St. Ephrem of Syria on the Tollhouses

St. Ephrem the Syrian ca. 306-373

While the dying person addresses his last words to us, suddenly his tongue is at a loss, his eyes dim, his mouth falls silent, his voice paralyzed when the Lord’s troops have arrived, when His frightening armies overwhelm him, when the divine bailiffs invite the soul to be gone from the body, when the inexorable lays hold of us to drag us to the tribunal… Then the angels take the soul and go off through the air. There stand principalities, powers and leaders of the adverse troops who govern the world, merciless accusers, strict agents of an implacable tax bureau, like so many examiners that await the soul in the air, ready to demand a reckoning, to examine everything, brandishing their claims, that is to say our sins: those of youth and of old age, those intentional and those not so, those committed by actions and those by words or thoughts. Great then is the fear of the poor soul, inexpressible its anguish when it sees itself at grips with these myriads of enemies, who stop it, push and shove it, accuse it, hinder it from dwelling in the light, from entering into the land of the living. But the holy angels, taking the soul, lead it away. (“Sur la seconde venue du Christ”, ed. Assemani, tome 3, pp. 275-276. excerpted from “Life After Death According to the Orthodox Tradition” by Jean-Claude Larchet pp. 90-91)


  1. Can we find toll-houses before Origen? And thanks for it, your site is amazing.

  2. Thanks Andrew!

    St. Justin the Philosopher speaks about the “evil angels that come for the soul”. Tertullian and St. Hippolytus speak of angelic guides for escort into the Intermediate State. St. Hippolytus says the wicked are “dragged off like prisoners”.

    However, it is the ultimately the Holy Scripture that teaches about angelic guides into the afterlife and the heavenly places being the abode of demons which we wrestle with when they demand to sift us like wheat.


  3. Thank you! Sorry for the delay. What do you think about this post and these commentaries?


    Lazar Puhalo Brian (Frakes): St John Maximovich believed that the Mother of God was terrified of demons. He cites the Gnostic’
    27 de abril às 01:38 · 1

    Lazar Puhalo “Bandalet of Righteousness” as his authority. And, indeed, the only sources for the Toll House teaching are Gnostic, and that includes the Paulician/Bogomil “Tale of Basil the New”, which has been studied and written about in precisely that context.
    27 de abril às 01:39 · 2

    Lazar Puhalo Abba Isaak the Syrian directly refutes the Toll House myth in its Mandean form, in his Letter to Publius.

    Lazar Puhalo Ultimately, the answer is that, at the time of the Seven ecumenical Councils, no one had even heard of any teaching of “Toll Houses.” It would not have been presented, because the teaching simply did not exist at the time of the Councils.

    Lazar Puhalo Seraphim, it is not MY statement. Take a look at the holy fathers and see whose statement it actually is. Only the saints have special “power” because of the fulness of Grace, but why they can do is a special gift of Grace, not a natural state. The fact that the soul has some awareness by itself is also a matter of grace. The soul is not immortal by nature, but only by grace. If you will examine the holy fathers on the subject, you will find that they consistently condemn the notion that the soul has psyhophysical autonomy when separated from the body. Spiritual awarness, but no freedom of any form of physical activity or action. Only the Saints have such, and only by Grace. Beginning with St Justin the Philosopher, you will find this consistently taught by the holy fathers. What has happened is that we have overridden the fathers of the Church with rationalist supperstitions and concepts similar to the Greek myth of Orpheus in Hades. This is spoken of by St Irenae of Lyons in his AGAINST ALL HERESIES (22:1) and many others. If I have a little time later this evening, I will send you a list of references in the Holy Fathers that you should read, in this regard.
    8 de Junho às 17:13 · 2

    Lazar Puhalo By the way, we also have some very strange and anti-Patristic, anti-Scriptural teachings about the 3rd, 9th and 40th day commemorations of the departed; teaching about which neither Scripture nor the Fathers knew anything about. These are generally based on a fake writing attributed to St Makarius, but well known to have been Gnostic in origin. Take a look at what St. Symeon of Thesaloniki says about it, for example. And he is or foremost Liturgist. What is too often taught is pure and simple an extract from the Egyptian Book of the Dead, and not from any Orthodox Christian source.
    8 de Junho às 17:20 · 2

    Lazar Puhalo There are very serious problems with the rest of the book as well, but they did not cause as much spiritual disorientation and pain as did the Toll House segments. Essentially, the rest of the book offers a combination of Gnosticism and New Age mysticism.

    Lazar Puhalo Let me give you only one example of the many:
    f the soul departs the body, the body dies. And the soul, when separated from the body is no longer able to function in any sensual, psychophysical manner, as our holy and God-bearing father
    Justin the Martyr says:
    “For as in the case of a yoke of oxen, if one or other is loosed from the yoke, neither of them can effect anything, if they be unyoked from their communion…For what is man but the rational animal composed of body and soul? Is the soul by itself man? No; but [only] the soul of a man. Would the body be called man? No; but it is called the body of a man…then neither of these is by itself man, but that which is made up of the two together is called man …”
    8 de Junho às 17:25 · 1

    Lazar Puhalo Here are two more, and you may read the complete work also to see the full context.

    as our holy father Ephraim the Syrian says:
    “Behold how both the soul and the body look and attest to one another: even as the body must have the soul so as to live, so must the soul have the body to see and hear.”
    And St

    Anastasios of Sinai informs us likewise that:
    “Accordingly, when the soul is separated from the entire body, it no longer is able to operate, because it operates through the members of the body…”

    Lazar Puhalo St
    Titus of Bostra, in refuting them, observes:
    “When the living body is dissolved by death and we should look upon its dust or its bones, or wish to say something about the soul, we say that these things are of a man, but we do not say that they are the man.”
    And St
    Photios the Great, refuting
    Origenism, concurs:
    “The name `man’, according to the most truthful and natural expression, applies to neither the soul without [its] body, nor to the body without [its] soul, but to that composition of soul and body made into a unique form of beauty. But
    Origen says that the soul alone is the man, as did Plato.”2
    In both Old Testament Scripture and general Hebrew thought, and in New Testament Scripture and Orthodox Christian thought in general, a living person is consistently regarded as a composite entity of body and soul. Death is an unnatural shattering of this
    psychophysical entity. As our holy father St
    Titus of Bostra says:
    “But though the soul be immortal [by grace], yet it is not the person, and so the Apostle does not consider [death] to differ in any wise from destruction…”
    8 de Junho às 17:32

    Lazar Puhalo The word of a contemporary against the consensus of the holy fathers does not show an Orthodox Christian mentality but demonstrates carelessness. I have spoken to monks on Athos who absolutely do not accept the Toll House heresy. It is certain that the Holy Fathers could not.

    Lazar Puhalo St
    Irenae of Lyons is like-minded when he says:
    “For it is just that in the very same condition in which they (the body and the soul) toiled or were afflicted, being proved in every way by suffering, they should receive the reward of their suffering …”
    Titus of Bostra, rebuking the Manicheans, confirms this thought in words quoted by St
    John the Damascene:
    “For the soul cannot enjoy anything, or possess, or do anything, or suffer, except it be together with the body, being the same as it was created in the beginning, and thus it enjoys that which is proper to it. This state is lost in death through the disobedience of Adam, and again through the obedience of the one Christ, through hope it receives (in the resurrection) again the state of being a person.”

    Lazar Puhalo Most of the toll house teaching is based on four writings well established by our Patrologist as being Gnostic and Gnostic forgeries. Directly, the Ethiopic Bandlet of Righteousness (the blasphemous teaching that the Mother of God was terrified of the demons), and the Gnostic forgeries labeled as Homily of the Exodus of the Soul, attributed by the forger to St Cyril of Alexandria, a writing falsely attributed to St Makarios (who, in fact, wrote nothing at all — that is why the Spiritual Homilies are published as “Pseudo-Makarios”), a radical distortion of a passage in the Life of St Antony the Great, and a clearly Bogomil writing titled Tale of St Basil the New. In fact, the in-drift of the Toll House myth from Pharaonic pagan Egypt is not surprising. The 42 Toll Houses from the Egyptian mythology is depicted not only in the Book of the Dead, but on many tombs and temples from the pagan era in Egypt. The stories were deeply ingrained in Egyptian folk culture and folk religion. However, the Toll House heresy radically overturns well established doctrines of the Holy Fathers, and to date, no one has cited even one reference to them Toll House doctrine from any of the authentic writings of the Holy Fathers. Toll House cultnik are astute and dancing the light fantastic around the very telling fact that, if there was any such teaching that is Orthodox, the Funeral and Memorial services with be full of references to this. Moreover, if this was so important a doctrine as the vainly claim, there would be many mentions of it among the fathers. Most Toll House-ites do not even know what the actual Patristic teaching is about the 3rd, 9th and 40th day Memorial services. St Symeon of Thessaloniki who gives us the Liturgical understanding of the memorials would most certainly have mentioned the Toll Houses if there was even a hint of it being an Orthodox teaching, but not one single Father who wrote about memorials and commemorations of the departed even hints at such a teaching. It is utterly impossible to reconcile these facts and the Toll House myth.

    I am just trying to understand.

  4. Andrew,

    You can go to the post-mortem section of this very website and see for yourself. Many saints and holy elders have held this teaching to be an ancient tradition within the Orthodox Church in the east and in the west. Even the scholarly types concur…

    Met. Kallistos Ware: “It is the normal teaching in the Orthodox Church that, during the period immediately following death, the soul, accompanied by the guardian angel, passes through a series of twenty-two telonia, celestial toll or custom houses … This teaching about the toll houses has early origins; while not a dogma of the Church, it is far more than mere legend or pious opinion.” “’One Body in Christ’: Death and the Communion of Saints,” in Sobornost vol. 3, no. 2 (1981), p. 182

    Met. Hilarion Alfeyev: “Regardless of how literally the testimonies of the toll-houses are perceived, whether in ancient or modern sources, the teaching that man awaits a trial after death is generally accepted in the Orthodox tradition.” (Orthodox Christianity: The Doctrine and Teaching of the Orthodox Church Vol. II pg. 501)

    Fr. Thomas Hopko: “So, my opinion is that the teaching is that, when a person dies, a huge battle, it’s the last battle, in a sense, to see whether that person really does believe in God, and accepts the grace of God and the forgiveness of God, or whether they cling to their demons, cling to their sins and passions … it’s a very old teaching; you find the teaching about toll houses is in practically every Church Father: you find it in Saint John Chrysostom, you find it in John of the Ladder; the first development of it was in Saint Cyril of Alexandria. Illumined Heart podcast on Ancient Faith Radio: “Toll Houses: After Death Reality or Heresy?”, Sept. 30, 2007

    One is left with Orthodox saints, elders and scholars vs… Archbishop Puhalo. Perhaps the Church and her saints are all gnosticized and latinized due to the pervasive infiltration of pseudepigrapha OR maybe Archbishop Puhalo is just wrong. If you really want to understand here are some links brother:

    The two books are “must have” works for your library. Blessings and thanks for your comments!!


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