Death of Theodora

Death of Saint Theodora and visions of spiritual trials

The teaching of aerial toll houses is subscribed to by some Orthodox Christians. According to this teaching, "following a person's death the soul leaves the body and is escorted to God by angels. During this journey the soul passes through an aerial realm which is ruled by demons. The soul encounters these demons at various points referred to as 'toll-houses' where the demons then attempt to accuse it of sin and, if possible, drag the soul into hell."[1]


The most detailed account of the aerial toll-houses is found in the hagiography of Saint Basil the New, found in the Lives of Saints, for 26 March (according to the Orthodox calendar), where Saint Theodora, spiritual student of Saint Basil, appeared to his another student, pious and holy laymen Gregory, who, with Basil, prayed to God to let him know what happened to Theodora after her death. The Lord answered their prayers, and Theodora appeared to Gregory, and told him, in great detail, about her journey through the toll-houses.[2]

According to this teaching, every person has demons that tempt them. These demons keep a record of every sin of thought or action they succeed in tempting a person to commit. Repented sins are erased from the demonic records.

On the third day after the soul separates from the body, it is carried by angels towards Heaven. On the way, souls must go past 20 aerial toll-houses. Each toll house is populated by demons devoted to particular sins. At each toll-house, demons demand that souls pay for their sins by giving an account of compensatory good deeds. If the soul is unable to pay for a sin, the demons take the soul to hell.

The toll houses

  • On the first aerial toll-house, the soul is questioned about the sins of the tongue
  • The second is the toll-house of lies
  • The third is the toll-house of slander
  • The fourth is the toll-house of gluttony
  • The fifth is the toll-house of laziness
  • The sixth toll-house is the toll-house of theft
  • The seventh is the toll-house of covetousness
  • The eight is the toll-house of usury
  • The ninth is the toll-house of injustice
  • The tenth is the toll-house of envy
  • The eleventh is the toll-house of pride
  • The twelve is the toll-house of anger
  • The thirteenth is the toll-house of remembering evil
  • The fourteenth is the toll-house of murder
  • The fifteenth is the toll-house of magic
  • The sixteenth is the toll-house of lust
  • The seventeenth is the toll-house of adultery
  • The eighteenth is the toll-house of sodomy
  • The nineteenth is the toll-house of heresy
  • The twentieth toll-house is the toll-house of unmercifulness

A Controversial, Unaccepted Teaching

Many members of the Orthodox Christian Church consider this teaching controversial, even false. They argue that it is a form of gnosticism, or neo-gnosticism, and claim that the teaching is opposed to the catechism and other Orthodox teachings.[3] Critics of the teaching, such as Rev. Dr. Michael Azkoul, argue that the teaching has only one main proponent, Fr. Seraphim Rose, whose argument that the teaching precedes him in non-gnostic sources is questionable.[4] Moreover, opponents of this false teaching argue that it emphasizes fear and guilt as a way of keeping believers "in line" while ignoring the love, compassion of forgiveness of Jesus Christ -- who, after all, came to earth to save the world and humanity when they least deserved it.

The fundamentalist proponents of the teaching argue that it appears in the stories of the lives of some saints (for example the Life of Saint Anthony the Great, written by Saint Athanasius the Great, the life of Saint Basil the New, and Saint Theodora), the Philokalia, the Ladder of Divine Ascent, and the Dogmatics of the Orthodox Church by Justin of Celie). Some Church figures -- in themselves, controversial -- speak about toll-houses.[5] [6] The teaching has been present in the Church since at least the fourth century, dating back to the time other other, equally discredited heresies.

However, the teaching of the tollhouses has never been accredited by a Holy Synod and therefore cannot be considered an official teaching of the Orthodox Faith.


  1. Death and the Toll House Controversy
  2. St. Theodora's Journey Through the Aerial Toll-Houses Lives of Saints, March 26th
  3. "Against the Gnostic Story of Judging Demons."
  4. Azkoul, Rev. Dr. Michael. The Toll-House Myth: The Neo-Gnosticism of Fr. Seraphim Rose. Introduction.
  5. The Taxing of Souls by Metropolitan Hierotheos (Vlachos)
  6. Answer to a Critic, Appendix III from The Soul After Death by saint Seraphim Rose of Platina

Further reading

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