The souls’passing through the toll-houses (I)

The teaching of the Holy Scripture and of the Holy Fathers about the souls’passing through the toll-houses

Metropolitan Hierotheos of Navpact

According to the teaching of the Church Fathers, the soul when it gets out of the body but even before that, when it is on the verge of getting out of it, feels the presence of the demons, who are called publicans and is overwhelmed by fear because is going to pass through the toll-houses.   

We have to say from the beginning that the toll-houses – the demons – have no power over the righteous, over those who had united themselves with Christ.The righteous will not pass through the so called toll-houses and they will not be overwhelmed by any fear of them. But we shall se all these when we present the teaching of the Holy Fathers.     

The definition of the soul’s passing through demons is taken from the publicans of those times. It is good to analyze a little this subject in order to understand what the Fathers define as the soul’s passing through demons.

The publicans in the old times were those who bought the public taxes from the state and then they took them from people.[1]

The publicans were divided in two classes. The first class included the so-called buyers of public incomes, who were the richest and most powerful class of the authority and the second included the so-called collectors. The first ones were the public collectors, who bought the taxes from the state while the second ones were the people hired by the first ones who collected the taxes from the people and they gave them to the first ones.

The collectors were unjust since they collected higher taxes than those they supposed to give to their masters. That is why they had a bad reputation in the old societies. Plato says that the publicans were tough not that much when they took the taxes on products but when looking for those hidden in other places and loads, they turned them upside down.

For this reason, when Theokritus was asked who were the cruelest beasts he answered: `In wilderness they are the bears and the lions and in the cities they are the publicans and the slanderers.`

The publicans in their attempt to collect as much money as possible and in order not to miss anyone they could grasp from those who could not afford the heavy and unjust taxation invented all kinds of methods. So they waited on narrow roads and they gathered the passers-by forcing them to give them what they had to. It was a very unpleasant scene, detested by the people of those times.

The Holy Fathers use this well known and detested image to make the people of those times understand what meant the frightening mystery of death and what terrible things took place in the moment when the soul was ready to leave and especially after it left the human body. Saint Makarios the Egyptian says in this regard: `In the same way the publicans waylay the passers-by on the roads the demons waylay the souls after they leave the bodies.

If they didn’t purify themselves completely they don’t allow them to go higher to the heavenly places and give answer to their Lord but they are thrown down by the demons from the air.

Of course, the image of the toll-houses belongs to the realities of those times but the teaching about the demons after the soul leaves the body that they try to kidnap it, it is mentioned in many texts from the Holy Scripture and of the Holy Fathers. We have already seen how after death the souls of the righteous are taken by the angels while the souls of the sinners and of those who didn’t repent are taken by the demons. Possessed by their hatred towards men, they would like to kidnap all the people and take them over. But they cannot take over the righteous.

The main text the Church Fathers interpret as relating to the toll-houses is the word of Christ before His suffering:` the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold over me` [1]. The ruler of this world is the devil. He is called that way not because he would be the real ruler of the world, but because he rules the world of injustice.Christ showed that the devil had no hold over Him. Of course there He refers at the devil and at death.

Apostle Paul referring at the people who were dead spiritually, who lacked the grace of God, writes: ` As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.`[2]. In this text we see that people die because of their sins and of the devil’s actions.

The devil is also called the `ruler of the power of the air`, because he is in the air and wars without cease the men. This is the image the Fathers have in mind and say that when the soul gets out of the body and crosses the air he encounters the ruler of the air.. The text also says that this ruler ` is now at work in those who are disobedient`

[1] John 14, 30

[2] Ephesians 2, 1-2.

[1] see an extensive analysis at G. Konstantinou; The Dictonary of the Holy Scriptures, Grigori, p. 966.