Death and the Toll-Houses by Vladimir Moss

July 28, 2015  (Source:

It is decreed that men should die once, and after that the judgement.

Hebrews 9.27.

The Orthodox tradition on the judgement of the soul after death, and the

passage of the soul through the “toll-houses”, was summarized by St.

Macarius the Great as follows: “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)

The first major exposition of this tradition in modern times was Bishop

Ignatius Brianchaninov’s Essay on Death in the third volume of his Collected


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