The Spiritual World
Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky
The Spiritual Bond of the Members of the Church
Prayer For The Dead
Communion with the Saints
The Future Fate of the World and Mankind
The Fate of Man After Death
Our War is not Against Flesh and Blood
The Spiritual Bond
of the Members of the Church
PRAYER IS THE manifestation of the Churchís life and the spiritual bond of its members with God in the Holy Trinity, and of all with each other. It is so inseparable from faith that it may be called the atmosphere of the Church or the breathing of the Church. Prayers are the threads of the living fabric of the Church body, and they go in all directions. The bond of prayer penetrates the whole body of the Church, leading each part of it into the common life of the body, animating each part and helping it by nourishing, by cleansing, and by other forms of mutual he1p (Eph 4:16). It unites each member of the Church with the Heavenly Father, the members of the earthly Church with each other, and the earthly members with the heavenly members. It does not cease, but yet more increases and is exalted in the Heavenly Kingdom.
Through the whole Sacred Scripture of the New Testament there goes the commandment of ceaseless prayer "Pray without ceasing" (1 Thess. 5:17);"praying a1ways with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit" (Eph 6:18); "and He spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought a1ways to pray, and not to faint" (Luke 18:l).
The perfect example of personal prayer was given to us by the Lord Jesus Christ Himself He left as an example the prayer, "Our Father" ó the Lord s Prayer. Prayer is a) the form of the Church's life, b) an instrument or means of its activity, and c) its power of overcoming.
Prayer is of two kinds: public and private. There is prayer which is of words, and in particular sung, and there is mental prayer, that is, inward prayer, or the prayer of the mind in the heart. The content of prayer is: a) praise or glory; b) thanksgiving, c) repentance; d) entreaty for the mercy of God, for the forgiveness of sins, for the giving of good things of soul and body, both heavenly and earthly. Repentance before God sometimes has the form of a conversation with one's own soul-as, for example, often occurs in the canons.
Prayer may be for oneself or for others. Prayer for each other expresses the mutual love between members of the Church. Since, according to the Apostle, love never faileth (1 Cor. 13:8), the earthly members of the Church not only pray for each other, but also, according to the law of Christian love, they pray also for those who are departed (the heavenly members); and the heavenly members likewise pray for those on earth, as well as for the repose of their brethren who are in need of the help of prayer. Finally, we ourselves appeal to those in heaven with the entreaty to pray for us and for our brethren Upon this bond of the heavenly with the earthly is founded also the concern of the angels over us and our prayers to them.
The power of prayer for others is constantly affirmed by the word of God. The Saviour said to the Apostle Peter: "I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not" (Luke 22:32). The holy Apostle Paul often entreats Christians to pray for him: "I trust that through your prayers I shall be given unto you" (Philemon, v. 22). "Brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord might have free course and be glorified, even as it is with you" (2 Thes. 3:l). Being far away, the Apostle is joined with his spiritual brethren in common prayer. "Now I beseech yon, brethren, for the Lord Jesus Christ sake, and for the love of the Spirit, that ye strive together with me in your prayers to God for me" (Rom. 15:30). The Apostle James instructs: "Pray one for another, that ye may be healed, for the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much" (James 5:16). St John the Theologian saw in revelation how in the heavens twenty-four elders, standing at the throne of God, fell down before the Lamb, and everyone had harps and vials filled with incense, "which are the prayers of saints" (Rev. 5:8); that is they raised up the prayers of the saints on earth to the Heavenly Throne.
Prayer For The Dead
"Pray one for another" (James 5:16).
"Whether we live or die, we are the Lordís" (Rom. 14:8).
"Love never faileth" (1 Cor. 13:8).
"Whatsoever ye shall ask in My name, that will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son" (John 14:13).
IN GOD ALL ARE ALIVE. Church life is penetrated by a living awareness and feeling that our dead ones continue to live after death only in a different form than on earth, and that they are not deprived of spiritual nearness to those who remain on earth.
Therefore, the bond of prayer with them on the part of the pilgrim Church (on earth) does not cease. "Neither death nor life... shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rorn. 8:38). The departed need only one kind of he1p from their brethren: prayer and petition for the remission of their sins.
"And this is the confidence that we have in Him (the Son of God), that, anything according to His will, He heareth us. And we now that He hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of Him. And if any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask and He shall give him life, for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death; I do not say that he shall pray for it" (1 John 5:14-16).
Corresponding to this instruction of the Apostle, the Church prays for all its children who have died with true repentance. Praying for them as for those who are alive, the Church follows the words of the Apostle; "Whether we live, therefore, or die, we are the Lords. For to this end Christ both died and rose, and revived, that He might be Lord both of the dead and living" (Rorn. 14:8-9). Those, however, who have died with unrepented sins, outside the communion of the Church, are not even vouchsafed prayers, as follows from the above-mentioned words of the Apostle John: "I do not say that he should pray for it," for such prayers would be without purpose. In the Old Testament Church also there existed the custom of praying for the dead. Concerning this there is the testimony of sacred history. Thus, in the days of the pious leader of the Jews, Judas Maccabeus, when after an inspection of those who had fallen on the field of battle, there was found in their garments plunder from the gifts offered to idols, all the Jews "blessed the ways of the Lord, the righteous Judge, Who reveals the things that are hidden, ó and they turned to prayer, beseeching that the sin which had been committed might be wholly blotted out." And Judas Maccabeus himself sent to Jerusalem to "provide for a sin offering. In doing this he acted very well and honorably, taking account of the resurrection" (2 Mac. 12:39-46).
That the remission of sins for those who have sinned not unto death can be given both in the present life and after death is naturally to be concluded from the words of the Lord Hirnself: "Whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him. but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come" (Matt. 12:32). Similarly, from the word of God we know that the Lord Jesus has "the keys of hell and of death" (Rev. 1:18); consequently, He has power to open the gates of hell by the prayers of the Church and by power of the propitiatory Bloodless Sacrifice which is offered for the dead.
In the Christian Church all the ancient liturgies, both of East and West, testify to the church s remembrance in prayer of the dead. Such liturgies are known under the names of the Holy Apostle James, the brother of the Lord, St Basil the Great, St John Chrysostorn, and St Gregory the Dialogist. Similar references are to be found in the Roman, Spanish and Gallican liturgies, and finally, in the ancient liturgies of the groups that separated from Orthodoxy, the Jacobites, Copts, Armenians, Ethiopians, Syrians, and others. For all their numbers, there is not a single one of these liturgies where there is no prayer for the dead. The testimony of the Fathers and Teachers of the Church speaks of the same thing.
Concerning the good effect of prayerful communion in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ between those living on earth and the dead, Ephraim the Syrian, for example, reasons thus: For the dead, the remembrance performed by the saints during their lifetime is beneficial. We see an example of this in a number of the works of God. For example, in a vineyard there are the ripening grapes in the field, and the wine already squeezed out into vessels; when the grapes ripen on the grapevine, then the wine which stands unmoving in the house begins to froth and be agitated, as if desiring to escape. The same thing happens, it seems, with another plant, the onion; for as soon as the onion which has been sown in the field begins to ripen, the onion which is in the house also begins to give sprouts. And so, if even growing things have between themselves such a fellow-feeling, will not the petitions of prayer be all the more felt by the dead? And when you will sensibly agree that this occurs in accordance with the nature of creatures, then just imagine that you are the first of the creatures of God."
In praying for the dead, the Church intercedes for them just as for the living, not in its own name, but in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ (John 14:13-14), and by the power of His Sacrifice on the Cross, which was offered for the deliverance of all. These fervent prayers he1p the seeds of new life which our departed ones have taken with them-if these seeds have been unable to open up sufficiently here on earth- to gradually open up and develop under the influence of prayers and with the mercy of God, just as a good seed is developed in the earth under the life-giving rays of the sun, with favorable weather. But nothing can revive rotten seeds which have lost the very principle of vegetative life. Similarly, powerless would be prayers for the dead who have died in impiety and without repentance, who have quenched in themselves the Spirit of Christ (1 Thes. 5:19). It is precisely concerning such sinners that one must remember the words of the Saviour in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus: that there is no deliverance for them from the deepest parts of hell, and no transference for them into the bosom of Abraham (Luke 16:26). And indeed, such people usually do not leave behind them on earth people who might pray sincerely for them to God, likewise, they have not acquired for themselves friends in heaven among the saints, who, when they fail (that is, die), might receive them into everlasting habitations-that is, might pray for them (Luke 16:9).
Of course, on the earth it is not known to what lot each has been subjected after his death. But the prayer of love can never be profitless. If our dead ones who are dear to us have been vouchsafed the Kingdom of Heaven, they reply to prayer for them with an answering prayer for us. And if our prayers are powerless to he1p them, in any case they are not harmful to us, according to the word of the Psalmist: "My prayer shall return to my bosom" (Psalm 34:16), and according to the word of the Saviour: "Let your peace return to you" (Matt. 10: 13). But they are indeed profitable for us. St. John Damascene remarks: "If anyone wishes to anoint a sick man with myrrh or some other sacred oil, first he becomes a partaker of the anointing himself and then he anoints the sick one. So also, everyone who struggles for the salvation of his neighbor, first receives benefit himself, and then offers it to his neighbor; for God is not unjust, so as to forget the works, according to the word of the Divine Apostle."
THE CHURCH PRAYS for all who have died in the faith, and asks forgiveness for their sins, for there is no man without sin, "if he have lived even a single day upon earth" (Job 14:5, Septuagint). "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us" (1 John 1:8). Therefore, no matter how righteous a man might be, when he departs from this world, the Church accompanies his departure with prayer for him to the Lord. "Brethren, pray for us," the holy Apostle Paul asks his spiritual children (1 Thes. 5:25).
At the same time, when the common voice of the Church testifies to the righteousness of the reposed person, Christians, apart from prayer for him, are taught by the good example of his life and place him as an example to be imitated.
And when, further, the common conviction of the sanctity of the reposed person is confirmed by special testimonies such as martyrdom, fearless confession, self-sacrificing service to the Church, and the gift of healing, and especially when the Lord confirms the sanctity of the reposed person by miracles after his death when he is remembered in prayer, then the Church glorifies him in a special way. How can the Church not glorify those whom the Lord Himself calls His "friends"? "Ye are my friends ... I have called you friends" (John 15:14-15), whom He has received in His heavenly mansions in fulfillment of the words, "Where I am, there ye may be also" (John 14:3). When this happens, prayers for the forgiveness of the sins of the departed one and for his repose cease; they give way to other forms of Church communion with him, namely: first, the praising of his struggles in Christ, "since neither do men light a candle and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house" (Matt. 5:15); second, petitions to him that he might pray for us, for the remission of our sins, and for our moral advancement, and that he might help us in our spiritual needs and in our sorrows.
It is said: "Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth" (Rev. 14:13) and we indeed bless them. It is said: "The glory which Thou gavest Me, I have given them" (John 17:22), and we indeed give to them this glory according to the Savior's commandment.
Likewise the Savior said: "He that receiveth a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet's reward; and he that receiveth a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man's reward" (Matt. 10:41). "Whosoever shall do the will of My Father which is in heaven, the same is My brother, and sister, and mother" (Matt. 12:50). Therefore, we also should receive a righteous man as a righteous man. If he is a brother for the Lord, then he should be such for us also. The saints are our spiritual brothers, sisters, mothers, and fathers, and our love for them is expressed by communion in prayer with them.
The Apostle John wrote to his fellow Christians: "That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ" (1 John 1:3). And in the Church this fellowship with the Apostles is not interrupted; it goes over with them into the other realm of their existence, the heavenly realm.
The nearness of the saints to the Throne of the Lamb and the raising up by them of prayers for the Church on earth are depicted in the book of Revelation of St. John the Theologian: "And I beheld, and I heard the voice of many angels round about the Throne, and the beasts, and the elders; and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand," who praised the Lord (Rev. 5:11).
Communion in prayer with the saints is the realization in actual fact of the bond between Christians on earth and the Heavenly Church of which the Apostle speaks: "Ye are come unto Mount Zion, and unto the city of the Living God, the Heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and the Church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect" (Heb. 12:22-23).
Sacred Scripture presents numerous examples of the fact that, while still living on earth, the righteous can see and hear and know much that is inaccessible to ordinary understanding. All the more these gifts are present with them when they have put off the flesh and are in heaven. The holy Apostle Peter saw into the heart of Ananias, according to the book of Acts (5:3). To Elisha was revealed the lawless act of the servant Gehazi (4 Kings, ch. 4; 2 Kings in KJV), and what is even more remarkable, to him was revealed all the secret intentions of the Syrian court, which he then communicated to the King of Israel (4 Kings 6:12). When still on earth, the saints penetrated in spirit into the world above; some of them saw choirs of angels, others were vouchsafed to behold the image of God (Isaiah and Ezekiel), and still others were exalted to the third heaven and heard there mystical, unutterable words. All the more when they are in heaven are they capable of knowing what is happening on earth and of hearing those who appeal to them because the saints in heaven are equal unto the angels (Luke 20:36).
From the parable of the Lord about the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) we know that Abraham, being in heaven, could hear the cry of the rich man who was suffering in hell, despite the "great gulf" that separates them. The words of Abraham about the rich man's brethren, "They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them" (Luke 16:29), clearly indicate that Abraham knows the life of the Hebrew people which has occurred after his death; he knows of Moses and the Law, of the prophets and their writings. The spiritual vision of the souls of the righteous in heaven, without any doubt, is greater than it was on earth. The Apostle writes: "Now we see through a glass, darkly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then shall I know even as also I am known" (1 Cor. 13:12).
The holy Church has always held the teaching of the invocation of the saints, being fully convinced that they intercede for us before God in heaven. This we see from the ancient Liturgies. In the Liturgy of the holy Apostle James it is said: "Especially we perform the memorial of the Holy and Glorious Ever-Virgin, the Blessed Theotokos. Remember Her, O Lord God, and by Her pure and holy prayers spare and have mercy on us." St. Cyril of Jerusalem, explaining the Liturgy of the Church of Jerusalem, remarks, "Then we also commemorate (in offering the Bloodless Sacrifice) those who have previously departed: first of all, patriarchs, prophets, apostles, martyrs, so that by their prayers and intercession God might receive our petition."
Numerous are the testimonies of the Fathers and teachers of the Church, especially from the fourth century onwards, concerning the Church's veneration of the saints. But already from the beginning of the second century there are direct indications in ancient Christian literature concerning faith in prayer by the saints in heaven for their earthly brethren. The witnesses of the martyric death of St. Ignatius the God-Bearer (in the beginning of the second century) said: "Having returned home with tears, we had the all-night vigil ... Then, after sleeping a little, some of us suddenly saw blessed Ignatius standing and embracing us, and others likewise saw him praying for us." Similar records, mentioning the prayers and intercession for us of the martyrs, are to be found in other accounts from the epoch of persecutions against Christians.
The Future Fate of
the World and Mankind
THE NICAEAN-CONSTANTINOPOLITAN Symbol of Faith (the Creed), in the seventh, eleventh, and twelfth paragraphs, contains the Orthodox Christian confession of faith in the future coming of the Son of God to earth, the General (Last) Judgment, and the future eternal life.
And He is coming again with glory to judge the living and the dead; and His Kingdom will have no end I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the age to come. Amen.
In the Divine economy there is a plan for the future until the end of the ages. And an inseparable part of Christian teaching is composed of what the word of God tells us about the events of the end of time: the Second Coming of the Lord, the resurrection of the dead, and the end of the world ó and then about the beginning of the Kingdom of Glory and. eternal life. The last part of dogmatic theology thus speaks about the culmination of the great process whose beginning is set forth in the first page of the book of Genesis.
The Fate of Man
DEATH IS THE COMMON LOT OF MEN. But for man it is not an annihilation, but only the separation of the soul from the body. The truth of the immortality of the human soul is one of the fundamental truths of Christianity. "God is not a God of the dead but of the living; for all live unto Him" (Matt. 22:32; Luke 20:38). In the New Testament Sacred Scripture death is called "the decrease (departure) of the soul" ("I will endeavor that ye may be able after my decrease to have these things a1ways in remembrance," 2 Peter 1:15). It is called the deliverance of the soul from prison (2 Cor. 5:1-4); the putting off of the body, ("knowing that short1y I must put off this my tabernacle," 2 Peter 1:14); a dissolving ("having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ, which is far better," Phil. 1:23); a departure ("the time of my departure is at hand," 2 Tim. 4:6); a sleep, (David "fell asleep," Acts 13:36).
The state of the soul after death, according to the clear testimony of the word of God, is not unconscious but conscious (for example, according to the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, Luke 16:19-31). After death man is subjected to a judgment which is called "particular" to distinguish it from the general last judgment. It is easy in the sight of the Lord to reward a man "on the day of death according to his conduct," says the most wise son of Sirach (11: 26). The same thought is expressed by the Apostle Paul "It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment" (Heb. 9:27). The Apostle presents the judgment as something which follows immediately after the death of a man, and evidently he understands this not as the general judgment, but as the particular judgment, as the Holy Fathers of the Church have interpreted this passage. "Today shall thou be with me in paradise" (Luke 23:43), the Lord uttered to the repentant thief.
In Sacred Scripture it is not given us to know how the particular judgment occurs after a manís s death. We can judge of this only in part from separate expressions which are found in the word of God. Thus, it is natural to think that in the particular judgment also a large part in the fate of a man after death is taken both by good and by evil angels: the former are implements of Godís mercy, and the latter-by Godís allowance-are implements of Godís justice. In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, it is said that "Lazarus was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom" (Luke 16:22). In the parable of the foolish rich man he is told: "Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee" (lit: "they shall take," Luke 12:20); evidently it is evil powers who will "take" *** (St. John Chrysostom.). For, on the one hand, the angels of these "little ones," in the Lord's own words, always behold the face of the Heavenly Father (Matt. 18: 10), and likewise at the end of the world the Lord will send His angels, who will "sever the wicked from among the just, and shall cast them into the furnace of fire" (Matt. 13:49); and on the other hand, "our adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour" (1 Peter 5:8), and the air, as it were, is filled with the spirits of evil under the heavens, and their prince is called the "prince of the power of the air" (Eph. 6:12, 2:2).
Based on these indications of Sacred Scripture, from antiquity the Holy Fathers of the Church have depicted the path of the soul after its separation from the body as a path through such spiritual expanses, where the dark powers seek to devour those who are weak spiritually, and where therefore one is in special need of being defended by the heavenly angels and supported by prayer on the part of the living members of the Church. Among the ancient Fathers the following speak of this- Sts. Ephraim the Syrian, Athanasius the Great, Macarius the Great, Basil the Great, John Chrysostom, and others.
The most detailed development of these ideas is made by St Cyril of Alexandria in his "Homily on the Departure of the Soul," which is usually printed in the Sequential Psalter (the Psalter with additions from the Divine services). A pictorial depiction of this path is presented in the life of St Basil the New (March 26), where the departed blessed Theodora, in a vision during sleep communicated to the disciple of Basil, tells what she has seen and experienced after the separation of her soul from the body and during the ascent of the soul into the heavenly mansions.
The path of the soul after its departure from the body is customarily called the "toll houses." With regard to the images in the accounts of the toll houses, Metropolitan Macarius in his Orthodox Dogmatíc Theology remarks: "One must firmly remember the instruction which the angel made to St Macarius of Alexandria when he had just begun telling him of the toll-houses: 'Accept earthly things here as the weakest kind of depiction of heavenly things.' One must picture the toll-houses as far as possible in a spiritual sense, which is hidden under the more or less sensuous and anthropomorphic features."
Concerning the state of the soul after the Particular judgment, the Orthodox Church teaches thus: "We believe that the souls of the dead are in a state of blessedness or torment according to their deeds. After being separated from the body, they immediately pass over either to joy or into sorrow and grief, however, they do not feel either complete blessedness or complete torment. For complete blessedness or complete torment each one receives after the General Resurrection, when the soul is reunited with the body in which it lived in virtue or in vice (The Epistle of the Eastern Patriarchs on the Orthodox Faith, paragraph 18). Thus the Orthodox Church distinguishes two different conditions after the Particular judgment: one for the righteous, another for sinners; in other words, paradise and hell. The Church does not recognize the Roman Catholic teaching of three conditions: 1) blessedness, 2) purgatory, and 3) gehenna (hell). The very name "gehenna" the Fathers of the Church usually refer to the condition after the Last Judgment, when both death and hell will be cast into the "lake of fire" (Rev. 20:15). The Fathers of the Church, basing themselves on the word of God, suppose that the torments of sinners before the Last Judgment have a preparatory character. These torments can be eased and even taken away by the prayers of the Church (Epistle of the Eastern Patriarchs, para. 18). Likewise, the fallen spirits are "reserved in everlasting chains under darkness" (in hell) "until the judgment of the great day" (2 Peter 2:4; Jude 1:6).
Our War is not
Against Flesh and Blood
On the Question of the "Toll-Houses"
"We are fools for Christ's sake,
but ye are wise in Christ" (1 Cor. 4:10).
OUR LIFE AMONG a population which, although it is nominally Christian, in many respects has different conceptions and views than ours in the realm of faith. Sometimes this inspires us to respond to questions of our Faith when they are raised and discussed from a non-Orthodox point of view by persons of other confessions, and sometimes by Orthodox Christians who no longer have a firm Orthodox foundation under their feet.
In the limited conditions of our life we unfortunately are unable fully to react to statements or to reply to the questions that arise. However, we sometimes feel such a need. In particular, we now have occasion to define the Orthodox view of the "toll-houses," which is one of the topics of a book which has appeared in English under the title, Christian Mythology by Canon George Every. The "toll-houses" are the experience of the Christian soul immediately after death, as these experiences are described by the Fathers of the Church and Christian ascetics. In recent years a critical approach to a whole series of our Church beliefs has been observed; these beliefs are viewed as being "primitive," the result of a "naive" world view of piety, and they are characterized by such words as "myths," "magic," and the like. It is our duty to respond.
The subject of the toll-houses is not specifically a topic of Orthodox Christian theology: it is not a dogma of the Church in the precise sense, but comprises material of a moral and edifying character, one might say pedagogical. To approach it correctly, it is essential to understand the foundations and the spirit of the Orthodox world-view. "For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? Even so, the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God" (1 Cor. 2:11-12). We must ourselves come closer to the Church, "that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God" (1 Cor. 2:12).
In the present question the foundation is: We believe in the Church. The Church is the heavenly and earthly Body of Christ, pre-designated for the moral perfection of the members of its earthly part and for the blessed, joyful, but always active life of its ranks in its heavenly realm. The Church on earth glorifies God, unites believers, and educates them morally so that by this means it might ennoble and exalt earthly life itself ó both the personal life of its own children, and the life of mankind. Its chief aim is to help them in the attainment of eternal life in God, the attainment of sanctity, without which no man shall see the Lord (Heb. 12:14).
Thus, it is essential that there be constant communion between those in the Church on earth and the heavenly Church. In the Body of Christ all its members are interactive. In the Lord, the Shepherd of the Church, there are, as it were, two flocks: the heavenly and the earthly (Epistle of the Eastern Patriarchs, 17th century). "Whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honored, all the members rejoice with it" (1 Cor. 12:26). The heavenly Church rejoices, but at the same time it sympathizes with its fellow members on earth. St. Gregory the Theologian gave to the earthly Church of his time the name of "suffering Orthodoxy"; and thus it has remained until now. This interaction is valuable and indispensible for the common aim that "we may grow up into Him in all things ... from Whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the building of itself in love" (Eph. 4:15-16).
The end of all this is deification in the Lord, that "God may be all in all" (1 Cor. 15:28). The earthly life of the Christian should be a place of spiritual growth, progress, the ascent of the soul towards heaven. We deeply grieve that, with the exception of a few of us, although we know our path, stray far away from it because of our attachment to what is exclusively earthly. And, although we are ready to offer repentance, still we continue to live carelessly. However, there is not in our souls that so-called "peace of soul" which is present in Western Christian psychology, which is based upon some kind of "moral minimum" i.e., having fulfilled my obligation that provides a convenient disposition of soul for occupying oneself with worldly interests.
However, it is precisely there, where "peace of soul" ends, that there is opened the field of perfection for the inward work of the Christians. "If we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, but only a certain fearful expectation of judgement and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries... It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God" (Heb. 10:26-31). Passivity and carelessness are unnatural to the soul; by being passive and careless we demean ourselves. However, to rise up requires constant vigilance of the soul and, more than this, warfare.
With whom is this warfare? With oneself only? "We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against the spirits of wickedness under the heaven" (Eph. 6:12).
Here we approach the
subject of the toll-houses
IT IS NOT BY CHANCE, that the Lord's Prayer ends with the words: "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the Evil One." Concerning this Evil One, in another of His discourses the Lord said to His disciples: "I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven" (Luke 10:18). Cast down from heaven, he became thus a resident of the lower sphere, the prince of the power of the air, the prince of the legion of unclean spirits. When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man but does not find rest for himself, he returns to the home from which he departed and, finding it unoccupied, cleaned and put in order, "he goeth and taketh with himself seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there, and the last state of that man is worse that the first. Even so shall it be also unto this wicked generation" (Matt. 12:43, 45).
Was it only a generation? Concerning the bent-over woman who was healed on the Sabbath day, did not the Lord reply. "Ought not this woman, being a daughter whom Satan hath bound, lo, these eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?" (Luke 13:16).
The Apostles in their instructions do not forget about our spiritual enemies. St. Paul writes to the Ephesians: "In past times ye walked according to the course o this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience" (Eph. 2:2). Therefore, now "put on the whole armor o God, that ye maybe able to stand against the wiles of the devil" (Eph. 6:11), "for the devil, as a roaring lion, seeketh whom he may devour" (1 Peter 5:8). Being Christians, shall we call these quotations from the Scripture "mythology?"
Those warnings to previous generations found in the written word of God also relate to us. Therefore the hindrances to salvation are the same. Some of them are due to our own carelessness, our own self-confidence, our lack of concern, our egoism, to the passions of the body; others are in the temptations and the tempters who surround us: in people, and in the invisible dark powers which surround us. This is why, in our daily personal prayers, we beg God not to allow any "success of the evil one" (from the Morning Prayers), that is, that we be not allowed any success in our deeds that might occur with the help of dark powers. In general, in our private prayers and also in public Divine Worship, we never lose sight of the idea of being translated into a different life after death.
In the times of the Apostles and the first Christians, when Christians were more inspired, when the difference between the pagan world and the world of Christians was much more distinct, when the suffering of the martyrs was the light of Christianity, there was less concern to support the spirit of Christians by preaching alone. But the Gospel is all encompassing! The demands of the Sermon on the Mount were meant not only for the Apostles! And therefore, in the writings of the Apostles we already read not simple instructions, but also warnings about the future, when we shall have to give an account.
"Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil ... that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand" (Eph. 6: 11, 13). "For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God" (Heb. 10:26-31). "On some have compassion, and others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire, hating even the garment spotted by the flesh" (Jude 22-23). "It is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Sprit, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance, seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put Him to an open shame" (Heb. 6:4-6).
Thus it was in the Apostolic age. But when the Church, having received freedom, began to be filled with masses of people, when the general inspiration of faith began to weaken, there was a more critical need for powerful words, for denunciations, for calls to spiritual vigilance, to fear of God and fear for one's own fate. In the collection of pastoral instructions of the most zealous archpastors we read stern homilies giving pictures of the future judgement which awaits us after death. These homilies were intended to bring sinners to their senses, and evidently they were given during periods of general Christian repentance before Great Lent. In them was the truth of God's righteousness, the truth that nothing unclean would enter into the kingdom of sanctity, this truth was clothed in vivid, partly figurative, close to earthly images which were known to everyone in daily life. The hierarchs of this period themselves called these images of the judgement which follows immediately after death the "toll-houses." The tables of the publicans, the collectors of taxes and duties, were evidently points for letting one go on the road further into the central part of the city. Of course, the word "toll-house" in itself does not indicate to us any particular religious significance. In patristic language it signifies that short period after death when the Christian soul must account for its moral state.
St. Basil writes, "Let no one deceive himself with empty words, 'for sudden destruction cometh upon them' (1 Thess. 5:3) and causes an overturning like a storm. A strict angel will come, he will forcibly lead out your soul, bound by sins. Occupy yourself therefore with reflection on the last day... Imagine to yourself the confusion, the shortness of breath, and the hour of death, the sentence of God drawing near, the angels hastening towards you, the dreadful confusion of the soul tormented by its conscience, with its pitiful gaze upon what is happening, and finally, the unavoidable translation into a distant place" (St. Basil the Great, quoted in "Essay in an Historical Exposition of Orthodox Theology," by Bishop Sylvester, Vol. 5, p.89).
St. Gregory the Theologian, who guided a large flock only for short periods, limits himself to general words, saying that "each one is a sincere judge of himself, because of the judgement-seat awaiting him."
There is a more striking picture found in St. John Chrysostom: "If, in setting out for any foreign country or city we are in need of guides, then how much shall we need helpers and guides in order to pass unhindered past the elders, the powers, the governors of the air, the persecutors, the chief collectors! For this reason, the soul, flying away from the body, often ascends and descends, fears and trembles. The awareness of sins always torments us, all the more at that hour when we shall have to be conducted to those trials and that frightful judgement place." Continuing, Chrysostom gives moral instructions for a Christian way of life. As for children who have died, he places in their mouths the following words: "The holy angels peacefully separated us from our bodies, and having good guides, we went without harm past the powers of the air. The evil spirits did not find in us what they were seeking; they did not notice what they wished to put to shame; seeing an immaculate soul, they were ashamed; seeing an undefiled tongue, they were silent. We passed by and put them to shame. The net was rent, and we were delivered. Blessed is God Who did not give us as a prey to them" (St. John Chrysostom, Homily 2, "On Remembering the Dead").
The Orthodox Church depicts the Christian martyrs, male and female, as attaining the heavenly bridal chamber just as freely as children and without harm. In the fifth century the depiction of the immediate judgement upon the soul after its departure from the body, called the Particular judgement, was even more closely joined to the depiction of the toll-houses, as we see in St. Cyril of Alexandria's "Homily on the Departure of the Soul," which sums up the images of this kind in the Fathers of the Church which preceded him.
It is perfectly dear to anyone that purely earthly images are applied to a spiritual subject so that the image, being impressed in the memory, might awaken a man's soul. "Behold the Bridegroom cometh at midnight, and blessed is the servant whom He shall find watching." At the same time, in these pictures the sinfulness that is present in fallen man is revealed in its various types and forms, and this inspires man to analyze his own state of soul. In the instructions of Orthodox ascetics the types and forms of sinfulness have a special stamp of their own; in the Lives of Saints there is also a characteristic stamp.
Due to the availability of the Lives of Saints, the account of the tollhouses by the righteous Theodora, depicted by her in detail by Saint Basil the New in his dream, has become especially well known. Dreams in general express the state of soul of a given man, and in special cases are also authentic visions of the souls of the departed in their earthly form. The account of Theodora has characteristics both of one and the other. The idea that good spirits, our guardian angels, as well as the spirits of evil under heaven participate in the fate of man (after death) finds confirmation in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. Lazarus immediately after death was brought by angels to the bosom of Abraham. In another parable the unrighteous man heard these words: "Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee" (Luke 12:20); evidently, the ones who "require" are none else than the same "spirits of wickedness under the heavens."
In accordance with simple logic and as also confirmed by the Word of God the soul immediately after its separation from the body enters into a sphere where its further fate is defined. "It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment," we read in the Apostle Paul (Heb. 9:27). This is the Particular Judgement, which is independent of the universal Last Judgement.
The teaching concerning the Particular Judgement of God enters into the sphere of Orthodox dogmatic theology. As for the toll-houses, Russian writers of general systems of theology limit themselves to a rather stereotyped note: "Concerning all the sensual, earthly images by which the Particular Judgement is presented in the form of the toll-houses, although in their fundamental idea they are completely true, still they should be accepted in the way that the angel instructed Saint Macarius of Alexandria, being only the weakest means of depicting heavenly things." (See Macarius, Metropolitan of Moscow, Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, Saint Petersburg, 1883, vol. 2, p. 538; also the book of Bishop Sylvester, Rector of the Kiev Theological Academy. Archbishop Philaret of Chernigov, in his two volume work on dogmatic theology, does not comment on this subject).
If one is to complain of the frightening character of the pictures of the toll-houses ó are there not many such pictures in the New Testament scriptures and in the words of the Lord Himself Are we not frightened by the very simplest question: "How camest thou in hither not having a wedding garment?" (Mat. 22:12).
We respond to the discussion on the toll-houses, a topic which is secondary in the realm of our Orthodox thought, because it gives an occasion to illuminate the essence of our Church life. Our Christian Church life of prayer is uninterrupted mutual communion with the heavenly world. It is not simply an "invocation of the saints," as it is often called; it is an interaction in love. Through it the whole body of the Church, being united and strengthened in its members and bonds, "increaseth with the increase of God" (Col. 2:19). Through the Church "we are come unto the Heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to the solemn assembly and the church of the first-born, which are written in heaven, and the God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect" (Heb, 12:22-23). Our prayerful interaction extends in all directions. It has been commanded us: "Pray for one another." We live according to the principle of Faith: "Whether we live or die, we are the Lord's" (Rom. 14:8). "Love never faileth" (1 Cor. 13:8). "Love shall cover a multitude of sins" (1 Peter 4:8).
For the soul there is no death. Life in Christ is a world of prayer. It penetrates the whole body of the Church, unites every member of the Church with the Heavenly Father, the members of the earthly Church with themselves, and the members of the earthly Church with the Heavenly Church. Prayers are the threads of the living fabric of the Church body, for "the prayer of the righteous man availeth much" (James 5:16). The twenty-four elders in heaven at the throne of God fell down before the Lamb, each having harps and vials filled with incense, "which are the prayers of saints" (Rev. 5:8); that is, they offered up prayer on earth to the heavenly throne.
Threats are necessary; they can and should warn us, restrain us from evil actions. The same Church instills in us that the Lord is compassionate and merciful, long-suffering and plenteous in mercy, and is grieved over the evil doings of men, taking upon Himself our infirmities. In the Heavenly Church are also our intercessors, our helpers, those who pray for us. The Most Pure Mother of God is our protection. Our very prayers are the prayers of saints, written down by them, which came from their contrite hearts during the days of their earthly life. Those who pray can feel this, and thus the saints themselves become closer to us. Such are our daily prayers; such also is the whole cycle of the Church's Divine services of every day, of every week, and of the Feasts.
All this liturgical literature was not conceived as an academic exercise. The enemies of the air are powerless against such help. But we must have faith, and our prayers must be fervent and sincere. There is more joy in heaven over one who repents, than over others who need no repentance. How insistently the Church teaches us (in its litanies) to spend "the rest of our life in peace and repentance," and to die thus! It teaches us to call to remembrance our Most Holy, Most Pure, Most Blessed Lady Theotokos and all the saints, and then to commit ourselves and one another unto Christ our God.
At the same time, with all this cloud of heavenly protectors, we are made glad by the special closeness to us of our Guardian Angels. They are meek, they rejoice over us, and they also grieve over our falls. We are filled with hope in them, in the state we will be in when our soul is separated from the body, when we must enter into a new life: will it be light or in darkness, in joy or in sorrow? Therefore, every day we pray to our angels for the present day: "Deliver us from every cunning of the opposing enemy." In special canons of repentance we entreat them not to depart from us now nor after our death: I see thee with my spiritual gaze, thou who remainest with me, my fellow converser, Holy Angel, watching over, accompanying and remaining with me and ever offering to me what is for salvation." "When my humble soul shall be loosed from my body, may thou cover it, O my instructor, with thy bright and most sacred wings." "When the frightful sound of the trumpet will resurrect me unto judgement, stand near to me then, quiet and joyful, and with the hope of salvation take away my fear." "For thou art beauteous in virtue, and sweet and joyous, a mind bright as the sun; brightly intercede for me with joyful countenance and radiant gaze when I am to be taken from the earth." "May I then behold thee standing at the right hand of my wretched soul, bright and quiet, thou who intercedest and prayest for me, when my spirit shall be taken by force; may I behold thee banishing those who seek me, my bitter enemies" (From the Canon to the Guardian Angel of John the Monk, in the Prayer Book for Priests).
Thus, the Holy Church through the ranks of its builders: the Apostles, the great hierarchs, the holy ascetics, having as its Chief Shepherd our Saviour and Lord, Jesus Christ, has created and gives us all means for our spiritual perfection and the attainment of the eternal blessed life in God, overcoming our carelessness and light-mindedness by fear and by stern warnings, at the same time instilling in us a spirit of vigilance and bright hope, surrounding us with holy, heavenly guides and helpers. In the Typicon of the Church's Divine service, we are given a direct path to the attainment of the Kingdom of Glory.
Among the images of the Gospel the Church very often reminds us of the parable of the Prodigal Son, and one week in the yearly cycle of Church services is entirely devoted to this remembrance, so that we might know the limitless love of God and the fact that the sincere, contrite, tearful repentance of a believing man overcomes all the obstacles and all the tollhouses on the path to the Heavenly Father.
Missionary Leaflet # E87
Copyright © 2001 Holy Trinity Orthodox Mission
466 Foothill Blvd, Box 397, La Canada, Ca 91011
Editor: Bishop Alexander (Mileant)
Edited by Donald Shufran