has been steadily introducing new Gnostic ideas into the Orthodox Church while at the same time resurrecting and reinforcing residual Bogomil/Manichaean doctrines which have lingered in the Church in a shadowy manner since the time when this heresy dominated the Balkans. One can truthfully use the words of Tsar Peter of Bulgaria in his desperate letter to Ecumenical Patriarch Theophylact in the 900s: we are faced with "an ancient heresy newly reappeared." Here are some tips extracted from the Introduction section of von Balthasar's book.

Balthasar begins by pointing out that even the great persecutions by the Romans posed less of a threat to the Church than did Gnosticism. This very fact explains why I have been so adamant in my own opposition to the neo-Gnosticism of subversive entities within the Orthodox Church today. The fact that many of those who rather unwittingly support this neo-Gnosticism are unwilling to look at the way in which it contradicts the teahings of the holy fathers on several subjects, and the doctrines of the faith, is in itself a sin against the Orthodox Faith.

Gnosticism predates Christianity. Balthasar likens it to a "parasite" which took hold of Christianity and used it.

What made it so insidious was the fact that the Gnostics very often did not want to leave the Church. Instead, they claimed to be offering a superior and more authentic exposition of Holy Scripture, though this was only for the 'superior souls' (the spiritual, the pneumatic'); the common folk (`the psychic') were left to get on with their crude practices. It is not hard to see how this kind of compartmentalizing of the Church's members indeed of mankind as a whole, inevitably encouraged not only an excited craving for higher initiation, but also an almost unbounded arrogance in those who had moved from mere `faith' to real, enlightened `knowledge'.(p;1) Gnostics outwardly profess the teachings of the Church but deviously strive to subvert them to their "secret" or "higher" knowledge. Here then is your first clue that some group or teacher is Gnostic.

Clue 1: They introduce a "higher knowledge" that is accessible to "the more spiritual." In our own era, this "higher gnosis" is expressed as "ascetic theology."

While our new Gnostics are careful not to put it into actual words, for them this higher "ascetic theology" overrides the "theological theology" of the Church. The elite "special knowledge" (in this case a special "ascetic theology") is a lens through which the Gnostic reinterprets the doctrines of the Church and distorts them in order to subtly introduce their own concepts and understandings.

Balthasar points out:

Always in the background was the fundamental dogma of Gnosticism C the belief that the lower, material sphere, the `flesh', the world of the `psychic', was contemptible, something to be vanquished, while the higher spiritual world was all that was excellent, the only thing worth cultivating. (p.1)

Clue 2: The introduction of an "invisible world" which is separate from and/or opposed to the "visible world."

Only those with an elitist "secret knowledge," those illuminati of the "invisible world," know its secrets. Among the delusions of this Gnostic elite, one finds fanciful, sometimes quite carnal descriptions of the Garden of Eden. They assert that Eden exists in an invisible realm, filled with fruit that does not rot or decay, and other sensual/mystical ideas. This notion of opposing visible (material) and invisible (spiritual) worlds is a form of "dualism." Gnostics are essentially dualists whose fundamental concept arose from the ancient Persian religion of Zoroaster. All Gnostics are dualists.

Clue 3: Dualism. Gnostics create dualisms in every realm.

While those who infiltrate the Orthodox Church do not openly teach a dualistic idea of God (a good deity and a bad deity), they do elevate the authority of Satan and demons to the level of demi-gods which have authority to judge human souls, even to override God's mercy, the indwelling Holy Spirit and Christ's work on the cross. They can "drag souls down to hell" even before Christ has had an opportunity to judge them, and even before the Second Coming and the Last Judgment, even though this is a notion condemned by the holy fathers (See for example, St. Mark of Ephesus, Ten Discourses Against Purgatory).

Clue 4: Dangerous journey of the soul after death.

Balthasar observes of the Gnostics, "What mattered most was the knowledge that ensured spiritual power: the timetable for all the soul's journeys in the hereafter, the ground plan and genealogy of all the cosmic spheres, the key to the riddles of nature, the knowledge of all the powers holding sway between earth and heaven..."

In the "aerial tollhouse" myth, the demigod demons have authority to judge and condemn souls and keep them from even approaching Christ for His judgment. They have the power to usurp Christ's authority, even though scripture clearly says that "all power in heaven and earth has been given to Him". The idea that the soul can be judged, rewarded or punished without the body is a doctrine refuted and condemned by a whole host of the holy fathers. While the most complete astral plane/aerial toll house teaching was developed in Mesopotamia by the Mandaean Gnostics, the Bogomils, Paulicians and all varieties of Manichaeans taught a developed system of demonic judgement stations C aerial tollhouses. It was primarily through the Bogomils, who had a huge following even in Constantinople in the 8th - 9th centuries, that the aerial tollhouse heresy spread into the Orthodox world. (see for example, the Tale of Basil the New; Study of a Gnostic Document, Synaxis Press, 1999).

The bibliography and appendices in The Tale of Basil the New and The Soul, the Body and Death (Synaxis Press, 1995) will provide the patristic references necessary to follow up these matters. Balthasar deals only with St. Irenaeus of Lyons, but provides a powerful compendium against Gnosticism in his volume.

Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory Forever!