quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus creditum est
–St. Vincent of Lérins (d. 445)
The monks of St. Anthony’s Monastery have recently published a beautiful and intriguing, if also deeply problematic, volume on the fate of the soul after death. Weighing in (literally) at more than 1,000 pages, the book compiles opinions from a number of Orthodox writers regarding the soul’s experience after its departure from the body, along with lavish reproductions of icons and other objects in over 200 color plates. Unfortunately, however, this compendium is a fundamentalist effort designed to mislead readers concerning the teaching of the Orthodox Church. The book’s primary agenda is to advance the notion of aerial toll houses, through which the soul must pass after death, as an essential component of the Orthodox Faith. Yet this claim is an error, despite the alleged mass of evidence that the monks have assembled and the copious academic and ecclesiastical endorsements (many of which, I understand, were obtained without full disclosure of exactly what was being endorsed).
The debate over toll houses has been a lively topic in modern Orthodoxy, owing especially to the propagation of this idea in during the later twentieth century by Seraphim Rose and others in his circle. Simply put, this book seeks to demonstrate that the Orthodox Church has uncompromisingly professed a doctrine that the individual soul, following its departure from the body, must pass through some twenty or so toll houses staffed by demons. These demons will charge each soul with certain sins, and if the soul is found guilty of such unconfessed sins, the demons will not allow passage but will instead drag it away into hell. Continue Reading…