Heaven, Hell and Toll Houses

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I know of only a few other topics in Orthodoxy that can cause as much division as toll houses.  With that in mind, I have put together this page in order to assist people who want to know more information.  Most people I’ve spoken to and resources I’ve encountered that oppose the toll house theology end up creating an overly-literal and exaggerated concept of the toll-houses.

The resources I have to offer are 1) Free electronic resources and 2) Printed books that are usually a bit more in-depth.

ELECTRONIC RESOURCES

Toll Houses

  • The series on the soul after death by Fr. Thomas Hopko, in which he teaches about the toll houses in addition to heaven and hell, is a highly recommended audio source.  The files are from St Paul’s Orthodox Church in Irvine, CA.  You can downloaded it in four parts here: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4.  Fr. Thomas takes a very careful, well-researched, and balanced approach when addressing this topic.  It’s lengthy, but certainly worth a listen.
  • You can download a short summary of the above lecture which was recorded on Ancient Faith Radio here.
  • Also, some articles regarding the toll-houses:
    • The Taxing of Souls – Met. Hierotheos.  An excellent and well-researched article by a highly esteemed author.  It comes from the book referenced below, Life After Death.
    • The Debate Over Ariel Toll-Houses – ROCOR Synod of Bishops, 1980.  An evaluation of the controversy between Fr. Seraphim Rose and Lazar Puhalo.  Mr. Puhalo has been raising controversy for decades now, causing quite a few problems with his opinions that he promotes as church doctrine.  His ideas sometimes reflect whatever will make people feel good about themselves.  He is not a trustworthy source.
    • On The Question of Toll-Houses – Fr. Michael Pomazansky.  Another article on the toll houses by a well respected theologian.
  • Here is a document filled with patristic quotes on the state of the soul after death.  It was compiled by Rhonda Dodson and is shared on the Traditional Orthodoxy (TradOx) Facebook site.  If you are already Orthodox and take the wisdom of the Church seriously, it is a good starting point.  After reading through this document and a multitude of other saints, I came to a few conclusions:
    • The list is partial.  I have come across numerous references or hints toward the tolls houses in the works of the fathers, both ancient and more modern.
    • There was quite obviously a common consensus among the fathers that we don’t immediately find ourselves in heaven or hell after death.  However, this is explained in various ways and not always as a “toll house.”
    • There is some type of testing that happens to the soul after death that determines whether it will enjoy a foretaste of heaven or suffer a foretaste of hell before the Final Judgement.  The Toll House doctrine must be understood as a metaphor to explain this period of testing.
    • We must try to be balanced.  When we lose the metaphorical understanding and try to stretch it too far, we can sometimes create a grotesque doctrine in which demons rule the after life.  They don’t.  And most of the time these ideas are straw man arguments created to knock down this doctrine.  However, if we do not take it seriously enough, then we lose an important part of church doctrine that all of the great saints and teachers of the church have upheld.  Though not all taught it, there is not a single saint in the history of the church who opposed this doctrine.

Heaven and Hell

BOOKS IN PRINT

The first book in English (and therefore the one most commonly loved or criticized) on the topic of toll houses is Fr. Seraphim Rose’s The Soul after Death.  Fr. Seraphim was a strong advocate of toll-houses and presents the material from a patristic point of view, while also making several speculations of his own on the state of the soul immediately after death, out of body experiences, UFO’s, and other phenomenon that people experience.  Whether one likes it or not, it certainly gives some food for thought.

Other books that have been written on the topic include:

  • Life after Death – Metropolitan Heirotheos.  He addresses heaven, hell, toll houses, universal salvation, purgatory, and several other topics.  A most excellent read.
  •  Life After Death According to The Orthodox Tradition – Jean-Claude Larchet, G. John Champoux.   I have several friends who say this is the best book on the topic due to its depth of patristic insight.
  • Eternal Mysteries Beyond the Grave – Archimandrite Panteleimon.  This is recommended by the monks at a monastery that I frequent.  I definitely trust their recommendations.
  • The Departure of The Soul – There is a new book coming out in 2017 that contains over 1,000 pages on toll houses.  It includes 1,300+ footnotes and cross references, 500+ pages of patristic citations chronologically arranged, over 200 color pages of icons, and over 100 pages refuting outright lies and distortions of contemporary opponents of church doctrine.  The book has been endorsed by numerous bishops and academics of the church.

LESS REPUTABLE RESOURCES

I have removed the two resources by Fr. Michael Azkoul and Lazar Puhalo from my page.  Originally, my intent was to provide the varying points of view on this topic.  However, my desire has always been to be on the path of truth, even if I don’t like the truth I have discovered, even if it makes me uncomfortable.  The resources I had listed in this section neglected many of the teachings of the church in order to make people feel more comfortable.

The last resource I cited above, The Departure of the Soul, has around 100 pages making the case that Mr. Puhalo altered icons, purposely mistranslated ancient texts, and pulled passages out of context in order to “prove” the fathers of the church did not support toll houses.  Mr. Puhalo is not a trustworthy source and his messages he posts online remind me of how cult leaders seek to manipulate and control people.  My advice is to stay far away from him and read the saints of the church.


Tip: right click and hit “Save Link As…” to save several of the electronic resources above to your computer.  If the listing of any material here is seen as a copyright infringement, please contact me immediately.  Thank you.

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