The Fathers on Aerial Toll-Houses – Part 1

Christ is risen!

One of the most hotly debated topics in recent times is Aerial Toll-House theology.  This topic has garnered so much attention that a comprehensive work, titled “The Departure of the Soul,” was recently published by St. Anthony’s Greek Orthodox Monastery to examine quite literally much of the Church’s history as it pertains to Aerial Toll-Houses.  This volume explores Holy Scripture, Holy Synods, Patristics, theologians, liturgical forms, iconography, and other various references.

So, what are Aerial Toll-Houses?

In basic summary, Aerial Toll-Houses refer to the intermediate state–or particular (also known as “partial”) judgment–where the recently reposed are accused by demons in an attempt to condemn their souls to hell, and opposite of that, the reposed are defended by the Angels, the Saints, and the intercessory prayers of the Church Militant to elevate their souls to heaven.

The theology behind Aerial Toll-Houses becomes a bit more complex when further examining the teachings of the Church over the last two millennia, as multiple viewpoints currently exist among Orthodox Christians.  My intent, however, is not to examine the nuances behind this doctrine, but rather to create a systematic reference guide to Patristic and Scriptural testimony, using “The Departure of the Soul” in addition to my own findings.  Being that the references are so vast, this reference guide will be broken into multiple posts as I compile it.  For citations, please reference the actual published volume; my own findings will be properly cited within the article.  It is my hope and prayer that you find this reference guide as useful and edifying as I have.  Enjoy!

(Editor’s note: All of these quotes were typed manually.  If you discover any possible errors/typos, please leave a comment.  Thank you!)


➤St. Justin Martyr the Philosopher (+166)–

→”But Thou, Lord, do not remove Thine assistance from me; give heed to help me. Deliver my soul from the sword, and my only begotten from the hand of the dog; save me from the lion’s mouth [This was written] that, when we arrive at the end of life, we may ask the same petition from God, who is able to turn away every shameless evil angel from taking our souls.”

➤St. Isaiah of Scetis (+370)–

→”Keep death before your eyes daily, and be concerned about how you will leave this body, pass the powers of darkness that will meet you in the air, and encounter God without hindrance, foreseeing the awesome day of His judgment and reward for all our deeds, words, and thoughts.”

→”Beloved Brother: Those who occupy themselves with the ephemeral and vain world, if they advance and make gains do not count the trials which they have endured, but rejoice at the progress which they have made. Can you imagine, then, my brother, what joy the soul of a man who undertakes spiritual work for God, and finishes it successfully, experiences? It is natural for the soul to feel unfading joy, for at the moment of its departure, the good works which it has done will precede it when it ascends into Heaven. At that time the Angels of God will rejoice together with it, as they see it delivered from the powers of darkness. This happens because, when the soul of man departs from the body, the Angels go along with it. However, all of the powers of darkness then hasten to meet it and seek to take hold of it, thereby to examine it carefully and learn whether or not it was engaged in any of their own works. It is not now the Angels who struggle with the demons to protect the soul; but the deeds of the soul surround and defend so that the demons cannot touch it. And if the good deeds of the soul defeat the demons, then the holy Angels sing on its behalf, until the soul, with joy and gladness, meets God. At that time, the soul completely forgets all of its good deeds in this vain world, as well as the labors knew. Blessed, indeed, is he against whom the leaders of darkness can find nothing. He will find joy, honor, and rest beyond all measure. Let us thus weep with the whole power of our soul before God, that in His goodness He will take pity on us and send aid from on high, by which we might do all to conquer the leaders of evil who obstruct our path [towards Paradise – Trans.].  Let us thus disengaged from the many other pursuits of life, take care with resoluteness of heart to fulfill the Will of God, which will save us from the hands of the demons when they shall come to meet us there above. Let us remember love for the poor, that this love might save us from greed, when the sin of greed shall come to meet us.  Let us acquire peace with all, the humble and the great, that this might guard us against hate, when it shall come to meet us.  Let us acquire patience before all and in all things, that this might guard us against carelessness, when it shall come to meet us.  Let us love all of our brothers and sisters, without hating anyone or repaying anyone any ill done against us; for this shall guard us against envy, when this demon too shall come too shall come to meet us.  Let us love the endurance in humility of our neighbor’s word, even if this word should bring upon us hurt and derision; for humility will guard us against pride, when it too shall come to meet us.  Let us seek to honor our neighbor and not to condemn or hurt anyone; for this shall protect us from gossip, when it shall come to meet us.  Let us despise the cares of the world and its honors, that we might be saved from its bewitching evil, when it shall come to meet us.  Let us teach our tongues to be unceasingly occupied with the commandments of God, righteousness, and prayer, that we might be protected from falsehood, when it too shall come to meet us. All of these foregoing evils impede the soul, while the virtues to which we have attained help it to confront these evils successfully. Now, what prudent man would commit his soul to eternal death just to be relieved from the labors required to gain these virtues? Let us do all that is within our power and the power of our Lord Christ, which is great, to help humble ourselves; for our Lord Jesus Christ knows that man is hapless, and thus He has granted him repentance, as long as the soul is in this corruptible body, that he might, until his very last breath, correct himself and flee from sin.”  

→”Nothing helps the soul more at the hour of its departure than stillness, silence and the remembrance of God.  During your departure, the angels of God, together with your guardian angel, will reveal all your good deeds: the fasts, vigils, the many prostrations, and even your little rug which is worn out by innumerable prostrations, as testimony against the demons. And seeing this, your soul will then rejoice if you have fervently fulfilled all that I have taught you in this book. On the other hand, the demons will also reveal if you were at times depressed, or did not fast, or did not keep vigil, or did not remain in stillness, or wandered here and there, seducing men or being yourself seduced by them. All this the evil demons will reveal at your departure, in writing with the day and hour, as well as the person whom you seduced or by whom you were seduced. If you truly repent of all this and properly spend the rest of the time in stillness and silence, then ours will be the victory, by the grace of Christ in other words, with the angels and your guardian. Then the radiant angels will take you and Proceed with you to Heaven. And if the other side prevails–which I pray will not happen to you–then I do not know what to say to you. For this reason, everywhere in the present book I inspired have you to remain in stillness and to stay away from any associations with men. If you obey me, then at that hour you will be very grateful to me, and if you do not listen, then know that you yourself have given your soul voluntarily into the hands of the enemies. If you fear God, then take care for your soul, because you are not a child and you are not senseless and you know what is good and what is bad, what is salvific and what will bring on perdition. You do not know when death will come–now or on the morrow, at midnight or midday. Therefore, be attentive to what is written for you.”

→”Fasting, with stillness and prayer, is our intercessor before God.  With this, the holy Fathers pleased God, became vessels of the Holy Spirit, and performed many miracles. And we too, my lady, who have entered the invisible martyrdom and the battle with demons–if we become victorious, God will award us with a crown of holiness and glory; and if we are vanquished, then woe to us, for we will receive everlasting torment. For this reason, let us be sober and watchful, let us fast and keep vigil; let us be still and humble. If we keep this, then when Christ comes at our death He will justify us; He will deliver us from the rulers of torments, who have all our sins written down; and He will take us to our original fatherland–in other words, to Paradise.”

➤St. Athanasius the Great, Archbishop of Alexandria (+373)–

→”And once more, if the devil, the enemy of our race, having fallen from heaven, wanders about our lower atmosphere, and there bearing rule over his fellow-spirits, as his peers in disobedience, not only works illusions by their means in them that are deceived, but tries to hinder them that are going up–and about this the Apostle says: According to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that now works in the sons of disobedience–while the Lord came to cast down the devil, and clear the air and prepare the way for us up into heaven, as said the Apostle: Through the veil, that is to say, His flesh–and this must needs be by death–well, by what other kind of death could this have come to pass, than by one which took place in the air, I mean the cross? For only he that is perfected on the cross dies in the air.  Whence it was quite fitting that the Lord suffered this death. For thus being lifted up He cleared the air of the malignity both of the devil and of demons of all kinds, as He says: I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven; and made a new opening of the way up into heaven as He says once more: Lift up your gates, O you princes, and be lifted up, you everlasting doors. For it was not the Word Himself that needed an opening of the gates, being Lord of all; nor were any of His works closed to their Maker; but we it was that needed it, whom He carried up by His own body.  For as He offered it to death on behalf of all, so by it He once more made ready the way up into the heavens.”

→”Our Lord Jesus Christ, who took upon Him to die for all, stretched forth His hands, not somewhere on the earth beneath, but in the air itself, in order that the Salvation effected by the Cross might be shewn to be for all men everywhere: destroying the devil who was working in the air: and that He might consecrate our road up to Heaven, and make it free.”

→”And once again, stretching out His hands upon the Cross, He overthrew the prince of the power of the air, that now works in the sons of disobedience, and made the way clear for us into the heavens.”

➤St. Ephraim the Syrian (+373)–

→”Are you not aware, my brethren, what fear and what pressure we will suffer at the hour of our departure from this life when the soul is separated from the body? Great is the fear and great the mystery that takes place then, because holy angels and a multitude of the heavenly host appear to it, as well as all adverse powers and the rulers of darkness, each desiring to receive the soul or to offer it places. If the soul then had acquired in this life good virtues and lived a decent life, they become good angels, and encircle the soul and do not leave any of the enemy powers to touch it; but on the contrary they receive it with joy and gladness along with the holy chanting to God hymns of victory, presenting it to Christ the Master and glorious King, and together with it and all the heavenly powers they worship Him; and at last it is led to a place of rest, to the ineffable joy, the everlasting light, in the Kingdom of Heaven, where there is neither grief, nor sighing, nor tears, nor cares, but eternal life and everlasting rejoicing, together with all those who pleased God.  But if in this life it lived shamefully, associating with the dishonorable passions and dragged by the pleasures of the flesh and the vanity of this world, in the day of its exodus from this life these selfsame passions and pleasures which it acquired in this life become malicious demons circling the wretched soul, not allowing the angels of God to approach; but together with the adverse powers of the rulers of darkness they receive it and lead it sullen, lamenting and weeping pitifully to dark and gloomy and grievous places, where all the sinners have been kept for the day of Judgment and the eternal punishment; where the devil along with all his angels will be imprisoned.”

→”No one will help us in that day–neither friend nor relation. Only our repentance in this world, with its accompanying virtues namely true love, humility, obedience, and temperance will help us These accompany us when we set off from this ephemeral world. They resist those opposing powers which wish to seize us.”

→”You see that, in accordance with the Gospels, we will be judged in that day.  Pay attention exactly to what is written and do not despise it. Woe to those who blaspheme against the Sacred Scriptures! For many are idle talkers and deceive themselves; whenever they hear about judgment and Hades, they mock, saying: “Am I better than the rest of the world? Wherever the world goes, there will I go, also. What can hold me down in all the world? I will now enjoy all the pleasures of this life, like everybody else.” Then, upon the completion of the term of his life, comes a harsh angel sent to seek his soul, saying: ‘Your road in this life is complete; come then to the other world; come to your proper place.’  Then he forsakes the joys of this life which he had thought he would be enjoying eternally, and is removed away to the place of his torment, dragged by evil angels; and when he sees this place, he will be frightened, and he will beat his face with his hands, turning his gaze here and there, but even though he tries to escape, he will by no means be able to break loose, for he will be held securely by those who lead him away.”

→”All the days of my life have I wallowed in the sea of evil, and I did not lament my sins. And all at once death will place its shackles upon me…  May Thy cross accompany me during that dreaded crossing, may it drive the powers of darkness away from me; may it be for me the key that opens the gates of paradise, that I may enter into bliss, rejoice and glorify Thy compassion, O most merciful One!”

→”Lo, I try to gather my thoughts from every corner, but I am successful, for the things responsible for the passions of my thoughts remain in me. I have not yet been freed from the influence of the evil spirits that will detain me on my upward path toward heaven. I have not yet acknowledged the weight of the multitude of my sins…”

→”Do not leave me in the terrible hour of death, O my Lady, but rush to my aid, rescue me from the bitter torments of the demons. For if thou so choosest, thou hast the power to do this, for thou art truly the Mother of God who reignest over all.”

→”In a short time we shall pass through terrible and fearful places, and there is no one here who can avoid walking this path.  There will be no one there to accompany and assist us; neither parents nor brethren, nor friends, nor relatives, nor wealth, nor any other such thing.  If at that very hour we find ourselves stripped of God’s protection, the princes of darkness shall certainly hold us back.  They are unyielding and merciless; they fear not kings, nor do they respect masters; they honor neither the small nor the great. Only from those who live in piety do they withdraw in fear, allowing them free passage.  I imagine what this hour will be like and fall down before Thy goodness, O Lord. Give me not up to those who offend me, that Thine enemies might not boast that they have taken Thy servant, O good Lord. May they not gnash their teeth and terrify my sinful soul, saying, ‘Thou hast fallen into our hands, thou hast been handed over to us. This is the day for which we have waited.’  No, O Lord, deal with me not according to mine iniquities and turn not Thy face away from me. Say not to me, “Amen, I say to thee, I know thee not.” Punish me, O Lord, according to Thy compassion, and may mine enemy not rejoice over me.  Extinguish his fury, nullify all his actions, provide for me a path to Thee free from attacks and revilement.  Incline Thine ear to my prayer, O good Lord, not because of my righteousness, but because of Thy compassion and Thy great mercy. Save my sorrowful soul from death. Thou art the Lord of all and Thou hast power over all creatures.  Thou hast said, O Lord, “Ask, and it shall be given to you; knock, and it shall be opened to you.” Lo, I ask and I knock. Before my end comes, O Lord, cleanse me of all sin. Amen.”

→”At the time when my humbled soul departs from my body, when–woe is me!–I will have to speak with the enemies outside the gates (Ps. 127:5), then, O Lady, regard me with thy merciful eye; free me from all the merciless tormentors and the terrible task-masters of the prince of this age; be my defender and destroy all record of my sins. Lead me saved and unashamed to the throne of thy Son and His unoriginate Father and the All-Holy Spirit–the light-creating Trinity, one in essence. Amen.”

*Originally posted on Orthodoxidation Blog, April 20, 2017*

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