Aerial Toll-Houses

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The teaching of Aerial Toll-Houses regards the soul's journey after its departure from the body.

Dn. Andrew Werbiansky summarizes the theory (described in Fr. Seraphim Rose's book The Soul After Death) as follows: "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]

According to teaching of the Church, every person has demons that attack him, and "shoot their arrows at them", as Church Fathers say, that "arrows" being thoughts that suggest committing sins. These demons write down every sin that they persuaded people to do, and even thoughts that people accepted and complied with, but did not, for what ever reason, actually actualize them. When a person repents for a sin, and confesses it in the Holy Mystery (/Sacrament) of Confession [2], it is by God's Grace and Power erased from the demon's papers.

When the soul dies, on the third day it is carried by angels towards Heaven. On that way, they must go past 20 aerial toll-houses, which are huge groups of demons arranged according to specific kinds of sins. When a soul accompanied by angels gets to a toll-house, demons that tempted that soul during her life approach and accuse it for sins. The sins that are written on papers of demons have to be "payed for" by persons good deeds in life, such as prayer, fasting, asceticism, doing works of mercy, etc.

According to Hagiographies, and the accounts of saints that have passed the aerial toll-houses, and talked about it in their appearances to various holy man, the demon often accuse the soul of sins that they tempted her with, but it didn't comply with, of sins that she repented for, and in that cases one of the angels, the one which was the persons guardian angel, speaks for the person, saying that those are lies, and that payment is not necessary, taking the soul to the next toll-house.

If a person has sins for which he did not repent, and does not have enough good deeds to pay for them, the demons of the corresponding toll-house grab him, and take him to hell. The soul navigates the toll-houses in the following order:

  • At the first aerial toll-house, the soul is questioned about sins of the tongue, such as empty words, dirty talk, insults, ridicule, singing worldly songs, too much or loud laughter, and similar sins.
  • The second is the toll-house of lies, which includes not only ordinary lies, but also the breaking of oaths, the violation of vows given to God, taking God's name in vain, hiding sins during confession, and similar acts.
  • The third is the toll-house of slander. It includes judging, humiliating, embarrassing, mocking, and laughing at people, and similar transgressions.
  • The fourth is the toll-house of gluttony, which includes overeating, drunkenness, eating between meals, eating without prayer, not holding fasts, choosing tasty over plain food, eating when not hungry, and the like.
  • The fifth is the toll-house of laziness, where the soul is held accountable for every day and hour spent in laziness, for neglecting to serve God and pray, for missing Church services, and also for not earning money through hard, honest labor, for not working as much as you are paid, and all similar sins.
  • The sixth toll-house is the toll-house of theft, which includes stealing and robbery, whether small, big, light, violent, public, or hidden.
  • The seventh is the toll-house of covetousness, including love of riches and goods, failure to give to charity, and similar acts.
  • The eight is the toll-house of usury, loan-sharking, overpricing, and similar sins.
  • The ninth is the toll-house of injustice- being unjust, especially in judicial affairs, accepting or giving bribes, dishonest trading and business, using false measures, and similar sins.
  • The tenth is the toll-house of envy.
  • The eleventh is the toll-house of pride- vanity, self-will, boasting, not honoring parents and civil authorities, insubordination, disobedience, and similar sins.
  • The twelve is the toll-house of anger and rage.
  • The thirteenth is the toll-house of remembering evil- hatred, holding a grudge, and revenge.
  • The fourteenth is the toll-house of murder- not just plain murder, but also wounding, maiming, hitting, pushing, and generally injuring people.
  • The fifteenth is the toll-house of magic- divination, conjuring demons, making poison, all superstitions, and associated acts.
  • The sixteenth is the toll-house of lust- fornication, unclean thoughts, lustful looks, unchaste touches.
  • The seventeenth is the toll-house of adultery.
  • The eighteenth is the toll-house of sodomy: bestiality, homosexuality, incest, masturbation, and all other unnatural sins.
  • The nineteenth is the toll-house of heresy: rejecting any part of Orthodox faith, wrongly interpreting it, apostasy, blasphemy, and all similar sins.
  • The last, twentieth toll-house is the toll-house of unmercifulness: failing to show mercy and charity to people, and being cruel in any way.


There is disagreement in certain circles regarding the status of this teaching within the Orthodox Church. Some, including Archbishop Lazar (Puhalo) of Ottawa, consider this teaching controversial, even false (describing it as gnostic or of pagan origin). The traditional proponents of the teaching argue that it appears in the hymnology of the Church,[3] [4] in stories of the lives of saints (for example, the Life of St. Anthony the Great, written by St. Athanasius the Great, the life of St. Basil the New, and St. Theodora), in the homilies of St. Cyril of Alexandria[5] in the Discourses of Abba Isaiah,[6] the Philokalia, the Ladder of Divine Ascent, and the Dogmatics of the Orthodox Church by Blessed Justin Popovich. Several contemporary Church figures speak about toll-houses.[7] [8] [9] [10] Secondly, not a single Church Father ever wrote even one sentence expressing doubt about this teaching (which is present in the Church sense at least fourth century). Thirdly, some of the greatest modern authorities of the Orthodox Church, such as St. Ignatius Brianchaninov[11] and St. Theophan the Recluse,[12] insisted not only on the truthfulness, but on the necessity of this teaching in the spiritual life of a Christian.

Since the teaching of the tollhouses has been accredited by the Holy Synod of the Russian Church Abroad, it therefore may be considered an official teaching of the Orthodox Faith.


  1. Death and the Toll House Contraversy by Deacon Andrew Werbiansky
  2. if there is an opportunity for that, if not, confession without a priest is sufficient, as in the case of the Good Thief
  3. January 27, The Recovery of the Holy Relics of our Father among the Saints John Chrysostom, Troparion 1, Ode 5 of Orthros: "Grant me to pass untroubled through the host of noetic satraps and the tyrannic battalion of the lower air in the hour of my departure..."
  4. Parakletike, Friday Vespers, Second Mode: "When my soul is about to be separated violently from the members of the body, then, O Bride of God, come to my aid; scatter the counsels of the fleshless enemies and shatter their millstones, by which they seek to devour me mercilessly; that, unhindered, I may pass through the rulers of darkness standing in the air."
  5. St. Cyril of Alexandria Ephesi praedicata depoito Nestorio, ACO.14(52.405D) as referenced by Lampe, G.W.H., A Patristic Greek Lexicon, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1961, p.1387
  6. The Twenty-nine Discourses of our Holy Father Isaiah, Volos, 1962, p. 37 (in Greek): "[Live] every day having death before your eyes, and concerning yourselves with how you will come out from the body, how you will pass by the powers of darkness what will meet you in the air, and how you will answer before God..."
  7. The Taxing of Souls by Metropolitan Hierotheos (Vlachos)
  8. Answer to a Critic, Appendix III from The Soul After Death by Father Seraphim Rose of Platina
  9. Vid. Ephraim, Elder, Counsels from the Holy Mountain, St. Anthony's Greek Orthodox Monastery, Arizona, 1999, pp. 436, 447.
  10. Cavarnos, Constantine, The Future Life According to Orthodox Teaching, Center for Traditionalist Orthodox Studies, Etna, California, 1985, pp. 24-26.
  11. A Word on Death, chapter "Aerial toll-houses"
  12. What is spiritual life, and how to obtain it, chapter "Perfect preparation for the Mystery of Repentance"

See also

External links