On Our Present Circumstances

Fallen ChurchSt. Sophronius of Jerusalem ca. 560-638

[T]he present circumstances are forcing me to think differently about our way of life, for why are [so many] wars being fought among us? Why do barbarian raids abound? Why are the troops of the Saracens attacking us? Why has there been so much destruction and plunder? Why are there incessant outpourings of human blood? Why are the birds of the sky devouring human bodies?

…Why have churches been pulled down? Why is the cross mocked? Why is Christ, who is the dispenser of all good things and the provider of this joyousness of ours, blasphemed by pagan mouths (ethnikois tois stomasi) so that he justly cries out to us: “Because of you my name is

Why have churches been pulled down? Why is the cross mocked? Why is Christ, Who is the dispenser of all good things and the provider of this joyousness of ours, blasphemed by pagan mouths (ethnikois tois stomasi) so that He justly cries out to us: “Because of you My name is blasphemed among the pagans,” and this is the worst of all the terrible things that are happening to us…

egypt_bloody_jesus_AFPThat is why the vengeful and God-hating Saracens, the Abomination of Desolation clearly foretold to us by the Prophets, overrun the places which are not allowed to them, plunder cities, devastate fields, burn down villages, set on fire the holy churches, overturn the sacred monasteries, oppose the Byzantine armies arrayed against them, and in fighting raise up the trophies [of war] and add victory to victory. Moreover, they are raised up more and more against us and increase their blasphemy of Christ and the Church, and utter wicked blasphemies against God. Those God-fighters boast of prevailing over all, assiduously and unrestrainably imitating their leader, who is the devil, and emulating his vanity because of which he has been expelled from heaven and been assigned to the gloomy shades. Yet these vile ones would not have accomplished this nor seized such a degree of power as to do and utter lawlessly all these things, unless we had first insulted the gift [of baptism] and first defiled the purification, and in this way grieved Christ, the giver of gifts, and prompted Him to be angry with us, good though He is and though He takes no pleasure in evil, being the fount of kindness and not wishing to behold the ruin and destruction of men. We are ourselves, in truth, responsible for all these things and no word will be found for our defence. What word or place will be given us for our defence when we have taken all these gifts from Him, befouled them and defiled everything with our with our vile actions? (excerpted from Spencer, Robert. 2014-04-08. Did Muhammad Exist?: An Inquiry into Islam’s Obscure Origins. Kindle Locations 500-524. Intercollegiate Studies Institute. Kindle Edition)

On Divisions and the Antichrist

cyril-of-jerusalem-1St. Cyril of Jerusalem ca. 313-386

Hatred of the brethren makes room next for Antichrist; for the devil prepares beforehand the divisions among the people, that he who is to come may be acceptable to them. But God forbid that any of Christ’s servants here, or elsewhere, should run over to the enemy!

Writing concerning this matter, the Apostle Paul gave a manifest sign, saying, For that day shall not come, except there came first the falling away, and the man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself against all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he sits in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God. Do you not remember that when I was yet with you, I told you these things? And now you know that which restrains, to the end that he may be revealed in his own season. For the mystery of iniquity does already work, only there is one that restrains now, until he be taken out of the way. And then shall the lawless one be revealed, whom the LordJesus shall slay with the breath of His mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of His coming. Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan, with all power and signs and lying wonders, and with all deceit of unrighteousness for them that are perishing. (2 Thes. 2:3-10)

Thus wrote Paul, and now is the falling away. For men have fallen away from the right faith… And formerly the heretics were manifest; but now the Church is filled with heretics in disguise. For men have fallen away from the truth, and have itching ears. (2 Tim. 4:3) Is it a plausible discourse? All listen to it gladly. Is it a word of correction? All turn away from it. Most have departed from right words, and rather choose the evil, than desire the good. This therefore is the falling away, and the enemy is soon to be looked for: and meanwhile he has in part begun to send forth his own forerunners , that he may then come prepared upon the prey. Look therefore to yourself, O man, and make safe your soul. The Church now charges you before the Living God; She declares to you the things concerning Antichrist before they arrive. Whether they will happen in your time we know not, or whether they will happen after you we know not; but it is well that, knowing these things, you should make yourself secure beforehand. (Catechetical Lectures, Lecture 15.9)

On the Soul in the Balance

Weighing of a Soul from Icon of the Last Judgment

Weighing of a Soul from Icon of the Last Judgment. Source

St. Basil the Great ca. 330-379

Imagine your soul in a balance, devils and angels pulling at it in different directions. Which side will your heart defend? Who will win you over? Will it be fleshly delights or the holy soul? Present pleasure or a longing for the world to come? Will angels welcome you or will what you are tightly grasping now continue to own you? Commanders on the battlefield provide their soldiers with a password or token to equip them to call for help readily and to recognize one another clearly in any combat. But no one will recognize you, as belonging to either us or the enemy, if you fail to display the proper secret signs. How can the angel confirm your identity if you are not marked with the light of the Lord’s countenance? (Ps. 4:6) How can he rescue you from the foe if he sees no sign of your allegiance? Don’t you recall that the Angel of Death spared homes that had the mark, but killed the firstborn in homes without it? (Ex. 12:23) Unidentified riches are most liable to theft. Sheep are easy to steal if they have not been branded. (On Fasting and Feasts [Popular Patristic Series Book 50] Kindle Locations 1049-1056. St Vladimir’s Seminary Press. Kindle Edition)

On the Mortal Sin of Heresy

St. Ignatius Brianchaninov 1807-1867

You say, ‘heretics are Christians just the same.’ Where did you take that from? Perhaps someone or other calling himself a Christian while knowing nothing of Christ, may in his extreme ignorance decide to acknowledge himself as the same kind of Christian as heretics, and fail to distinguish the holy Christian faith from those offspring of the curse, blasphemous heresies. Quite otherwise, however, do true Christians reason about this. A whole multitude of saints has received a martyr’s crown, has preferred the most cruel and prolonged tortures, prison, exile, rather than agree to take part with heretics in their blasphemous teaching.

The Ecumenical Church has always recognised heresy as a mortal sin; she has always recognised that the man infected with the terrible malady of heresy is spiritually dead, a stranger to grace and salvation, in communion with the devil and the devil’s damnation. Heresy is a sin of the mind; it is more a diabolic than a human sin. It is the devil’s offspring, his invention; it is an impiety that is near idol-worship. Every heresy contains in itself blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, whether against the dogma or the action of the Holy Spirit. (Brianchaninov, Pis’ma, no. 283; translated as “Concerning the Impossibility of Salvation for the Heterodox and Heretics”, The Orthodox Word, March-April, 1965, and Orthodox Life, January-February, 1991)

On the Fate of the Soul in Byzantine Art and Liturgy


Separation of the Soul from the Body, fol. 63v, Heavenly Ladder of John Klimax, 1081, Princeton, University Library, Manuscripts Division

‘He Who is at the Point of Death’: The Fate of the Soul in Byzantine Art and Liturgy

by Vasileios Marinis

This paper is an examination of the content and iconography of the Kanon eis Psychorragounta (Canon for He Who Is at the Point of Death). This was the most important component of an akolouthia by the same name, a liturgical service meant to be read and sung on one’s behalf shortly before death. The canon’s extensive use and impact are evident in that it was depicted at least three times, once in manuscript illumination and twice in monumental painting, unusual given the rarity of illustrations of minor services. Because of its inclusion in euchologia, the prayer books used by clergy containing all the services of the Byzantine Rite, the author argues that the akolouthia and its canon provided a canonical, Church-sanctioned understanding of death and its immediate aftermath and exerted a normative influence on people’s perception of the separation of the soul from the body and subsequent events. On the most basic level, the iconography of the canon is meant to illustrate its contents.

On St. Kevin of Ireland and the Aerial Demons

How St. Kevin of Glendalough [ca. 498-618] did battle with demons, and by the Mercy of God, Saved the Soul of an Undeserving Man, by God’s Grace

A certain cruel soldier had frequently perpetrated robberies among those mountain ridges. He had never done a good action but one, which was praying each day, that through St. Kevin’s merits, his soul might be saved. On a particular occasion, being surrounded by those who were in pursuit of him, he was put to death, and afterwards cut to pieces. An Angel of the Lord then appeared to [St.] Kevin saying: “A certain wretched man, who hath daily invoked thee to ward off danger from his soul, is slain on this day. Do you, therefore, act valiantly in the Lord’s name, and follow the demons who drag his soul to torments. For, although his body is destroyed, yet through the power of God, you shall snatch his soul from destruction.” Then, the holy Abbot felt comforted. Guided by the Angel, he was taken up from the earth to the higher regions of air, where he remained from the ninth hour to the following day, engaged in a contest with demons. In fine, through the Mercy of God, he release the wretched man’s soul from their power. Meantime, not knowing the cause of their holy Abbot’s absence, his monks felt sorrowful, on finding their venerable superior missing. When he returned to them, on the following day, he said: “O my brethren, bury the body of that culprit in your cemetery, for on his account, I ascended towards heaven. His soul is now liberated from the demons, and is at rest in God’s presence.” The monks did as they were commanded, while admiring those wonders wrought by the Almighty, through his holy servant. (J. O’Hanlon, “Lives of the Irish Saints” Volume 6, pp. 62-63)

H/T to Fr. Enoch

Evangelist Billy Graham on the Soul After Death

Hieromonk Seraphim Rose 1934-1982

Orthodox Christians are fortunate to have the teaching of the aerial toll- houses and the particular judgment clearly set forth in numerous Patristic writings and Lives of Saints, but actually any person who carefully reflects on nothing more than the Holy Scripture will come to a very similar teaching. Thus, the Protestant Evangelist Billy Graham writes in his book on angels: “At the moment of death the spirit departs from the body and moves through the atmosphere. But the Scripture teaches us that the devil lurks there. He is ‘the prince of the power of the air’ (Eph. 2:2). If the eyes of our understanding were opened, one would probably see the air filled with demons, the enemies of Christ. If satan could hinder the angel of Daniel for three weeks on his mission to earth, we can imagine the opposition a Christian may encounter at death…. The moment of death is satan’s final opportunity to attack the true believer; but God has sent His angels to guard us at that time.” (Billy Graham, Angels, God’s Secret Messengers , Doubleday, New York, 1975, pp. 150–51.) (The Soul After Death, Chap. 6 [kindle version])

On How the Devil Uses Holy Scripture

St. Ambrose of Milan ca. 338-397

For God’s power is to conquer; Scripture conquers for me. Learn, here, too, that Satan transforms himself into an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14), and from the Holy Scriptures themselves often prepares a snare for the Faithful. Thus he makes heretics, thus he dissipates faith, thus he assails the duties of piety. Therefore, let not a heretic seize you because he can cite some examples from the Scriptures, nor let he who seems learned arrogate them. The devil, too, uses the evidence of the Scriptures (Lk. 4:10-11), yet not in order to teach, but to entrap and deceive. He recognizes one intent on religion, illustrious with virtues, and very powerful with signs and wonders; he sets the snare of bragging, in order to puff up such a man with pride, so that he does not trust in his piety, but trusts in bragging, nor does he impute it to God, but seizes it for himself. (Exposition of St. Luke Bk. IV, 26)

On Francis of Assisi and the Soul After Death

Death and Ascension of Francis of Assisi

I toured Italy for two weeks and Assisi was one of the scheduled stops so I got the opportunity to see this peculiar fresco pretty closely. Our tour guide pointed out the recent discovery of a demonic face in the cloud beneath the ascending Roman Catholic saint. I asked the guide the significance of the demonic image and she stated that it symbolized an old belief that held that demons in the air tried to impede souls on their way to heaven.

Despite the objections of a minority within the U.S., Orthodoxy can claim to have taught this belief universally for 2,000 years and many contemporary Saints and prominent teachers have taught it as well. Fr. Seraphim Rose was highly criticized for his book The Soul After Death where he taught the patristic post-mortem teaching. Whereas, Fr. Peter Alban Heers, who resides in Thessaloniki, Greece states: “In America, Fr. Seraphim, although venerated by many and with many miracles associated with his life after his repose, is sometimes seen as controversial because of his writings, especially on the soul after death. He is seen as controversial or just plain wrong. Whereas here in Greece, a traditional Orthodox country, we see that this book, The Soul After Death, has been the most positively received of all the books Fr. Seraphim has written.”

For a complete treatment of this particular topic, purchase Jean-Claude Larchet’s comprehensive work Life After Death According to the Orthodox Tradition.

Read the article below and see the images to observe how the Orthodox teaching on the intermediate state must have persisted in the West even after the Schism.

Smirking Face of the Devil Discovered in Giotto Fresco

The smirking face of the Devil has been discovered hidden in a fresco by the Italian medieval artist Giotto after remaining undetected for more than 700 years in the Basilica of St Francis in Assisi.

by Nick Squires

The Satanic image went unnoticed until now because it is artfully hidden in the folds of a cloud and is invisible from ground level.

The discovery of the face, in a fresco which depicts the death of St Francis, was made by Chiara Frugoni, a medievalist and an expert on the saint.

“It’s a powerful portrait, with a hooked nose, sunken eyes and two dark horns,” Ms Frugoni said in an article in a forthcoming issue of the St Francis art history periodical.

“The significance of the image still needs to be delved into. In the Middle Ages it was believed that demons lived in the sky and that they could impede the ascension of human souls to Heaven.”

Demonic face in the cloud

“Until now it was thought that the first painter to use clouds in this way was Andrea Mantegna, with a painting of St Sebastian from 1460, in which high up in the sky there’s a cloud from which a knight on horseback emerges. Now we know that Giotto was the first (to use this technique).”

Sergio Fusetti, the head of the restoration work in the basilica, said the devil face may have been a dig at somebody the artist had quarrelled with.

Claudio Strinati, an art historian, said it was not unusual for Renaissance artists to include hidden meanings in their works. “Paintings often had two facets – an explicit one and an implicit one.”

Millions of pilgrims and tourists have trooped through the basilica in Assisi, in Umbria, since the fresco was painted in the 13th century without noticing the devil’s face.

Close-up of the demonic face in the cloud discovered by medievalist expert Chiara Frugoni.

It was only discovered during restoration of the fresco, the 20th in a series of images of St Francis’s life and death by Giotto.

St. Augustine on the Departure of the Soul

Blessed Augustine of Hippo ca. 354-430

I then, O my Praise and my Life, Thou God of my heart, putting aside for a little her good deeds, for which I joyfully give thanks to You, do now beseech You for the sins of my mother. Hearken unto me, through that Medicine of our wounds who hung upon the tree, and who, sitting at Your right hand, makes intercession for us. Rom. 8:34 I know that she acted mercifully, and from the heart Mat. 18:35 forgave her debtors their debts; do Thou also forgive her debts, whatever she contracted during so many years since the water of salvation. Forgive her, O Lord, forgive her, I beseech You; enter not into judgment with her. Let Your mercy be exalted above Your justice, James 2:13 because Your words are true, and You have promised mercy unto the merciful; Mat. 5:7 which You gave them to be who wilt have mercy on whom You will have mercy, and wilt have compassion on whom You have had compassion. Rom. 9:15

And I believe You have already done that which I ask You; but accept the free-will offerings of my mouth, O Lord. For she, when the day of her dissolution was near at hand, took no thought to have her body sumptuously covered, or embalmed with spices; nor did she covet a choice monument, or desire her paternal burial-place. These things she entrusted not to us, but only desired to have her name remembered at Your altar, which she had served without the omission of a single day; whence she knew that the holy sacrifice was dispensed, by which the handwriting that was against us is blotted out; Col. 2:14 by which the enemy was triumphed over, who, summing up our offenses, and searching for something to bring against us, found nothing in Him Jn. 14:30 in whom we conquer. Who will restore to Him the innocent blood? Who will repay Him the price with which He bought us, so as to take us from Him? Unto the sacrament of which our ransom did Your handmaid bind her soul by the bond of faith. Let none separate her from Your protection. Let not the lion and the dragon Ps. 91: 13 introduce himself by force or fraud. For she will not reply that she owes nothing, lest she be convicted and got the better of by the wily deceiver; but she will answer that her sins are forgiven Mat. 9:2 by Him to whom no one is able to repay that price which He, owing nothing, laid down for us. (Confessions Bk. 9 Chap. 13.35-36)

On St. Moses the Black

Palladius ca. 364-425

Indeed, he was counted worthy of such a gift (of power) over demons that we fear these flies more than he feared demons. This was the manner of life of Moses the Ethiopian; he too was numbered among the great ones of the Fathers. (Lausiac History, Chap. 19)

On the Material Side of Orthodoxy

St. Ignaty Brianchininov 1807-1867

Look, brethren, look what the devil is doing, has done and will do — leading the mind of man from heaven to material things, chaining the heart of man to earth and earthly pursuits and occupations! Look and be alarmed with a healthy fear! Look and be aware with necessary soul-saving caution! …[H]e taught to give special attention to their fasting and other bodily exercises and to attribute special significance to dry bread, mushrooms, cabbage, peas, or beans; and in this way sensible, holy, and spiritual exercises were turned into senseless, carnal and sinful farces. …[H]e inspired to attach an exaggerated importance to the material side of church services, while obscuring the spiritual side of the rites; thus, by hiding the essence of Christianity from these unfortunate people and leaving them only a distorted material wrapper or covering he enticed them to fall away from the Church into the most foolish form of clouded perception, into schism. (The Arena, [kindle version])

On Pity for the Reprobate

St. Silouan the Athonite 1886-1938

If you do not feel pity for the sinner destined to suffer the pains of hell-fire, it means that the grace of the Holy Spirit is not in you, but an evil spirit. While you are still alive, therefore, strive by repentance to free yourself from this spirit. (Saint Silouan the Athonite, p. 352)

On the Reality of the Particular Judgment

Metropolitan Macarius of Moscow 1816-1882

“Orthodox Dogmatic Theology” v.II, pp. 526-538

§ 249.

Reality of the Particular Judgment

The doctrine that, upon the death of a man a judgment takes place, known as the particular judgment in contrast to the general, which is to be at the end of the world.

1) Was known even in the Church of the Old Testament. The wise son of Sirach says in one place: “For it is a convenient thing unto the Lord in the day of death to reward a man according to his ways. The affliction of the hour maketh a man forget pleasure: and in his end his deeds shall be revealed.” ( Sir. 11, 26. 27). If it is a convenient thing unto the Lord on the very day of his death to reward a man according to his merits, and if, according to His will, there is indeed a revelation at his very end to a person of his doings, and this is not postponed until the general judgment, it must be necessary to allow that immediately upon a man’s death there will be a particular judgment. Otherwise, what would be the purpose that at that time all his works would be revealed to him? What does that revelation itself mean? And why does the Wise one note that it is convenient to God to reward a man for his deeds on the very day of his death?…

2) Was expressed with all clarity in the New Testament by St. Apostle Paul when he said: “And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment:” (Hebrews. 9, 27). Here the Apostle, obviously, does not suggest any gap between death and the judgment. Therefore is speaking not of the general judgment, but of the particular one.

3) Was clearly preached by the Holy Fathers and teachers of the Church. For example:

St. Gregory The Theologian, speaking in one place on the death of King Constantius, remarks that he translated from life here, “having brought, as they say, useless repentance at his last breath, at which time everyone becomes a sincere judge of himself, on account of the judgment that awaits there([1640]).

St. John Chrysostom inspired his audience: “No one living on earth, without having obtained the remission of his sins, after his transition to the future life, can escape those torments. But just as criminals are taken from prison to court in chains: so, upon their departure from this life, souls will be led to the terrible judgment, burdened by the various bonds of sins “([1641]). “On departure from this life, we will appear at a fearful judgment, and will give an account of all our affairs, and–if we remained in our sins , then we shall undergo tortures and executions, but if decide to pay at least a little heed to ourselves, then we shall be made worthy of crowns and blessings unimaginable: knowing this, let us keep the naysayers silent and let us ourselves embark on the path of virtue, that with hope, befitting a Christian, we shall appear at the aforesaid judgment, and obtain the benefits promised to us “([1642]). And also: “Prepare thy works for [thy] going forth, and prepare thyself for the path;” (Prov. 24: 27 [Septuagint]). If you have someone stolen something, give it back, and say, like Zacchaeus: I will restore it fourfold (Luke 19,). If you have berated someone, if you have become the enemy of anyone either, reconcile prior to the trial. Resolve all things here, so that you will see that judgment without any grief. As long as we are here, until then we have a good expectations: but when we depart there- we will be powerless to repent and wash away our sins. Therefore we must continually prepare for our departure from here. For what if it will be pleasing to God to call us tonight? What if tomorrow? “([1643]).

Blessed Augustine calls it a “fair and very salutary belief that the souls are judged as soon as they emanate from their bodies, before they appear for the judgment where they will be tried in resurrected bodies “([1644]).

St. Demetrius of Rostov: “For us, Orthodox Christians, it is meet for every one of us on every day and at every hour to look for the unknown hour of the ending of our lives, and to be ready for departing: for there will be a terrible judgment for each one of us, prior to the general terrible judgment.”([1645]). “Judgment is twofold: particular and general. A particular judgment is one which every man, dying, has, since he will then see all of his own deeds “([1646]). “We look for every day and every hour the coming of the Lord to us, but not yet that terrible coming again, with which He will come to judge the living and the dead and to reward each for his deeds; we do not await at every hour that time, in which (by the words of Peter the Apostle) in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up. (2 Peter. 3, 10), but await, each one, the hour of our own death, in which the judgment of God will come to take our souls from our bodies, in which hour there will be for each a particular trial about that which we have done; we await that hour at every hour as the Lord Himself, protecting us, taught in the Gospel: Be ye therefore ready also: for the Son of man cometh at an hour when ye think not. (Luke 12, 40) “([1647]).

4) It is comprehensible also for common sense. It could not accept that the state of souls, from death until the general judgment remain undetermined, uncertain ([1648]). For how to represent this state? Unconscious? But how is that possible for the soul which is, by nature, self-conscious? And even if this were possible, with what purpose could this be permitted by the wise Providence? ““Or conscious? In that case, how could the soul be conscious of itself, while not being found in a defined state? And what kind of an existence would this be? Therefore, it is necessary to postulate a disposition for every soul immediately upon the death of a man; and do it is necessary to postulate the particular judgment, at which this disposition must be determined.

§ 250.

The representation of the particular judgment: the doctrine of the toll-houses.

How the particular judgment takes place The Holy Scripture does not set forth. But the figurative representation of the judgment, based mainly on Holy Tradition and in concord with the Holy Scriptures, we find in the doctrine of the toll-houses, which exists from ancient times in the Orthodox Church.

I. The essence of the doctrine of the toll-houses can be seen in the Word of St. Cyril of Alexandria on the departure of the soul, which is usually printed in one of the books of the Church- “The Augmented Psalter”([1649]). Let us borrow from its primary themes. “When separation of our soul with the body there will appear before us, on the one hand, the hosts and the forces of heaven, on the other powers of darkness, evil holders of the air, aerial toll-house officers, torturers and accusers in our matters … Seeing them, the soul is troubled, shudders, trembles, and in confusion and horror, wishes to seek the protection of God’s angels, but, even being accepted by the holy angels, and under their shelter flowing through the aerial spaces and soaring to the heights, it will encounter different toll-houses (like some outposts or customs houses that exact fees), which are blocking its way into the kingdom, and will be stopping it and impeding its aspiration to achieve that goal. At each of the toll-houses an answer will be demanded concerning particular sins. The first toll-house concerns sins committed through the mouth and tongue … The second toll-house — sins through sight … The third toll-house–sins through hearing … The fourth toll-house–smell… The fifth -toll-house– All iniquity and foul deeds perpetrated by using the hands. To further toll-houses other sins are related, such as: anger, hatred, envy, vanity and pride … briefly, each passion of the soul, every sin in this way will have its toll-takers and torturers … There will be present at this also the divine powers and a host of evil spirits, and just as the first would represent the virtues of the soul, so the last accusers of sins, committed by word or deed, with the thought or intention. Meanwhile, the soul, being among them, will be living in fear and trembling, worrying in its thoughts, until, finally, based on its acts, deeds and words, either will be convicted and bound with chains, or, having been acquitted, it will be released (for everyone is tied by the bonds of their own sins). And if for its life being devout and pious, it would be found worthy, it will be taken up angels, and then it will already fearlessly speed to the kingdom, accompanied by the holy powers … On the contrary, if it turns out that it spent its life in negligence and incontinence: it shall hear that terrible voice: let the ungodly be taken away, that he see not the glory of the Lord. (Isa. 26, 10 , [Septuagint])…; then the angels of God leave it, and it is taken by the terrible demons …, and the soul, bound by unbreakable ties, will be cast down into a abode grim and dark, in places under the earth, for confinement in underground dungeons and prisons of hell.” ([1650]).

It is therefore evident: a) That the toll-houses represent the inevitable path that all human souls, both evil and good, make during the transition from temporal life to the eternal lot; b) that at the toll-houses, during this transition, every soul, in the presence of angels and demons, before the eye of the all-seeing Judge, gradually and in detail is interrogated concerning all its deeds, both bad and good, c) that as a result of this interrogation, this detailed examination of every soul concerning its previous life, souls that are good, who have been acquitted at every toll-house, will be lifted up by the angels into the heavenly abodes, while the souls of sinners, being detained in one or another of the toll-houses, having been accused of wickedness, are dragged, upon the sentence of the unseen Judge, by demons to their dark dwelling-places ([1651]). And, therefore, the toll-house is nothing other than the particular judgment, which is performed on human souls invisibly by the Lord Jesus Himself through the angels, and admitting to the this also the accusers of our brethren (Rev. 12, 10), the evil spirits, — the judgment, at which the soul is reminded of all its deeds which are impartially evaluated before it, and after which is determined its known outcome[1652]).

II. This doctrine of the toll-houses, as set out by St. Cyril of Alexandria, existed in the Church before St. Cyril, as well as after–in all subsequent centuries.

1) Before St. Cyril of Alexandria, it is found very frequently, as a doctrine generally known, in the writings of Holy Fathers and teachers, in particular of the fourth century ([1653]). For example:

In St. Ephraim the Syrian: “When the lordly powers are approaching, when the terrible hosts are coming, when the divine collectors command the soul to move from the body, when, dragging us by force, lead us to the inevitable judgment: then, seeing them, the poor man. . . begins to shake, as if from an earthquake, and is all atremble … The divine collectors, having taken the soul, rise up through the air, where appear the principalities, the dominions, the rulers of the adverse powers. These are our evil of accusers, strange toll-collectors, scribes, tax-collectors; they meet the soul on its path describe and examine the sins and the handwriting of this person, the sins of his youth and old age, voluntary and involuntary, committed in deed, word, and thought. There is great fear and great trepidation for the poor soul, indescribable need, which it will then suffer from countless multitudes and hordes of its enemies, slandering it, to keep it from being able to rise to heaven, to dwell in the light of the living, to enter into the land of life. But the holy angels, having taken the soul, lead it away.”([1654]).

In St. Athanasius the Great: “In some night, a voice from above came to him (Anthony), saying: “Anthony, arise, go out and see. And having arisen, he went out, and having lifted up his eyes to heaven, he saw someone long and dark, reaching the clouds with his head: he saw others, also, as if with wings, striving to rise to the heavens, but this one, stretching forth his hand, prevented their climb, and they were pushed away from him and cast down on the ground; others, however, ignoring him, flew across with boldness, causing that one to lament about them, gnashing his teeth. And again there was a voice to Anthony: understand what you saw, and he began to understand with an illuminated heart that this was the rising of the souls, the obstruction of the devil, when he could clutch sinners to himself, while he could not catch the saints. “And also, “St. Anthony, once finding himself in a state similar to death, saw himself being carried on the air. Impeding him on his path were aerial demons and they would not let him pass by: while angels, in conflict with them, demanded to know the reason for this obstruction. They then were forced to discover the sins of Anthony from the time of his birth”([1655]).

In St. Macarios the Great: “When the human soul emanates from the body, a great kind of mystery occurs. For if it were guilty of sin: then come hordes of demons, evil angels and dark forces, which are taking this soul and carrying it away to their side. No one should be surprised by this. For if a man, while still alive, while still being found in this world, resigned, surrendered and subjugated himself to them, then will not they even more possess and enslave him when he goes out of this world? “As to the other, better part of people, with them it occurs in another way. That is, the angels are with the holy servants of God, so even in this life, the holy spirits surround them and protect them. And when the soul is to be separated from the body, then the choirs of angels take them into their society, into a radiant life, and thus lead them to the Lord”([1656]).

In St. John Chrysostom: “If when we are going into some foreign country or city, demand guides: how much more will we need helpers and directors for us to pass unhindered by the chiefs, authorities, aerial world rulers, persecutors, keepers of the toll-houses?…» “The Holy angels peacefully separated us from the body (these words are placed by the holy father into the mouth of infants who died), and we, having good guides, without calamity passed by the aerial authorities. The evil spirits could not find in us what they were looking for, did not notice what they wanted. Having seen the body without sin, they are humiliated, and seeing the immaculate soul, they are ashamed, and seeing the undefiled tongue, silent. We passed by, and humiliated them. The net was broken, and we were freed. Blessed be God, who hath not let us fall into their snare” ([1657]). And also: “those lying on the bed with great force shall shake it and look in fear at those present, while the soul tries to stay in the body and does not want to part with it, terrified by the vision of approaching angels. For if we, looking at frightening people, tremble; then what will be our anguish when we see the approaching angels fierce and merciless powers when they will be dragging our soul and will be tearing it away from our body, when it [the soul] will weep, but in vain and to no avail? ” ([1658]).

The same is set out, with more or less detail, by St. Basil the Great ([1659]), St. Gregory of Nyssa ([1660]), St. Epiphanius ([1661]), Eusebius of Caesaria ([1662]), Palladius of Elenopolis ([1663]), Macarius of Alexandria ([1664]).

2) After St. Cyril of Alexandria this doctrine is transmitted by a series of teachers of the Church, of different places and times.

Namely: Eusebius, bishop of Galicia: “Afore its separation from the body it will be too late for the soul to repent of its iniquities. Alas, what will happen to it, when those responsible for its death (the evil spirits) will drag it across the vast aerial air space and lead it by dark paths?” ([1665]).

Blessed John the Merciful: “As the soul departs from the body and wishes to arise to the heavens, it is met by faces of demons, and is tortured first for lies and slander. And if it has not repented of them, then it will be restrained by the demons. And again, higher, the soul is met by demons and tortured for fornication and self-glorification. If it has repented of these, it will be free of them. And there are many barriers and trials by the demons for the soul striving toward the heavens. After these–rage, jealousy, gossip, anger, slander, pride, bad words, disobedience, vengeance, avarice, greed, evil remembering, doing magic, casting spells, gluttony, hating one’s brother, murder, stealing, having no mercy, fornication and adultery. And when that accursed soul is going from earth to heaven is, apart from it are found holy angels who do not help it: but the soul speaks for itself, giving an answer of its repentance and good deeds, and especially of alms. For if there are sins that it forgets to repent here, then by alms it will be delivered from the violence of the demonic toll-houses”([1666]).

Venerable Maximos the Confessor: “Who of those like me, defiled by the filthiness of sin, will not fear the presence of the Holy angels, who is to pass from this life, according to the commandment of God, with force, anger, and against his will, force him from his body? Who, conscious of their own evil deeds, does not fear meeting cruel and merciless crafty demons? “([1667]).

Also: St. John Climacus ([1668]), Venerable Theodosius of the Caves ([1669]), St. Cyril of Turov ([1670]), Mark of Ephesus, Gabriel of Philadelphia ([1671]), St. Dimitry of Rostov ([1672]) and others.

3) We know also that the doctrine of the toll-houses is included in the Lives of the Saints ([1673]) and in the most holy songs and prayers, used by the Orthodox Church. These are:

In the canon to the Lord Jesus and All-Holy Mother of God, which is sung at the separation of the soul from the body of every right believer:

“Vouschafe me to pass from the earth unhindered by the Aerial Prince, the violent one, torturer, keeper of the terrible ways and vain word-extortionist “(Ode 4, tr. 4).

“Vouschafe me to flee from the barbarian bodiless hosts, to pass the aerial depths and to arise to the heavens, so that I may forever glorify Thee, O Mother of God “(Ode. 8, tr. 2).

In the Octoechos of St. John Damascene, in the Canon for the dead:

“When my soul desires to separate its bodily ties and depart from life, do Thou appear to me, O Mistress, and destroy the councils of the bodiless enemies, crush their jaws of those who seek to devour me: that I may without hindrance pass the princes of darkness, standing in the air, O Bride of God, “(Tone 2, Sat. Ode 9, Tr. 16) ([1674]).

In Canon to the Guardian Angel:

“All my life I have spent much time in vain, now I approach the end: I pray thee, my keeper, be a protector to me and an undefeated champion, when I will pass the toll-houses of the ferocious keeper of the world”(Ode. 9, tr. 3) ([1675]).

In the Prayer after the fourth Kathisma:

“O Lord, grant me tears of compunction … that with them I will pray to Thee to be cleansed before my end of every sin: a fearsome and stern place I must pass, having separated from my body, and a multitude of dark and inhumane demons will meet me (Psalt. Prayer after the 4th Kath.).

Such continuous, perpetual and ubiquitous use in the Church of the doctrine of toll-houses, and especially among teachers of the fourth century, offers indisputable evidence that it has been transmitted to them from teachers of the prior centuries and is based on apostolic tradition.

III. It is natural because the doctrine of the toll-houses is in complete agreement with the Holy Scripture. In this doctrine:

1) It says that to people dying, at the time of the separation of their soul from the body, are sent angels of God and the torturing spirits.

The Savior Himself said: when the poor man died he was carried by angels to the bosom of Abraham (Luke 16: 22), and God said to another man: “You fool! In this very night your soul will be wrested from you (Luke 12, 20) ““ “wrested,” it is most fair to consider, by malevolent spirits ([1676]). In addition St. Scripture teaches that the angels in general are ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation? (Hebrews 1, 14), that they cared about us during all our lives (Ps. 90, 10. 11), and are our intercessors and directors, especially the Guardian Angel given to each person at baptism (Matt. 18, 10, Ps. 33,): very natural, if these good spirits do not leave us without their the help especially at the weighty moment of our death, and that they will not refuse to accompany our souls, guide and support them also during the fearsome and totally unknown to them passage from this real life into the realms of eternity. On the other hand the Holy Scripture teaches that all activities of evil spirits are continually directed to our destruction (Eph. 6: 12, 2 Tim. 2: 26, 1 Thess. 3:5) that our adversary the devil, with his minions, walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter. 5, 9): Would he miss his convenient opportunity to do anything possible to achieve the ruin of our souls also in the moments of their separation from the body?

2) It is said that, on separation from the body, a person”™s soul, making its way into the upper world through the ethereal space, continually meets fallen spirits there. And the word of God witnesses that the air is as if filled with the spirits of wickedness in the heavenly spheres (Eph. 6, 12), naturally, filled not physically, but spiritually ([1677]) – that their prince is a prince of the power of the air (Eph. 2, 2), and that, therefore, the soul of man, as soon as it comes out of the body, inevitably comes into their area.

3) It appears that these dark spirits, as toll-collectors, torturers, stop the soul during its path to heaven at various toll-houses, reminding it in stages about its different kinds of sins, and trying in every way to condemn it – yet, good angels, accompanying the soul at the same time, remember, the opposite of its sins — its kind deeds and strive to justify it. It is natural to such an activity of the evil spirits is completely natural: they cannot not know and not remember all of our sins, they cannot not use, when the occasion arises all efforts in order to condemn us, when, according to the teachings of the Holy Scripture, they are our constant tempters and participants in all our wrongdoings (I Thess. 3, 5; I John. 3,  and are committed to one goal: to deprive us of our eternal salvation (Luke 8, 12; I Peter. 5, . In the same way the previously mentioned activity of good angels is equally natural, of those, who, as our mentors in every good thing and who lead us to eternal salvation (Hebrews 1, 14), who, no doubt, know our good deeds, and by their love, cannot but help to contribute to our justification.

4) It appears that God does not directly perform a private judgment of the soul of a man upon its separation of the body, but allows it to suffer torture by the evil spirits, who act as if they were the instruments of his terrible justice, and yet at the same time uses as instruments of His goodness, the good angels. But if even at the time of the end of the world when the Lord will appear in all His glory, to judge the living and the dead, He will not directly will perform everything related to the judgment, but “will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness, and separate the wicked from among the just, and cast them into the furnace of fire. (Matt. 13: 41-49;): what then surprising that He performs the particular judgment not directly, but through His serving spirits, of course, while being present at this invisibly Himself, as the Omnipresent One. Similarly, if it is known know that before the judgment of all, when even the fallen spirits will receive their final due (Jude 6), God allows them to act against man (Job 1, 12; 1 Peter. 5, 9), and sometimes uses them while still on the earth as His instruments of righteous wrath against sinners, as angels of destruction (Ps. 77, 49; 1 Cor. 6, 5): that what is strange if He allows them to be the same sort of instruments of His righteousness also during the particular judgment over the souls of men, using at the same time, as instruments of His goodness, His good angels?

IV. One must, however, note that, as in general with all depictions of matters of the spiritual world, — for us, clothed with flesh, there are inevitably features which are presented more or less physically, anthropomorphically,- -so, in particular, inevitably, they occur in the detailed teaching on the toll-houses, which the human soul passes upon separation from the body. And therefore we must keep firmly in mind the instruction that the angel gave the Venerable Macarius of Alexandria, when he just began talking about the toll-houses: “Accept earthly things here as being the weakest representation of the heavenly” ([1678]). It is necessary to consider toll-houses not in the rough, or sensual sense, but as much as it is possible for us, in a spiritual sense, and not be tied to particulars, which have been presented by various authors and in various stories of the Church differently, while preserving the unity of the basic idea regarding the toll-houses, ([1679]).



[1640] Word XXII, Praise of Athan. the Great, in Works of the Holy Fathers II,


[1641] On the Gospel of Matt Word XIV, n. 4. v. I, p. 263.

[1642] On the Gospel of Matt, Word XIII, n. 6, v. I, pp. 251-252.

[1643] Word on Lazarus II, n. 4, t. I, Addresses to the Antioch. people, p. 63, in Russian trans.

[1644] Nam illud, Quod rectissime et valde salubriter Credit (Vincentius Victor), judicari Animas, cum de corporibus exierint, antequam veniant ad illud judicium, quo eas oportet jam redditis corporibus judicari, atque in ipsa, qua in hic vixerint, carne torqueri, hoc itaque tandem ipse nesciebas? (De Anima et ejus origine II, 4, n. 8, in Patrolog. Curs. compl. T. XLIV, p. 498).

[1645] Investigation of the schismatic Brynsk faith, p. 117.

[1646] Collected Works. t. V, p. 8.

[1647] Investigation pp. 285-286.

[1648] Some heretics were taught that the soul dies together with the body, so then to rise with it on the day of resurrection (Eusebius. Church History VI,

Sec. 37 Augustine. haeres. LXXXIII; Damascene, haere.). The Nestorians taught that if the soul, without dying, but during the entire named period, i.e. from the death of the body until its future Resurrection, remains in a state of unconsciousness (Asseman. dissert. de Nestor. In Bibl. Orient. T. III, P. 11 , ρ. 342). The latter belief has been renewed by the Anabaptists and some Protestants (Zwing. Elench. adv. Catabapt. vol. III, n. 433).

[1649] However, even in the most Orthodox confession is expressed the essence of

the doctrine, although not clearly and fully, and the word “toll-houses” is not used (see Part II, Ans. To Quest. 25). [1650] Λόγος περι ̉εξόδου ψυχής, in Opp. T. V, p. II, p. 405-408, ed. Lutet., Χ in Christian Readings 1841, 1, 202-207.

[1651] Also about the toll-houses, as the path which is common for all who have deceased, it is described in the Life of the Venerable Vasiliy the New, where the Blessed Theodora, among other things, explains: “While ascending up I asked the holy angels who were leading us: my lords, do all Christians pass through these toll-houses, or is it possible for some person to pass through here without torture and fear, which are found in the toll-houses? The blessed angels answered me: there is no other path for the souls of the faithful, ascending to the heavens, all pass through here, but not all are equally tortured as you were; only sinners like you, those who have not performed a full confession of sins they have committed , those who were embarrassed and hid their shameful sins before their Spiritual Father; for if someone should truly confess all of his evil deeds, and is remorseful, and repents of those evil things he has done” ”then their sins are invisibly erased by the mercy of God, and when such a soul passes through here, the aerial torturers, having opened their books, can find nothing written in them, and they can do no harm, and the soul ascends joyously to the throne of grace. ”

[1652] “And it is meet, says St. Basil the Great, that the judgment of God would not be forcible, but rather that it be more like those courts, which are common among the people, and the defendant is given an opportunity to be justified, so that the person, seeing his case presented in clarity, and while defending his case, confirmed the inarguable judgments of God, agreeing, that punishment is meted out to him fully justly, and also when being pardoned he could see that forgiveness is given to him in accordance with law and order “(Exegesis of the 1 Chap. Of Isaiah, in Works of the Holy Fathers VI, 69-70). [1653] Prior to the fourth century, hints at this doctrine can be seen in Tertullian (de Anima cap. 53, in Patrolog. cursus. compl. T. II, P. 741), Origen (in Joan. T. XIX, n. 4; Τ. XXVIII, n. 5; in Levit. Hom. IX, n. 4), Hippolytus (adv. Platon. c. 1), Clement of Alexandria (Strom. IV 18) and others.

[1654] Homily on those who have reposed in Christ, in the Works of the Holy Fathers, XV, 269. 270. 271. The same doctrine is expressed by St. Ephraim, in his Homily Concerning those who deny the resurrection of the dead (in the Work of the Holy Fathers XV, 115-116) and in his Testament (Christian Readings, 1827, ХХVII, 275. 285. 292).

[1655] Life of Venerable Antholy of Egypt., in Orr. T. I, p. II, pag. 845, ed.Maur., in the  Chetyi-Minei , genv. 17.

[1656] Conversations on the double nature of those who have departed this life in Christian Writings 1828. XXXI, 113-114.

[1657] Homily XI, In memory of the dead (see in the Margarete). The Holy Father speaks in the same manner in his Conversation II οn Lazarus, n. 3, in t. I Conversations with the Antiochian people, p. 61 in the Russian translation.

[1658] on Matt. LIII, in volume II, p. 414.

[1659] In one place, he says: “Let no one flatter himself with vain rhetoric (Eph. 5, 6). For sudden destruction will come upon them (1 Thess. 5, 3), and they will be overturned, as by a storm. A morose angel will appear to take you forcibly and will pull your soul, bound by sins and, often turning back to what is left here, and weep silently, because the instrument of weeping has already been shut”(Conversation exhorting those who wish to be baptized in Works of the Holy Fathers VIII, 241). Αnd elsewhere: “Start thinking of your last day (because, without a doubt, you are not alone going to live forever), imagine to yourself confusion, reduced respiration and the hour of death, the approaching verdict of God, hastening angels, the soul in terrible perturbation because of this, mercilessly tormented by our sinful conscience, drawing the pitiful glances at what is there, finally- an undeniable need for being transported to that far-off resettlement”(Letter. 43 to a fallen virgin, ibid. X, 139).

[1660] De baptism. in Opp. T. II. p. 220, ed. Morel.

[1661] Hæres. LXXV.

[1662] Demonstr. Evangel. III, c. 5; praeparat. Evang. XI, c. 20.

[1663] Lavsaik Ch. 24, p. 89-90, St. Petersburg. 1850

[1664] Homily on the passing of the soul in Christian Readings 1831, XLIII, 126-131.

[1665] Homil. an ad monach., in Biblioth. PP., T. VII, p. 656.

[1666] Homily on the passing of the soul, in the Prologue for 29 October pg. 211 on the reverse

[1667] Epist. ad Cubicularium, in Biblioth. PP. T. XXVI, p.. 581.

[1668] Joan Climacus. Scala paradisi, p. 158, Paris 1633.

[1669] On his deathbed he prayed to the Lord Jesus thus: “My Lord! Be merciful to my soul, that it may not be met by the evil of the powers of the enemy, but let it be taken by Thy angels, who conductors through the dark toll-houses, leading me to the light of Thy mercy”(Chetyi-Minei. under 3 May)

[1670] He discloses the teaching on the toll-houses in great detail (The monuments of Russia Literature. XII century, p. 92, Moscow, 1821).

[1671] Vid. apud LeQuien, Dissert. Damascen. V, in Opp. s. Joan. Damasceni T.1.

[1672] “when the terrible hour of separation of my soul from the body shall come: then, My Redeemer, take me up in Thy hands, and protect me from all disasters unharmed, and let not my soul see the gaze of the cunning demons, but being saved, let it pass all of the toll-houses” (Coll. Works. p. I, pp. 179).

[1673] Which are: The Life Rev. Anthony the Great under 17 January; Life of St. John the Merciful at 29 October; Life of the Venerable Vasiliy the New at 12 November and 26 March.

[1674] And again: “In the hour, O Virgin, of my end keep me from the hands of the demons, and from the judgment, and trials , and terrible torture, and the bitter toll-houses, and the evil Prince, O Mother of God, and eternal condemnation (Octoechos. p. I, p. 286 on the reverse.Moscow, 1838).

[1675] Also: “Be merciful unto me, O angels of all-holy God Almighty, and save me from all of the evil toll-houses: for I do not have good deeds to measure against the measure of my evil doings.” (Trebnik. p. 182 on the reverse, M. 1836).

[1676] “At that time, Lazarus was led away by angels. On the contrary, the soul of the other (the rich man) was taken by some powers, perhaps, sent for this purpose; for the soul does not by itself depart to the other life, because this is impossible. If we, traveling from city to city, need a guide, then how much more will we need a guide for our soul, torn from our body and being presented to future life. For this reason, it, flying away from the body, frequently arises, frequently lowers down, and it fears, and it trembles. Because the consciousness of our sins always tortures us, but especially in that hour, when we face being led away to the coming tortures and the terrible judgment seat” (St. John Chrysostom, Conversations with the Antiochian people, III, On Lazarus II, n. 3 in vol. I, p. 61 in the Russian translation).

[1677] “But there is also mental (noetic) place where the mind is active, and mental and incorporeal nature exists: where the mind dwells and acts and is contained not in a bodily but in a mental fashion. For it is without form (σχ̃Εμα), and so cannot be contained as a body is. . . The angel, although not contained in place with figured form as is body, yet is spoken of as being in place because he has a mental presence and acts in accordance with his nature, and is not elsewhere but has his mental limitations there where he acts.”  (St. John Damascene, Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, Book 1, Chapter 13, Pp. 42-43).

[1678] Word on the departure of the soul, in Christian Readings, 1831, XLIV, 126.

[1679] Compare, for example, the detailed description of the toll-houses in the Homily of St. Cyril of Alexandria and in the Life of the Venerable Basil the New.

St. Theophan on Universalism

St. Theophan the Recluse 1815-1894

The righteous will go into eternal life, but the satanized sinners into eternal torments, in communion with the demons. Will these torments end? If Satanism and becoming like Satan should end, then the torments also can end. But is there an end to Satanism and becoming like Satan? We will behold this and see this then. But until then we shall believe that just as eternal life will have no end, so also eternal torment that threatens sinners will have no end. No conjectures can show the possibility of the end of Satanism. What did Satan not see after his fall! How much the powers of God were revealed! How he himself was struck by the power of the Lord’s Cross! How up to now all his cunningness and malice are defeated by this power! But still he is incorrigible, he constantly opposes; and the farther he goes, the more stubborn he becomes. No, there is no hope at all for him to be corrected! And if there is no hope for him, then there is no hope either for men who become satanized by his influence. This means that there must be hell with eternal torments. (excerpted from “Orthodox Dogmatic Theology” by Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky, pg. 351)

St. Nikodemos on Demonic Power

St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite ca. 1749-1809

[T]he demons can only do superficially, that is, under the force and great compulsion of God’s almighty power. But they cannot do these things interiorly, that is, voluntarily and willfully, by the consent of their free will. Wherefore, even if they say that they believe: “Even the demons,” says James the Brother of God, “believe and shudder” (Jas. 2:19), their faith is not an unhesitating consent to the commands of God, as Basil the Great defines faith. And even if they confess the truth, and even if it seems from some outward appearances that they rejoice, or that they submit to God, all these things are done by compulsion, and by force, without the consent of their free will.

Let us explain this more clearly. Even if the demons outwardly appear to believe, they are inwardly faithless. Even if they outwardly appear to confess the truth, they inwardly reject it and lie. Even if they outwardly appear to be rejoicing, they are inwardly grieving. Even if they outwardly appear to be submissive and obedient, they are inwardly insubordinate and disobedient. Even if they outwardly appear to be conquered and humbled, they inwardly are prideful. It follows, then, that faith is not counted as righteousness unto them, because it is forced and unwanted… [N]either does their involuntary confession of the truth, nor their compelled joy and submissiveness profit them at all or assist them in salvation. But neither are the things which demons say virtues at all, not having been chosen by them. For that which is compelled and forced is not virtue… There is nothing worse than the misery of demons. (Confession of Faith, 5: Concerning the Story of the Magi)

St. Basil on the Torments of Gehenna

St. Basil the Great ca. 330-379

The one who has done much evil in this life will be confronted by frightening, sinister-looking angels, emitting fire in their breath and their glances because of the harshness of their character; their gloomy and threating demeanor will be like the night. See the deep pit, the impenetrable darkness; fire without brightness, which has the power to burn but is deprived of light. Then imagine a kind of worm that is venomous and carnivorous, that can eat ravenously without ever being filled, and that cause unbearable pain with its bites. Then think of the worst punishment of all: eternal reproach and shame. Fear these things; and trained by this fear, rein in your soul from its desire for evil. (PG 29.372A7—B6. Excerpted from “The Hope of the Early Church: A Handbook of Patristic Eschatology by Brian E. Daley. Chap 7: Facing Death in Freedom: Eastern Eschatology in the Age of Nicea [325-400], pg. 82)  

On Demonic Encounters at the Departure of the Soul

Lk. 12:20 But God said to him, Fool! This night they demand your soul from you; and that which you prepared, to whom will it be?

Jn. 14:30 I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no claim on Me…

Eph. 6:12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

Jude 1:9 But when the Archangel Michael, contending with the devil, was disputing about the body of Moses, he did not presume to pronounce a blasphemous judgment, but said, “The Lord rebuke you.”

Met. Hierotheos Vlachos of Nafpaktos

Also related to the foregoing is the teaching of both Holy Scripture and the holy fathers about the taxing of souls… We find this topic in the whole biblico-patristic tradition and it corresponds to a reality which we need to look at in order to prepare ourselves for the dreadful hour of death… According to the teaching of the Fathers of the Church, the soul at its departure from the body, as well as when it is preparing to leave, senses the presence of demons who are called customs demons, and is possessed with fear because of having to pass through customs.

Of course we must say from the start that the customs demons have no sovereignty over the righteous, those who have united with Christ. The righteous not only will not go through the “customs-houses”, but they will also not be in fear of that. We shall see this better when we compare the teachings of the Fathers… the tax collectors, in their effort to collect as many taxes as they could — and especially in order not to let some people escape who could not accept the very heavy and unjust tax — contrived various means: they would lie in wait in narrow roads and seize passers-by, forcing them to give what they owed. It was very unpleasant and odious to the people of that time. It is just this familiar and odious image which the Fathers used in order to give the people of that time an understanding of the terrible mystery of death and of the terrible things that unfold when the soul is being prepared for departure, especially when it is leaving the body.

The image of the tax collectors certainly belongs to the reality of that time. But the teaching that the demons try to seize a man’s soul at its departure is mentioned in many texts of Holy Scripture and of the Fathers of the Church. We have already seen that after death the souls of the righteous are received by the angels and the souls of the of sinners by the demons. With the malice which all the demons have against men, they would like to dominate everyone and have them in their power forever. But they cannot have authority over the righteous.

A basic passage which the Fathers of the Church interpret as referring to the customs demons is what Christ said shortly before His Passion: “for the ruler of this world is coming, and he has nothing in me” (Jn. 14, 30). The ruler is this world is the devil. He is called the ruler of the world not because he is really the ruler and final authority in the whole world, but because he dominates the world of the unjust…

St. Paul, referring to the spiritually dead who were deprived of the grace of God, writes: “And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the ways of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who is now at work in the sons of disobedience” (Eph. 2, 1-2). This passage indicates that men are deadened by sins and the work of the devil.

Likewise the devil is characterised as the prince of the power of the air because he is in the atmosphere and is constantly waging war on men. It is precisely this image which the Fathers have in view, saying that when the soul leaves the body and passes through the air towards heaven, it meets the ruler of the air. The passage also mentions that this ruler is working now too in the sons of disobedience.

There are many passages in the Old Testament which the Fathers use to indicate what is called the souls’ payment of customs duties. I should like to mention two of them. One comes from a psalm of David in which the Prophet King speaks to God and says: “0 Lord my God, in you I put my trust; save me from all those who persecute me; and deliver me, lest they tear me like a lion and rip me to pieces, with no one to rescue me” (Psalm 7, 1-2). The other passage is in the book of the Prophet Jeremiah, where it says: “there seemed to be a fire burning in my bones; I was wearied and could not endure, for I heard many mocking me on every side” (Jer. 20, 9-10). (Life After Death pg. 65)

Met. Hilarion Alfeyev of Volokolamsk

According to the patristic view widespread in the East, the soul of the righteous encounters angels after its departure from the body (this opinion is partly based on Luke 16:22), but demons torture the soul of a sinner. One of the homilies of Macarius of Egypt speaks of this…We find a similar concept of the fate of a person after death in Blessed Diadochus, the bishop of Photiki, who says that people who have not confessed their sins during life will be terror-stricken at the hour of death. And “he who then finds himself in fear will not pass freely by the prince of Hades, because they consider the timidity of this soul to be a sign of its co-participation in their evil deeds.” But the soul of the God-loving person that bears repentance for sins, at the hour of separation from the body “is borne from the world by angels beyond all the dark hordes, because such a soul is inspired by spiritual love in some way.” It is said in both Macarius and Diadochus that demons meet the souls of sinners, while the souls of the righteous fall into the arms of angels. There exists, however, another idea, according to which the soul of every person, including the righteous, endures trials after death. Basil the Great, speaking on the “steadfast divine ascetics, who have sufficiently grappled with invisible enemies all their life,” claims that when they find themselves at the end of life, “the prince of this age comes to know of it, in order to keep them for himself if there can be found any wounds on them received during the battle, or any kind of stain or imprint of sin.”

…The testimony of another type of patristic literature is the fundamental teaching on the “tribulations” — trials in the afterlife that the soul of each persons endures. This teaching found reflection in various memorials of Byzantine ascetic and hagiographic literature, particularly in The Torments of Blessed Theodora. Described in this account is an experience of going through twenty torments (“tollhouses”), each of which correspond to one of the sins: a person must give answer to the demon-torturer for every sin committed, and if hat person cannot prove their innocence, they will not be permitted to go on to the next torment. To a modern person, such descriptions can seem to be the stuff of fantasy or some kind of unhealthy “eschatological sadism,” although the experience of people who have survived clinical death, researched by doctors, psychologists, and theologians, in some cases support the testimony in these ordeals. (Orthodox Christianity, Doctrine and Teaching of the Orthodox Church Vol. II pp. 499-501)

St. Justin the Philosopher ca. 103-165

For the passage, ‘Deliver my soul from the sword, and my only-begotten from the hand of the dog; save me from the lion’s mouth, and my humility from the horns of the unicorns,’ is indicative of the suffering by which He should die, i.e., by crucifixion. For the ‘horns of the, unicorns,’ I have already explained to you, are the figure of the Cross only. And the prayer that His soul should be saved from the sword, and lion’s mouth, and hand of the dog, was a prayer that no one should take possession of His soul: so that, when we arrive at the end of life, we may ask the same petition from God, who is able to turn away every shameless evil angel from taking our souls. (Dialogue with Trypho 105)

St. Melito of Sardis died ca. 180

And what was taken from earth was dissolved, and what was given from God was confined in Hades; and there was separation of what fitted beautifully, and the beautiful body was split apart. For man was being divided by death; a strange disaster and captivity were enclosing him, and he was dragged off a prisoner under the shadows of death, and desolate lay the Father’s image. (On Pascha, 54-56)

Tertullian ca. 160-220

Undoubtedly, when the soul, by the power of death, is released from its concretion with the flesh, it is by the very release cleansed and purified: it is, moreover, certain that it escapes from the veil of the flesh into open space, to its clear, and pure, and intrinsic light; and then finds itself enjoying its enfranchisement from matter, and by virtue of its liberty it recovers its divinity, as one who awakes out of sleep passes from images to verities. Then it tells out what it sees; then it exults or it fears, according as it finds what lodging is prepared for it, as soon as it sees the very angel’s face, that arraigner of souls, the Mercury of the poets. (A Treatise on the Soul 53)

St. Hippolytus of Rome ca. 170-235

For as a serpent cannot mark its track upon a rock, so the devil could not find sin in the body of Christ. For the Lord says, Behold, the prince of this world comes, and will find nothing in me. (Jn. 14:30) (On Proverbs)

And when those who are conducted by the angels appointed unto the souls have passed through this gate, they do not proceed on one and the same way; but the righteous, being conducted in the light toward the right, and being hymned by the angels stationed at the place, are brought to a locality full of light…. But the unrighteous are dragged toward the left by angels who are ministers of punishment, and they go of their own accord no longer, but are dragged by force as prisoners. And the angels appointed over them send them along, reproaching them and threatening them with an eye of terror, forcing them down into the lower parts. And when they are brought there, those appointed to that service drag them on to the confines or hell. And those who are so near hear incessantly the agitation, and feel the hot smoke. And when that vision is so near, as they see the terrible and excessively glowing spectacle of the fire, they shudder in horror at the expectation of the future judgment, (as if they were) already feeling the power of their punishment. (Against Plato, On the Cause of the Universe)

Origen of Alexandria ca. 185-254

Who could follow the soul of a martyr as it passes beyond all the powers of the air and makes its way toward the altar of heaven? Blessed is that soul which, by the crimson of its blood poured out in martyrdom, puts to rout the ranks of the demons of the air advancing toward it. Blessed is he of whom the angels shall sing the prophetic words as he enters into heaven: “Who is this that comes up from Bosra?”(Hom. in Judic., 7.2. excerpted from “The Angels and Their Mission” by Jean Danielou pg. 115)

St. Alexander of Alexandria died ca. 326

For the form indeed lay rotting in the ground; but that inspiration which had been as the breath of life, was detained separate from the body in a dark place, which is called Hades. There was, therefore, a division of the soul from the body; it was banished ad infernos, while the latter was resolved into dust; and there was a great interval of separation between them; for the body, by the dissolution of the flesh, becomes corrupt; the soul being loosened from it, its action ceases. For as when the king is thrown into chains, the city falls to ruin; or as when the general is taken captive, the army is scattered abroad; or as when the helmsman is shaken off, the vessel is submerged; so when the soul is bound in chains, its body goes to pieces; as the city without its king, so its members are dissolved; as is the case with an army when its general is lost, they are drowned in death, even as happens to a vessel when deprived of its helmsman. The soul, therefore, governed the man, as long as the body survived; even as the king governs the city, the general the army, the helmsman the ship. But it was powerless to rule it, from the time when it was immoveably tied to it, and became immersed in error; therefore it was that it declined from the straight path, and followed tempters, giving heed to fornication, idolatry, and shedding of blood; by which evil deeds it has destroyed the proper manhood. Nay, but itself also being carried at length to the lower regions, it was there detained by the wicked tempter. (On the Soul and Body and Passion of the Lord, 3)

St. Anthony the Great ca. 251-356

For once, when about to eat, having risen up to pray about the ninth hour, he perceived that he was caught up in the spirit, and, wonderful to tell, he stood and saw himself, as it were, from outside himself, and that he was led in the air by certain ones. Next certain bitter and terrible beings stood in the air and wished to hinder him from passing through. But when his conductors opposed them, they demanded whether he was not accountable to them. And when they wished to sum up the account from his birth, Antony’s conductors stopped them, saying, ‘The Lord has wiped out the sins from his birth, but from the time he became a monk, and devoted himself to God, it is permitted you to make a reckoning.’ Then when they accused him and could not convict him, his way was free and unhindered. And immediately he saw himself, as it were, coming and standing by himself, and again he was Antony as before.

After this, when he once had a discussion with certain men who had come to him concerning the state of the soul and of what nature its place will be after this life, the following night one from above called him, saying, ‘Antony, rise, go out and look.’ Having gone out therefore (for he knew whom he ought to obey) looking up, he beheld one standing and reaching to the clouds, tall, hideous, and fearful, and others ascending as though they were winged. And the figure stretched forth his hands, and some of those who were ascending were stayed by him, while others flew above, and having escaped heaven-ward, were borne aloft free from care. At such, therefore, the giant gnashed his teeth, but rejoiced over those who fell back. And immediately a voice came to Antony, ‘Do you understand what you see?’ And his understanding was opened, and he understood that it was the passing of souls, and that the tall being who stood was the enemy who envies the faithful. And those whom he caught and stopped from passing through are accountable to him, while those whom he was unable to hold as they passed upwards had not been subservient to him. So having seen this, and as it were being reminded, he struggled the more daily to advance towards those things which were before. And these visions he was unwilling to tell, but as he spent much time in prayer, and was amazed, when those who were with him pressed him with questions and forced him, he was compelled to speak, as a father who cannot withhold ought from his children. And he thought that as his conscience was clear, the account would be beneficial for them, that they might learn that discipline bore good fruit, and that visions were oftentimes the solace of their labours. (St. Athanasius: Life of St. Anthony, Chaps. 65-66)

St. Pachomius the Great ca. 292-346

As for you, my son, shun the satisfactions of this age, so as to be happy in the age to come. Do not be negligent, letting the days pass by till unexpectedly they come looking for you and you arrive at the straits of your anguish and the ‘horror-faces’* surround you and drag you off violently to their dark place of terror and anguish. Do not be sad when you are cursed by men; be sad and sigh when you sin — this is the true curse — and when you go away bearing the sores of your sins.

If you have hit your brother, you will be handed over to pitiless angels and you will be chastised in torments of fire for all eternity. (Pachomian Koinonia III: Instructions, Letters, and Other Writings of Saint Pachomius and His Disciples. The Instructions of Saint Pachomius, 23,41)

St. Macarius the Great ca. 295-392

When the soul of a man departs from the body, a certain great mystery is there enacted. If a person is under the guilt of sin, bands of demons and fallen angels approach along with the powers of darkness which capture the soul and drag it as a captive to their place. No one should be suprised by this fact. For if, while a man lived in this life, he was subject to them and was their obedient slave, how much more, when he leaves this world, is he captured and controlled by them? (The Fifty Spiritual Homilies, Homily 22)

[T]he angel of the Lord that had appeared to him earlier in his [St. Macarius] life, appeared surrounded with heavenly hosts and said to him, ‘Come with us, for all of these are waiting for you.’ The saint replied and said, ‘My master Lord Jesus Christ whom my soul loves, accept my spirit.’ When he said that he gave up his spirit.

This was on the twenty-seventh day of the Coptic month of Baramhat. As the Angel of the Lord was escorting his spirit to Heaven, some of the elders saw the devils come to hinder his ascent. They heard them saying to him. ‘You are saved and have escaped from us.’ The saint replied, ‘Not yet.’ When the saint set one foot inside the Heavenly gate they said to him, ‘You have entered,’ he replied ‘Not yet.’ When he had completely entered they said again to him weeping, ‘You have entered,’ He then shouted back, ‘I have accepted the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and I thank my Lord for His Heavenly grace and love to mankind.’ (The Life of St. Macarius the Great)

St. Athanasius the Great ca. 297-373

And once more, if the devil, the enemy of our race, having fallen from heaven, wanders about our lower atmosphere, and there bearing rule over his fellow-spirits, as his peers in disobedience, not only works illusions by their means in them that are deceived, but tries to hinder them that are going up (and about this the Apostle says: According to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that now works in the sons of disobedience); while the Lord came to cast down the devil, and clear the air and prepare the way for us up into heaven, as said the Apostle: Through the veil, that is to say, His flesh Heb. 10:20— and this must needs be by death— well, by what other kind of death could this have come to pass, than by one which took place in the air, I mean the cross? For only he that is perfected on the cross dies in the air. Whence it was quite fitting that the Lord suffered this death. For thus being lifted up He cleared the air of the malignity both of the devil and of demons of all kinds, as He says: I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven; and made a new opening of the way up into heaven as He says once more: Lift up your gates, O you princes, and be lifted up, you everlasting doors. (On the Incarnation, Chap. 25)

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)

St. Macrina the Younger ca. 327-379

Thou hast given a sign to those that fear Thee in the symbol of the Holy Cross, to destroy the adversary and save our life. O God eternal, to Whom I have been attached from my mother’s womb, Whom my soul has loved with all its strength, to Whom I have dedicated both my flesh and my soul from my youth up until now—-do Thou give me an angel of light to conduct me to the place of refreshment, where is the water of rest, in the bosom of the holy Fathers. Thou that didst break the flaming sword and didst restore to Paradise the man that was crucified with Thee and implored Thy mercies, remember me, too, in Thy kingdom; because I, too, was crucified with Thee, having nailed my flesh to the cross for fear of Thee, and of Thy judgments have I been afraid. Let not the terrible chasm separate me from Thy elect. Nor let the Slanderer stand against me in the way; nor let my sin be found before Thy eyes, if in anything I have sinned in word or deed or thought, led astray by the weakness of our nature. (St. Gregory of Nyssa, The Life of St. Macrina)

St. Basil the Great ca. 330-379

The dying person, knowing only that there is only one Savior and Liberator cries out: In Thee have I put my hope, save me” from my weakness “and rescue me” from captivity. For I think that the valiant athletes of God, after having kept up the good fight the whole course of their existence against the invisible enemies and escaping every trap, when they arrive at life’s end, are examined by the Prince of this world. If they are found, following the battle, to still have some wounds, stains or remnants of sin, are detained by him. However , if they are to the contrary whole and untainted, these invincible heroes remain free and are admitted by Christ to the place of rest. (Homilies, On Psalm 7, 2 PG 29, 232B, D.)

The one who has done much evil in this life will be confronted by frightening, sinister-looking angels, emitting fire in their breath and their glances because of the harshness of their character; their gloomy and threating demeanor will be like the night. (PG 29.372A7—B6. Excerpted from “The Hope of the Early Church: A Handbook of Patristic Eschatology by Brian E. Daley. Chap 7: Facing Death in Freedom: Eastern Eschatology in the Age of Nicea [325-400], pg. 82)

Theophilus of Alexandria died ca. 412

The same Abba Theophilus said, “What fear, what trembling, what uneasiness will there be for us when our soul is separated from the body. Then indeed the force and strength of the adverse powers come against us, the rulers of darkness, those who command the world of evil, the principalities, the powers, the spirits of evil. They accuse our souls as in a lawsuit, bringing before it all the sins it has committed, whether deliberately or through ignorance, from its youth until the time when it has been taken away. So they stand accusing it of all it has done. Furthermore, what anxiety do you suppose the soul will have at that hour, until sentence is pronounced and it gains its liberty. That is its hour of affliction, until it sees what will happen to it. On the other hand, the divine powers stand on the opposite side, and they present the good deeds of the soul. Consider the fear and trembling of the soul standing between them until in judgment it receives the sentence of the righteous judge. If it is judged worthy, the demons will receive their punishment, and it will be carried away by the angels. (Sayings of the Desert Fathers: The Alphabetical Collection pp. 81-82)

St. John Chrysostom ca. 349-407

[F]rom the parable, it is quite certain that souls when they leave the body do not still linger here, but are forthwith led away. And hear how it is shown: “It came to pass,” it is said, “that he died, and was carried away by the angels.” Not the souls of the just only, but also those of sinners are led away. This also is clear from the case of another rich man. For when his land brought forth abundantly, he said within himself, “What shall I do? I will pull down my barns and build greater,” (Luke xii. 18.) Than this state of mind nothing could be more wretched. He did in truth pull down his barns; for secure storehouses are not built with walls of stone; they are “the mouths of the poor.” But this man neglecting these, was busy about stone walls. What, however, did God say to him? “Thou fool, this night shall they require thy soul of thee.” Mark also: in one passage it is said that the soul is carried away by angels; in the other, that “they require it;” and in the latter case they lead it away as a prisoner; in the former, they guard and conduct it as a crowned victor. And like as in the arena a combatant, having received many wounds, is drenched with blood; his head being then encircled with a crown, those who stand ready by the spot take him up, and with great applause and praise they bear him home amid shouting and admiration. In this way the angels on that occasion led Lazarus also away. But in the other instance dreadful powers, probably sent for that purpose, required the soul. For it is not of its own accord that the soul departs this life; indeed, it is not able. For if when we travel from one city to another we need guides, much more does the soul stand in want of those who can conduct it, when it is separated from the flesh, and is entering upon the future state of existence. (Four Discourses, Chiefly on the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, Discourse 2.1-2)

Blessed Augustine of Hippo ca. 354-430

Let no one tear her [St. Monica] away from Your protection. Let not the devil, who is a lion and serpent in one, bar her way by force or by guile. For she will not answer that she has no debt to pay, for fear that her cunning accuser should prove her wrong and win her for himself. Her reply will be that her debt has been paid by Christ, to whom none can repay the which He paid for us, though the debt was not His to pay. (Confessions, Bk. 9, 13.36. excerpted from the “Birth of Purgatory” by Frances Le Goff, p. 65)

St. Cyril of Alexandria ca. 376-444

Lk. 12: 58-59 For whilst you are going with him who has a suit against you in the way to the magistrate, give diligence that you may be delivered, from him; lest he drag you to the judge, and the judge deliver you to the exactor, and the exactor cast you into prison. I tell you, you shall not come out thence, until you have made compensation unto the last mite.

Now perhaps it may be imagined that the sense of this passage is difficult to comprehend: but it will become very easy if we examine the metaphor by what takes place among ourselves. For let there be supposed, He says, some one who has brought a charge against you before one of those in authority, and has pointed you out to those whose office it is to carry the accused into court, and is causing you to be taken thither. “While therefore, He says, you are still with him on the way,” that is, before you have come to the judge, “give diligence,” that is, weary not, in using all your earnestness that you may be delivered from him. For otherwise he will give you up to the judge; and then, when you have been proved to be indebted to him, you will be delivered to the exactors, to those, that is, whose office it is to exact the money; and they will cast you into prison, and make you pay the last mite.

Now all of us, without exception, upon earth are guilty of offences: he who has a suit against us and accuses us is the wicked Satan: for he is “the enemy and the exactor.” While therefore we are in the way: that is, ere yet we have arrived at the termination of our life here, let us deliver ourselves from him: let us do away with the offences of which we have been guilty: let us close his mouth: let us seize upon the grace that is by Christ, which frees us from all debt and penalty, and delivers us from fear and torment: lest if our impurity be not cleansed away, we be carried before the judge, and given over to the exactors, that is, the tormentors, from whose cruelty no man can escape: yea, rather, who will exact vengeance for every fault, whether it be great or small. (Commentary on Luke, Sermon XCV)

LXX Isa. 3:12 My people, the tax collectors scourge you, and the creditors lord it over you.

At a mystical level, on the other hand, the text refers also to other tax collectors, whom those wanting to live an upright life should avoid; the wicked and hostile powers even demand, as it were, of people on earth attention that is depraved, and collect from them as a kind of tax the inclination to the passions of the mind. The sacred text, for instance, blesses those who do not heed the call of the collector; anyone who resists the desires of the flesh and with youthful alertness repels the harm coming from sin, trampling down its overtures and vanquishing the spirits of wickedness, is proof against the call of the collector. Such tax collectors are therefore to be avoided, not allowed to harvest in us the produce leading to sin or apply scourging. Now, we shall succeed in this when we are strengthened in Christ, and expel from our minds wicked thoughts, base desires, and every form of vice. (Commentary on Isaiah Vol. 1: Chapters 1-14 trans. by Robert Charles Hill pg. 97)

St. Euthymius the Great ca. 377-473

Listen to an edifying and true story that some Egyptian elders I met told me about a man thought holy by all but who in secret stirrings of his heart angered God becuase, I think, of assent to impure thoughts. Their story went as follows. A man with second sight, on entering this man’s city, found him gravely ill and all the citizens affirming with tears, “If the saint dies, we have no firther hope of salvation; for we are all protected through his intercession.” On hearing this, the man with second sight hurried off to get a blessing from the supposed saint. When he drew near, he saw many candles all ready and great crowds of clerics and laymen, including the bishop himself, waiting to conduct the funeral. Going in to him, he found him still breathing, and saw with the eye of his mind the devil of hell with a fiery fork inserting the fork into his heart and with many tortures pulling at his soul; and he heard a voice from heaven saying, “Just as his soul did not give me rest for a single day, so you too are not to stop pulling at his soul and torturing it.” I have recounted this to make us at all times ready for combat and prepared for the departure of the soul from the body, lest, seduced by love of pleasure, we be unbearably tormented at the time of departure…let us entreat God, Who has applied corrective not capital punishment, to free His creature from the plot of the impure and pleasure loving spirit. (Cyril of Scythopolis: The Lives of the Monks of Palestine. Life of Euthymius pp. 33-34)

St. Diadochos of Photiki ca. 5th cent.

If we do not confess our involuntary sins as we should, we shall discover an ill-defined fear in ourselves at the hour of our death. We who love the Lord should pray that we should be without fear at that time; for if we are afraid then, we will not be able to freely pass the rulers of the nether-world. They will have as their advocate to plead against us the fear which our soul experiences because of its own wickedness. But the soul which experiences the love of God, at the hour of its departure, is lifted with the angels of peace above all the hosts of darkness. (Philokalia Vol. 1, pg. 295: On Spiritual Knowledge, 100)

St. Symeon of Emesa, Fool for Christ ca. 6th cent.

Grant her angels who will keep her soul safe from the spirits and beasts of the air, evil and unmerciful beings who endeavor to swallow up everything which comes into their midst. Lord, Lord, send out to her mighty guards to rebuke every impure power molesting her. (Leontius of Neapolis, Life of Symeon the Fool, 9; Krueger, p. 141.)

St. Columba of Iona ca. 521-597

[W]hilst the holy man was living in the Iouan island (Hy, now Iona), he one day suddenly raised his eyes to heaven and uttered the words, “O happy woman happy because of thy virtues; the angels of God are now carrying thy soul to paradise.” Now these words from the mouth of the saint were heard by a certain religious brother, a Saxon, by name Genere, who was at the moment working at his trade, which was that of a baker. And on the same day of the month, at the end of the same year, the saint addressed the same Genere the Saxon, and said, “I see a wonderful thing; behold, the woman of whom I spake in thy presence last year, now meeteth in the air the soul of her husband, a poor and holy man, and together with the holy angels engageth in a contest for it against the adverse powers; by their united assistance, and by the aid of the virtuous character of the man himself, his soul is rescued from the assaults of the demons, and brought to the place of eternal refreshment. (St. Adamnan, Life of St. Columba Bk. 3.11)

St. Gregory the Dialogist ca. 540-604

One must reflect deeply on how frightful the hour of death will be for us, what terror the soul will then experience, what remembrance of all the evils, what forgetfulness of past happiness, what fear, and what apprehension of the Judge. Then the evil spirits will seek out in the departing soul its deeds; then they will present before its view the sins towards which they had disposed it, so as to draw their accomplice to torment. But why do we speak only of the sinful soul, when they come even to the chosen among the dying and seek out their own in them, if they have succeeded with them? (Homilies on the Gospels, XXXIX, 8 [on Luke 19:42-27], PL 76, 1298D-1299D)

St. John the Almsgiver died ca. 616

The blessed man always used to talk much about the thought of death and the departure of the soul so that on several occasions those who went in to him with a haughty bearing and laughing face and bold eyes came out from his presence with humble demeanor and a contrite face and eyes filled with tears. He used to say: ‘My humble opinion is that it suffices for our salvation to meditate continually and seriously about death and to think earnestly upon the fact that nobody will pity us in that hour nor will anyone travel with us out of this life except our good deeds. And when the angels come hastening down, in what a tumult will a soul then be if it is found unready! How it will beg that it may be allowed a further short span of life, only to hear the words: “What about the time you have lived, have you spent it well?” ‘

And again he used to say as though speaking of himself, ‘Humble John, how will you have the strength to “pass the wild beasts of the brake”, [Ps/ 68:30 = LXX 67:31, which read epitimeson tois theriois tou kalamou] when they meet you like tax collectors? Woe is me, what fears and tremors will encompass the soul when it is called to account by so many keen and pitiless accountants?’ (Leontius of Neapolis, Life of St. John the Almsgiver, 41)

St. John Moschos ca. 550-619

One of the fathers said that in Thessalonica there was a monastery of virgins. One of them was coerced by the operation of the evil one into going out of the monastery. She went and fell into porneia by the machinations of the demon who scoffed at her until she left the monastery. Once she had fallen, she remained some time in sin then finally, undergoing a change of heart by the cooperation of God the good, she came to repentance. Re-entering her community in order to repent, she fell before the gateway of the monastery — and she died. Her death was revealed to one of the holy bishops. He saw holy angels coming to receive her soul and demons in attendance; he witnessed a dialogue taking place between them. The angels were saying: ‘She came in repentance’, but the demons said: ‘She served us so long a time she is ours’. Their altercation lasted some time and then the demons, those who obstruct the good, said: ‘She did not get as far as entering the monastery; how can you say she repented?” In answer to this the holy angles said: ‘Insofar as God saw her intention tending in that direction, He accepted her repentance. And she was a mistress of repentance by virtue of the goal she set for herself: the Lord the and Master of all.’ Put to shame by these words, the demons withdrew. (The Spiritual Meadow: Supplementary Tales. Cistercian Publications trans. by John Wortley, pg. 200)

St. Maximus the Confessor ca. 580-662

By the fear of God and the threat [of chastisements] to come, halt the violent impulses of the senses. In everything and everywhere remember death and the soul’s terror upon it’s leaving the body, and how the powers of the air and the dark forces come to meet it, all dissociated and cut to pieces in proportion to its disastrous familiarity with them through the passions. (Letters, 24, PG 91, 609C-612D.)

So the Lord put off the principalities and powers at the time of His first experience of temptation in the desert, thereby healing the whole of human nature of the passion connected with pleasure. Yet he despoiled them again at the time of His death, in that He likewise eliminated from our human nature the passion connected with pain. In His love for humanity, He accomplished this restoration for us though He were Himself liable; and what is more, in His goodness, He reckoned to us the glory of what He had restored. So too, since He assumed our nature’s liability to passions, albeit without sin (cf. Heb. 4:10), thereby inciting every evil power and destructive force to go into action, He despoiled them at the moment of His death, right when they came after Him to search Him out. He triumphed (Col. 2:15) over them and made a spectacle of them in His Cross, at the departure of His soul, when the evil powers could find nothing at all [culpable] in the passibility proper to His human nature. (Ad Thalassium 21)

St. John Climacus ca. 7th century

Some of the dying would answer: “Blessed be God Who has not turned away my prayer nor His mercy from me.” (Ps. 62:50) Others would say, “Blessed be the Lord God Who has not given us a prey for their teeth.” (Ps. 123:6) But others would be sad and say: “Will our souls pass through the impassable water of the spirits of the air?” (cf. Ps. 123:5) These would be unsure, and worried about the rendering of accounts after death. (Ladder of Divine Ascent, Step 5)

St. Anastasios the Sinaite ca. 620-710

We were there at the end of Abba Stephen the Byzantine, I and Abba Theodosios the African who became the bishop of Babylon. As we were chanting the “Blameless is the man…” (Psa. 119 [118 LXX]) as is usual at the gathering of the soul, suddenly his face became very grim and with a commanding voice he spoke to something that appeared to him. “Why do you come here? Go into the outer darkness. You have nothing on me. The Lord is my part.” When we arrived in our chanting at this verse saying, “You are my part, O Lord,” Abba Stephen gave over his spirit to the Lord. Seeking a garment in order to bury him we found nothing at all of wealth and glory.

Abba Stephanos the Cypriot, a serene man participating in the Holy Spirit and adorned with all virtues, had come with me to the holy mountain. When he was about to die he suffered such trouble in departing as nobody had seen; and after remaining many days as if impaled, he died. Someone who knew his work and life had difficulty in his thoughts as to why such a man needed to fall into such trouble. And behold, Stephanos appeared to him in a dream saying, “Brother, although troubled a little, I found greater confidence before the Lord.” (Tales, 20, 28)

One of the brothers met an elder who lived on Mount Sinai and asked him, “Father, tell me how I should pray, for I have done much to anger God.” The elder said to him, “Son, when I pray I say this, ‘Lord, make me worthy to serve You as I have served Satan; make me worthy to love You as I have loved sin.’” And again he said, “It is good to raise the hands in the air and beg God that at its exit the soul might pass unhindered by all the impediments which try to delay it in the air.” (Tales – Supplement 4. Material found only in the Sinai manuscripts. These being primarily Sinai Greek Codex 451, and SGC 659)

Bede the Venerable ca. 673-735

Whilst Sigebert still governed the kingdom, there came out of Ireland a holy man called Fursey renowned both for his words and actions, and remarkable for singular virtues, being desirous to live a stranger for our Lord, wherever an opportunity should offer…he built himself the monastery, wherein he might with more freedom indulge his heavenly studies. There, falling sick, as the book about his life informs us, he fell into a trance, and quitting his body from the evening till the cock crew, he was found worthy to behold the choirs of angels, and to hear the praises which are sung in heaven. He was wont to declare, that among other things he distinctly heard this: “The saints shall advance from one virtue to another.” And again, “The God of gods shall be seen in Sion.” Being restored to his body at that time, and again taken from it three days after, he not only saw the greater joys of the blessed, but also extraordinary combats of evil spirits, who by frequent accusations wickedly endeavored to obstruct his journey to heaven; but the angels protecting him, all their endeavors were in vain. Concerning which particulars, if any one desires to be more fully informed, that is, with what subtle fraud the devils represented both his actions and superfluous words, and even his thoughts, as if they had been written down in a book…He also saw devils flying through the fire, raising conflagrations of wars against the just. Then followed accusations of the wicked spirits against him, the defense of the good angels in his favor, and a more extended view of the heavenly troops; as also of holy men of his own nation, who, as he had long since been informed, had been deservedly advanced to the degree of priesthood, from whom he heard many things that might be very salutary to himself, or to all others that would listen to them. (Ecclesiastical History Bk. 3.19)

St. Boniface the Apostle to the Germans ca. 680-755

I thank God that now I can the more fully meet thy wishes, because but lately I spoke with this brother myself, when he came back here from abroad; he set forth to me in his own words the marvellous spectacle which he beheld when rapt in spirit beyond the body… As he quitted the body, angels of such dazzling brightness that he could scarcely look upon them for their splendour, bore him up. With sweet and harmonious voices they were singing, “O Lord, rebuke me not in Thy wrath: neither chasten me in Thy hot displeasure.” “They raised me,” said he, “high into the air, and circling the world I beheld a blazing fire, the mighty flame soaring terribly aloft, as though to grasp the whole mechanism of the world in its embrace, had not the holy angel calmed it with the sign of Christ’s holy cross. When he had made the sign of the cross before the threatening flame, it gradually retired. By its terrible heat I was sorely tried, while my eyes were burned, and my sight was shattered by the brightness of the gleaming spirits until an angel, splendid to behold, touched my head with a protecting hand, and brought me safe from harm in the flames.

He added that during the time while he was out of the body, such a multitude of souls leaving the body had gathered where he was as to exceed what he had thought before to be the numbers of the whole human race. An innumerable band of evil spirits and a bright choir of heavenly angles had also assembled; and there was the greatest dispute between the demons and the angels over the souls leaving the body, for the demons were accusing the dead and making heavy the burden of their sins, while the angels were excusing them and lightening their load. (Letter XIII, To the Holy Virgin and Dear Lady Eadburga)

St. Theodore the Studite ca. 759-826

Are you not afraid of death, which we shall all face in a little while? How are we to look on the fearsome angels, as they come to take us from the body? How are we to journey on that long and unending road, if we have not obtained the necessities for the journey? (Catechesis 103, On Keeping God’s Commandments and the Just Threat Against Those who Neglect Them)

St. Symeon the New Theologian ca. 949-1022

You fill me with all blessings, O my God; but all of these will not help me if You will not give me the grace to overcome without confusion the gates of death. If the prince of darkness, when he come, should not see Your glory surrounding me and be not completely rendered powerless, he with his darkness be not dissipated by Your inaccessible light and if all the opposing powers with him be not put to flight, seeing the sign of Your stamp on me…of what use to me are all these which are now taking place in me? (Hymns, 28, ll. 201-211; Maloney, p. 152. Also see: Sources Chretiennes, Les Editions du Cerf, Paris. Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos “Life After Death” pg. 68)

St. Boris the Passion-Bearer ca. 986-1015

My Lord, Jesus Christ, hear me this hour and vouchsafe me to share of the company of Thy saints. For, O Lord, even as once this day Zechariah was slaughtered before Thine altar, so now also am I slaughtered before Thee, O Lord. O Lord, Lord, remember not my former transgressions, but save my soul, so that the deceitful counsel of my adversaries may not block its way, and let Thy bright angels receive it. Because, O Lord, Thou art my Savior, do Thou forgive them that do these things, for Thou art the true God, and to Thee is glory forever. Amen. (Hagiography of Kievan Rus’, trans. Paul Hollingsworth [Cambridge, MA: Harvard U, 1992], p. 16)

St. Nikitas Stithatos ca. 1005-1090

[S]ouls, obscured and frightfully plunged in darkness because of the malice of their acts, words and thoughts, their habits, occupations and dispositions, these are the souls of sinners; when they are violently torn from the body, they give off such stench as they have imparted to it in leaving, along with all manner of unpleasantness. These souls, filled with obscurity, stench and rottenness, are dragged away against their will by dark and avenging angels, in the midst of a terrible fear, shaking with fright, to the depths of hell as into a dark prison devoid of consolation. They are handed over to the impure and evil spirits that guard this prison, there where the prince of darkness is held fast by eternal bonds so to be consumed by fire along with his kind, the angels of darkness. They are handed over to them to remain with them eternally in the future; they have, in fact, accepted them as friends during their life in their acts and their words. They have preferred their suggestions, they have implemented them to their loss and others. (On the Soul, XIV, 79-81)

St. Theodosius of the Kiev Caves ca. 1009-1074

…I pray Thee, O my Lord, have mercy on my soul, that it may not encounter the malice of Thy enemies, but that Thy angels may receive it and lead it through the trials of the darkness after death towards the light of Thy mercy. (A Life of St. Theodosius, The Way of the Pilgrim and Other Classics of Russian Spirituality edited by G.P. Fedotov)

St. Theophylact of Ochrid ca. 1055-1107

God said unto him, Thou fool, this night they shall require thy soul of thee. The words God said unto him do not mean that God conversed with the rich man, although the parable puts it in this form. Instead, the thought’s that came into the man’s mind are what God spoke. Thou fool. He calls him a fool because everything he wanted was foolish, as we have shown. And every man like him is foolish and acts in vain, for, as David says, in vain doth every man disquiet himself. (Ps. 38:14) Why? Because he stores up things without knowing for whom he gathers them. How can he not be called a fool who does not know that the length of a man’s life rests with God alone and that no man can set limits of his own life? Notice also the words they will require. Like some stern imperial officers demanding tribute, the fearsome angels will ask for your soul, and you will not want to give it because you love this life and claim the things of this life as your own. But they do not demand the soul of a righteous man, because he himself commits his soul into the hands of the God and Father of spirits, and he does so with joy and gladness, not in the least bit grieved that he is handing over his soul to God. For him the body is a light burden, easily shed. But the sinner has made his soul fleshy, something in substance like the body and like the earth, rendering it difficult to separate from the body. This is why the soul must be demanded of him, the same way that harsh tax collectors treat debtors who refuse to pay what is due. See that the Lord did not say, “I shall require thy soul of thee,” but, they shall require. (The Explanation of the Holy Gospel According to St. Luke, Chap. 12.16-21)

St. Meletios Homologetes ca. 1209-1286

…[T]he time of death is full of consternation since all the tax collectors bring forward deeds and words, plans and thoughts, desires, and all that we have done when instructed by them, in obedience to our enemies. Alas for our lack of perception! After the release the powers and authorities and all the principalities of Satan pick everyone out and examine minutely the things that are in the soul and the body. They meet with us to cut and chop, to forcibly drag us down because of the previous disposition we had towards them, because the affection and condition through the passions, and because of our familiarity with them, by which they alienated us from God our Maker and Master. (excerpted from “Traditions of Belief in Late Byzantine Demonology” by R.P.H. Greenfield, pp. 17-18)

St. Gregory Palamas ca. 1296-1359

When the evil one was justly abandoned by the God of the true life because of his voluntary sin, he became a dead spirit… the evil one caused our double death by his single death. Having flung us down even lower than himself, he appeared to be great and exalted, and boasted that he had outwitted us with his intelligence and reduced us to slavery. As he was immortal, he appeared, alas, to be our god. Even after death our souls, having been deserted by God, fell to his lot and he dragged them down to into Hades, and shut them up in seemingly inescapable prisons. (Homily 16, On Holy and Great Saturday)

St. Nilus of Sora 1443-1508

But, O soul, whatever time you still have, give up your shameless deeds and convert yourself to a noble life. Turn to the Lord and cry out with faith: “I have sinned, Lord. But I know your mercy and love for men. For this reason, I fall down and beg your goodness to grant me mercy, O Lord! For my soul will be confused and will be sick at my having turned away from my repentance and at my wicked bodily deeds. May the evil powers never capture me and cast me into darkness for my invisible and visible sins of my whole earthly life.

Have mercy on me, O Master, and do not let my soul ever look upon the ugly countenances of the evil demons, but let your radiant and most glorious angels receive me. You have authority to forgive sins. Forgive me my sins. Let my sin never again be before You for because of my weakness I have sinned in word and in deed and in thought, deliberately and indeliberately. May I turn toward you when I am divested of my body and not be found with any filth on the image of my soul. And may the hand of the dark prince of this world never receive me, a sinner, and drag me into the depths of hell, but may you stand before me and be my Savior and Protector! (Nil Sorsky, The Complete Writings: Have Mercy on Me, O Master!)

St. Tikhon of Zadonsk 1724-1783

After the Prayer of the Ambon at the liturgy on every Lord’s day and holy day, there shall be a reading, either an interpretation of the Gospel, or from another book accepted by the holy Church or even a profitable sermon from the Prologue. On certain Sundays, there shall be read from the Sequential Psalter that greatly profitable sermon, so stirring for for the sleepy and heedless soul, On the Departure of the Soul (*) by St. Cyril of Alexandria. (Journey to Heaven, The Life of St. Tikhon pg. 204)

(*) In the fifth century the depiction of the immediate judgement upon the soul after its departure from the body, called the Particular judgement, was even more closely joined to the depiction of the toll-houses, as we see in St. Cyril of Alexandria’s “Homily on the Departure of the Soul,” which sums up the images of this kind in the Fathers of the Church which preceded him. (Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky “On the Question of the Tollhouses”)

St. Makarios of Corinth 1731-1805

Suffer me to say: if death suddenly overtakes those who delay communicating and finds them unprepared, without Divine Communion, what will be in store for these wretched ones? How will they be able to pass freely by the demonic publicans of the air? (Manna from Athos: The Issue of Frequent Communion on the Holy Mountain in the Late Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Centuries by Hieromonk Patapios and Archbishop Chrysostomos, p. 126)

St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite 1749-1809

The Great Elder [Barsanuphius of Gaza] would give over the souls of certain dying brethren to the Holy Life-giving Trinity, and while they would be passing over to heaven, he would free them from demonic attacks. (The Life of Saints Barsanuphius and John, 5)

St. Seraphim of Sarov 1759-1833

Two nuns, who had both been abbesses, died. The Lord revealed to me how their souls had been subjected to the aerial tests, how they had been tried and then condemned. For three days and nights I prayed, wretched as I am, entreating the Mother of God for them, and the Lord in His goodness pardoned them through the prayers of the Mother of God; they passed all the aerial tests and received forgiveness through God’s mercy. (St. Seraphim of Sarov: A Spiritual Biography by Archimandrite Lazarus Moore. Chapter XV “Amazing Wonderworker” pg. 396)

St. Ignaty Brianchaninov 1807-1867

For the testing of souls as they pass through the spaces of the air there have been established by the dark powers separate judgment places and guards in a remarkable order. In the layers of the under-heaven, from earth to heaven itself, stand guarding legions of fallen spirits. Each division is in charge of a special form of sin and tests the soul in it when the soul reaches this division. The aerial demonic guards and judgment places are called in the patristic writings the toll-houses, and the spirits who serve them are called tax-collectors. (Discourse on Death, Collected Works, vol. III, Saint Petersburg, 1886, p. 136)

At both judgments God Himself is present and judges. At the private judgment He judges by means of angels of light and fallen angels; at the general judgment He judges by means of His Incarnate Word. (The Arena, An Offering to Contemporary Monasticism, p. 6)

St. Theophan the Recluse 1815-1894

No matter how absurd the idea of toll-houses may seem to our ‘wise men’, they will not escape passing through them. What do these toll-gatherers seek in those who pass through? They seek whether people might have some of their goods. What kind of goods? Passions. Therefore, in the person whose heart is pure and a stranger to passions, they cannot find anything to wrangle over; on the contrary, the opposing quality will strike them like arrows of lightning. To this someone who has a little education expressed the following thought: The toll-houses are something frightful. But is quite possible that the demons, instead of something frightful, might present something deceptive and seductive, according to all kinds of passions, to the soul as it passes through one after the other. When, during the course of earthly life, the passions have been banished from the heart and the virtues opposed to them have been planted, then no matter what seductive thing you might present, the soul, having no kind of sympathy for it, passes it by, turning away from it with disgust. But when the heart has not been cleansed, the soul will rush to whatever passion the heart has most sympathy for; and the demons will take it like a friend, and then they know where to put it. Therefore, it is very doubtful that a soul, as long as there remain in it sympathies for the objects of any passion, will not be put to shame at the toll-houses. Being put to shame here means that the soul itself is thrown into hell. (The One-Hundred Eighteenth Psalm, Interpreted by Bishop Theophan, Moscow 1891, reprinted Jordanville, 1976 pp. 289-290)

St. John of Kronstadt 1829-1908

Represent to yourself how necessary repose is to the departed one, and how greatly he (or she) needs the prayers for him (or her) of the living, being a member of the one body of the Church; how the demons are contesting his (or her) soul from the angels, and how it trembles, not knowing what its eternal destiny will be. Our prayer of faith and love for the departed means much in the Lord’s sight. (Saint John of Kronstadt on Prayer – Extracts from his Writings. Chap. XI.118 On Prayer for the Departed, pp. 44-45)

St. Nikolai Velimirovich 1881-1956

[Taxiotes] spent his entire life in grievous sins, but finally repented, left his military service and adopted a way of life pleasing to God. Once when he had gone with his wife to their property close to the city, he fell into adultery with the wife of his workman, and immediately after this a snake bit him and he died. He lay dead for six hours, and after that he arose and, on the fourth day, broke his silence and related how he had somehow passed through all the toll-houses until he arrived at the toll-house for adultery. There he had fallen into the dark dwelling of the demons, but was then led out by an angel who vouched for him, and had returned to the body to expiate his last sin. He lived in penitence for forty days, going from church to church and striking his head against the doors and thresholds. Weeping incessantly, he spoke of the terrible torments in which sinners lived in that world, and implored people not to sin and to repent of sins already committed. On the fortieth day he went with joy to the Kingdom of the merciful God. (The Prologue from Ochrid: April 10th)

St. John Maximovitch 1896-1966

[W]hen it leaves the body, the soul finds itself among other spirits, good and bad. Usually it inclines toward those which are more akin to it in spirit, and if while in the body it was under the influence of certain ones, it will remain in dependence upon them when it leaves the body, however unpleasant they may turn out to be upon encountering them.

For the course of two days the soul enjoys relative freedom and can visit places on earth which were dear to it, but on the third day it moves into other spheres. At this time (the third day), it passes through legions of evil spirits which obstruct its path and accuse it of various sins, to which they themselves had tempted it. According to various revelations there are twenty such obstacles, the so-called “toll-houses,” at each of which one or another form of sin is tested; after passing through one the soul comes upon the next one, and only after successfully passing through all of them can the soul continue its path without being immediately cast into gehenna. How terrible these demons and their toll-houses are may be seen in the fact that Mother of God herself, when informed by the Archangel Gabriel of her approaching death, answering her prayer, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself appeared from heaven to receive the soul of His Most Pure Mother and conduct it to heaven. (A Homily on Life After Death)

[T]he Virgin Mary during Her earthly life avoided the glory which belonged to Her as the Mother of the Lord. She preferred to live in quiet and prepare Herself for the departure into eternal life. To the last day of Her earthly life She took care to prove worthy of the Kingdom of Her Son, and before death She prayed that He might deliver Her soul from the malicious spirits that meet human souls on the way to heaven and strive to seize them so as to take them away with them to hades. The Lord fulfilled the prayer of His Mother and in the hour of Her death Himself came from heaven with a multitude of angels to receive Her soul. (The Orthodox Veneration of Mary the Birthgiver of God)

St. Pachomius on the Demons and the Soul After Death

St. Pachomius the Great ca. 292-346

As for you, my son, shun the satisfactions of this age, so as to be happy in the age the come. Do not be negligent, letting the days pass by till unexpectedly they come looking for you and you arrive at the straits of your anguish and the ‘horror-faces’* surround you and drag you off violently to their dark place of terror and anguish. Do not be sad when you are cursed by men; be sad and sigh when you sin — this is the true curse — and when you go away bearing the sores of your sins.

…if the devil for his part whispers…do not give in to his clever talk. [If you should,] the Spirit of God would leave you, and you would become weak without strength, like Samson, and strangers would put you in chains and lead you off to the mill, that is, to the grinding of teeth (Mt. 8:12). You would be for them the object of mockery, that is, they would laugh at you; you would not know the way to your city because they would have gouged out your eyes, for you have opened your heart to Delilah, that is, the devil, who has taken you by wile, because you have neglected the counsels of the Spirit.

If you have hit your brother, you will be handed over to pitiless angels and you will be chastised in torments of fire for all eternity. (Pachomian Koinonia III: Instructions, Letters, and Other Writings of Saint Pachomius and His Disciples. The Instructions of Saint Pachomius, 23, 26, 41)

* These ‘horror-faces’ are the servants of Abbaddon, the angel of death (Rev. 9:11); they have the mission of making the soul of the dying man come out by frightening him with their terrifying aspect. (see L. T. Lefort, Oeuvres, [CSCO-160], p. 7).

On Memorizing the Holy Scriptures

St. Nilus of Sora ca. 1443-1508

Learn something from the Scriptures by heart, keeping your mind focused on it. These things impede the demons from making incursions against us. This is also a stratagem of the Holy Fathers.  (The Complete Extant Ascetical Works [in Greek] [Thessaloniki: Ekdoseis “Orthodoxos Kypsele,” 1985], pp. 229-230)

On Aerial Powers

St. John Cassian ca. 360-435

[T]he atmosphere which extends between heaven and earth is ever filled with a thick crowd of spirits, which do not fly about in it quietly or idly, so that most fortunately the divine providence has withdrawn them from human sight. For through fear of their attacks, or horror at the forms, into which they transform and turn themselves at will, men would either be driven out of their wits by an insufferable dread, and faint away, from inability to look on such things with bodily eyes, or else would daily grow worse and worse, and be corrupted by their constant example and by imitating them, and thus there would arise a sort of dangerous familiarity and deadly intercourse between men and the unclean powers of the air, whereas those crimes which are now committed among men, are concealed either by walls and enclosures or by distance and space, or by some shame and confusion: but if they could always look on them with open face, they would be stimulated to a greater pitch of insanity, as there would not be a single moment in which they would see them desist from their wickedness, since no bodily weariness, or occupation in business or care for their daily food (as in our case) forces them sometimes even against their will to desist from the purposes they have begun to carry out. (Conferences 8.12)

On Why God Allows Demonic Attacks

St. Maximus the Confessor ca. 580-662

There are said to be five reasons why God allows us to be assailed by demons. The first is so that, by attacking and counterattacking, we should learn to discriminate between virtue and vice. The second is so that, having acquired virtue through conflict and toil, we should keep it secure and immutable. The third is so that, when making progress in virtue, we should not become haughty but learn humility. The fourth is so that, having gained some experience of evil, we should ‘hate it with perfect hatred’ (cf. Ps. 139:22). The fifth and most important is so that, having achieved dispassion, we should forget neither our own weakness nor the power of Him who has helped us. (Four Hundred Texts on Love, Second Century 67)

On Demonic Opposition

Zec. 3:1-3 And the Lord showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the Angel of the Lord, and the Devil stood on his right hand to resist him. And the Lord said to the Devil, The Lord rebuke you, O Devil, even the Lord that has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you. Behold, is not this as a brand plucked from the fire?

St. John of Karpathos ca. 7th cent.

Keep in mind that high priest at whose right hand the devil stood, opposing all his good thoughts and words and actions (cf. Zech. 3:1). Then you will not be astonished at what happens to yourself. (For the Encouragement of the Monks in India 74)

On Angels and Demons

St. Gregory of Nyssa ca. 335-395

There is a certain opinion, having credence from its having been handed down from the Fathers, which says that when our nature fell into sin God did not leave us without protection in our misery. Rather, a certain angel from among those to whom is allotted an incorporeal nature, was appointed by Himto assist in the life of each man; but contrariwise, too, the corrupter of our nature, destructive of human life, fights against the same by the agency of a certain evil and malicious demon. Between these two, in the middle is man. The goal of each of these companion spirits is directiy opposed to that of the other, their goal being to prevail more effectively over the other. The good offers to man’s consideration the good prospects of virtue, which are viewed aright through hope; the other, material delights, in which there is not the hope of good things but things already present and possessed, visible things enslaving the senses of the very foolish. (The Life of Moses 2)

On the Tax Collectors

St. Cyril of Alexandria ca. 376-444

LXX Isa. 3:12 My people, the tax collectors scourge you, and the creditors lord it over you.

At a mystical level, on the other hand, the text refers also to other tax collectors, whom those wanting to live an upright life should avoid; the wicked and hostile powers even demand, as it were, of people on earth attention that is depraved, and collect from them as a kind of tax the inclination to the passions of the mind. The sacred text, for instance, blesses those who do not heed the call of the collector; anyone who resists the desires of the flesh and with youthful alertness repels the harm coming from sin, trampling down its overtures and vanquishing the spirits of wickedness, is proof against the call of the collector. Such tax collectors are therefore to be avoided, not allowed to harvest in us the produce leading to sin or apply scourging. Now, we shall succeed in this when we are strengthened in Christ, and expel from our minds wicked thoughts, base desires, and every form of vice. (Commentary on Isaiah Vol. 1: Chapters 1-14 trans. by Robert Charles Hill pg. 97)

Why the Devil Plots Against Christians

St. Justin the Philosopher ca. 103-165

Before the Advent of the Lord, the devil did not so plainly know the measure of his own punishment, inasmuch as the divine Prophets had but enigmatically announced it; as, for instance, Isaiah, who in the person of the Assyrian tragically revealed the course to be followed against the devil. But when the Lord appeared, and the devil clearly understood that eternal fire was laid up and prepared for him and his angels, he then began to plot without ceasing against the faithful, being desirous to have many companions in his apostasy, that he might not by himself endure the shame of condemnation, comforting himself by this cold and malicious consolation. (Fragments 4)

The Devil is Cold

St. Barsanuphius ca. 6th cent.

Concerning warmth and coldness I will say: It is known that the Lord called Himself fire (cf. Deut. 4:25, Heb. 12:29), which warms and kindles the heart and inward parts (cf. Ps. 25:2). If this is so, then the devil, on the contrary, is cold, and from him comes every kind of coldness. If it were otherwise, then why was it said: Then the love of many shall grow cold (Matt. 24:10, 12)? What does “then” mean if it is not the time of the predominance of the adversary? If we feel coldness, let us call upon God, and He will come and warm our hearts with his perfect love not only for Him, but also for our neighbor, and from the face of His warmth the coldness of the hater of good will be banished. (Guidance Toward Spiritual Life, 18)

St. Seraphim of Sarov 1759-1833

God is a fire that warms and kindles the heart and inward parts. And so, if we feel in our hearts coldness, which is from the devil – for the devil is cold – then let us call upon the Lord, and He will come and warm our hearts with perfect love not only for Him, but for our neighbor as well. And from the presence of warmth the coldness of the hater of good will be driven away. (Spiritual Instructions)

On the Appearance of Demons

Elder Cleopa Ilie of Romania 1912-1998

The Holy Fathers stop me from speaking more, for they say, ‘Don’t tell your own stories.’ But I will tell you this much — if you had been in the wilderness and had been tied to a tree and had seen a demon, you would have uprooted that tree from the ground and run with it on your back! (Shepherd of Souls 204)

On the Power of Spiritual Books

Remembering about Elder Paisius Velichkovsky with awe and reverence, Athanasius [a monk of Mt. Athos] told the following in order to confirm the height of spiritual strivings:

“I was fortunate to know the last living disciple of Elder Paisius, an ancient elder. You can understand how great was this Paisius from this incident which happened to this disciple of his, who was a man of mature spirituality. Once he was sitting on his cot in contemplation and suddenly he saw (as is revelaed in spiritual ecstacy to such men) that some sort of altar was being placed and a multitude of demons surrounded it, and then other demons brought Satan with demonic solemnity, who sat upon the prepared altar. One by one the demons would come to him with reports and he would question them. ‘Where were you?’ Satan asked the first demon. ‘I was at the place of such and such a monk, who lives in silence outside of the monastery(at that time in the monastery under Paisius’ supervision there were many desert-dwellers, mostly Russians and Moldavians), and could not come close to him, because whenever I would approach him, he would fall down to the ground (of course, in prayer before God) and fire would come out from him which would burn me, and I could in no way come close to him.’ Then Satan ordered him to be beaten, just like the others who did not succeed in their demonic deeds. Then Satan began to groan and said: ‘Oh, how these trifolois bother me, that is, these rags — the books (the translations of Paisius); but the time will come when everything will be according to my will, and they (the books) will be no more!’

“So,” added elder Athanasius, “that time did come, for the library of such great renown burned to the ground in Niamets Monastery and those books on the spiritual activity which did remain — who looks into them now? Such were the disciples of Paisius Velichkovsky.” (Blessed Paisius Velichkovsky pp. 255-256)

The following awesome vision clearly reveals the great benefit and salvation which comes from the study of edifying books, and hence the enmity which the demons have towards them, in that these books destroy their snares and devices. The vision was revealed some hundred years ago to a pious abbot of the Monastery of Niamets, which had been founded by the saintly Paisius Velichkovsky.

Some years after the repose of the righteous Paisius, the austerity of the monastery’s life began to grow lax, on the one hand because of the great wealth it had acquired, and on the other because of the great freedom that was allowed to people of the world who came to visit the monastery. Some came with their whole families to stay in the monastery for two or three months during the summer, spending their time in various worldly entertainments. The monks became negligent in their rule and began rather to care for their vineyards and gardens in the monastery’s holdings.

One of the disciples of the saintly Paisius, Sophronius by name, being the abbot at the time, led an austere spiritual life. One night, thinking that it had already dawned, Sopronius went out by the monastery’s gate and looked towards the outer gate, at the place where the holy spring lies today. There he saw a man, black in appearance and fearful in form. He wore the garb of a military officer and cried loudly, as officers do when they are giving commands to their troops. His eyes were blood red and shone like flames of fire. His mouth was like that of an ape and his teeth protruded from his mouth. At his waist he had entwined around him a large serpent, whose head hung down with its tongue hanging out like a sword. On his shoulders there rested “galoons” shaped like the heads of asps and on his head he wore a hat, from which venomous snakes extended their bodies and wrapped themselves like hair around his neck.

When the abbot Sophronius saw this, he became petrified from fear. After a while, he came to himself somewhat and asked the officer of darkness what he sought on the monastery’s premises at such an hour. “Can it be that you do not know that I am Chief Commander here in your monastery?” answered the black one. “We have no army here, and our country is enjoying a period of profound peace,” replied the abbot.

“Then be it known to you,” answered the black one, “that I am sent from the unseen hosts of darkness and we are here to wage war against the monastic order. When you make your promises at your tonsure, you declare an unseen war on us and you inflict many wounds on us with your spiritual weaponry. Many times, we retreat in shame, since the flame of your prayers burns us. Now, however, we no longer fear you, especially ever since Paisius, your abbot, died. He terrified us and we suffered much at his hands. Ever since he came here from the Holy Mountain with sixty other monks, I was sent with sixty thousand of our own troops to stop him. As long as he was in charge, we had no rest. In spite of all the temptations, devices and snares that we tried against him and his monks, we availed nothing. At the same time, the tongue of man cannot tell the terrible afflictions, hardships and trials we suffered during that man’s sojourn here. He was an experienced soldier and his strategies always caught us off our guard.

However, after he died things let up a bit and we were able to remove ten thousand of our troops from this front, and so fifty thousand of us were left. When the monks began becoming negligent in their rule and began having more concern for their fields and houses and vineyards, we relieved another ten thousand of our troops of their duties here and the remaining forty thousand stood by to continue the offense. Then, a few years later, some of the monks decided to change Paisius’ rule, and the monks became divided and some left. In the meantime, laymen were allowed to rent rooms in the monastery, and when they brought women in also, we had a victory celebration and reduced our troops by another ten thousand. Later, when the schools for young boys were opened, the battle came well nigh to an end, and we were able to reduce our troops by another ten thousand, leaving only twenty thousand of us here to take care of the monks.”

When the Abbot Sophronius heard these things, he groaned within himself and asked the black one: “What further need have you to remain in the monastery, seeing how, as you yourself confess, the monks have given up their fight? What further work is left for you here?” Then, being constrinaed by the might of God, the ugly one revealed his secret.

“It is true that there is no longer anyone to fight against us as of old, since your love has grown cold and you have become engrossed with worldly and earthly affairs. But there is still one thing left in this monastery that disturbs us and causes anxiety. It is those filthy rags, I mean the books — perdition take them! — that you have in your library. We live in fear and trembling lest any of the younger monks ever take them into his hands and begin reading them. Once they begin reading those accursed rags, they learn your ancient piety and your ancient enmity against us, and the little upstarts begin raging against us. They learn that Christians of old, both lay and monastic, used to pray unceasingly, fast, examine and confess their thoughts, keep vigil and live as though they were foreigners and strangers in this world. Then, simple-minded as they are, they actually begin putting that foolishness into practice. Furthermore, they even take all of the Scriptures seriously. They rave and rail against us like wild beasts; let me tell you, one of those hot-headed fools is enough to chase us all out of here. They become as relenting and uncompromising with us as your executed Leader (the Savior). We have come to have such peace and concord with you. But those so-called spiritual books of yours are a constant source of enmity and discord. Why can’t we have peace? Why don’t you read my books? Are they not spiritual also? For I too am a spirit, am I not? And I too inspire men to write books. But all that is needed is for one of those wretched rags which you call parchments to fall into the hands of some simple fool and a whole conflagaration begins anew and we are forced to flee and take up arms against you once more.”

The poor abbot, unable any longer to keep silence, asked him, “What is your greatest weapon against the monastics in these our times?” And he answered, “Our whole concern at present is to keep monks and nuns away from spiritual occupations, especially prayer and the reading of those smoky books. Why don’t you spend more time taking care of your gardens and vineyards, of your fishing and schools for the young, of your hospitality for all those good people who come here during the summer for the fresh air and pure water? The monastics who busy themselves in such pursuits are caught in our nets like flies in a spider’s web. Until all those books have been either destroyed or corroded with time, we will have no peace. They are like darts in our side.”

No sooner had he finished these words, than the semantron was struck for the service at Matins. Straightaway, the officer of the demonic hosts vanished like smoke. The abbot arose with great pain of soul because of these revelations and came into the church. When the monks had gathered, he told them with tears everything he had seen and heard during that terrible apparition. Then he commanded that all these things be recorded for the edification of those that would come after. (Blessed Paisius Velichkovsky 259-262)

We Do Not Wrestle Against Flesh and Blood

Eph. 6:12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

St. Anthony the Great ca. 251-356

For as he was sitting alone on the mountain, if ever he was in perplexity in his meditations, this was revealed to him by Providence in prayer. And the happy man, as it is written, was taught of God. After this, when he once had a discussion with certain men who had come to him concerning the state of the soul and of what nature its place will be after this life, the following night one from above called him, saying, ‘Antony, rise, go out and look.’ Having gone out therefore (for he knew whom he ought to obey) looking up, he beheld one standing and reaching to the clouds, tall, hideous, and fearful, and others ascending as though they were winged. And the figure stretched forth his hands, and some of those who were ascending were stayed by him, while others flew above, and having escaped heaven-ward, were borne aloft free from care. At such, therefore, the giant gnashed his teeth, but rejoiced over those who fell back. And immediately a voice came to Antony, ‘Do you understand what you see?’ And his understanding was opened, and he understood that it was the passing of souls, and that the tall being who stood was the enemy who envies the faithful. And those whom he caught and stopped from passing through are accountable to him, while those whom he was unable to hold as they passed upwards had not been subservient to him. So having seen this, and as it were being reminded, he struggled the more daily to advance towards those things which were before. And these visions he was unwilling to tell, but as he spent much time in prayer, and was amazed, when those who were with him pressed him with questions and forced him, he was compelled to speak, as a father who cannot withhold ought from his children. And he thought that as his conscience was clear, the account would be beneficial for them, that they might learn that discipline bore good fruit, and that visions were oftentimes the solace of their labours. (St. Athanasius the Great, Life of St. Anthony 66)

St. John Cassian ca. 360-435

We can then see clear reasons, in addition to those ideas which we expounded above, why they are called principalities or powers; viz., because they rule and preside over different nations, and at least hold sway over inferior spirits and demons, of which the Gospels give us evidence by their own confession that there exist legions. For they could not be called lords unless they had some over whom to exercise the sway of lordship; nor could they be called powers or principalities, unless there were some over whom they could claim power: and this we find pointed out very clearly in the gospel by the Pharisees in their blasphemy: He casts out devils by Beelzebub the prince of the devils, Lk. 11:15 for we find that they are also called rulers of darkness, Eph. 6:12 and that one of them is styled the prince of this world. Jn. 14:30 But the blessed Apostle declares that hereafter, when all things shall be subdued to Christ, these orders shall be destroyed, saying: When He shall have delivered up the kingdom to God even the Father, when He shall have destroyed all principalities and powers and dominions. 1 Cor. 15:24 And this certainly can only take place if they are removed from the sway of those over whom we know that powers and dominions and principalities take charge in this world.

For no one doubts that not without cause or reason are the same titles of rank assigned to the better sort, and that they are names of office and of worth or dignity, for it is plain that they are termed angels, i.e., messengers from their office of bearing messages, and the appropriateness of the name teaches that they are archangels because they preside over angels, dominions because they hold dominion over certain persons, and principalities because they have some to be princes over, and thrones because they are so near to God and so privy and close to Him that the Divine Majesty specially rests in them as in a Divine throne, and in a way reclines surely on them.

But that unclean spirits are ruled over by worse powers and are subject to them we not only find from those passages of Scripture, recorded in the Gospels when the Pharisees maligned the Lord, and He answered If I by Beelzebub the prince of the devils cast out devils, Lk. 11:19 but we are also taught this by clear visions and many experiences of the saints, for when one of our brethren was making a journey in this desert, as day was now declining he found a cave and stopped there meaning to say his evening office in it, and there midnight passed while he was still singing the Psalms. And when after he had finished his office he sat down a little before refreshing his wearied body, on a sudden he began to see innumerable troops of demons gathering together on all sides, who came forward in an immense crowd, and a long line, some preceding and others following their prince; who at length arrived, being taller and more dreadful to look at than all the others; and, a throne having been placed, he sat down as on some lofty tribunal, and began to investigate by a searching examination the actions of each one of them; and those who said that they had not yet been able to circumvent their rivals, he commanded to be driven out of his sight with shame and ignominy as idle and slothful, rebuking them with angry wrath for the waste of so much time, and for their labour thrown away: but those who reported that they had deceived those assigned to them, he dismissed before all with the highest praise amidst the exultation and applause of all, as most brave warriors, and most renowned as an example to all the rest: and when in this number some most evil spirit had presented himself, in delight at having to relate some magnificent triumph, he mentioned the name of a very well known monk, and declared that after having incessantly attacked him for fifteen years, he had at last got the better of him, so as to destroy him that very same night by the sin of fornication, for that he had not only impelled him to commit adultery with some consecrated maid, but had actually persuaded him to keep her and marry her. And when there arose shouts of joy at this narrative, he was extolled with the highest praise by the prince of darkness, and departed crowned with great honours. And so when at break of day the whole swarm of demons had vanished from his eyes, the brother being doubtful about the assertion of the unclean spirit, and rather thinking that he had desired to entice him by an ancient customary deceit, and to brand an innocent brother with the crime of incest, being mindful of those words of the gospel; viz., that he abode not in the truth because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks of his own, for he is a liar, and its father, Jn. 8:44 he made his way to Pelusium, where he knew that the man lived, whom the evil spirit declared to be destroyed: for the brother was very well known to him, and when he had asked him, he found that on the same night on which that foul demon had announced his downfall to his company and prince, he had left his former monastery, and sought the town, and had gone astray by a wretched fall with the girl mentioned. (Conferences 8, 14-16)

St. John Moschos ca. 550-619

Abba Anthony, superior and builder of the Lavra of the Aeliotes, told us about Abba Theodosius the solitary. He said: Before taking up the solitary life, I went into a trance and saw a young man whose appearance was brighter than the sun. He took me by the hand and said to me: ‘Come, for you must fight’, and he led me into an [amphi-] theatre larger than words could describe. I could see that the theatre was full of men, those on the one side dressed in white whilst those on the other side were black-faced ones. As he led me to the sanded pit of the theatre I saw a black-faced man of exceedingly large stature whose head stood as high as the clouds, strong and ugly. Then the youth who I saw in the vision said to me: ‘It is with this one you must fight.’ When I saw the man, I was horror-struck; I began to quake and to be terrified. I started pleading with him who had brought me there, saying: ‘What man who is merely mortal could strive with that one?Not even the whole human race put together could withstand this fellow’. But the noble youth said to me: ‘Go in with confidence, for when you have joined in combat with him, it is I who shall decide the result and award the victor’s crown. Almost as soon as I had gone into the sanded pit and we had come to grips with each other, the noble umpire came at once, made his decision and awarded me the crown. The faction of the black-faced ones disappeared with moaning and groaning. The other faction, consisting of those who wore white, shouted their approval of the umpire and of him who awarded me an auspicious victory. (The Spiritual Meadow 66)

What the Devil Uses

Saint John of Kronstadt

It is the evil  spirit  more than anything that stands between our hearts and God; he estranges God  from us by various passions, or  by the desires of  the flesh, by the desires of the eyes, and by worldly pride.  My Life In Christ, p. 13 

N.A. Motovilov’s Unfortunate Illness

Nikolas Alexandrovitch Motovilov, “Seraphim’s servant” as he liked to call himself, had been granted a miraculous healing and the further privilege of seeing with his own eyes St. Seraphim’s illumination by the light of Tabor or, in other words, by the grace of the Holy Spirit. Being a fervent and sincere man, he wanted to perpetuate Father Seraphim’s memory. So he decided to visit Kursk (the saint’s birth-place) personally in order to collect information about his childhood and youth; he also wanted to visit the Kiev-Florovsky Monastery. The journey had very sad consequences for Nikolas Alexandrovitch. Through the permissive will of God, the enemy inflicted upon him an illness in revenge for his literary labours; for his writings served to enhance the fame of one of God’s Saints — Father Seraphim — to a very considerable extent.

Certain circumstances which preceded N.A. Motovilov’s illness throw light on its origin. Once during a talk with St. Seraphim the question somehow arose as to the reality of diabolic assaults on men. Motovilov who had had a worldly upbringing did not fail, of course, to doubt the existence of the evil power. Then the saint told him of his terrible fight with the devils for one thousand days and nights, and by the power of his word, by the authority of his holiness which excluded all possibility of even the shadow of a lie or exaggeration, he convinced Motovilov of the existence of devils, not as phantoms or figments of the imagination, but as a stark and bitter reality. The impetuous Motovilov was so stirred by the elder’s talk that he cried from the depths of his soul:

“Father, how I should like to have a bout with the devils!”

Father Seraphim, in alarm, cut him short:

“What on earth are you talking about, your Godliness! You don’t know what you are saying. If you knew that the least of them can turn the world upside down with it’s claw, you would never challenge them to a fight.”

“But Father, have the devils really got claws?”

“Ah, your Godliness, whatever do they teach you at the university? Don’t you know that the devils have no claws? They have been represented with hoofs, horns and tails becuase it is impossible for the human imagination to conceive of anything more hideous. And they really are hideous, for their conscious desertion of God and their voluntary resistance to divine grace made them, who before the Fall, were angels of light, angels of such darkness and abomination that they cannot be portrayed in any human likeness. Still some likeness is necessary; that is why they are represented as black and ugly. But having been created with the powers and properties of angels, they possess such indomitable might against man and everything earthly that, as I told you already, the least of them can turn the world upside down with its nail. Only the divine grace of the Holy Spirit which has been given to us Orthodox Christians as a free gift through the merits of the God-Man, our Lord Jesus Christ —  only this frustrates all the wiles and artifices of the enemy.”

An uncanny feeling crept over Motovilov. While he was still under the saint’s protection he could defy Satan’s malice. But, by the permissive will of God, his reckless challenge did not remain unanswered. It was accepted.

When Motovilov went to Kursk afer Father Seraphim’s death, he did not get much information about the childhood and youth of the saint. Of the near relatives who had known Father Seraphim as a child, some were dead, while others had forgotten the facts. Even the house where the saint was born and brought up was destroyed, and new buildings had sprung up in its place. However, one old man was found who was a contemporary of Father Seraphim, and who supplied Motovilov with the facts which have been included in all the editions of the saint’s life. The actual journey to Kursk and his stay there were without mishap. The storm broke out on his way back to Voronezh.

Motovilov was obliged to spend a night at one of the post-stations on the road from Kursk. As he was quite alone in the room for travelers, he took his manuscripts out of his suitcase and began to sort them out by the dim light of a single candle which scarcely lit up the spacious room. One of the first records he discovered contained a description of the cure of possessed lady of noble parentage called Eropkin at the Shrine of St. Metrophan of Voronezh.

“I wondered,” writes Motovilov, “how it could happen that an Orthodox Christian who partook of the most pure and life-giving Mysteries of the Lord could suddenly be possessed by a devil, and morever, for such a long period as over thirty years. And I thought Nonsense! It is impossible! I should like to see how the devil would dare to make his abode in me, especially  when I frequently have recourse to the Sacrament of Holy Communion.”

At that very moment he was surrounded by a horrible, cold, evil-smelling cloud which began to makes its way into his mouth, while he made convulsive efforts to keep it tightly shut.

The unhappy Motovilov struggled desperately, trying to protect himself from the stench and icy cold cloud of the cloud which was gradually creeping into him. In spite of all his efforts it got into him completely.

His hands became exactly as if they were paralyzed, and he could not make the Sign of the Cross; his mind became frozen with terror and he could not remember the saving name of Jesus. Something terrible and repulsive had happened, and Nikolas Alexandrovitch experienced a time of dreadful torture. A manuscript in his own handwriting gives us the following description of the torments he experienced:

“The Lord granted me to experience in my own body, and not in a dream or apparition, the three torments of hell. The first was that of the fire which gives no light and which can be extinguished only by the grace of the Most Holy Spirit. This agony lasted for three days. I felt myself burning, yet I was not consumed. Ten or eleven times a day they had to scrape off the hellish soot which covered my whole body and was visible to all. This torture ceased only after Confession and Holy Communion, through the prayers of Archbishop Anthony of Voronezh who ordered litanies to be said for the suffering servant of God Nikolas in the forty-seven churches and monasteries of his diocese.

Then I was tormented for two days by the unbearable cold of Tartarus, so that fire could neither burn nor warm me. According to the wish of His Grace, Archbishop Anthony of Voronezh, I held my hand over a candle for about half an hour, and though it was thickly coated with soot, it did not get warm in the least. I described this experiment on a whole sheet of paper and signed it by stamping it with my sooty hand. Both these torments were visible to all; yet with the help of Holy Communion I could partake of food, drink and sleep to some extent.

But the third torment of Gehenna, though it was still shorter by half a day, for it lasted only a day and a half (possibly a little more), caused me the greatest terror and suffering as it was something indescribable and incomprehensible. It is a wonder that I remained alive! This torment also disappeared after Confession and Holy Communion. This time Archbishop Anthony himself administered the Holy Sacrament to me with his own hands. This torment was the undying worm of Gehenna. The worm in this case was visible only to Archbishop Anthony and myself. But my whole body was riddled with this pernicious worm which crawled through the whole of me and in an indescribably frightful manner gnawed at my vitals. Though it crawled out through my nose, mouth and ears, yet it went back in again. However, God gave me some power of it, and  I could take it into my hands and stretch it like rubber.

I feel myself compelled to make this declaration, for God did not grant me this vision for nothing. Let no one think that I dare take the Lord’s name in vain. No! On the day of the Lord’s awful judgment, He Himself — my God, my Helper and my Protector — will testify that I did not lie against Him, my Lord, and against the operation of His Divine Providence which was accomplished in me.”

Soon after this terrible test which is beyond the experience of ordinary men, Motovilov had a vision of his patron St. Seraphim who had comforted the sufferer with the promise that he would be cured at the exposition of the relics of St. Tikhon of Zadonsk and that until that time the devil residing in him would not torment him so cruelly.

The expostiton of the relics of St. Tikhon actually took place thirty years later, and Motovilov lived to see it and was in fact cured according to his great faith.

On the day of the exposition of the relics of St. Tikhon of Zadonsk (1865), Motovilov was standing in the sanctuary praying and weeping bitterly because the Lord had not granted him a cure for which his tortured soul was waiting according to the promise of St. Seraphim of Sarov. During the Song of the Cherubim, he glanced at the bishop’s throne in the apse and saw St. Tikhon there. The holy prelate blessed the weeping Motovilov and vanished from sight. Motovilov was healed instantly. (St. Seraphim of Sarov: A Spiritual Biography by Archimandrite Lazarus Moore. Chapter IX: Are the Torments of Hell a Reality? pp. 209-215)

On Despair

St. Seraphim of Sarov 1759-1833

Just as the Lord is solicitous about our salvation, so too the murderer of men, the devil, strives to lead a man into despair.
A lofty and sound soul does not despair over misfortunes, of whatever sort they may be. Our life is as it were a house of temptations and trails; but we will not renounce the Lord for as long as He allows the tempter to remain with us and for as long as we must wait to be revived through patience and secure passionlessness!

Judas the betrayer was fainthearted and unskilled in battle, and so the enemy, seeing his despair, attacked him and persuaded him to hang himself; but Peter, a firm rock, when he fell into great sin, like one skilled in battle did not despair nor lose heart, but shed bitter tears from a burning heart, and the enemy, seeing these tears, his eyes scorched as by fire, fled from him wailing in pain. And so, brothers, St Antioch teaches, when despair attacks us let us not yield to it, but being strengthened and protected by the light of faith, with great courage let us say to the evil spirit: “What are you to us, estranged from God, a fugitive from Heaven and evil servant? You dare do nothing to us. Christ, the Son of God, has authority both over us and over everything. It is against Him that we have sinned, and before Him that we will be justified. And you, destroyer, leave us. Strengthened by His venerable Cross, we trample under foot your serpent’s head.(St. Antioch, Discourse 27).

St. Seraphim of Sarov (Spiritual Instructions no. 14, Little Russian Philokalia Vol. 1

Know Thyself

This is the knowledge of the perfect saints: (it is not as some people explain it, but it has its own special power) to put it simply, one must confess that even when one is at the heavenly height of virtue, it is possible– if God abandons him– for him to fall into the abyss of corruption and debauchery! It is not a matter of just saying this with empty words, but one must really feel this way. But one cannot say this with conviction if one does not first pass through the Babylonian furnace of temptations, and if one’s human nature does not slip by God’s permission, so that he realizes his weak constitution. He then sees with whom he has to wrestle, what the wickedness and malice of his adversary (the devil) is, and how difficult it is to rise after a fall! In brief, this is what “know thyself” means.
– Elder Ephraim of Philotheou, (Counsels from the Holy Mountain)

St. Paisy Velichkovsky on Demonic Activity

There is a crucial aspect of Orthodox theology that we, as “modern folk” need to concern ourselves with: the study and nature of demonic influence. All throughout the Scripture we see how Christ and the Apostles speak of us battling demons. We see Christ cast them out of people. We see Saint Paul insist, in Ephesians 6:12, that our battle is not against earthly things but against rulers of darkness (demons). He also warns us to avoid the “fiery darts” of the wicked one. Saint James warns us in James 3:14-16 that even bitterness is from demonic forces.

Our baptismal rite speaks of casting out demons through the baptism. The fathers spoke often of demonic activity. Saint Chrysostom mentions them in many of his sermons, and Saint Paisy Velichkovsky gives us a wonderful breakdown of demonic forces, as we have posted below.

We battle against demonic activity. As we will see from Saint Paisy Velichkovsky, the demons are standing by, waiting for an opportunity to pull the right puppet string, the string that we first raised up to them through our partaking with secularism and other demonic avenues. America is full of these avenues! Just turn on the TV or the radio and you will certainly be able to begin “shooting strings” up for the demons to grab hold of.

Demons need to be fed! They thrive on a symbolic life of paganism and other anti-Christ philosophies such as secularism, but they also fall by the symbolic. The fathers tell us that the simple sign of the cross wards them off. But certainly we cannot live an “unequally yoked” (as St. Paul says) anti-Christ life and expect our symbols to work on their own. That, I think, is a problem that we have in this modern society! Church on Sunday, and then secularism throughout every other day. Our rich symbolic Traditions are not just for Sunday worship, they should encompass our entire lives: How we decorate our houses, what we listen to and watch, and what we wear on our bodies.

Our iconic and festive avenues give us much to grasp on to! Other ways to conquer demonic force is to be closely connected to a spiritual father, confessing to him on a frequent basis, at least once a month. Confessing, fasting, prayer, worship, alms-giving, and giving your ear to a spiritual father scare the demons away due to the strong dose of humility it takes to accomplish this.

We will be posting more on demonic influence on the site in the future, under the Demonic Activity tab, under Early Fathers. We think you will be somewhat jolted (in a good way, of course) on how much the fathers support this reality and also how relative it is to our lives.


St. Paisy Velichkovsky  1722–1794

Pay heed to yourself, O monk, sensibly and diligently, with a vigilant mind, as to when the demons come, by what means they catch one, and by what means they themselves are vanquished. Guard yourself with great caution, because every hour you walk in the midst of passions and nets. Everywhere the passions surround one. Everywhere are set out their traps. Pay heed lest you be attracted by the enemy into his will through passions and traps. There is a great need for us, even essential for us men of flesh, to fight with the fleshless ones—one man with ten thousand enemies. Many tears, much patience, much suffering and caution, and a thousand eyes everywhere are required, for the evil spirits rise up maliciously against us like a lion. They would destroy us if we did not have the Lord with us. They have been very skilled in the art of catching men for more than seven thousand years. Without sleep, food, and rest, constantly, every hour, and by all means, they seek our perdition with every trick and with great effort. Having turned out to be powerless in one way, they think up something else. They start one thing, and contemplate yet another. And they roar about everywhere looking where they might find doors to enter and from where they might begin the battle, and, as it were, trick us into doing evil. Do you not know with whom you battle? How legions of invisible enemies surround you, and every one of them wages his own battle? They sound numberless voices, and desire to swallow up your soul. Should you not be cautious? Is it possible that having drunk your fill and given yourself over to sleep, lying down and constantly consoling yourself, that you can with all this receive salvation? If you will not be attentive to this, you will not escape their traps. We have come to struggle, as it were, stepping into the fire. If we desire to be true warriors of the King of Heaven and not false participants, then let us put far away from us every passion or other. And according to our desire and fervor they tighten their traps, for the occasion to sin belongs to us ourselves, our attachment, weakness; and let us put away from ourselves every negligence and faintheartedness and effeminate weakness, and thus we shall stand against the cunningness of the demons. Let us labor in prayers and other virtues with all fervor and power, with soul, heart, and mind, just as someone might run swiftly on a road without looking around, or as a stingy man might fast, for such is the cunningness of the evil demons. They are constantly occupied with us. Like watchmen they notice our inclinations and our desires, what we are thinking about and what we love, what we are occupied with besides these. Whatever passion they notice in us, they arouse this in us, and thus they place their nets for us. In this way, we ourselves, first of all, arouse against ourselves every passion, being ourselves the cause of it. Therefore the demons seek in us occasion that through our own inclination and desire we might the sooner be caught. They do not compel us to do what we do not desire, to do that from which our mind inclines away and our will does not agree, knowing that we will not obey them. Rather, they test us some, whether we will accept some passion or other, And according to our desire and fervor they tighten their traps, for the occasion to sin belongs to us ourselves, our attachment, weakness, and negligence. We do not cut off the beginning of every passion, but the final cause of every evil is the demons. Through the demons we fall into every sin, and no kind of evil comes to us apart from them.

Thus the demons cast us into every passion. They compel us to fall to every sin, and we are tangled in every net. By nets I mean the first thought of desires and various foul thoughts through which we bind ourselves with every passion, and fall into every sin. This is the door of demons and passions, by which they enter into us and rob our spiritual treasury. Immoderate sleep, laziness, eating not at the proper time are a cause of the entrance of demons. And having come, they first of all knock on the doors of the heart secretly, like thieves. They introduce a thought, and they notice whether there is a watchman or not, that is, they see if the thought will be received or not. If it will be received, then they begin to cause passion and arouse us to it, and they steal our spiritual treasure. If they find a watchman at the doors of the heart who is accustomed to belittle and banish their suggestions, if one turns away in mind from the first mental impulse and has one’s mind deaf and dumb to their barking and directed towards the depths of the heart and so does not at all agree with them, then to such a one they cannot do any evil, since his mind is sober. Then they begin to scheme and place various nets to catch us in passion, for example: forgetfulness, anger, foolishness, self-love, pride, love of glory, love of pleasure, overeating, gluttony, fornication, unmercifulness, anger, remembrance of wrongs, blasphemy, sorrow, brazenness, vainglory, much speaking, despondency, fearfulness, sleep, laziness, heaviness, fright, jealousy, envy, hatred, hypocrisy, deception, murmuring, unbelief, disobedience, covetousness, love of things, egotism, faintheartedness, duplicity, bitterness, ambition, and laughter. then they arouse a great storm of thoughts of fornication and blasphemy so that the ascetic might become frightened and despondent, or so that he might leave off his struggle and prayer. But if the enemies after raising all this cannot hold and take away from his struggle a firm soul and an unwavering soldier of Christ who, like a passion-bearer, has placed his foundation on the rock of faith, so that the rivers of sorrows do not cause him to waver, then they try to rob him by some seeming good, considering it more convenient under the appearance of good to introduce something of their own and in this way to deprive one of perfect virtue and struggle. Thus they try to compel us to make spiritual conversations for the sake of love, to teach men, or to sweeten the food a little for the sake of a friend or for the Feast, for they know, the deceptive ones, that Adam fell for the love of sweet things. First they begin to darken the purity of the mind and heedfulness to oneself, and by this path they suddenly throw us into the pit of sexual sins or into some other passion. If even by this way they do not cause one to waver who is sober in mind, then they arm themselves with false visions and offend and disturb him by various afflictions. A most skillful warrior lets all this go by him and regards it as nothing, as if it has no relation to him, for he knows that all this is the device of the devil.

If even thus they do not conquer, then they battle by means of highmindedness. They introduce they thought that the man is holy, saying to him secretly, “How many afflictions you have endured!” The demons, like a clever hunter, when their first means turns out to be powerless, abandon it, go away, hide themselves, and pretend to be conquered. But beware, O man, pay heed, do not be lax, for they will not depart from you until the grave. But they will prepare a great sedge and will look attentively by what means they can again begin to rise up against you, for they do not rest. When the warmth of fervor grows cold in a struggler, they then secretly, having prepared some net, come again and lay them out and try to catch him. In all the paths of virtue, the devils establish their nets and hindrances when we fulfill heedfully every deed for our salvation and not out of pleasing men, or from some other idea. But if in virtue there is hidden some kind of impurity, pride, vainglory, and highmindedness, then in such a matter the devils do not hinder us, but they even inspire us, so that we might labor without benefit. The demons strive for nothing so much as by every crafty means to steal time and make it idle. In everything that the demons do, they strive to dig three pits for us. First of all, they act against us and hinder us so that there will be no good in all our acts of virtue. In the second place, they strive so that the good will not be for the sake of God. That is, having no opportunity to bring us away from good, they make efforts through vainglory to destroy all our labors. In the third place, they praise us as if we turn out in everything to be God-pleasing. That is, being unable to confuse us by vainglory, they strive by highmindedness to destroy our labors and deprive us of rewards. Every demonic battle against us is in three forms. First, the devils darken our mind and a man becomes forgetful and dispersed in all his works. Then they introduce an idle thought, so that through it we might lose time. Finally, they bring various temptations and afflictions. Therefore, of us it is demanded that at all times we should be very sober of mind, for the enemies ceaselessly are making tricks and acting against us. If one struggles for many years, the enemy seeks a convenient time, so as in a single hour to destroy his labors. Not many men see the numberless traps, devices, and tricks of the demons. As a fleshless spirit the demon does not require rest, and through a long life he has learned to catch men. Therefore, no one can escape the tricks, the ruinous nets, and pitfalls of them, except one who remains in bodily infirmity from constant struggle, and who lives in spiritual poverty, that is, with a contrite heart and in humble thoughts. Such a one will conquer them.

Most of all, the Divine Help cooperates with us. However, in us, as we have said previously, is the beginning of all passions, attachment, weakness, and negligence, because we do not renounce in soul and thought and do not cut off the first impulse of every passion that comes. And the demons add yet more. Seek within yourself the reason for every passion, and finding it, arm yourself and dig out its root with the sword of suffering. And if you do not uproot it, again it will push out sprouts and grow. Without this means you cannot conquer passions, come to purity, and be saved. Therefore, if we desire to be saved, we must cut off the first impulse of the thought and desire of every passion. Conquer small things so as not to fall into big ones. It is evident that God allows one to be overthrown in battle by the demons or some stubborn passion because of our pride and highmindedness, when one considers himself to be holy, or strong, and trusts in himself, and exalts himself above those who are weak. Let such a one acknowledge his own infirmity, acknowledge the Help of God, and be enlightened. Let him understand that without God’s Help he can do nothing, and thus he will humble his thought. Or again, this is allowed as a chastisement for sins, so that we might repent and be more experienced in struggle. Or it is allowed for the sake of crowns of victory. However, in that in which you are conquered and from which you suffer, before all other passions you must arm yourself against it and for this use all your fervor. Every passion and suffering is conquered by undoubting faith, by labor of heart and tears, by warm fervor and quick striving to oppose the present passion. This is a high and praiseworthy struggle, as taught by the Holy Fathers. Every warfare of the demons against us comes from and is reinforced by four causes: from negligence and laziness, from self-love, from love of pleasure, and from the envy of the demons. May the Lord preserve us by His Grace from all nets of the enemy and passionate works, unto the ages of ages. Amen.

Ch. XXXV from Field Flowers.

Fasting Angers Evil Spirits

Fasting is a good teacher: (1) It soon makes everybody who fasts understand that a man requires very little food and drink, and that in general we are greedy and eat a great deal more than is necessary– that is, than our nature requires. (2) Fasting clearly shows or discloses all the infirmities of our soul, all its weaknesses, deficiencies, sins, and passions; just as when muddy, standing water is beginning to be cleaned it shows what reptiles and what sort of dirt it contains. (3) It shows us all the necessity of turning to God with the whole heart, and of seeking His mercy, help, and salvation. (4) Fasting shows all the craftiness, cunning, and malice of the bodiless spirits, whom we have hitherto unwittingly served, and whose cunning, now that we are enlightened by the light of God’s grace, becomes clear, and who now maliciously persecute us for having left their ways.”

– St. John of Kronstadt, My Life in Christ p. 314