Friday, June 13, 2014

Explaining the Aerial Toll-Houses

     During our entire life we are caught up in a battle with the kingdom of darkness. We don’t always see these powers that assail us but the effects are real and devastating. Concerning this invisible battle the apostle Paul tells us, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 6:12 NIV)”.As the Apostle points out we do not see these forces so we respond to this battle in a different way. However, when our physical body dies we will get a chance to see these forces that work against us. Consequently, it is essential that we continually make ourselves ready for that battle that will be face to face. Concerning this final battle, there are many traditions that have developed in the Church, one in particular is the Byzantine tradition of the Ariel Toll-Houses.
      The doctrine of Ariel Toll-Houses is an obscure Byzantine tradition. Much of the obscurity is based on the fact that Divine Revelation is silent about what takes place during death. In terms of the Ariel Tollhouses some fathers understood that some type of successive battle with evil took place after death. Even though there were some universal elements to this teaching shared by the fathers some of their speculation could be considered heretical. In fact, to this day what certain fathers have taught on it causes controversy. There are even some noted Eastern Christian authors who in wishing to renew an understanding of Toll-Houses have made the mistake of literally interpreting all of what many Church fathers have said. The results of this have been the equivalent of a Dante’s Purgatorio where Christians get prodded with pitch forks by demons on the way up to God. Just like the medieval fantasies, which unfortunately still prevail, this understanding of the Toll-Houses is a radical departure from the New Testament. However, I believe when approaching the tradition within the framework of Divine Revelation we can discover something beneficial about the process of these Toll-Houses.
      In order to understand this doctrine as beneficial its important to recognize that some fathers have presented the Toll-Houses in terms of the Divine Economy. For example, St. Diadochos of Photiki in the Philokalia teaches that if maintain our love for the Lord our soul is “ freely to pass by the rulers of the nether world(Volume I, p. 295)”.  Here the saint speaks of encountering demons and going through a nether world. This of course is nothing less then what the Master himself experienced when he died on the cross. When Christ died he was subject to whatever the powers of darkness threw at him and experienced the realms that confine the dead, but these things had no power over Him. Just like the Master at death we too will experience what He went through and with the same victory. Speaking about this journey of the soul at death St. Andrew of Crete says that our souls pass through “that obscure place, but they do not dwell in it”(pg .93 Life after Death by Metropolitan Hierotheos) .  This transition here becomes the content of what I believe some fathers have addressed in their understanding of the Toll-Houses. In this matter, much of what the fathers emphasize is that importance of making ourselves ready for the final experience of Theosis.
     Concerning the content of how some fathers understood Toll-Houses I believe its based mostly on how much we have integrated ourselves into the life of Grace. For them, at death there remains a distance between us and final rest in God based on how we participated in the Divine nature before death. Some of this distance will constitute whatever final struggles we will face with those powers that we have fought during our earthly struggle. Sometimes it is described as legal battle where angles guide us amongst the demons who hurl allegations of sin. For example, a monk named  St. Boniface says the following of what he experienced at death, “the holy angels had a violent dispute concerning the souls that had come forth from their bodies, the demons bringing charges against them and aggravating the burden of their sins, the angels lightening the burden and making excuses for them(pp 25-27. The Soul After Death, by Fr. Seraphim Rose).” In contrast, no one can know for sure how the toll-houses are experienced after death. The essence of the tradition points to is a struggle that we must all face at death and the importance of striving for holiness in this life.
     Another way of looking at this tradition is from the perspective of someone who has done a horrible job in fighting the powers that be and who has fallen into sin many times. I speak mostly for myself here and glancing quickly at what many fathers have taught I believe my future battle at death doesn’t look good. On the other hand, I think there is a mystery here that many neglect in sharing this tradition of the Toll-Houses. Even in failure in this life at no point are we abandoned by God. It is His hope that we overcome the enemy and He continues to work with us toward that end. In working with us He doesn’t always remove the obstacles that He wishes for us to overcome, since in overcoming them we grow in our relationship with Him. Based on this, I understand the Toll-Houses as that final grace where we get the chance to overcome. We get to fight the evil that once held us down and victory at this time will be gloriously achieved in Christ.

7 comments:

  1. There are Byzantine Catholics that believe in the Aeriel Toll-Houses? By the way, Fr. Seraphim Rose taught that Catholicism was without grace, should we really rely on this scholarship?

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    1. I don't read anything Seraphim Rose has written and have little respect for him. Just my opinion.

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    2. Nothing wrong with having your own opinion. However, my post has nothing to do with him. I simply used his reference of another reference out of convenience.

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  2. What do you think about this?
    http://catholicpatristics.blogspot.com/2009/03/toll-houses.html

    But there are a lot of other things that are theological traditions in our Byzantine tradition that we tend not to follow because they are not definitive teaching and also even the Fathers of the Church are not infallible. For example, I have a book of writings of St. Gregory of Nyssa and he is EXTREMELY negative about marriage.

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    1. I think your link is nonsense. First of all, the tradition was not popularized by that bishop. It has a long history of development going back as far the 5th century in terms of what is written. What St. Gregory said is not a tradition and can not compare to this tradition. It is a definitive teaching and can be believed in by Catholics. Just like the doctrine of purgatory it has taken on many descriptions. As with purgatory some descriptions are not compatible to divine revelation. I though my description in my post was a fair analysis. There are many theological doctrines in Catholicism that are definitive but not binding. Take limbo for example, its still a definitive doctrine and can be believed in by Catholics even though pope Benedict retired it. Not all doctrines make it to the "infallible status". That doesn't mean that they are not worthy of belief. Tollhouses are a longstanding tradition in the Byzantine church and they are not going away.

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  3. I don't know, I know this isn't necessarily a valid argument against it, but
    I've never heard the toll houses preached or even mentioned in any Greek Catholic Church. I'm open to believing that it's a legitimate part of tradition....in the end I am just seeking the Truth (I hope.)

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    1. The Gospel is the only thing that should be preached. If someone is trying to understand the process of death they can use it as something worthy of belief.

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