Rome Burns, Nero Fiddles. Culture Devours the Souls of the Young, the Church Plans Disco Night

This came in under the transom. Who can argue with it? And we wonder why our kids don’t take the Church seriously? Really?

Do you want to know why the GOA is floundering and their numbers are dwindling? Take a look at what Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in Clearwater, Florida is doing to raise money. That’s right, the parish council is sponsoring a Disco Night on Saturday, September 16, 2017. Sponsorship opportunities include $3,500 for a “Studio 54 Bar”. Anyone old enough to remember will recall the debauchery that was Studio 54.

This is what the GOA has become-pandering to the baser instincts (never mind the passions) and ignoring the Gospel. When an Orthodox parish sponsors a disco night, we’ve hit rock bottom. Holding their bacchanal on a Saturday night, on the eve of Sunday’s Divine Liturgy, is a sacrilege. Ah, but it’s all for a “good” cause-raising money for the parish. When a parish expends more effort on fundraisers than the spiritual life, this is what you get.

Where’s the outrage? How is this sort of thing allowed? The Gospel tells us you can’t serve two masters. The GOA and its parishes, at least Holy Trinity in Clearwater, have chosen their master. How sad for them. If Saint John Maximovitch were alive we know how he’d react. Saint John confronted a similar situation in his own life. On the evening before St. John was going to commemorate the solemn canonization of Fr. John of Kronstadt, he was celebrating the All Night Vigil in preparation for the Divine Liturgy the next day. It so happened that a group of parishioners had organized a Halloween Ball on the very same night of this vigil. Thus, when the All Night Vigil began many people were absent, to the great sorrow of Saint John.

After the vigil service, St. John went to the place where the ball was being held. He entered the hall and the music stopped; in absolute silence, he glanced sorrowfully at the revelers. With his staff in hand, he slowly walked around the entire hall. He didn’t speak, but the sight of the holy bishop brought general consternation to the party. Saint John then left the hall, but the next day in church he issued a call to all present, to seek the devout Christian life.

Disco nights, really? Glamorizing Studio 54 in an Orthodox parish, come on, you have to be kidding me!

About GShep


  1. Tim R. Mortiss says

    Not to mention the “Inferno” part…..

  2. George Feeney says

    But on the bright side, Mick Jagger and Jerry Hall might show up with some blow. That should be good for revenue.

  3. John Johannsen says

    If you look at their website, it’s focused on fundraising. There is very little concerning the spiritual life. Little wonder Elder Ephraim found it necessary to build monasteries here. This is a very sad state of affairs.

    • George Michalopulos says

      I’m glad you said that Mr Johannsen. One of my counter-arguments against the fine men at OCL is their criticism against Elder Ephraim and his monasteries. Perhaps there is some validity to some of these arguments. OK, I’ll grant the Elder’s critics their piece for the sake of argument. (Having made pilgrimage to two of these monasteries in the last dozen or so years I have formulated my own counter-argument to the anti-Ephraimites but that’s a story for another day.)

      That being said, the spiritual wasteland that obtains at many (not all) ethnic parishes (not just the GOA but more heavily so) leaves no option for the more sober traditionalist Orthodox layman but to attend the closest monastery.

  4. Wayne Matthew Syvinski says

    To Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in Clearwater, Florida, in my best Bill Engvall voice:

    Here’s your sign!

  5. silence is deafening says

    And that’s not all:

    The Orthodox Church, in the persons of its bishops, is officially irrelevant in North America.

  6. I want to thank all the nitwits for making Hillary Clinton’s latest piece of trash What Happened the number one bestseller on Amazon. What’s wrong with people anyway? By the way, George, why is listed under nonfiction instead of fiction? Also, where’s Dr. Stankovich been anyway? I miss his sharp wit and incisive commentary.

  7. Είναι τρελοί. says

    Just checked their parish website and, as suspected, there is no mention of them having vespers on Saturday evenings, as is the case in most GOA parishes that Saturday vespers aren’t even given the pretense to be bothered with.

    At least a pesky Saturday vespers won’t get in the way of the Saturday evening “Disco Inferno!”

    Anyone truly seeking God would be and is driven away and repulsed by this drivel, and rightly so.

  8. Well, there was ZERO outrage and complete silence from the bishops when a Greek Orthodox priest said this last year at a conference put together by a close friend of pro-homosexual activist Inga Leonova (Dcn. Nicholas Denysenko) at The Huffington Ecumenical Institute:

    “In our church community today how do we remain faithful to the Gospel of Christ if we place too much emphasis on our sacramental life on exclusiveness rather than inclusiveness. I have heard countless times from singles, young and old alike, that the Church is so oriented towards the traditional conservative view of marriage and the family that they feel there is no place for them in the pews.”

    “Is the Church family limited to traditional family? Does the couple living together outside of marriage belong to the Church family? Does the same-sex couple belong to the Church family? Does the divorced and remarried couple belong to the Church family? Is the Church family inclusive or exclusive of everyone seeking salvation through Christ Jesus?”

    “Ought not the same principle of mercy be applied to all those who wish to do the good will of God, seek salvation as a disciple of Jesus Christ yet fall outside of the traditional definition the ideal family. Our Church needs to welcome and minister with greater urgency to singles, divorced, widowed, and to all couples regardless of their sexual orientation who are yearning to be part of the Christian family they grew up in and love from the very depths of their soul.” — Fr. Michael Courey, Greek Orthodox, St. Katherine Greek Orthodox Church, Redondo Beach, California

    Why are we surprised the Greek bishops are allowing this other idiocy to continue.

    • Unbelievable endless whining from demonic Left trying to dismantle what Orthodoxy or Christianity should be. No church closes its doors to anybody – it’s just more LIES from the devil who uses these immature & insincere bunch to destroy the church.

      Nothing new under the sun folks.

      • Estonian Slovak says

        The church may take people as she finds them, but she need not LEAVE people as she finds them.
        I think a lot of the reason for the hatred of Fr. Seraphim Rose has nothing to do with toll houses. I think that’s a red herring. If Fr. Seraphim had really taught that demons judge us, I would condemn this as well. and I think ROCOR bishops would have condemned him for it. The demons may accuse, but it is God who judges. Big difference.
        No, I think the problem people have with Fr. Seraphim is that he was a homosexual who turned his back on that lifestyle after he discovered Orthodoxy. He didn’t go on a campaign against it, but he became a monk, to repent of this and other sins. That is what the devil would have hated most about him. He wanted to live as a simple monk, but accepted ordination only out of obedience. He has inspired other people who have struggled with this affliction. Naturally, that would disturb those who want the church to accept it.

  9. Lets face it. At far too many GOA parishes, (mine included) the emphasis is ethnic and not spiritual, as ethnicity prevails and is the motivating force behind much of what transpires in the life of the church. Our buildings have become community centers and not houses of worship. As a result, driving away any convert we may attract to some other Orthodox jurisdiction is what we have become very good at doing. And until we become less Greek and more Orthodox, our numbers will continue to dwindle as we are witnessing today. Sadly, the paucity of young people in our parishes for whom the church is unimportant gives credence to that fact, for neither they, nor their parents understand that an active and meaningful worship life is the one path to Christ, and not the frivolous activities sponsored in misdirected efforts at being relevant in today’s society. Moreover, even our Greek Food Festivals, the major source of income for many communities, will become less attractive in time with burgeoning venues now in our midst given to providing authentic Mediterranean fare. We miss you, Archbishop Iakovos. Where are you now when we need you? We’re in trouble. Our ship is sinking, yet the band plays on.

    • Hilber Nelson says

      The ethicity-oriented problem you speak of lies in your very name: GOA. With a name like that, of course the emphasis will remain heavy on culture, light on faith. Name change means regime change, however. The top brass have monetarial and cultural stakes in maintaining the ethnic status quo. Protestants eventually dropped their ethnic ties from their churches to assimilate into their new homeland. We don’t see signs that read, First Dutch Reformed Church, Welcome to Swedish Lutheran Church, or, Caucasian Quakers. Branding our churches as Russian, Greek, Antiochian, Serbian, and the rest, promotes ethnic superiority, perpetuates ethnic enclaves, stifles evangelism toward outsiders, and ensures dwindling numbers of parishes committed to preserving their heritage at any cost. I for one welcome deleting the name dropping altogether, but doing so would invite a turf war over jurisdictions and revenue streams money and power. The principles of unity within the Orthodox Church have been sacrificed at the holy table by the three deadly sins of the clergy: power, position and pride. Slay those dragons, and we just might actually practice what we preach about being One Holy Orthodox Church.

  10. Would it be better for a good percentage of Greek Orthodox Churches to close their doors? They would if they were only funded by stewardship. Festivals, parties, dances, dinners, raffles, auctions pay the bills. In Salt lake City the kitchen facility is just as large as The Cathedral. In a about a week from now, it will feed fifty thousand visitors, in a fast orderly fashion, with it’s huge, state of the art, mass feeding kitchen facility. Profits, not gross, usually average $250,000. The two very large parking lots, that help host the festival collect revenues the rest the year for sporting, entertainment, and business events downtown. There is also a run down apartment complex next door, that the church owns, and receives rental income as well. All that and still with stewardship combined, the parish council declare it’s not enough to pay the bills.

    Like it or not this is the Greek American Orthodox Church tradition in most large cities. Honestly some of the most devout Christians I know in my parish just don’t understand stewardship. In their mind set, the majority of funds come from rich donors, festivals, and fund raisers. From the Archbishop down to the laity all are to blame, in our zeal to compete with the Catholic, Evangelical, and in Salt Lake City the Mormons. So long as material image rivals Christ’s mission, this tradition will continue.Think about it, at least forty million to build a church next to the World Trade Center, and a thirty million dollar annual budget for the GOA to operate? Vanity, and Pride are the Devil’s favorite tools.

    Don’t get me wrong ,I am hopeful. I see a generation or two will slowly move away from this old tradition as more and more converts will water down ethnic pride, and find the joy in selfless stewardship, and the love of Christ’s mission, he has bestowed upon us. It has already happened in Salt lake City, a new Greek Orthodox Church, Saint Anna, has decided to go a new direction, without festivals, and business incomes, and will strictly operate on stewardship.

    • Είναι τρελοί. says

      “Would it be better for a good percentage of Greek Orthodox Churches to close their doors? They would if they were only funded by stewardship. Festivals, parties, dances, dinners, raffles, auctions pay the bills.”
      Um, yes. Emphatically yes. If parishioners cannot support a church from their own stewardship, especially in America where Orthodox Christians are among the wealthiest of Christian demographics here, then yes. They need a more humble-sized parish which they can afford and they need to emphasize stewardship – which is part of our spirituality and faith in Christ. Everything we have belongs to Him. Giving His Church a mere tithe as a minimum ain’t much.

      What happens is that, in our fallen jealousy, in years past at least, we wanted to “compete with the wealthy (and so much more numerous) Protestants and Catholics” so some jurisdictions got in the habit of building overwhelming parish complexes they couldn’t afford. Then they grow dependent on selling themselves out in disco nights and ethnic festivals to pay for them. Stewardship, and part of our spirituality, goes by the wayside.

      So Dino, yes it would be better if such a parish closes its doors rather than rely on disco nights for fundraisers.

      • In theory agreed, but then what? Shutting down churches is never good. Let’s be realistic, it’s not going to happen anyway, unless new UPRs are enforced. So let the laity decide their fate, most likely they would step up, if forced to, instead of allowing their doors to close. Trouble is who and how is that first step taken by our EP or Archbishop. Talk about riots. Ever been to parish a council meeting, fighting over peanuts? Now tell them no more festivals! Not pretty, but a first step must be taken. Perhaps new UPRs only allowing festival or fund raiser funds strictly for church members and city community benevolence needs, or missionary work, and stewardship strictly for church expenses. This however, should be adopted slowing, not cold turkey, while phasing out festivals. The Metropolitans must first lower funds collected from parishes, and the Archdiocese must lower it’s budget as well, while applying the new UPRs.It must start from the top to work! Thirty million dollars to run the Archdiocese? WHY? If our laity are to step it up, to keep our churches afloat, so should are Bishops. Now imagine the hostile debate, when said Bishops try and apply the NEW RULES. Better have tight security.

        • Είναι τρελοί says


          Great comments. What is a UPR?

          • Sorry for the late response, Answer: Uniform Parish Regulations, all parishes are expected to follow them though quite often the rules are not enforced, if a Metropolitan believes a parish deserves economia, a pass if you will, especially if grandfathered by a previous Bishop. Example: The parish known as the Greek Orthodox Church of Greater Salt Lake City, is one parish/council that runs two churches. Holy Trinity and Prophet Elias, which are about fifteen miles apart from each other, and totally against the UPRs. Another rule broken because of this situation is one priest is allowed to serve two altars in a rotating fashion.
            Metropolitan Isaiah tried to enforced the UPRs after decades of economia and a civil war broke out in the parish, those opposed to two parish councils won, with lawsuits, big donor/Archon/100 leadership pressuring New York and EP and in the end actually not paying the priest, resulting in both churches being shut down for a month by the Metropolitan, until all sides would at least agree to pay the priests. One immediately left as a result, and the second was secretly being force out about year later, if fact the second priest Father Matthew Gilbert (memory enteral) put his home for sale expecting his transfer, because of said pressure and slander brought against him by the parish council and their cronies. Tragically he got cancer right after putting his home for sale and died three months after his diagnosis, at the young age of fifty eight. As a result of this mess in SLC,the GOA no longer tries to enforce those UPRs. And back to square one. No one dares rock that boat again!

            Sorry for rambling, but now you might understand my reluctance to forcing our will on the fundraising majority. It would be very ugly.

            • Memory Eternal to the beloved Father Matthew Gilbert. September 7th will be exactly one year since his passing. Buried at one of his favorite places in the world and frequently visited by him and his family. Saint Anthony Monastary in Arizona. Forgive my typo on my post before. I personally would appreciate If any are inclined please pray for a true priest and my spiritual father.

  11. Tim R. Mortiss says

    For a counterbalance, here is a typical week (excluding Sunday), chosen at random from this month (Aug. ’17) in our one-priest GOA church:

    Monday, Vespers 7 pm; Tuesday, Orthros 8:45 am, Divine Liturgy 10 am; Wednesday, Paraklesis 7 pm; Thursday, Orthros 6:30 am; Friday, Orthros 6:30 am; Saturday, Vespers 7 pm.

    Moreover, stewardship pays the operating expenses, with festival now surplus for the capital fund, etc. This is the third year this has been achieved.

  12. Yadayadayada says

    Not to mention, who wants to relive the disco era again? A terrible economy, high gas prices/shortages, joblessness and recession made all the worse with terrible music and even worse fashion.

    • George Michalopulos says

      I hear ya!

      I for one was glad to hear “My Sharona” back in 1980, as it signaled to me that the dreaded days of Disco
      were coming quickly to a close. From thence it was Def Leppard and AC/DC and yea, when I heard their chords, I knew that the wilderness that Cabell and his minions at Studio 54 had foisted upon us would soon be over and the Rolling Stones would be freed from their days of captivity within New York cafe society.

      Thank you Bob Seger for keeping the faith during those dark and troublesome days. (Fourth tone, plagal.)

      • Well, disco — a kind of symptom of “Vietnam exhaustion” — soon gave way to punk in the late 70s — “My Sharona” was a johnny-come-lately attempt to tap into that punk anti-aesthetic. The ear-torture regularly pouring out of CBGBs simply heralded a new age of talent-less junkies who couldn’t play their instruments or write music to save their lives. I think music “died” when Wagner penned Tristan and Isolde — but hey, the Bee Gees did write some catchy tunes, no? Come on, I’m guessing when no one is around and “Nights on Broadway” comes on the radio, you sing along — who can resist the soprano-high refrain, “blamin’ it all . . . . on the nigghhhts on Broooadway” —

        • George Michalopulos says

          Punk music was indeed the underground, British response of disaffected white working-class youth to the economic situation in the UK at the time (I actually saw The Sex Pistols back in 1976) but it was hijacked as an anti-disco phenomenon here in the States around that same time.

          To be honest, I didn’t hate all Disco. I really liked “You Can’t Leave Me this Way” and some of Donna Summer’s ouvre. But there was too much of an East Coast/Latin vibe to the rest of it that was alien to me growing up as I did where the South and the Midwest meet. The trajectory for my cohort was Elvis to Beatles to Stones to Steppenwolf to Seger. The sound became harder and heavier by the time I started coming of age.

  13. Fr. David Hovik says

    Many of the convert parishes in Washington State have benefited greatly from the positive influence Elder Ephraim’s Monasteries (I just spend 3 days at one) have had on our parishioners who visit them. They come back enthused about their faith and desire to go deeper in their pursuit of a relationship with God. The other positive influence, from the Monasteries, is that many of our Antiochian parishes have increased our services and a few parishes have services every day of the week. Isn’t this the primary role of a parish priest? I had a parishioner who moved back to the East Coast and I warned her to be prepared for a shock. She was shocked! They have one service per week with a visiting priest in the GOA parish she now attends. My daughter spoke to a Holy Cross Graduate, who is working as a Youth Director at a parish on the East Coast. She asked about their service schedule and was speechless to find that they only had services on Sunday and Feast Days. He saw her reaction and asked about her (our) service schedule. He was speechless to find that we had daily services. My point is not: praise be to those who have daily services. I am simply giving you a first hand account of the incredible, and heartbreaking, differences that exist in this country in terms of the priorities within parishes. I attribute much of the enthusiasm within our parish to the POSITIVE influence that many monasteries (not simply Greek ones) have had on our parishioners who have made pilgrimages to them.

    • Fr Patrick B. O'Grady says

      Further, following up on Fr David’s good word, our chief hierarch, H. E., Joseph, Metropolitan of our Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese in North America, encourages a vigorous service schedule and the formation of all our parishes into true spiritual families. This hierarchical encouragement constitutes a positive and vibrant basis for us priests to live this way.
      In my parish in So. California, I lead our teenagers on monastic pilgrimages every year, and we keep a vital connection with a monastery in Arizona. Over ten years, our parish has undergone a spiritual transfiguration and is filled with profound joy, from the kids up.
      I feel so grieved over the pious faithful who have to endure such scandals as are depicted in the headliner of this article.
      Thank you, George, for shining the light of awareness of these things, so we can guard ourselves against them.
      May our good and sweet Lord Jesus ever preserve and save all us who call upon Him, through the holy intercessions of our Lady and of all the saints!

    • Michael Bauman says

      The real problem is the east coast dominance. Piety, steadfast doctinal support, et. al. suffer.

      Or so it seems to me.

      • Now, now, Michael. Neither apostasy nor the warmth of faith knows any particular geography. Some areas may find themselves more prone to temptation by the prevailing local cultures than others, but the waxing cold of faith and love is everywhere. We all need to fight the good fight – not against others so much as in ourselves.

        • Michael Bauman says

          Brian, geography can and does have an effect on the human soul and spirit. Holy monastics almost always seek out the wilderness for a reason. Out here on the plains with the vast skies and beautiful sunsets as well as the intense weather a wonder of creation is easily experienced that can easily develop into a wonder and appreciation toward God. One’s spirit can become more expansive.

          If, on the other hand, one is surrounded by human works that tend to shut out creation plus large numbers of our fellows, it tends to pinch one’s spirit and leads to isolation.

          Back in the sixties my mother and my aunt put on a massive enterprise called the American Dance Symposium. Dancers and students of every type on dance came from all over the world. Big names and anonymous.

          Those who had made their careers and young, talented and aspiring artists. It was a feast.

          One of the young dancers was a man named Elio Pomare. He had spent all of his life in NY City. His dance reflected that high energy, but also anger with lots of elevations. A week here in Wichita and both he and his dance changed. He began to put more expansive movements into his choreography, he became noticeably less angry and tight. He had never experienced a vast unbroken horizon before.

          My mother spent a summer in Taos, NM in the 1920’s when it was forming as an artist’s colony. There she met a Native American shaman named Adam. He watched her dance and taught her about the necessity of a connection to the earth and the life that filled the sacred space from horizon to horizon.

          My father spent the formative years of his life on the eastern high plains of NM in a place so dry and desolate that many would call it God forsaken but it was there that he began to know God as everywhere present and filling all things.

          No, Brian, while you are correct that temptations and the Spirit of the Age are ubiquitous, geography can help or hinder.

          Big cities are far more parochial in spirit. If our Church were less dominated by parochialism, the ethnic divides would be as well. A move out here would not hurt a thing.

          • Michael,

            I don’t necessarily disagree. Personally, I have never cared for big cities for many of the reasons you cited.

            But that is me (and apparently you as well). One of my sons (for example), on the other hand, loves living in big cities and is equally as comfortable living there as he was where he grew up. He has a very “large heart” toward everyone and has far less fear, suspicion of others, and sense of parochialism than I ever will because he finds God in his neighbor as readily as you and I (and he) he find Him the beauty and glory of His natural creation. This largeness of heart is not naivety on his part. He sees what you and I see, but he seems to have a purity of heart that gives him grace to look beyond it to discern the image of God in others in a way that I thoroughly admire and strive to imitate.

            All I’m really saying is that it is a matter of the heart. Rural folk like us can be just as parochial as urban, and urban folk can, if they don’t insulate themselves from their neighbors, retain the capacity to see their God everywhere and filling all things.

          • George Michalopulos says

            Several good points there Michael.

            If I may add this: someone once said that you can tell what’s important to a society by its tallest buildings. In the Middle Ages the church was the largest and tallest building in the town or city. In the early modern period, with the rise of the nation-states the capital was the largest and tallest building. In the Industrial Age, the skyscrapers were invented to house the banks and the corporations, dwarfing the capital buildings and the mighty cathedrals as well.

  14. Very interesting comments.

  15. John M. Mize says

    At least they are not calling it Discus Inferno and doing a liturgy on this theme. I saw our local Episcopal Church has scheduled its annual “Beatles Liturgy”. Oh Joy.

  16. Fr. Deacon John says

    First time writer but long time reader of this blog, I feel it necessary to weigh-in on this post and some of the responses. I am a GOA deacon in Florida and I know this parish and the priest very well. I think you all are being a little too hard on them here without knowing the full story.

    I totally agree that we have become way too dependent on festivals and other fundraisers. I have long called Greek Festivals the Orthodox Opioid for years, because once you start having them, you become addicted to them and the money they bring in. Many of our parishes have become pretty good Greek restaurants on the side.

    As to Holy Trinity in Clearwater, their church caught fire a few years ago and had to be demolished. The parish raised funds to construct a new church relying on a cost estimate that is now almost 3 years old. They raised or have pledged to it, over $5 million. The problem is, now that work has begun, the new cost estimate is about $1.8 million more. So they are now utilizing everything at their disposal to raise the additional funds to build their new church. For several years now the services have been held in the gymnasium that has been nicely set up as a church.

    This parish is very self-supporting and in fact hasn’t had a festival for a few years. This parish is also very generous with its use of its facilities when the Archbishop comes in for Epiphany, when our Metropolitan visits and other events and meetings related to the area parishes. I know the parish priest well and his spirituality and message are beyond reproach. Believe me, if this church construction cost had come in for the funds they have available, they would not be doing this type of fundraiser.

    As an old rock and roll-er, I am going to sit this one out………………..

    • Thank you for explaining the situation. It can be easy to jump to conclusions and make unfair accusations. I hope the parish and priest are blessed in their endeavors to stay out of debt.

      • George Michalopulos says

        While your response is charitable, the fact remains that too many of our parishes are subject to fund raisers such as these. The thought and effort that was put into coming up with something as catchy as “Studio 54” night distresses me somewhat. Nor are my hands clean in this regard as I’ve done my own share of fundraising over the years, taxing my brain and the brains of others (and largely succeeding).

        Having said that, I for the life of me can’t understand why this same problem does not afflict the many monasteries of Elder Ephraim of Arizona. Maybe Kevin Costner was right “if you build it, they will come”? Maybe we should rely more on the Holy Spirit and less on 70s pop culture?

        • George

          You raise a very interesting question

          The monasteries dont seem light on cash, and other than having someone sell soaps and candles for them on occasion, don’t do any of this stuff. However, their properties are expansive, well built and maintained and worth a lot.

          The media had inquired as to how their finances worked. No satisfactory explaination, given their apparent great amount of resources. They seem to lack nothing.

          How do they do it?

          • George Michalopulos says

            Billy Jack, if I may offer an answer (with the proviso that I don’t really this for sure), I believe the startup cost came from wealthy donors plus mortgaging the property. Elder Ephraim made a conscious decision to “go big from the start” and then trust in the Lord. Subsequent income to maintain what they have comes from the thousands of pilgrims who attend throughout the year. We’re not talking just major feast days but throughout the week throughout the year.

            From my own personal experience, I made several donations in the form of checks to St Antony’s when I stayed there back in May of 2014 and they did not clear the bank until three months later. Compare this to my weekly tithe to my parish which is cashed the next day. This tells me that St Antony’s at least has a fairly comfortable income stream that allows them to not have to run to the local bank every week in order to deposit those checks.

            Again, this is just a hunch on my part. I’m sure there are fluctuations throughout the year.

            • Thanks for the information/input George

              One more question for you regarding the monasteries and Elder Ephraim

              Is there any truth to the alleged accusation that Elder Ephraim (or someone on his behalf, but approved) circulates an icon of himself to various persons/monastics so said persons can receive some type of blessings, or is that all rumor and unwarrented attacks on Elder Ephraim’s character?

              • George Michalopulos says

                I’m gonna go with the latter. That sounds almost too goofy. He does give daily blessings in person however. Usually a prayer rope or a little laminate icon of some saint.

                • Well, I saw on-line what was supposed to be Elder Ephraim’s circulated icon. Maybe someone else can confirm this as a hoax?

                  • During the Byzantine era, living people who were thought to be saintly were portrayed either without a halo/nimbus/aura altogether, or with a square one rather than a circle of light around their heads.

                    There is no canon or rubric against this practice, so many saints recognized only recently have been painted in ikons before their formal glorification. This would include people such as St Justin Popovich of Serbia, St Paisios of Athos, Mtka Olga Michael of Alaska, St John Maksimovich of San Francisco, and Abp Dmitri Royster of Dallas.

                    Still — although it’s been done — it’s a bit dicey to paint such ikons while their subjects are still this side of earth.

            • Gail Sheppard says

              BJS, the story I’m about to tell you is either from “The Mountain of the Silence” or the “Gifts of the Desert: The Forgotten Path of Christian Spirituality,” both by Kyriacos C. Markides. They are very readable books and I think you’d like them. (Read “The Mountain of Silence” first.) I’m reciting by memory so if I screw something up, that’s why. – There was a wealthy man from TX. He got into a bad accident and suffered brain damage which resulted in the loss of his short term memory. (Kind of like that movie Momento.) Life as he knew it was over. A friend of his took him on a pilgrimage to Mount Athos. They saw a monk working in the field and ask him if he would say a prayer for the man. The monk said he would if the man paid for the candle. So the man gave him some money. (This is kind of symbolic.) The man was subsequently cured and wanted to bring the healing properties of the monasteries here. He gave a considerable amount of seed money to Elder Ephraim, a disciple of Elder Joseph the Hesychast, who came to the desert to look for property. He, along with a realtor and a few other people, “heard bells” when they were where the monastery is today. (As an aside, I grew up in Tucson and Florence used to be the ugliest desert I had ever seen. There was nothing but short, parched vegetation; nothing like it is today. The monastery changed the entire lanscape, somehow.) Elder Ephraim said the bells were a sign that the monastery was to be in Florence; however, the State of AZ blocked their efforts. Several geological studies the State had done showed there was no water on the property and they needed water to support the monastery. Elder Ephraim was undeterred. He went into the desert, by himself, for 3 days, pointed to a specific spot on the ground and said, “Dig here.” They did and they found a river of water. – That’s the story as I remember it.

              • Don’t they teach the toll house heresy, Gail? It’s a pernicious doctrine.

                • Gail Sheppard says

                  Cyprian, I’ve been told we don’t know.

                  If it’s true and I am faced with a series of toll houses, I’ll know what they are (thank God I will not be caught off guard) and that they are run by demons. I’ve seen evidence of demons in this life so it won’t be a big surprise to me if they “fill the air” during the transition from this life to the next. I will do exactly as I do now. I will ignore them and wait on Christ to rescue me while clinging to my Guardian Angel in the process. There is nothing I’ve done or can do that is stronger than His love. I am absolutely certain of the veracity and power of His mercy.

                  I’d rather hear about the toll houses and have them not be true (I can forgive anything) than NOT hear about them and be confronted with the reality.

                  If you headed a monastery, what would *you* teach to those who depended on you if you had no way of knowing?


                  • George Michalopulos says

                    An excellent response Gail! I myself have wondered about this phenomenon –whether it is real or not–and if real, how I would fare. (I’m afraid not too well.) Your words however give me hope. In the end, that’s all I have.

                    To all: I first heard about the toll houses about 15 years ago. Someday I’ll write about it; previous I have chosen not to do so. However St Antony’s set up a press and just published an amazingly well-produced book (about 1200 pages) on the aerial toll houses. What struck me (among other things) were the imprimaturs given to it by a wide variety of Orthodox prelates and primates from every major jurisdiction in the US, including Metropolitans Joseph, Jonah, Hilarion, some Church of Greece bishops, and GOA priests as well. (As well as secular academics from Ivy League schools: they’re impressed by the photos of ancient manuscripts and frescoes which deal with the phenomenon.)

                    To my mind, this means that it’s going to finally be brought out into the open and discussed. As well it should. After all, we are at a time in which we can no longer sweep things under the rug.

                    • Amen George! Departure of the Soul is a remarkable book and one should read it cover to cover before reaching a conclusion about toll houses based on our personal “feelings” or ideas, as with anything else, much less relying on one person in our country formulating a theory about why they do not exist (whose speculations/imaginings are refuted specifically in the book).

                      In med school we were told repeatedly that the most dangerous docs are those who don’t know what they don’t know. Orthodoxy has been in the US for a relatively short period of time. Humility seems in order for us to be taught by those who have immersed themselves in the Church Fathers and Traditions and produced saints and martyrs and put aside our American individualism and intellectual pride at creating “new” understandings, superior to the Church Fathers and Tradition, by implication. I know how tough that is for sure.

                    • TheFutureOfTheChurch says
                    • Deal with it says

                      Yes, a review by a member of Public Orthodoxy and opponent of ‘neo-traditionalism’ in Orthodoxy. By the way, that’s a scholarly way of saying ‘Orthodox fundamentalism,’ a pejorative term that’s been dealt with already by a number of reliable Orthodox writers.

                    • I’m also inclined to agree that referencing the work of a contributor to Public Orthodoxy doesn’t help your case. As we say in Greek; να τον χαίρεσαι!

                      I actually tried to respond to that review a couple of weeks ago but for whatever reason my comments were never approved and published. I’ll post them below in case anybody is interested in reading them:

                    • George Michalopulos says

                      Please do so.

                    • The writer of the review, Dr. Ladouceur, contends that a doctrinal teaching falls into the category of theologoumenon if it has not been proclaimed as dogma by a conciliar authority. One will not find this view expressed by the Holy Fathers. Instead we see the saints holding the teachings of the Fathers that came before them in far greater esteem.

                      In summarizing the preceding patristic tradition, St. John of Damascus for example, famously begins the classic dogmatic text of the Church, An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, in the following way:
                      “We will not remove the age-old boundaries which our fathers have set, but we keep the tradition that we have received.”
                      St. John reveres the entire tradition handed down by his fathers, ie. the patristic tradition, not just the doctrines of the Ecumenical Councils because councils simply do not serve as a form of codification of the totality of doctrine. The Ecumenical councils were called to settle doctrinal disputes and address heresies which threatened fundamental teachings concerning our salvation.  Thus St. Cyril of Alexandria wrote to Nestorius:
                      “But it would not be sufficient for your reverence to confess with us only the symbol of the faith set out some time ago by the Holy Spirit at the great and holy synod convened in Nicea for you have not held and interpreted it rightly, but rather perversely; even though you confess with your voice the form of words.  But in addition, in writing and by oath, you must confess that you also anathematize those polluted and unholy dogmas of yours, and that you will hold and teach that which we all, bishops, teachers, and leaders of the people both East and West, hold.”
                      In doing so Nestorius would be: 
                      “following in all points the confessions of the Holy Fathers which they made through the Holy Spirit speaking in them”
                      Saint Cyril wrote to the heretic Nestorius that the Holy Spirit spoke through the Holy Fathers when they articulated teachings concerning salvation that had not yet received conciliar definition.  So it would be a mistake to exploit the reticence of the Church to systematically or extensively define the mystery of God’s revelation in order to reject patristic teachings that pose some difficulty for us.

                    • While describing the sources of doctrine, Dr. Ladouceur omits the lives of the saints and the holy services (except for the divine liturgy). If the Synaxaria are not sources of instruction, then one has to wonder why they are intended to be read during our services. In the Synaxarion for St. Anthony the Great which is based on The Life of St. Anthony written by none other than the pillar of Orthodoxy and Father of the First Ecumenical Council, St. Athanasius the Great we are taught that:
                      “…this Great Father even while wearing his corruptible body, would be taken out of his body, and would see the ascension of souls, when they came out of the bodies of men. And he would see the souls of some of these men ascend higher than the demons, who sought to capture them, while others would be captured, alas! and were brought down into a deep abyss.”
                      Equally, the holy services are a wealth of instruction and they do not neglect to also prepare us for the moment of death. From the Octoechos, a prayer attributed to St. John of Damascus reads:
                      “O Virgin, in the hour of death rescue me from the hands of the demons, and the judgment, and the accusations, and the frightful testing, and the bitter tollhouses and the fierce prince, and the eternal condemnation, O Theotokos.”
                      What does Dr. Ladouceur do at that point; stop praying or pray hypocritically? I don’t know but I don’t envy anybody in the position of having to rationalize either option. The Church employs a variety of ways to instruct the faithful and corporate worship is one of the most powerful. The faithful have prayed this way for centuries and that fact further underlines the point that the toll-house teaching has been received by the body of the Church. It’s not a coincidence that holy shepherds such as say St. Nektarios of Pentapolis or St. John of Kronstadt (or anybody with the word ‘Saint” in front of their name for that matter) never found references to the toll-house in the services to be problematic.   

                    • George Michalopulos says

                      DBG, thank you for posting this comment. I was unaware of this pericope about St Antony from St Athanasius. It’s very sobering.

                    • It’s obvious that the heading The New Ecclesiology is a euphemism for heretical ecclesiology because the faith was delivered once unto the saints. Dr. Ladouceur claims that the book:
                      “thus advances a new ecclesiology to buttress its contention that toll-house theology is the infallible teaching of the Orthodox Church. The thesis that Orthodox doctrines are founded on theoria-visions is not only historically inaccurate, it marks a radical departure from the ecclesiology of the Fathers of Church and the ecumenical councils. Their theology was based first and foremost on divine revelation in Scripture, expressed in councils of the Church and received by the entire Body of Christ. The new ecclesiology relegates Scripture to a decidedly marginal role and abolishes the conciliar nature of the Orthodox Church.”
                      This ecclesiology (and we are dealing with an epistemology just as much so as an ecclesiology) is neither new nor a departure from the patristic tradition.  St. John Chrysostom, the lips of Paul as he is called and the Church’s main interpreter of Holy Scripture gives profound expression to the supposed new ecclesiology in the fourth century:

                      “It were indeed fitting for us not at all to require the aid of the scriptures, but to exhibit a life so pure, that the grace of the Spirit should be instead of books to our souls, and that as these are inscribed with ink, even so should our hearts be with the Spirit. But, since we have utterly put away from us this grace, come, let us at any rate embrace the second best course.

                      For that the former was better, God has made manifest, both by His words, and by His doings. Since unto Noah, and unto Abraham, and unto his offspring, and unto Job, and unto Moses too, He discoursed not by writings, but Himself by Himself, finding their mind pure. But after the whole people of the Hebrews had fallen into the very pit of wickedness, then and thereafter was a written word, and tablets, and the admonition which is given by these.”

                      St. John Chrysostom and other Holy Fathers teach that Grace is a fitting teacher. The Holy Fathers were not theologians in the modern sense and in fact the concept of the lay theologian is a modern invention. They led pure lives and through their fasts, vigils, prayers, tears, obedience, etc. were made worthy to be freed from the passions, to gather virtues and to receive the grace of the Holy Spirit. Their teaching in it’s consensus is not a man made teaching but a divinely inspired teaching.

                      The saints who by the grace of God experienced visions of spiritual realities went on to share these experiences with their disciples who in turn did the same and so we have the lives of the saints. The generations of saints and faithful who were nourished by the Synaxaria bear witness to the esteemed place that these texts occupy as sources of instruction to the faithful.  

                      Contrary to the claim made in the essay, none of the Holy Fathers have ever articulated the ecclesiology found in the last two sentences of the second last paragraph. The dogmatic minimalism found therein is so extreme that eschatological heresies already condemned by the Church such as the false doctrine of Apokatastisis would now be considered theologoumena. In vain did this blog [O&H] condemn that heresy last year according to the theology of Dr. Ladouceur.

                      A reason that we can arrive today at views so diametrically opposed to the teachings of the Holy Fathers is that the piety of the fathers is absent. Whereas they greatly revered the preceding Fathers, our conscience does not even convict us when we throw the teaching, holy witness and prayers of a multitude of God-bearing saints into the trash.

                      I don’t see the teaching of the Orthodox Church in that review at all but rather modern unbelief masked as theology. I would encourage interested readers to read the book The Departure of the Soul for themselves in conjunction with the excellent The Future Life According to Orthodox Teaching by the eminent scholar Constantine Cavarnos.

                  • Thank you, Gail, for your wisdom.

                  • TheFutureOfTheChurch says

                    The controversy about the toll houses is usually about how literally they are interpreted. What is the exact teaching on the toll houses at the monasteries of Fr. Ephraim? Do they teach a literal interpretation of this or do they teach that the toll houses are allegory?


                    • George Michalopulos says

                      My question about them was answered (roughly) thus: we live in time and space and things have a different reality than they do in the Eschaton. God is not bound by time and space and reality as He experiences it is different from what we experience (and perceive). The toll houses therefore can only be allegorized because of the constraints of our language. That doesn’t mean that they aren’t “real”.

                      An example that springs to my mind is when Jesus tells the people that “no one knows the hour…that I will come as a thief in the night”. Nobody in their right mind believes that Jesus is a burglar or that He abrogated the Mosaic commandment against stealing.

                    • TheFutureOfTheChurch says

                      It seems there are two choices.

                      1) You literally believe your soul passes through numerous aerial toll houses after death where demons accuse you of particular sins at each toll house, attempt to drag you to hell, etc.

                      2) You believe the aerial toll houses are an allegory that is not literal but only represents the need to avoid sin, repent of sin, maintain faith in Christ during your particular judgement, etc.

                      If you literally believe the concept of the toll houses there is no need to use an allegory.

                  • By far the best treatment of this subject I have ever read is by Father Michael Pomazansky who can hardly be said to be a modernist academic revisionist.

                    But as for allegory in general, it is obviously needed in order for us to even begin to contemplate realities that cannot be be grasped by the mind alone. Our Lord used allegory. The apostles and prophets used allegory. Christians have historically understood allegory not as “false” (“only an allegory” wherein this represents that), but as a means – and often the only means – of communicating to the soul and the heart that which ‘literal’ speech cannot. Allegory could be said to be a verbal icon in this sense in that it doesn’t merely ‘represent’ reality. It depicts, reveals, and communicates reality as it is. And like Orthodox icons which to the mind alone can appear to be “historically inaccurate,” or “not to be taken literally,” or other such things, allegory is not intended to be ‘figured out’ and explained. It is to be encountered and contemplated in a personal (by which I do not mean private) manner.

                  • The aerial toll houses are real and have been attested to by a number of Church Fathers and modern saints such as St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco. They are not “just an allegory” but an attempt to explain, in terms understandable to humans, the process of the particular judgment; i.e., what happens to a soul – all souls, in fact – during the 40 day period after the body expires.

                    The analogy in this life is the process of katharsis that a hesychast might undergo in his quest for theosis – the resolution of all internal false phronemas, our little internal heresies, which defile us and lead us to sin in this world. Once one dies and the lights are turned on, all illusion disappears and one is confronted with Reality. But one’s soul is used to the shadows, the dark places where it could hide its own conceits from the light.

                    This is why it is inscribed in some Athonite monasteries, “If you die before you die, then you will not have to die when you die.” Translation, if you go through this katharsis by ascetic endeavor in this life, you will largely escape it in the next if you achieve sainthood since that is the very definition of the quest.

                    The time for repentance expires at death. This is not a question of repentance but of God through his angels undoing rapidly as much of the damage one has done to ones own soul (as evidence by the demons fighting to retain that soul). If it is successful, one proceeds to a heavenly repose. If it is not, one is in danger of experiencing the Second Death recorded in St. John’s Apocalypse. Of course, prayers for the deceased during the 40 day period and after the particular judgment have some beneficial effect as well.

                    God does not tolerate demons, internal or otherwise, in his Heavenly Abode.

                    Further reading:




                    The Synod of the ROCOR settled the matter between Fr. Seraphim Rose and Lev Puhalo by attesting to the validity of the aerial toll houses and their documentation throughout Holy Tradition, forbidding disputes about the issue under its jurisdiction and specifically rejecting the doctrine of “soul sleep” put forth by Puhalo:


                    • If you can reconcile the following passages from the scriptures with the Toll House theory– congratulations. I for one trust in Christ for my salvation and with the thief on the cross hope to travel into His everlasting Kingdom unencumbered by Toll Houses.

                      If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

                      For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.
                      For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,a neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

                      “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.”

                      He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time.

                      And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

                      For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.

                      Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.

                      I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.

                      For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

                      I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life

                    • George Michalopulos says

                      JK, I’d rather save this for a later installment but what did Jesus mean when He said while in the Garden of Gesthemane that “the devil comes but he has no part of me”?

                      Now, don’t get me wrong, I too believe that what He told the thief on the cross was correct: “today you will be with me in paradise”. But what does “today” mean? Didn’t Christ descend into Hades that very day to liberate the captives there? Did He take the thief with Him?

                      In other words, haven’t we been told for decades now that “a thousand days” in the sight of man is different in the eyes of God? Isn’t that how theological evolutionists have chosen to describe the Six Days of Creation as not being literal? Isn’t all this what we mean by “mystery”?

                      I realize I opened up at least two cans of worms here but I can’t escape the fact that temporality is null and void when discussing Eschatological matters.

                    • johnkal,

                      Matthew 7:15-23:

                      “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.

                      Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.”

                      There is no “cheap grace”. Our Savior’s blood is very precious. It is not by a confession or statement of faith that one is saved but by the perpetual act of confessing and repenting, working out ones salvation with fear and trembling that one is saved. It is a process. Synergia. Theosis.

                      McChrist can save no one.

                    • Christ said to His disciples that “Not everyone who says unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that does the will of my Father which is in heaven.”

                      Similarly the Apostle instructed the first Christians to work out their salvation with fear and trembling for the devil is roaming looking for whom he may devour.

                      All of the above is very sobering so let’s make our garments spotless and keep our oil lamps lit as we prepare to be judged by the Lord.

                    • Wait! Does this mean I can’t just say “Christ is my Lord and Savior”, and pow, it’s done, Harps and wings on clouds, for all guaranteed! Sounds like The Evangelicals get a better deal than we do! Shrewd Evangelicals, with such great negotiating skills, no wonder they think we’re such old world fools!

                    • The “Toll houses” question aside, good words have been spoken by all in this thread.

                      I would only add one thing about working out our salvation “with fear and trembling.” It always concerns me when “fear and trembling” are pulled from the context of the apostle’s words as though they stand alone. These words have never stood alone. By themselves they can lead to paralysis and even despair, as though our God was some sort of divine ogre desirous that we cower before Him. It can lead some, especially those with certain personality traits, to think of God as the One from whom we must be saved.

                      This is what the apostle actually wrote:

                      Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.”

                      Fear and trembling is healthy and appropriate when we have full assurance that God is in us, with us, and for us – that it is His will and good pleasure to make our feeble efforts work for our salvation.

                • Michael Bauman says

                  Cyprian, by what authority do you proclaim the toll house teaching to be a heresy? I have been aware of it for a long time and the only people I know who call it a doctrine are those who hate it.

                  You give it more life than it deserves.

                  • Not interested in arguing.

                    • Estonian Slovak says

                      Then don’t name something as a heresy unless you can back up your assertions with quotes from the holy fathers. They were more qualified to judge these things then you or I.

                    • This post is for Johnkal and Billy Jack Sunday,
                      Thank you for refuting the neo- gnostic heresy of the toll houses.
                      Father Timothy Cremeens, are you out there? If you are, I would love to read your views on this subject or someone from Orthodox Christian Laity.

                    • George Michalopulos says

                      For what it’s worth, I don’t “teach” the toll houses theory. Teaching is an aspect of the episcopate. Now do I believe in the toll houses? That’s a fair question and I’ll write something about it in due time. (I still haven’t had the chance to read the book yet.)

                      All I can say is that Gail’s observation regarding demonic activity –where it can exist–should give every reader here pause before being saying anything dogmatic against their possibility. For me, her observation was like a kick in the gut.

                    • This is for George,
                      I agree that you have not made any dogmatic statements about the subject. Looking forward to your future writing .

                    • Michael Bauman says

                      Cyprian seems as if you are arguing but not engaging.

                    • Deal with it says

                      No, what’s pernicious is this idea that anyone can just go out there and ‘declare’ the toll houses are a ‘neo-gnostic heresy,’ blatantly ignoring the vast amount of literature that is available, from credible Orthodox writers, showing that this is, indeed, a widely-held teaching in our Church, dating back to the earliest years.

                      If you’re not happy with Departure of the Soul, which is 1,200 pages of evidence stacked up against your ignorant claims, then go and hunt down a copy of Jean Claude Larchet’s Life After Death According to the Orthodox Teaching, which is also packed with quotes from most Church Fathers. Larchet, by the way, is one of the world’s most reputable patristic scholars and not to be trifled with. Or maybe the book Life After Death by Metropolitan Hierotheos (Vlachos), another highly-regarded spiritual writer.

                      But you want the input from OCL, that bastion of traditional Orthodoxy. Give us a break. Next you’ll be telling us Mr. Lev Puhalo is reliable.

              • Gail Sheppard says

                I have been to St. Anthony’s four times and each time, something very unusual happened.

                The first time was in 2004. I wasn’t Orthodox at the time. An old high school friend who had lived at the monastery invited me to meet him at the gates at 4:30 am. I was unable to participate in the Liturgy, but I could see it through the doors from the narthex. As I was sitting there, by myself, in the dark, Father Paisios appeared. He asked me one question: “Do you love the Church?” I said, “Yes.” He asked me to follow him, which I did. We went into his office and he asked me to kneel. He then said the prayers of the Catechumen over me. It was that simple. I was now able to enter the doors. I was so overwhelmed by the experience, I didn’t feel like I even belonged there. Through the years, I had heard that Father Paisios had asked about me when my friend would visit, but I’m not sure I believed it.

                12 years later, when I moved back to AZ, I ran out of excuses and made an appointment to go back to the monastery to see Father Paisios. It was through Father Markellos, who serves a kind of a “gate keeper.” I arrived on the appointed day at the appointed time. Father Markellos said, “Father Paisios is not here. He’s MIA! We don’t even know where he is!” He kind of laughed when he said this. I said, “So I understand.” (Father Seraphim had told me the same thing.) He said, “But I told you to come today, didn’t I?” I said, “Yes, Father, you did.” He said, “And now you’re here.” I said, “Yes, Father, I am.” (It was kind of a good natured “Who’s on First” sort of dialog.) He says, “Well, today you will not be going home.” I said, “I won’t, Father?” He said, “No, you won’t. Today you are to open every door of every chapel and then return to me when you’re done.” I said, “Every door, Father? Are there no restrictions?” He said, “No. Not today. Not for you.” Now mind you, I never felt like I belonged at that monastery. Now, I was being given the “keys to the city.” It was right after the Presentation of the Theotokos and it was like being able to play in the Holy of Holies to me. I had an incredible day. Every single chapel was open and lit, as if to welcome me. I saw less than 10 people that day, if that, and none of them seemed to notice me. I had the whole place to myself, or so it seemed to me, in a way I never dreamed possible. It became my home.

                I made a second appointment with Father Paisios. It was late in December. I waited a long time in the confessional with a number of other people, many of whom were clergy and had flown in from out of town. They had to catch flights so I was happy to defer to them. Every seat in the confessional was taken and several people were standing. All of a sudden the door on the opposite side of the confessional burst open. In walks Elder Ephraim, followed by two, large Polynesian men in red shirts, whom I assumed were his bodyguards or something. Everyone jumped up and asked for his blessing as he rounded the corner to go into Father Paisios’ office. I heard one woman telling her daughters that one day he would be a saint. I wasn’t close enough to get his blessing, but he looked up, saw me and nodded. I remember thinking that though he was very old, his countenance looked young. His head and the exposed part of his neck as he turned betrayed his age. He was kind of glowing. Then the strangest thing happened. Although all 3 men went into Father Paisios’ office, they didn’t come out. Other people went in and came out, but not them. They were in there the entire day. I assumed Father Paisios had a door to the outside in his office, although that’s not the way I remembered it from all those years ago. – It was getting late so I went to Father Paisios’ secretary and told him I would come back later because it was almost time for Vespers and I didn’t want Father Paisios to be stressed out. He laughed and said, “Father Paisios doesn’t get stressed out!” I said, “Well, then I’m the one who is stressing out and it’s not the worst thing in the world for me to have to come back to the monastery, now is it, Father?!” He laughed and said, “No, I guess not,” so he made another appointment for me for after the first of the year when it would be less busy.

                The final time I visited, I got to see Father Paisios. His secretary had my name on the list as “Galina.” I was baptized as Gailina (the priest spelled it that way because he wanted it to reflect my legal name, for some reason). It’s pronounced “Gaylina,” like my name, but it’s not something people easily pick up. There are thousands and thousands of women named Galina.

                The first thing Father Paisios said to me was, “It’s good to see you, Gailina. How long has it been? 12 years?” (My mouth dropped on the floor. How could he remember that?) I said, “You have a good memory, Father.” He said, “I’m sorry I wasn’t able to see you the last two times you were here.” (What???? How did he know?) I said, “That’s alright, Father. It was a blessing. Because I wasn’t able to see you I was able to explore the monastery and I got to see Elder Ephraim!” He asked me about seeing Elder Ephraim so I told him the story and mentioned my confusion about these men going in but not coming out. There is no door in his office, BTW. He said, “Gailina, Elder Ephraim hasn’t been here for 3 months.” I was shocked and said, “Well, then who did I see?!” He smiled and said, “I don’t know!”

                St. Anthony’s is full of mystery.

                • George Michalopulos says


                  • This post is for Deal with it:
                    How many people have you personally led into the Orthodox Church (family excluded) by teaching the pernicious, neo gnostic heresy of the aerial toll houses? I have read the Bible from cover to cover more times than you can count, and have never read anything even closely resembling the neo gnostic aerial toll house heresy. There is absolutely no Biblical basis whatsoever to support this heresy. As I have so succinctly, eloquently stated previously; publicly teach this heresy, and you will completely empty the Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church will die if it is not publicly repudiated. Demons don’t judge us, in fact, they have nothing in us.

                    • Cyprian

                      I really would like to use my third comment of the day to give one of you guys some gas for recent comments, so I will try and tuck it all in right here – because first and foremost I have to agree with and support your statements here

                      George: please minimize editing and keep this toll house comment thread open as long as people want to talk about it. Please dont cut it short since you are planning a dedicated article on it. I look forward to that, but for now, please let’s see where tbis goes

                      Stankovich: If you can’t name the kick, don’t quote the movie as your own. Instead, quote Vincent, the Sicilian from The Princess Bride movie. It’s how I picture you – angry lisp and all – and it tickles me. Alternatively, I picture you as Archibald Asparagus frim Veggie Tales – when you make more sense and have less of a princess rage monkey thing going on

                      Dino: For once you took the words out of my mouth instead of putting words in it: “Cult of Stankovich.”

                      Cyprian: I dont agree with you on a few things, but on this one I fully agree with you. Toll house theory is spooky and is an abuse. All we need is a little time and a bit more exaggerated claims about it and people will be giving alms and tithes to help themselves and family members pass through the tolls. It will be purgatory all over again, along with having a pope. And look what Bart is doing! We will have the Green Pope with toll house indulgences. Its said that Orthodoxy has never had a Protestant Reformation. Technically true, unless you count that Rome was once the champion of Orthodoxy. So long Constantinople! We miss you, our friend! We are watching history repeat itself so hard it’s totally surreal

                • Michael Bauman says

                  Thank you Gail. Now I know why you are one of my heros.

                • TheFutureOfTheChurch says

                  “The first thing Father Paisios said to me was, “It’s good to see you, Gailina. How long has it
                  been? 12 years?” (My mouth dropped on the floor. How could he remember that?) I said, “You have a good memory, Father.” He said, “I’m sorry I wasn’t able to see you the last two times you were here.” (What???? How did he know?)”

                  The implication is that Father Paisios is some sort of clairvoyant. I have a great memory and easily remember things from decades ago. Even the names and faces of people I only met once. Maybe other people don’t have that ability but I assure you I have no advanced spiritual powers.

                  Father Paisios has a secretary and the secretary was aware of your previous attempts to see him. So another explanation for how he knew of your previous visits is simply that his secretary told him.

                  I have visited a variety of Orthodox monasteries all over the world but for some reason people love to whisper about “mystical happenings” at the monasteries of Fr Ephraim. This is not typical from my experience and is a point of concern.

                  • George Michalopulos says

                    For what it’s worth, I’ve met twice with Fr Paissios without the presence or knowledge of his secretary.

                    • TheFutureOfTheChurch says

                      Someone has to run the administrative affairs of a monastery and maybe that requires a secretary. Don’t know if that is typical but I can understand it.

                      What I do find strange is a monk that needs bodyguards. I have not seen that before.

                      Years ago, Fr. Ephraim came to the church I attended to hear confessions. This was before all the monasteries were established in the U.S. We had never heard of him. I was waiting in the back of the church for him to arrive. I heard a vehicle outside and opened the church door. A large, stretch limo had pulled up and a small monk came out. It was Fr Ephraim. I found that strange. Who knows? Maybe someone ordered it for him.

                    • George Michalopulos says

                      Well, of course I agree that “someone has to run administrative affairs for a monastery”. No argument there. All I said was that I was able to see Fr Paissios without a secretary there the second time I was there (two months ago).

                      Forgive me, I misspoke when I said that I was able to do so twice. For the record, when I was there in May of 2014, I went through a secretary to see Elder Ephraim.

                  • Gail Sheppard says

                    To the FutureoftheChurch,

                    I wasn’t implying that Father Paisios is some sort of clairvoyant. I said I was shocked he remembered me. 12 years is a long time and thousands of people pass through there every year.

                    I never said a monk needed bodyguards! LOL I said I saw two beefy looking Polynesian men come in with Elder Ephraim and I assumed they were bodyguards or something. The whole thing lasted about as long as it takes 3 people to walk 30 feet while stopping briefly to lightly touch the palms of maybe 3 or 4 people. It was over in less than 10 seconds. I didn’t know who they were! All I know is a roomful of people saw them and they disappeared behind Father Paisios’ door. End of story.

                    Father Paisios’ secretary was not aware of my previous attempts to see him. On two occasions, it was a different guy and on one occasion no one was there because Father Paisios wasn’t there.

                    I think it’s odd that you have visited a variety of Orthodox monasteries all over the world and have never witnessed the “mystery” of the Church. I can’t imagine why it would be cause for concern. It’s not a dead Church.

                    You said none of this is typical from your experience. Well, I can’t say it’s typical from my experience, either, which is why I found the whole thing so fascinating.

                  • Gail Sheppard says

                    I told you about my experiences at St. Anthony’s. I’ve only been to two other monasteries and both times, something unusual happened, as well. It honestly surprises me that one can visit monasteries all over the world and not have these experiences! Here’s the 5th story. (I’ll tell you the 6th tomorrow.)

                    * * *
                    Back in 2005 or 2006, I was on a list where there was a lot of criticism of St. Paisius in Safford, AZ. I had met the Abbess, briefly, at a retreat where she was speaking so I contacted her. I was coming to Tucson (I lived in CA at the time) and she invited me to come see the monastery for myself. The hope was that I could mitigate some of the concerns, which proved to be 100% unfounded. The Abbess, Mother Michaila, is a wonderful, engaging woman. We became fairly well-acquainted and I grew to love her.

                    After I arrived, Mother Michaila asked one of the sisters to give me a tour before Vespers. I remember being offered some pomegranate juice (they have a beautiful orchard there) that I couldn’t get enough of because it was August and it was hot! The sister was a young woman, maybe in her 20s, and I was curious about how she came to be in the Church and what her family thought about her becoming a nun. She hesitated and told me that one’s previous life was not something they even thought about because they are living a new life now. I sensed she didn’t want talk about the past so I didn’t press her. She was clearly happy and that’s all that mattered.

                    A Gila monster ran across my path (I had never seen one in the wild; they can really run fast on those chubby little legs) and I was loaded down with the BEST pierogies I had ever tasted when I left, but the truly unusual thing happened a few months later.

                    I was coming back to Tucson and changed planes in Phoenix. I sat down next to this woman and we began chatting on the 45-minute flight. She told me she and her husband had been Evangelical missionaries and she regaled me with stories about her family and their adventures. They were a very close family and led a very spirit-filled life in exotic places, as I recall. The conversation drifted a bit and she noticed my cross. She kind of bit her lip and in a tentative voice said, “May I ask you something? Are you Orthodox?” I said, “Yes.” Tears started to form in her eyes and she said, “I’m so sorry, but I have to share something with you. Our daughter became a nun in the Orthodox Church and we don’t know what to think about it. We hardly ever see her and the whole thing seems so strange to us.” I don’t know why, but I asked her, “Is your daughter’s name . . . and is she at St. Paisius in Safford?” The woman looked amazed and said, “How did you know?” I said, “I met your daughter a few months ago and I haven’t been able to get her off my mind. I was very curious about her family and you just told me everything I wanted to know! Now, it’s my turn. Your daughter is absolutely lovely! She is definitely in her element and is very happy and content with the life she chose.” Tears started streaming down the woman’s cheeks at this point. She kind of laughed through her tears and said, “But you’re so normal! It must be OK if you’re in the Church, too!” I assured her there were a lot of normal people in the Church! We spent the rest of the trip talking about her daughter and when the plane landed, she hugged me and said, “You have no idea how much this conversation meant to me. I am now at peace.”

                    How’s that for a story?!

                    • George Michalopulos says

                      Gail, if I may post a comment on this thread.

                      To all: regarding the Toll House theory, I believe Gail just hit the nail squarely on the head. If there is demonic activity on this plane of existence, why couldn’t there be demonic activity in the aerial plane?

                    • Exactly George/Gail,
                      Most pious Monks, who later become Saints, almost always experience demonic activity, and prepare themselves for what may come after their passing. That this is shared with us, should not seem scandalous in any way, but greatly appreciated as we prepare our own journey. Or it can be ignored. Either way, what ever happens when we pass, will happen. On a more jovial note: If we have The ladder to contend with, do Luciferians, have a slide?

                      I have had many miracles/mysteries happen during my life. One I will share with you is the birth of my daughter. I will spare all the details, but let’s just say my wife and I were struggling to conceive a child for fours years, we sought help spiritually, and medically the whole time. Nothing for four years. Now not discounting all the prayers to, and from my spiritual father,priests, monks, nuns, abbots, bishop, saints, and most especially The Theotokos, all must have had special roles in this miracle. Well, after this four year unsuccessful period, my uncle, who was more like a father to me, got terminal cancer. At his deathbed, and at the moment he gave his last breath, I hugged him, and whispered in his ear, “Please ask Jesus to bless my wife and I with a child.” Prayer received! A couple months later my wife was pregnant. BUT, that is only half of the miracle/mystery to the story. What still gives me goose bumps, and tears, is that my daughter was born premature, but completely healthy, by a month and a half, on the exact date of my uncle’s passing, one exact year later! The day of his passing, will never be somber, but one full of joy! Lord have mercy on me, after so many blessings, I’m still such a wretched sinner!

                  • Maybe somebody ordered it for him or maybe he specifically requested a limo. The lives of the saints are full of things that will appear strange to us but which had were done with the intention of shaking off vainglory.

                    You have the blessed habit of visiting monasteries throughout the world. You could ask the spiritual fathers there about the things that concern you or about the toll-houses.

                    • This post is for George: teach the toll house theory,and I guarantee, no one will convert to Orthodoxy.

                    • This post is for Cyprian:

                      I also do not believe in aerial toll houses. I think it’s a metaphorical concept meant for the spiritual battle that happens in this life and it is strongest up to the point of death. Beyond that, I believe it has become a corrupt Gnostic type of eastern pagoda nonsense teaching. I do think the teaching strikes wrong in the conscience heart (as opposed to hell) and is a detriment to the understanding and spreading of the gospel

                      Additional post for George:

                      If the aerial toll houses turn out to be true, the Cookie Monster is absolutely screwed

                    • TheFutureOfTheChurch says

                      I have asked about the toll houses, and just as you see in the discussion here, I have found a variety of opinions on the topic. The best short summary, of what I have been told, is that God has chosen to not reveal the exact details of our particular judgement at death and that the Orthodox Church has no specific dogma on it so don’t dwell on it. Instead, focus on the basics of living a good Orthodox Christian life.

                    • TheFutureoftheChurch, do you mind sharing at which monastery or monasteries you were told what you have summarized?

                    • TheFutureOfTheChurch says

                      I would prefer not to do that as I feel the result might be more negative than positive. I don’t want to incite a flame war in a public Internet forum because Father X at monastery Y said this about subject Z. Also, these were private conversations rather than public statements.

                      I did take the time to read through some of the many references that people provided on the toll house topic. The perspective that comes closest to the advice I heard is from the article by the Synod of Bishops of the Russian Church Outside of Russia. I quote a paragraph from that article here. Hopefully, by selecting a single paragraph I do not misrepresent their main point of view.

                      “Taking all of the forgoing into consideration, the Synod of Bishops resolve: In the deliberations on life after death one must in general keep in mind that it is not pleased the Lord to reveal to us very much aside from the fact that the degree of a soul’s blessedness depends on how much a man’s life on the earth has been truly Christian, and the degree of a man’s posthumous suffering depends upon the degree of sinfulness. To add conjectures to the little that the Lord has been pleased to reveal to us is not beneficial to our salvation, and all disputes in this domain are now especially detrimental, the more so when they become the object of the discussion of people who have not been fully established in the Faith. Acrid polemic apart from the spirit of mutual love turns such an exchange of opinions from a deliberation into an argument about words. The positive preaching of truths of the Church may be profitable, but not disputes in an area which is not subject to our investigation, but which evokes in the unprepared reader false notions on questions of importance to our salvation.”


                    • But you shared with us information about stretched limousines which you surely must have known could lead your brothers to judgement and condemnation.

                      If you felt comfortable sharing that kind of information then of course we can handle knowing which elders/spiritual fathers/monastic communities do not consider the toll houses to be a teaching of the Church.

                    • TheFutureOfTheChurch says

                      I really didn’t consider that the story about the stretch limo would lead people to judge or condemn anyone. I just found it somewhat comical to see a monk emerge from it. No judgement on my part. As I said, my guess was that someone ordered it for him.

                    • Besides finding it funny you used the incident to undermine the reputation of an elder in order to support your contention that the accounts of miracles at the monasteries of his spiritual children are a “cause for concern.”

                      Anyway, I don’t particularly enjoy debate so I won’t push the issue any further.

                    • TheFutureOfTheChurch says

                      I don’t deny that miracles occur. At monasteries or elsewhere. However, I don’t think we should go looking for them in particular places or conjure them up from events that have other plausible explanations.

              • M. Stankovich says

                I have shared my impression of the Elder Ephraim once on this site, a number of years ago, and perhaps it might be helpful for someone to hear it contemporaneously.

                My OCA parish in Rockland County, NY was just across the Hudson River from the northern suburbs of NYC (roughly 40 miles) and approximately 22 miles to SVS. The parish was founded by a small group of Greeks who wanted an English-speaking, non-ethnic parish and sought out the OCA. Enough said. One of the founders, however, still had strong links to the Greek community and told me he was visited by a monk from Mt. Athos and his English-speaking “secretary” who was soliciting funds to develop monasteries. This parishioner had recently retired from the City of NY as an engineer, with a full pension, and was almost immediately widowed. In my estimation, he was emotionally vulnerable and was especially well-prepared for his retirement, and was now being pursued by a monk looking for funds for, as they say, a “cause worthy of a blessing.” When I spoke to this parishioner, he become very defensive when I asked about his donations, and he even said that he had been told that “some” would question him, and to be prepared. I thought to myself, this is none of my business, I apologized, I told him I was simply concerned. I predicted the worst.

                I later had the opportunity to briefly meet Elder Ephraim and I was under-impressed in the sense that there was nothing miraculous, nothing shocking, no light, no fragrance. But I experienced what I have since heard from many – from bishops to simpletons such as myself – this was a man of faith, prayer, and simple piety. And I, for one, am always humbled in the presence of such people: Bishop Basil (Rodzianko), Abp. Averky of Jordanville, Abp. Antony of San Francisco, Met. Philaret of NY. They didn’t levitate, time travel, raise the roof, nor shout from the mountaintops. But when they spoke, their words were precious.

                My encounter was many years ago and the test of this Elder, quite obviously, is in time. These monasteries are not a “phenomenon,” a phase, or a trend, but, in fact, have become a characteristic and foundational – along with ROCOR’s additions – to a living monastic tradition in America that waned and was riddled with scandal. That these monasteries are so vehemently opposed by certain ethnic circles seems to speak volumes as to the state of the secular “church” than anything about Elder Ephraim.

                • George Michalopulos says

                  Quite perceptive, Dr S. A very sober assessment. I believe you found the rhetorical “sweet spot” when discussing the Elder and his monasteries.

                  • Never understood why Orthodox Christians would be surprised, and suspicious that miracles/mysteries would occur at Holy places, such as Mount Athos, Saint Anthony, or any Monastery . Now of course, many will not experience special lights, fragrance, or visions, but some will. These places are not Disneyland, with guaranteed rides and shows for the whole family. In fact, once Saint Paisios foresaw a group of young adults coming to visit him, not for sincere spiritual advise or help, but just out of carnival type curiosity. On the day they arrived, he wrote a note on his door. “ZOO CLOSED, MONKEY GONE!”, as he left up to the hills. The note left a impression upon all of them. Months later, they all came back to visit, with sincere intentions. Monasteries are for those seeking help from a spiritual hospital. Why some see or imagine experiencing miracles/mysteries, and some don’t is unknown, except to our Lord, The Theotokos, and perhaps The Saints. To discredit the fervent prayer, for our sake, by the monks, abbots, and nuns is just wrong.

                • Archpriest Alexander F. C. Webster says

                  Dr S., I wish to echo George’s reply with the additional note that I found your narrative at once discerning and moving.

        • The Ephraim convent in Wasington runs a Greek restaurant. The nuns prepare and sell the food. By the way, the food is rather good. They also have a bookstore without a single bible for sale. The message being rather clear about orthodox reading the bible.

          • No one, especially any of these nuns, is going to discourage Orthodox Christians from reading the Bible.

            If there are no copies of the Bible in their bookstore, it might just be for the fact that the nuns (and the rest of us) get enough biblical material in the services, or maybe that there are other places where people can get copies of the Bible, and the nuns would rather not crowd their store with books easily available elsewhere, and keep in stock only things unique to them and their ministry.

            Can’t we be at least a little bit kinder to each other, and not project our own needs onto everyone else?

            I’d be privileged to visit their restaurant, if that’s the best word for it.

          • Rest assured Jonkal that spiritual fathers who are spiritual children of Elder Ephraim advise their own spiritual children to read at least one chapter of Holy Scripture per day as part of their daily rule.

            • George Michalopulos says

              DBG, I for one am rather tired of the Protestant trope against Orthodox spirituality that “we don’t know the Bible”. Leaving aside the fact that the majority of Orthodox peasants from Orthodox countries were largely illiterate up until a century or so ago, so what? Our services are filled with Scripture and the “Praise and Worship” that abounds in today’s mega-churches pale in comparison.

              • For sure. Even we Orthodox sometimes forget that studying Scripture isn’t an end in itself but is meant along with keeping the commandments to help us unite and commune with Christ. So being a biblical encyclopedia with minimal spiritual understanding obviously isn’t part of the Orthodox tradition.

    • Fr. Peter Andronache says

      Father Deacon,

      I hope you are right in your evaluation of the parish. The webpage mentions the festival as the largest fundraiser of the parish, but webpages can easily get out of date. When I was an assistant priest there, the parish was nowhere near surviving without the festival and Vespers, for example, was nearly unheard of.

      For the fundraiser itself, I do not like events with large sponsorships. However, I would not have had any idea what Studio 54 was had I not read it here, so I would be inclined to give at least a little benefit of the doubt and assume ignorance on the naming.

      In the end, I would be happy for the many good people I knew at Holy Trinity if you are right and there is less reliance on the festival and more focus on the faith. And I hope the church does get built – from what I have seen it will look much more like an Orthodox church than the previous building.

    • Fr. Deacon John,

      It was truly a pleasure to read your comment. Thank you for sharing.

    • Είναι τρελοί says

      Father Deacon,

      Thank you for your honest comments. It seems obvious, though, that this parish’s “plan” is far more than it can handle, financially. Anyone who has any history managing parish or any organization’s accounts knows that “pledges” are far different than what is actually received. A $5 million building project is overwhelming. Most Orthodox parishes would be tickled to have a $500,000 building project.

      If the parish somehow raises that sum in cash and can handle it, and has a firm foundational spiritual life celebrating vespers and has many tithing parishioners, then glory be to God. But for them and their leadership to reach far over their heads and then “assume” that “God will provide the funds,” well that reeks of not being responsible stewards of what God has entrusted to us, does it not? It echoes Joel Osteen’s “prosperity Gospel,” i.e., we have these grand intentions, God loves us and He will reward us with money somehow. And we see the parish resorting to an ends-justify-the-means, utilitarian mentality to somehow come up with extra funds.

      Sad to say, this same type of story is all-too-common in the GOA, where a few influential people’s eyes are far larger than their stomachs, and parishes get in over their heads on financial projects. Then they are beholden to the “golden handcuffs” of ghettoizing ethnic festivals and “disco nights,” as you have it. I think it is the parish leadership’s job to rein the parishioners in and make a more realistic project. One of the best priests I ever had about 20 years ago always stressed that “God commands us to deal with reality.” Honestly, Fr. Deacon, if the parish even had settled on a $1 million building project, well you can build quite a beautiful temple and parish hall and whatever else for $1 million. Most hardworking, tithing, and struggling Orthodox Americans are going to find it hard to be sympathetic that this parish cannot raise $5 million to build something it seems that it couldn’t really afford in the first place.

      Resorting to a “disco night” for a church to try to recover from poor financial planning is akin to your son saying, “Hey dad, I didn’t plan well studying for this test that I have tomorrow, even though I’ve known about it for weeks. Is it OK if I cheat?” Would any of us say yes to that? Would any sane person manage his personal finances the way this parish featured here seems to manage its projects and accounts?

      Not casting aspersions, simply being honest. I am sure this parish is full of well-meaning Orthodox Christians, but this seems to be a full-fledged leadership failure.

      As an aside, I’m sure Hank Hanegraaff’s protestant friends are having a field day with this: “See, that Greek Orthodox Church that Hank just joined? Look, they fund raise by doing disco nights! How ridiculous! How demonic! How non-Christian!”

      • Fr. Peter Andronache says

        No arguments from me on your fundraising comments. There are many reasons I do not like festivals – the amount of energy they take to organize (energy that could be used for evangelism, education, outreach, etc.), church attendance on the Sunday that is inevitably part of the festival, the opportunities for hurt feelings among parishioners that can linger for years, and I could keep going.

        However, I would like to make a little point about building projects. I think it is possible that the parish over-reached and $5 million does seem like a lot. Unfortunately, commercial construction costs seem to have risen a lot recently. Our parish is looking at a project adding just over 2000 sq ft to our building. Granted, we are in the north and the lower level of our existing building is half underground, so there is are additional costs associated with that. Still, we were aiming for about 650k; when the architect finished with the plans, his estimate was 750k; when the contractor estimate came in it was 900k, and when the bids finally came in, they came in at 1.04m. So we are now trying to either reduce the building cost or reduce the scope of the project.

        Perhaps the project should not have started before being sure the money was there to finish. I would not argue with that. My only point is that, while $5 million as a starting point looks like a lot, it is not as much as it used to be and, unfortunately, large errors in estimating are not uncommon.

        • Estonian Slovak says

          Some Russian churches have taken to having ethnic festivals ad fund raisers also. One argument in favor says not only are these fund raisers sources of income to support the church, but also that they can bring people to a knowledge of the church and therefore into becoming Orthodox.
          A pious Subdeacon I know offers this counter argument. He says Orthodoxy is a religion of aestheticism, therefore if we bring people in through good times, festivals,etc;, they can turn around and say, “You lied to us, you brought us in under false pretexts. ”
          It us true that the church has both feasting and fasting periods, however, feasting means celebrating in the Lord first and foremost. When St. John Chrysostom speaks of the “table being laden; let no man go away hungry ” in his Paschal homily, he is speaking about the Eucharist, not the many delicious foods with which one breaks the fast.

    • Fr Deacon John

      You are right that the arcbbishops visits during epiphany. He also makes sure to attend an Ahepa event during that time. YouTube key words Ahepa dance January 5 2017. You will find a video of him addressing Ahepa attendees (later in the footage). In his adress, he states that the Greeks are Americas top minority group (alternating with the Jewish community) regarding levels of education and financial prowess. He attributes much of it to the work of Ahepa. The rest he attributes to the Greek “DNA.”

      Racism. Plain and simple.

      This is why this whole disco bothers me. Its not just the parallel model of debauchery (although extremely offensive). Its because at the end of the day, its about making money and not giving a crap about anyone else who isn’t Greek. This isn’t just the glorfied bake sale that is the Greek festival. This isnt even turning the church into a restaurant. It’s turning the church into a friggin’ nightclub. I’ve been a bouncer. Nightclubs arent family friendly

      In the Protestant world, I’ve seen churches/church properties turned into lots of things. Farmers markets, hell houses, coffee stands, outdoor movie tbeaters, Christian rock concerts, daycares, harvest parties etc. The difference is, the vast majority of times, the Protestant churches, right or wrong, are attempting to reach their communities with the gospel and they are using such activities as a means to communicate the gospel. Some of the things ive seen were okay and some I think were not – but I dont know any Protestant church that would put on a binge drinking sexualized disco for mere cash. That’s some crap some fringe cult would do at best I would think. Perhaps I’m wrong. But the Orthodox Church has no business being involved in such things for sure.

      The Greeks do not care for your soul, only your wallet.

      Who the hell has the audacity to charge $65.00 door cover for a retro rave? The Greek Orthodox Church of America, thats who! For $65.00 just to get in the door, GOA member Tom Hanks better be there doing his best John Travolta impersonation! Or better yet, bring him!!

      Should be no suprise. The Greek church charges cover as soon as you walk in the door. First thing you see when you walk into a Greek church is the candles and the candle “donation” plate. You will be charge about 5x the normal amount at Easter service . Then the offering plate. Then the after church fellowship hour where the food is put on by the dance ministry or philopokeaholeinyourwalletos society charging 5 to 10 dollars a plate even to visitors. Then the wine and chocolate balls, the festivals, the holiday bake sales the constant emails and monthly bulletins begging for cash, the during sermons tithing giving teachings, the after service but before dismissal stewardship nagging/begging reminders. Then come the September stewardship emphasis month, the confirmation of tithing commitments ar the end of the year and beginning of the year and whatever other b.s dollar a day or pledge me this or that throughout the year while we dont give a damn about your friends or family or community or whoever other than the blue haired frozen chosen potentially spending an eternity in torment. Its their fault for not being born Greek

      The money eventually finds its way to Turkey

      You see, the Greek church is big because of Ahepa donors, who make big churches, that feed the EP. Ahepa wants things to remain Greek. The EP wants his power from the eparchy spiritual cash colony of America. This isnt by accident, its by design!!!! Does everybody hear that??? This is no accident or unfortunate money festival reliance pickle. Step back and look at the whole picture. This isnt crisis management by event. Its just part of the game.

      Why is there no outrage? Because the clergy want these events to happen so they can get the cash. They just need you to look the other way?

      Is your priest a good guy? Im willing to believe you. However, make sure he knows what all this represents and what exactly happens at a nightclub. There’s plenty of time to cancel the event.

      I’m a member of the GOA. This saddens me deeply. However, all we are getting lately (Crete, Chicago, ecumenicism, etc) is bad news.

      Its time for things to change. It’s time for an American Orthodox Church

      We are told that the church here isnt mature enough to govern itself? Well, if being controlled by Turkey gives us drunken disco parties because they are harvesting our cash – where’s the maturity in that?

      The church must be motivated out of the love for souls, not dollars. Only a local church will have the capacity to care for its own. I would say conversly that by not being independant, the American church will never be able to become mature. Theres a reason why the canons were written the way they were, right?

      So lets have an independent American Orthodox Church

  17. John Johannsen says

    Father Deacon,
    You assume the best in charity and that is a rightly laudable thing. However, in my opinion, your logic is a bit flawed. The ends don’t justify the means. I understand the need for a fundraiser given their tragic circumstances. However, glorifying something such as this, especially the night before the Divine Liturgy, is just a very bad idea. I don’t know the people involved in this parish and I’m not judging their intentions, which I’m sure were good. However, we are supposed to be witnesses to the Gospel, at least as best we can given our own sinfulness and weakness.

  18. Perhaps afterwards they can hold a “Disco Demolition Night” a la Comiskey Park 1979…now *that* was a great promotion!

  19. Bill Jack Sunday,

    Amen to your comments. But don’t believe that only non-Greek members of the GOA feel as you do about the unrelenting ethnocentricity that exists within many of our parishes and is harming our Faith. As a Greek-American and member of the “Great Generation;” I am a WWII navy veteran who agrees with much of what you say. (Yes, I’m 91 yrs old and by the Grace of God still very much alive.) How well I recall my boot camp days at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center in Illinois, where the one and only Orthodox Chaplain in the Navy at the time, (a Russian Orthodox priest, Fr. Sienevsky (sp?) from Minneapolis) served and celebrated Divine Liturgy in English for us young recruits, many of whom never returned, while others have long since reposed. That was nigh onto 75 yrs ago. We were all one in Christ then—- young Americans of multiple ethnic backgrounds worshiping together. We were not Greeks, Russians, Serbs, Finns, or Arabs. We were Orthodox, and at that moment in time, we were, indeed, an American Orthodox Christian community. And yes, I’ve been waiting for a united American Orthodox Church to come into existence ever since. It hasn’t happened in my life time. I hope it does in yours. It must become a reality if our Orthodox Faith is to survive and prosper in this great nation. But it will be realized only because a laity demands as much. It will not be handed down by the hierarchy of our respective jurisdictions. I am a proud Hellene, yet I am first to admit that most of us are too Greek and non enough Orthodox.

    • J-Ro

      I greatly appreciate what you and your generation did for us. I especially appreciate hearing from a WWII Navy veteran

      For many years now, I’ve loved watching documentaries on the battle history of the US Navy in WWII. I can sit and watch it for hours on end. It is beyond impressive

      When I was in Hawaii many years ago, I was sure to visit the Pearl Harbor memorial. I was also able to stand on the deck of Mighty Mo

      My mother’s side of the family has members with Navy history going back to WWII as well

      On my father’s side, my ancestors fought as the Byzantine Emporer’s shock troops/special forces and were his personal body guard. They were considered most loyal to the Emporer, even above and beyond the Greeks. Many historians agree that the Byzantine Empire lasted as long as it did was largely due to the valor of this guard. My ancestor line within the guard was considered best of the best of the best

      My father is a U.S. Marine. So I come from a long line of loyal and protective tough men. It’s in my blood to stand up and fight and defend

      But you gotta fight for what you believe in

      Today, the EP cares more about pandas than any non-Greek human being.

      If he cared about everyone and fought for the salvation of all, I would absolutely support him

      However, as he has no regard or respect for almost all of the ones I love and care about, I have no regard for his throne and its imposition over here

      I do love my Greek godfather, however. He’s kind, but doesn’t believe in rocking boats, I think. I have found some Greeks to be kind, some to be racist, but all extremely apathetic regarding evangelism ouside the 4 walls of the church.

      I also agree with you that an independent unified American Orthodox Church will not be handed to us by the hierarchy. Indeed, I am demanding it now. I hope you will join me in this, as well as all of us laity together. It is time. The souls of all Americans are at stake

      I’m tired of being told to quietly sit by and watch as the world outside our own spiritually burns.

      The church is the ark of salvation, I’m told. Well, a ship needs sailors. We need experienced spiritual sailors – such as you – to once again, win the day for all

      The modern day Macedonian call must be answered.

    • Gail Sheppard says

      J-Roe, something you said interested me. You said: “But it (one Church) will be realized only because the laity demands as much.”

      How would we, the laity, go about this? Any ideas?

      I hope you keep posting here, by the way. I have a feeling we’d all benefit from your experience.

    • V. Rev. Andrei Alexiev says

      Dear Sir;
      Thank you for your service to our country! Are you sure the priest you recall wasn’t Fr. Vladimir Borichevsky? He was an early graduate of St. Vladimir’s Seminary, also I believe he was the first Orthodox Chaplain in the US armed forces. He also served in Minneapolis in the same church that St. Alexis Toth brought into Orthodoxy from the Uniates.
      He also was one of my professors at St. Tikhon’s Seminary. He reposed in the Lord almost thirty years ago, but is still remembered fondly by his students.

    • Bishop Tikhon (Fitzgerald) says

      Fr Alexander Seniavsky did indeed used to claim to be the first Orthodox Chaplain in our armed forces (Navy). He retired in San Diego, and served from time to time at the early English Liturgies in L.A, He was a total extravert, and once regaled us with how he became a Priest. “In those days, the main requirements were that you be tall, good-looking, and have a great voice, and I fit the bill!” I’m sure others that knew him have similar anecdotes…

    • Peter A. Papoutsis says

      Amen to that. I cannot disagree. God bless you and thank you for your service.

      Peter A Papoutsis

  20. Studio 54 Bar? Here is a good look at what Studio 54 was. Now we get one at a Greek Orthodox Church.

  21. Hello Gail,

    Only recently have I posted on this blog, preferring more to read the many thoughtful comments appearing from time to time, in spite of the one-up-on-you-gotcha type responses that too often appear. I wish I could tell you with certainty how our Church will be united, but I can’t. In my heart, however, I know it will happen because ο λαος, (the good people of God) will insist that it be. Perhaps as sanctification is declared collectively by the Faithful and not imposed from on-high, so too will the desire for union ultimately overpower the vested interests of parochial forces to whom we seem to be inexorably bound. We have to know each other in order to welcome each other’s embrace, and this can best begin in places where parishes of multiple Orthodox jurisdictions already exist. Sharing experiences, both liturgical and social, by adults and children will help break down barriers once believed impossible to overcome. And with time, the ubiquitous use of English will dilute the ethnocentric nature of many communities, helping the process along. Patience, love, and outreach, however, are key to this ever happening. The mixing it up among young and old does not preclude our clergy from doing the same by con-celebrating and interacting with each other as often as possible, while a persistent push for All-English services will also help. These ideas are not new and have been offered before by others. Sadly, they’ve been executed in the past in but token doses. For a decade now, my parish is fortunate having an endowed adult lecture series at which a half dozen or so speakers appear during the ecclesiastic year. As director of this ministry, I schedule as many non-Greek (Orthodox) presenters as I can recruit, only to demonstrate that spirituality, intelligence, humanity, and wisdom exist outside of one’s tribe. And by doing so, we are amazed at the numbers of co-religionists, who later attend each other’s services as a result. Active and persistent agitation along with large doses of patience and love are obvious and important parts of the answer.

    • Michael Bauman says

      J-Ro, one such place that exists is Indianapolis, IN.
      There the Greeks, Antiochians (yes we do exist), the Patriarchal Bulgarians, OCA, GOA, Serbian, and some I may be missing do exactly what you suggest in both coordinated and ad hoc ways.

      Where I am there are only Antiochians. Used to be a GOA parish, but it has become moribund.

  22. Michael Bauman says

    Cyprian, thought you did not want to argue.

    If the toll houses are real and true, that truth will not be a block for those seeking Christ in His Church. If is not true, it will fade.

    We know that something happens in those forty days after the death of our mortal body.

    If is as the toll house explanation(most definitely NOT a doctrine) posits, we should be prepared. If it is not, yet there is something for which we should be prepared–going before the dread judgement seat of Christ. The readiness is all.

    If the possibility of the toll houses helps your preperation-God be praised. If it does not, preparation is still necessary is it not?

    The preparation is the same: Repentance(facing the shame of my sinful passions and the damage indulgence in them causes), forgiving, giving of alms with a merciful heart, surrendering to God’s love in thanksgiving and humility.

    I cannot understand why the explanation disturbs you so. It is not so very different from what we each go through daily anyway is it?

    BTW the only person I know of to label the toll houses a heresy was the Archbishop Puhalo or whatever is name is. Blessed Seraphim Rose is a far more credible source for anything than Puhalo. That was why I asked your authority for calling it a heresy. An accusation that needs more substance if it is leveled.

    Heresy as far as I know is always Christological in substance. Nothing I have read about the toll houses says anything about the nature of Christ. I could be wrong, but if I am I would like to know how I am wrong.

    Not to argue but to learn.

    • I don’t call Father Seraphim Rose blessed or will I ever consider him a saint. I neither admire nor respect him. As far as Archbishop Puhalo, from what I hear, he does not enjoy the best reputation. Also, I’ve never read one word he’s written, nor do I intend to. At my church, they have books written by Father Seraphim Rose on display in the book shop. Just looking at his books gives me the creeps. He may stand tall in the saddle to you, but he means nothing to me, except to stay as far away from his writings as possible.

      • Deal with it says

        The toll houses are not for missionary outreach. My confessor even says that theosis is not to be taught to catechumens, as it is far too lofty a teaching for those who are children in the eyes of the Church. Milk before meat, as it is said.

        Anyway, have you even bothered reading the books I mentioned? Probably not, because thy’re packed with scriptural citations, as well as wisdom from the Holy Fathers. Scripture and Tradition, that’s how the Orthodox Church works. It doesn’t matter how many times you read the Bible cover to cover, but how much of the patristic phronema that you cultivate.

        Just look at the number of articles by serious Orthodox theologians that have been posted here. Just look at the number of hierarchs and scholars who gave their name to the recent book from Saint Anthony’s. Do you think you know better than them?

        Based on the above brash remarks about Father Seraphim Rose, one of very, very few Western converts to gain widespread respect and devotion in the homelands of Orthodoxy, and especially among the pious and traditional Orthodox people, it seems like the problem lies with you, and not with a well-documented, widely-attested teaching that you happen to have a distaste for. Please wipe the froth from your mouth and pick up some of the recommended literature on the subject.

        • I’m not going to trade insults with you.

          • Deal with it says

            Translates as: “I’m going to make bold assertions, but not back them up with anything”

            Looks like you backed the wrong horse here. I should also mentione, as an addendum, that the toll houses are mentioned in the Church’s liturgical texts. Yes, those books that are used by every parish, in every local church, in every patriarchate, in every country, for millenia.

            • Where?

              • Deal with it says

                Octoechos and some services in the Menaia. Outside of universal liturgical texts, I’ve seen references in a number of akathists that have been blessed by the Church for use.

                Not to mention the lives of the saints, the desert fathers, etc.

                • Deal with it

                  Please just go ahead and quote references word for word from the universal liturgical texts so we can see what you are saying you believe is embedded toll house doctrine/teaching

              • It’s also in our daily personal evening prayers. See the prayer to the Theotokos in the Compline.


                • Be with me always in your grace and loving mercy, for you are the fervent helper who turn away the assaults of enemies and guide men toward salvation, caring for my unworthy soul at the hour of death and driving from it the darkness of evil spirits. In the Day of judgment, free me from eternal torment and show me to be an heir of the divine glory of your Son, and our God.

                  I assume this is the suggested reference. If so it does not mention Toll Houses nor does it speak of demonic assault after death but rather at the hour of death. Please let me know if you are referencing another section of the Compline service?

                  • Yes, that’s it. Perhaps the original will be more clear:

                    “Και εν τω καιρώ της εξόδου μου, την αθλίαν μου ψυχήν περιέπουσα, και τας σκοτεινάς όψεις των πονηρών δαιμόνων πόρρω αυτής απελαύνουσα.”

                    This translates more or less as:

                    “At the time of my departure care for my wretched soul and drive away from it the dark countenances of the wicked demons.”

                    The prayer is speaking of the time when our soul will be separated from our body and when our spiritual eyes will be opened. And we pray to the Theotokos to drive away the evil spirits that will approach our soul.

            • No, when you say, “please wipe the froth from your mouth,” that is an ad hominem attack, and I’m not going to engage in personal insults with you.

              • Deal with it says

                Well, you didn’t respond to more civil requests that you back up your assertions, so I’m assuming you don’t have any support for your claims outside your own discomfort with this widespread and well-attested teaching.

                If you want to continue attacking this teaching, and its well-respected proponents, you should at least supply some substance to your statements. It’s just posturing, otherwise

                • How can it be posturing when the internet is replete with refutations of the toll house heresy? If the heresy was true, how could the Apostle Paul say, “for me to live is Christ; to die is gain?” How could he also say, henceforth is laid up for me the Crown of Life? How could he say, “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord?”
                  It is not incumbent upon me to disprove a destructive heresy; also, this particular heresy is not part of Orthodox dogma. Name one Ecumenical Council that ratified this pernicious heresy. No, it is your responsibility to prove beyond any and all doubt that this terrible heresy that nullifies the saving work of Christ is true. The onus is on you. Thus far, you have failed miserably to prove anything, except to engage in polemical, ad hominem attacks. Nowhere in the Bible, does it say anything resembling the myth that Christians are enticed by demons after death. As Jesu said on the cross,” It is finished.”

                  • Deal with it says

                    I mentioned a number of books that cover all bases in this regard. I mentioned that it’s featured in our liturgical books, which has been supported by other commentators. Others have provided links to articles.

                    I have Departure of the Soul at my desk now and am looking at the contents – Scriptural passages with patristic commentary, lives of saints east and west, communiques from church councils, liturgical texts, iconography, patristic quotations, desert fathers, contemporary theologians, contemporary elders. You just need to go and have a look and see. Also, the support this book has is widespread, if you look at the blurbs and reviews – not all ‘fundy’or ‘fringe’ Orthodox, but respectable and moderate scholars and well-regarded bishops

                    This concept is i) scriptural, ii) ancient, iii) universal (i.e. east and west) and iv) accepted by the mind of the Church, due to its presence in our liturgical books.

                    No one ever said this was a dogma, but a widely-attested teaching. Of course, you should know that the reason it was never discussed at an ecumenical synod was because no one ever brought it up as problematic. Ecumenical synods are called only to deal with heresies and controversies that arise within the Church, not to proclaim teachings that are widely-held, which is why a number of teachings within our Church have never explicitly been mentioned at synods.

                    Note to George: Please read Departure of the Soul before making your own post on this subject. It’s better to be well-informed before diving in. It’s well worth the cost of the book.

                    • Deal with it,
                      I have never and would never read one word written by Father Seraphim Rose. For some reason, I have a real aversion to him; perhaps, it’s his fundamentalism. I actually get a sick feeling when I see his books on display in our parish bookstore. As far as his book being well worth the price, I’d burn it before I ever read it. He’s not for me at all. By the way, neither is Elder Ephraim.

                    • Deal with it says

                      Cyprian, I think here you reveal to us the actual issue at hand: you.

                      You attack Fr. Seraphim Rose and cast aspersions against this highly-regarded modern Orthodox teacher… without actually having read anything of his?

                      You make accusations of fundamentalism (Public Orthodoxy, anybody?) and even talk about burning his books… books that brought consolation to huge numbers of Orthodox Christians behind the Iron Curtain in the dark days of communist persecution, and continue to console Orthodox Christians worldwide in our own times.

                      It’s one thing to say “I’ve read his books and don’t like them”, which would be fair, but what you are doing is beneath contempt. I think we can conclude that you have forfeited your credibility in this discussion.

                      PS: Check out my quotes from the Church’s liturgical texts below. Enjoy, and don’t forget your sick bag.

                  • Gail Sheppard says

                    So, Cyprian, you realize that no Ecumenical Council ratified your understanding either, right? Because I think the teaching on this is what I said: We don’t know. Nothing has been “ratified” either way.

                    Being separated from the body and going to the next life may be a process like in this life. It took me roughly 9 months and 36 hours to bring my son into this world, although his life was created in an instant. It was a process that started out with extreme nausea and fatigue. There were moments with my son when I was literally biting the bars of my bed at the end; a far cry from the ethereal, pristine, “joy of birth,” I was expecting. What they call “discomfort” in the books was pure agony for me. Is it like this for all women? No, but it’s not unusual either. It is often hell getting here and it may be hell getting there.

                    Demons are real, Cyprian. The Church does teach that. Christ taught that. They might not give us a “get out of jail free” card when we die. Christ came down to spare the Theotokos from this process. If there is no “process,” from what was she spared?

                    Just like a baby leaves the womb for its mother arms, I’m sure “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord,” but it might not happen in an instant. I don’t think we can assume that because the “toll house” position wasn’t ratified by an Ecumenical Council, that it isn’t real. I hope it isn’t but I don’t know it isn’t.

                    I have come to have a healthy respect for those who have one foot in this life and one foot in the next, even when what they say is something I don’t want to believe. Why lie when it would be so much easier to tell people what they want to hear?

                    Read 1 Corinthians 3. It gives me pause where it says, “I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able,” while warning us not side with St. Paul over Apollos. (Apollos could be anybody that God has sent; even an elder.)

                    What if we just can’t bear to hear the truth, Cyprian? Because that’s a very real possibility.

                    • Thank you, Gail, for a very thoughtful, kind response. As much as I like and respect you, I can’t come close to accepting the toll house theory. However, I do thank you for your Christlike response. Also, I’m very sorry for your loss.

                    • This is for Deal with it:
                      Yet again, you engage in polemical, personal, ad hominem attacks against me. No, it isn’t about me, but you keep trying to engage in character assassination and innuendo. “Beneath contempt” is an attempt to silence any dissenters from a given point of view. Those are cheap shots and extremely low blows. Not the slightest, least bit Christian or Christlike.
                      You obviously have a personal axe to grind. Either you are an Ephraimite or some other fundamentalist fanatic. You stick with your toll house heresy, and I’ll stick with St. Symeon the New Theologian who believed in the love of God in Jesus Christ.
                      The way you have treated me in such an irresponsible manner proves you to be the one without credibility. Are you an Ephraimite monk, by the way?

                    • Deal with it says

                      I’ve never even been to one of Elder Ephraim’s monasteries, I should point out. I’m just someone who is sick and tired of people proclaiming something to be a heresy that has blatantly been taught by a myriad of Holy Fathers, Saints, Elders, and Teachers of the Church.

                      Several people here have pointed out the near-unanimity of this teaching, I have provided quotes from the Church’s divine services, as well as naming some pertinent reading materials. You’ve done nothing to support your claims. At least the other ‘fundamentalist fanatics’ and I have put in a little work to support our position.

                      Christ was harsh with the Pharisees, so I feel no remorse for using strong language to defend something that is upheld by the Church’s tradition.

                      As for Saint Symeon the New Theologian, I’ll stick with him too:

                      I have approached old age, Savior, unto the gateway of death. The prince of the world comes wishing to inspect my works and practices, the shameful and the impure, the executioners stand ready looking at me harshly, and they await the command to take and pull down my wretched soul into the perdition of hell.

                      From Divine Eros, Hymn 42.

            • Jesus Christ will judge us. We will either enter His eternal reward or our personally created forever torment matched with whatever was prepared for the devil and his angels based off of Jesus’ evaluation of us. That sounds scary enough to me. At least it will be right and fair, however

              Who cares what the demons think of us? Certainty not God. Afer all, the devil has no friends!

              As if God would say, “Hey, what do you think of Smith Johnson? You know, Im not sure . . . How did demon Ratsbane’s test go? Lets ask his opinion . . . I’m sure its fair and reasonable . . . Oh, demon Ratsbane said that Johnson tripped over the whatever obstacle course . . . Well, send Smitty straight to hell, I guess . . . ”

              Whuh, whuh . . .

              Jesus said fear Him who can cast both body and soul into hell . . .

              When He said that He was not referring to the demons

              • Thank you, Billy Jack Sunday, for not being a cultist enthralled with the doctrines of demons. With people like you, Orthodoxy has a future.

                • Unfortunately, many on this blog don’t realize that Toll Houses are a modified version of the Catholic teaching of purgatory. Repentance is for this for life not the life beyond. Either one repents and receives God’s forgiveness or they don’t. Heaven is going to be populated with forgiven people and forgiveness is not going to be experienced after this life. The thief on the cross dined with our Lord “tonight” meaning right away. Jesus did not say, by the way, you will have to pass through a few Toll Houses.I trust in what our Lord said on the cross, “it is finished.”

              • This is for Deal with it,
                No, the toll house heresy obviates Christ’s atoning work on the cross. It’s laughably ridiculous. I don’t wish to discuss this or any other topic with you. “Christ was harsh with the Pharisees,” … as if that gives you any justification for the deeply ungentlemanly, unChristian way you have spoken to me. Where is the love of Christ in one of your posts to me? The fact that you would double down on your unkind, unChristian comments to me isn’t the least bit surprising. The toll house heresy and the extremely poor example of your unkind, uncharitable, offensive, unChristian comments to fellow posters will empty the Orthodox Church. I will pray for you that God will help you to experience the kindness and love of our Savior Jesus Christ. Yes, I will keep you in my prayers. May God help you and have mercy on you.

      • Michael Bauman says

        Sorry Cyprian. It is probably best you stay away from him. I suspect Fr. Seraphim is neither an ogre nor a saint but that is not up to me. I have learned things from his writings which covered many more things of substance than the toll houses. He got some things right and he pointed me in the direction of the Church. At the time I came into the Church 30 years ago there were quite a few people like me who were strongly influenced by Fr. Seraphim. Most because they recognized in Fr. Seraphim someone struggling with many of the same things we were. Some were over zealous about the toll houses–not me. But in thirty years I have seen no evidence that there has been a raging heresy epidemic Fr. Seraphim unleashed and I have looked for it. Most of the troubles we face today in the Church are the result of giving in to the spirit of the age that Fr. Seraphim warned of IMO.

        One thing I have learned in thirty years is that the only positive place to look for heresy is in my own heart. All of us suffer from heretical thinking. Guarding my own heart is critical.

        As I said in my initial response to you–if you don’t like the toll houses, don’t give them life in your own heart. Love God and have mercy on those around you.

        I suspect that will be enough as the devil cannot abide either and have no place in you.

        • George Michalopulos says

          Michael, excellent analysis. I don’t know if Rose is a saint but his insights on nihilism and the spirit of the age have only been proven right. Unbelievably so considering the moral abyss we are presently in.
          Plus his personal advice given to many people over the years seem very patristic and spiritual, 180 degrees out of phase with Megachurchianity.

          I didn’t like his presentation of the toll houses one bit. In fact I thought it was downright scandalous but it may have been the product of an academically unformed mind. And yes, very much gnostic-appearing and Western-purgatorial. Vlachos for instance and this new book are far more systematic.

          • Michael Bauman says

            For me the questions Fr. Seraphim asked are more important than his answers in most cases.
            My priest knew him a bit. He says that Fr. Seraphim was a sincere and humble monk, but not a theologian in an academic sense.

            His best works were his first and his last. The work he did on translations a major legacy. That and the witness that a white bread American can indeed be Orthodox.

  23. Gail Sheppard says

    So this is my last monastery story.

    I went to visit The Monastery of the Holy Theotokos the Life Giving Spring in March 2011. We stayed across the way at sort of a youth camp that wasn’t connected to the monastery. There were kids there and one of their counselors approached me. She said, “You must be here for the monastery. (She could see how I was dressed.) What is it like?” I told her it was hard to describe. That it’s something you have to experience. She said, “I come here every year and I so want to go but I’m not Orthodox.” I remember feeling sad when she said that. How does one become Orthodox if they can’t experience it?

    The following day, I sat at the same table as Mother Markella. I wanted to say something about the woman but there really wasn’t an opportunity because I was sitting across the table and a few people down from her. As we were nearing the end of the meal she looked at me and said, “Tell me about your conversation with the counselor. She wants to come here, is this right?” I said, “Yes!” She said very matter of factly, “Make sure she is dressed appropriately and bring her with you tomorrow.” I did! She was there with us all day and was allowed in the nave. When she came out, she was in tears because she was so moved.

    When I left the monastery, I had just a brief moment to say goodbye to Mother Markella. She made a point of saying, “I will be praying for you and your family.” She may not have meant anything by that, but later that year, my son died and I think she was probably praying for us.

    • This happens a lot with people — monastic and otherwise — who are blessed by God to see what people need, and to help them. But it seems that more monastic elders have this gift from Heaven than others do. We should stand in awe of the love of God, and respect the people He blesses to share it.

    • TheFutureOfTheChurch says

      The “sort of a youth camp” by the monastery is the St. Nicholas Ranch and Retreat Center. It belongs to the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of San Francisco. There are various church activities held there during the year. The monastery was originally a small house on the road leading into the ranch before the new monastery was built on the hill above the ranch.

  24. Perhaps the wrath of Irma will put a damper on Disco Night?
    Can we read the signs ??

  25. Mark E. Fisus says

    You could have made your point without identifying the parish. What did you hope to accomplish by doing so?

  26. Deal with it

    There’s something to be said for milk before meat, but theres also something to full disclosure

    What you are talking about is not an official teaching, no matter how many things you think reference it and your understanding of it

    If the popularity of a concept is what makes it true, should we have all been Arian since the 300’s?

    Toll house theory is a big booger in the nose of soteriology. Cyprian’s point that it would needlessly repel potential converts to their peril is more than reasonable.

    You gotta boogie

    • Deal with it says

      See my above post – the books that are available on the subject cover all bases, and it’s not ‘my understanding’, but that which I have picked up from actually reading the literature and actually being astounded at the number of references to this by the Fathers, et al.

      You’re a smart guy – you should know that I’m not going for a popularity contest. Arianism was not accepted by the Church, and no saints or Fathers ever promoted it, whereas what we’re discussing here has been written about by numerous saints and Fathers of the Church, and has never been challenged by anyone until the past couple of decades.

      As for the missionary impact… “This is a hard teaching, who can accept it?”

      I’ve seen people repelled from Orthodoxy for many reasons, including the Theotokos, fasting, confession, theosis, our stance on moral issues, our lack of organisation in the ‘diaspora’, being too conservative, being ‘new age-y’, you name it. Toll houses are one amongst many.

      I’d rather not boogie – it seems like the wrong thing to do given this thread’s original topic…!

      • George Michalopulos says

        I’m glad you mentioned that. In my experience, how we revere the Theotokos has been perhaps the greatest stumbling block for most would-be converts from Protestantism.

        The damage done by the Reformation in this respect has not only made Protestantism go the way of the dodo bird it’s permanently damaged sexual identity and relations between the sexes. But that’s a story for another day.

        • Well, one thing is for sure – we can get Tom Cruise to convert now

          Toll house theory . . . The Scientology of the modern Orthodox Church

          Hubbard’s writings are included in the collection of patristics, aren’t they?

      • Deal with it

        When I said you gotta boogie, I didnt mean for you to leave. I meant you got a booger. Toll house teaching is a big booger in the nose of soteriology.

        I’d like you to stay and provide actual quotes

        I saw JohnKal’s provided liturgical reference. I agree with him that this is (and things like it) what you are referring to. I agree with him that there is no mention of toll houses there.

        You need to flat out quote exacly where this stuff is coming from – not just point to a various collection of writings. I could tell you that Christians can shape shift, and that it’s been a part of the tradition from the beginning. If you asked me for proof, I could point to the bible and not provide any specific scriptual passages. Maybe you would humor me and read things in the bible like “born again” “transformed” “new creature/creation” etc, even read the story of Nebuchadnezzar, but you would still not believe me no matter how many patristic writings I said backed it up, or how many modern people had bought into it

        It just doesnt fit at all with what we do know for sure. I find toll house theory heretical because it goes against or is not compatible with official Orthodox doctrine.

        First, there is no repentance after death. We know this. The person’s character is fixed, as well as his ultimate destiny, whether blessed or damned. What would post-humorous tempting examinations accomplish?

        Second, demons are horrible beings with no grace or goodness. How can they judge us in the next life? Would any sane society put a murderous sociopath as a judge over any trial in this life? Why would God do the same but worse in the afterlife? It would be better to have Heinrich Himmler, Charles Manson or Jeffrey Dahmer as your trial judge in this life, than any demon examine you after death. Who put demons in charge of the souls of the departed? Have you been face to face with a demon? Can you battle one, outsmart one, or pass by one by the merits of your own righteousness? How about legions of them occupying the various so called toll houses? Has God put demons in charge of our souls? Do they judge us, or do we rule over them through Christ? Give into this teaching and they (or potentially abusive spiritual leaders) will rule over you by fear and manipulation.

        Third, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Before Jesus died and rose again, all souls were trapped in death. However, between His death and resurrection, Jesus descended into hades and emptied it. He rose again, triumphant over it and death. His death and resurrection made it so that human souls were no longer bound and subject to demonic powers at the time of death. Hades is over for the Christian. Just as there is no boatman or the river Styx, there are no aerial toll houses. Death has no sting, and hades has been angered because it lost. What – has hades in its fury cast a net up into the clouds? This teaching clearly attemts to undermine the real good news of the gospel.

        Finally, how does this teaching reflect what we know about Jesus Christ? He knows the state of your soul at the time of death and is your judge. He, not demons, judges you. This is true whether its your particular judgement, the general last judgement, seat of Christ, etc – or even just your daily life, really. Why take away from Christ’s victory and authority and assign some of it to the demons? Is He in charge or not? If He is in charge, and that “it is what it is” as soon as your spirit leaves your body at death – why is He going to sit there and watch you sweat it out in front of demons? He will welcome you as His own, or you will be lost already. It would make more sense to drop off Christopher Reeves at Navy Seal try-outs after that horse riding incident . . .

        • Deal with it says

          I’m not leaving – I was making a disco reference, something that seems to have fallen by the wayside.

          The quote from Compline is one of many, and one of the less specific. There are a fairly large number of very explicit references to the toll houses by name in the service books. Give me a day or so and I will come back with a select number of the clearest and most explicit, with references as to their location. These all come from the new book that’s been mentioned, which has brought them al l together in one section.

        • Excellent post Billy Jack Sunday.

          • Thanks Cyprian. I appreciate that you brought up the subject in relationship to comments concerning Elder Ephraim. You have done a great job of repudiating this modern concept. It is neither milk nor meat. It is feces!

            I find it disgusting that people have equated it to other orthodox teachings that are difficult to some. It’s an insult to compare it to icons or to the Theotokos

            So far, none of the quoted writings/texts/liturgy excepts have come back to reflect this modernizes concept

            So what if St Anthony saw the souls of men ascending after death – Some ascending to God, some being taken away by demons? No one should have a problem with that. If you are rejected by God, and aren’t allowed to enter heaven, where else you gonna go, other than where the devil has been cast down? The difference is, God through Christ is still our judge here. Just because they immediately attack rejected souls, it doesn’t make them our judge. They are just doing what it is in their nature to do. The devils wanna snatch the souls of ALL men at death (whether they are capable or not), just like in this life. But they cant snatch away those who belong to Jesus Christ. We need protection from the demons wherever they are at all times. If we are on earth in our body, we need protection from them. If we are out of our body, we need protection from them. If we travel through the spiritual realms, we need protection from them. There is no problem that any writings of the church reflect this. It still doesnt give credence that they are in any way our judge or that we will have to give them an account or face trials from them.

            When we are in heaven, we will have protection from them in the sense that they wont be there as they arent allowed in. Get it? If demons are around, no matter where we are or they are, but near to each other, we need protection from them. All church prayers should reflect this so it should not be surprising that we find it to be so.
            Furthermore, If demons arent allowed on heaven’s doorstep, how are they allowed to judge my worthiness to enter?

            We know that there are powers and principalities of the air. No Christian refutes this. However, what we have is here is a twisted modern concept that some people are taking a historical revisionist approach to faith and doctrine. If this modern concept was so developed (I’d say say extremely mutated and perverted to say the least) in the ancient church, why is it completely absent from the witness of Rome? Why would Rome ditch it later for purgatory? If the doctine of purgatory built all of their stone cathedrals from indulgence monies, the teachings of the toll houses would have brought in enough revenue to make all the cathedrals out of solid gold!

            Where did things go wrong? Sure, death is a mystery and there’s a lot to it we dont understand. Surely the spiritual realm is very real, extremely complex and nothing like our cartoon type of imagination of it. We don’t know it. So church history is full of word pictures, allegories, etc.

            Death is a scary mystery that we don’t understand. None of us really know what happens. The bible gives us hope, but we see through a glass, dimly. The writings of the saints likewise

            Then enters Theodora! The original “Heaven Is For Real” movie, but this one is a horror flick

            So you are telling me that in all of human history, what happens at death has been a total mystery, but some lay person prayed about what happened to a lady named Theodora, and now we know there are demons who judge me , through no less than 20 toll houses and that they themselves weigh all my good deeds against my sins, and if I do not measure up, they own me and immediately get to claim me? (This right here is where our understanding of God and His love, Jesus Christ and salvation becomes distorted in the minds of the faithful – not to mention gives power and authority to the demons they do not have).

            One would then have a legion of demons then leap upon them, biting, scratching, hissing, choking and torturing soul and mind, dragging the soul down to the deepest pits of hell to be the demons abused tormented victim – based off of the demons assesment of the soul – until God determines time is up and the general judgement happens? Sounds like truth has been distorted by speculation and a problematic story of one dead person

            Hell and demons are for real. Torment before final judgement is a possibility for anyone (being rejected by Christ Himself). Christ and his judgment is real. Second death and eternal life is real. We certainly all agree to these things. The speculating needs to stop as its distorting true doctrines

            What can this teaching possibly accomplish, other than fear and torment and abuse in this life? It will give spiritual leaders the power of abuse. “Do as I say, because you can’t possibly be prepared to pass the demon toll houses without my help. Your full obedience to me is required!” Plus, I bet there will be those who will be able to make huge monetary gains off of the donations of the fearful.

            Yup, sounds cultic to me. Move over, Scientology!

            I have to say, I’m getting really concerned. It would seem at this point, there is either apathy or full on support of this modern toll house garbage. It seems there are less who are willing to refute. This teaching looks like its gonna get way out of hand, as its only picking up steam

            Where are the priests and bishops who frequent this web site? We know that there are even more of them reading but don’t contribute to the comment section. This is a serious matter at this point! Their silence is deafening . . .

            • George Michalopulos says

              Billy Jack, re-read your post carefully. I think you might be surprised at how much agreement there is between your views of the immediate afterlife and what is described in the toll houses.

              • Whoa, horsie George!

                Is that what you took away from what I wrote? Most of it was in the bounds of speculation. I have no idea what the after life is like immediately after death. No one does!

                First, I’m not saying I agree that St Anthony’s vision is exactly how it is – just that I don’t have a problem with it. No demon toll houses there, just demons doing their demon thing. It may have been a vision meant only for St Anthony and for reasons for him we do not know. Was the vision even literal? Is what he saw supposed to be taken literally for everyone? Don’t know, but if we were supposed to see such things, I would think there would be a greater testimony in scripture.

                Toll house theory has become an imagined doctinal heretical booby trap based off of extrapolating from various visions, the greatest being from the story of Theodora

                If angels and visions are what drives true and proper theology, we owe Joseph Smith a big apology

                My points were that Christ is always our judge, and demons are always attacking accusors. Nothing any Christian ar any time anywhere should have a problem with theologically

                When I said we always need protection from the devils, and speculated the afterlife, its truth with speculation – however within bounds. What I mean is, I can say that there will always be demons on the attack and that I need protection, but does that mean I am perceptionally conscious of them? They are all around us at any given time, constantly on the attack. Are we ever conscious of it? Sure, but only probably on rare occasion are we conscious of it. Will we be aware of the attempted attacks of the devil just after death? I dont know. Maybe, but perhaps not. Perhaps the angels will have us so guarded that we are not even conscious of it. It wouldn’t mean it wasn’t true. Bacteria is always trying to kill my body. A few times in my life I’ve been consciously aware that my body was fighting bacteria. The vast majority of times (pretty much all the time) , however, I am completely not conscious of it.

                Did I say that there are toll houses in anyway as being espoused by those who believe in this modern teaching? I said there are powers and principalities of the air, like it says in the bible. Humanly speaking, can these be fortresses of evil demons we could call toll houses? Maybe. But that doesnt mean Christian souls go to them for demon trials. We dont know what the spirit world is actually like. I dont think we are supposed to know. Why? Because we end up with dark cartoon imagery in our heads. If you want that, watch the movie, The Nightmare Before Christmas. This speculatuon has gotten out of hand. No wonder such speculated theology is dark and feels like a horrible nightmare. It is the darkness the gospel is actually meant to expel, not propel.

                What I said is that we always need protection from the devil. I said nothing outside the bounds of known truths. But did I describe any toll houses where demons – not Christ – judge us? Did I ever say that we pay the demons off for our sins by our good works?

                Demons judging us = heresy

                Paying demons off for your unrepented sins with your good works = heresy

                Anyone with authority to judge your soul and its destination other than God/Christ = heresy

                The ability for demons to tempt the soul after death resulting in its corruption IS HERESY

                Christ died and paid for our sins. We do not pay off the demons for our sins with good works. We are rewarded for our good works by Christ in a way not revealed to us, but we do not pay off the debt of our sins with them. That is about as evil as a teaching gets

                I’ve read through the posts so far of texts that appear to supposedly uphold this false teaching. To me, it appears that the majority of the problem lies in that people misread it to believe that the demons do more than accuse at our judgement. Christ still judges, and people need to read those texts with that in mind, and not through the convoluted lens of the modern heretical teachings extrapolated from them

                I have to thank you George, because you demonstrated in your response exactly what I think has been happening with the misreading of historical texts through the lens of modern mutated understanding. What I mean is, I’m a strong opponet if this teaching.
                However, you could cite my writings to support this belief – in the manner that it is being falsely taught – inferring my support of it in some way – therefore giving it my support. This is how this teaching has become the monster that it is

                Don’t you find it suspicious that you only heard of the toll house teachings about 15 years ago?

                Who are the champions of this belief?

                How long has the Ephraim monesteries been going?

                Who can benefit from such teachings?

                Do we really want to equate this as a hard teaching for potential converts right up there with icons and the Theotokos – subjects that actually have been upheld in official councils?

                Can we say what is being taught here is the exact manner of which these things have always been understood – or is there a modern convoluted misunderstandong with false additions?

                Heresies are always grounded in some truth, and then go off the rails

                I make no judgement or reference to any person alive now specifically. But I have to say that you can’t further affirm a doctine based off of the good reputation of any proponent of it. It was said that Arius was very pious.

                This teaching seems to have the familiar and almost predictable signatures of classic heresy to me

                • George Michalopulos says

                  Billy Jack, I’m no authority here but from what I’ve read about this theory, the demons are not the judges of a man’s soul, Christ is. On this we both agree.

                  Perhaps what I’m trying to say is that the problem with the person’s soul is how much like the demons he was during life. If I may quote St Bernard of Clairvaux, in his response to the Scholastics of his day (who tried to intellectualize everything): “one knows God only to the extent that one loves Him”.

                  • George

                    The modern toll house theory includes you standing trial before demons and they examine and weigh your sins against your good deeds.

                    They also attempt to corrupt your soul through temptations after you have already died, in attempt to get you to trip so they can steal you away to hell

                    • George Michalopulos says

                      Billy Jack, the passions we suffer from in the flesh are the product of a disorderd nous. Think of it this way: If I find it difficult to fast or even refuse to fast in this life, how will that passion be sated in the next? It can’t. And that would be hell. In the same sense that a thirsty man is placed in jail cell and forbidden from drinking water (which is placed just out of reach of him).

                  • Mysteries of our church are a plenty. Toll houses are actually a term the Elders don’t like to use anymore, and we can see why by the debate it has brought here. Much more complicated than our little minds can comprehend. Will we see demons after death? Maybe, I don’t know, but many holy fathers, and saints of Orthodoxy believe so. Will they showcase our sins, and bring us down? Doubtful, BUT, what if they can manipulate us to hate and reject Christ? Example; Pain and blame towards God after premature death of one’s children, or mental and psychical abuse by one’s parent, or unfair disabilities, or simply witnessing all the pain and suffering in the world. The devil, and his demons have many tricks.”Why follow a God that allows such misery?”, a demon might ask.” Why love a God that allows so many temptations, only to torment our souls, and flesh?”, proclaims the Devil. Better prepared, than surprised. So, only conclusion I can come up with, is perhaps demons might be able to convince us to reject Christ right before our Judgment.

                    This brings us to prayers for our departed. It seems that we living on earth,our church, constantly are offering prayers and alms giving to the departed. Negotiating/pleading for the forgiveness of sins, for those not yet fully judged? Why not fully, is it possible there a period where one might reject Christ after death? Some say, what is the point of the cross if we are condemned for our sins, confessed or even never confessed. Our true love of Christ, and our judgment of others, will set the bar for our Judgment, not demons. Right? BUT! Again only deception from the devil, and his demons, combined with our own pain, hate,and unforgiving heart that we were wronged by God, might bring forth our own rejection of Christ, and thus our condemnation to hell. Are we tormented and manipulated, by demons after death? Is rejection of Christ possible after death? Don’t know, but like a good Boy Scout, be prepared.

                    • Dino

                      No, it is not possible

                      Rejection of Christ would have happened already before death, or right up to the time of death, but not after.

                      There is no repentance after death and God will preserve our salvation after death so as not to lose it after death. One does not die with salvation, become a disembodied soul, and then afterwards somehow lose their salvation. That is contrary to everything we know to be true according to both scripture and tradition.

                      Such speculation could lead one to contemplate if a soul could fall away after a great deal of eternal life lived in heaven. Such speculations are wrong and it starts with the idea of a soul losing its salvation through temptation and trickery of supposed toll houses after death.

                      The demons won’t be able to snatch the soul of a faithful departed person after death

                      When a person dies, the souls destiny is fixed. Devils cannot alter its course through trickery and temptation. Thats for this life only. Scripture and tradition are clear on that

                      Only judgement from God follows – to eternal life or eternal damnation

                      The human mind has a natural disposition towards speculation.

                      It is better to speculate in the area of physics than theology

                      I think it is probably better to contemplate string theory than what the spirit world looks like immediately after death – no matter how curiously oriented our minds are to it.

                      Contemplating the immediate afterlife is like looking at the sun. You catch but a brief glance, and you get enough of an understanding of what the sun is, what it looks like, where its at in relationship to the earth, etc. A brief glance, and you may for a moment get away with, but still feel a little pain.

                      Contemplation of the spirit world upon the souls immediate departure is like staring endlessly at the sun.

                      Toll house theory is the result of the retinas being burnt out of the eyeballs

                      Do this long enough and everyone will end up spiritually blind

                • Michael Bauman says

                  Billy Jack, I have known of the teaching for over thirty years. It seems that it wafts through the Church every so often. The arguments are always the same on both sides.

                  Whether it is true or not, I have no idea. Nor do I care. I do know that it is certainly the case for some that their Guardian Angel comes to escort the dying person. I saw that as my late wife died. I wouldn’t want to mess with them.

                  What I really don’t like is the way many who are opposed to the toll houses use their opposition to attack Fr. Seraphim. It was not in any way the core of what he taught and unlike Cyprian I have read his writings and profited by many of them.

                  He struggled with modernity and all of the seductive depravity it embodies. His work is indicative of that struggle. It is not, nor was it ever meant to be doctrinal theology. By Christ’s grace I believe he was victorious. Looking at the picture of his body before his burial shows a man totally at peace and in joy. That gives me hope.

                  Both his propents and opponents do him disservice by trying to make his work into something it is not.

                  • George Michalopulos says

                    Your perception of Rose’s assessment of modernity is spot on. Perhaps Rose is strong medicine but the disease that afflicts us today is positively cancerous.

                  • Michael

                    What’s your point? We all gotta dig Seraphim Rose?

                    Cyprian is hardly alone in his objection to Rose’s books.

                    Even Rose’s wiki page admits he’s a controversial figure

                    • Michael Bauman says

                      Just that there is more to Fr. Seraphim than the toll houses that is and has been valuable to many people both sustaining people in the Orthodox faith and bringing them to the Church in the first place. If you don’t like him, that’s fine. Just see no reason to bash him solely on the basis of the toll houses. He deserves to be considered in context and for the entire body of his work which is far more than Soul After Death.

                      No question he was on the edge of things. But for me and many others he creates hope for the future both personally and for the Church in this land.

                      I will ask you, is everybody supposed to hate the man and dismiss the demonstrable good fruit he produced by the grace of God?

        • Deal with it says

          Okay, here we go. These are some passages from the liturgical texts presented in the new book by Saint Anthony’s. I’ve only taken small parts of the relevant passages, as it’s too time consuming to type them out in full. There’s a few here, but this is only a small fraction of the total presented in the book.

          Before we proceed, here is a relevant quote from the Ecumenical Patriarchate:

          The Octoechos, in which the whole Christian dogmatic doctrine is encoded, was accepted in all the Churches of the East and West, by command of the Frank king Carlomagnus, while Damascene was still alive.

          This refers to the Octoechos specifically, but it could well be applied to the Menaia, the Triodia, and other books universally used within the Church. Therefore, the content of these books is dogmatic doctrine.


          Sunday Midnight Office First Tone

          free me from the accusing demons and the dreadful verdict

          Friday Vespers Second Tone

          that I may pass without hindrance through the rulers of darkness standing in the air

          Friday Vespers Plagal First Tone

          Dreading the hour of departure and the terrifying uprising of the demons


          Canon to Saint John Chrysostom

          grant me to pass untroubled through the noetic satraps and the tyrannical aerial battalion in the hour of my departure

          Canon to Saint Euphemia

          snatch us from the fearful scrutiny of the demons at the our of our examination

          Canon for the Veneration of the Chains of Saint Peter

          I tremble thinking upon the inquisition prepared by the demons

          Lenten Triodion

          Cheesfare Saturday

          deliver us from the fearful scrutiny which we must undergo before the demons


          Canon to the Guardian Angel

          be thou my strong defender and invincible champion when I pass through the tax-collectors of the dire ruler of this world

          Book of Needs

          Canon for the Parting of the Soul, Ode Eight

          banish far from me the commander of the bitter toll-houses and ruler of the earth

          From the Slavonic Akafistnik

          Prayer to the Mother of God of the Inexhaustable Cup

          help us to pass through the aerial toll houses without stumbling

          Prayer to Saint John the Theologian

          help us to avoid, O Holy Apostle, the merciless tortures which await us in the aerial toll-houses

          Prayer to the Apostle Simon

          that escaping the aerial toll-houses, we may inherit the Kingdom of Heaven

          Prayer to Saint Nicholas

          deliver me from the aerial toll-houses and eternal sufferings

          And that’s just a small portion of what’s out there. These passages are from services that are assigned to be read by all Orthodox Christians, some of them being absolutely essential for our Christian lives, such as the preparation rule for Holy Communion (which includes the Canon to the Guardian Angel quoted above) and the Canon for the Parting of the Soul, which is to be read whenever someone is dying. That the toll houses are specifically referenced in such common services should not be taken lightly.

          • Deal with it

            Sick and tired of people calling your toll house theory heretical? Get your barf bag and a shot of adrenaline

            You confuse what you find and quote to mean that demons judge us. You convolude the issue and misunderstand who is the subject that judges

            Our salvation is not determined on the desire of what the devils want to do to us (if not prevented from doing so), but on the will of Jesus Christ

            The devils accuse. Christ judges. We dont pay demons off with good works. Souls arent corrupted after death. Reread those citations with that in mind

            It’s heresy to state that the church has always believed that we can pay for our sins by our good works to judging demons after death – or that they could tempt us to damning corruption after we have already died. There is so much wrong in that sentence by statement and further theological implications that it blows my mind

            There are true spiritual concepts going on here that are being misunderstood along with mutated additions by imagination or extrapolation – and it is distorting established spiritual truths – bringing about the ugly head of heresy

            Just as words can change and take on a whole new meaning (while retaining the same spelling), so can concepts change and mutate into something else drastically, and yet retain the same name. Jesus Christ has the same name in the Orthodox Church as well as the Mormon church. We would agree, however, that the Mormons changes the understanding of who Jesus Christ is in their teaching, even though they spell his name as we do. Are they the same Christ? No. Of course not

            Overall, toll house ideas are vague allegorical concepts at best. Not dogma. The modern/current understanding of them is certainly not orthodox doctine. You have over-spoke

            What we have here is a new concept under the same old name. So dont be shocked to even find the term toll house or similar in some texts. It doesnt mean the concept as understood today is anywhere close to a historical spiritual understanding. This is much of the reason why I say that I do not believe in toll houses at all. I dont find the modern understanding anywhere in scripture or anywhere else. If the term toll house indeed appears in true Orthodox texts, what are we talking about?

            If a man marries – say his name is Tom Johnson. His wife will be Mrs. Tom Johnson. Tom’s wife then dies and he remarries. His second wife could also be Mrs. Tom Johnson. Same name, same husband, same life span, same type of marriage, but two totally different women.

            I believe what we have in this case is modern toll house wife number two, not to be confused with wife #1.

            As it turns out, toll house wife #2 is a wicked stepmother

            At the toll of midnight, this modern heresy will turn into the pumpkin that it is

            • Gail Sheppard says

              BJS, the Church DOES teach this and you have been given ample evidence of this.

              So if you’re surprised by a demon attack after you’re separated from your body: Don’t engage them. Don’t be afraid. Anything that comes from them is a lie, even if seemingly cloaked in truth. Don’t get discouraged. Wait on God and trust in his mercy. Know that your fellow Orthodox will be praying for you and you’re not alone.

              That’s the takeaway from this. No one is going to insist you believe anything. Your belief is not required to make it true.

            • Deal with it says

              At no point did I ever say that the demons judge us. God forbid! I don’t think any sane person has ever taught that.

              Enough people here had already pointed that out that I didn’t feel the need to specifically make an issue of that. The main thrust of my participation here has been to demonstrate that the concept of the toll houses/aerial satraps/demonic accusations is rooted in the Church’s patristic and liturgical tradition. That is at least clear from the citations above.

              As George said before, we’re probably on agreement with most things in this issue.

              • Deal with it

                Nope, we are worlds apart in agreement on this issue

                In toll house theory, the demons have records of your sins and demand you make an account for them. Then they demand an account your good deeds in “payment” of sorts for unrepented sins

                Christ is judge here? Then what are the demons doing? No one in their right mind indeed. But deny it all you want, the idea of the demons examining/assessing/evaluating/judging our souls with written documentation of our sins is all over the theory. Thats why i would say no sane person would believe it!

                There are 20 toll houses ar least. Stopping points before you get to Christ. One of the toll houses is for telling lies. Another for the use of magic

                “Next stop, paradise and Jesus Christ. But first we gotta stop by this demon hut so they can check your pockets for tarot cards . . .”


                The fact is, you need to combine all my posts on this matter and in doing so, you will see that I do not believe in toll houses . It’s not about the things we agree on here – its about the things we do not agree on

                The way you guys treat this subject is kinda like somebody going around telling people that every newborn baby is demon possessed. Why? Because they havent been baptized of course! Dont you know all the baptism rites since the dawn of the church included passages of exorcisms? Babies are obviously possessed then . . .


                • George Michalopulos says

                  It sounds like the demons are “prosecuting attorney” not judges in your scenario.

                  On another note, the word “judge” and “judgment” have a different context in Hebrew than they do in English. In Anglo-Saxon common law, a judge is simply a “trier of fact”, an impartial referee in a dispute between two claimants. In Hebrew however, dan (or judge) is a punisher sent by God to right a wrong. In the Old Testament, the Judges were warlords who were tasked with (usually unpleasant) military missions.

                  • George

                    No for two reasons

                    First, the idea of toll houses is that the demons do judge – kind of a partial judgement of your whole judgement. They just get a piece of the action first. What an honor!

                    Second, in order for there to be any concept of a toll house, you say that I describe prosecuting attorneys

                    So these demons are prosecuting attorneys sent by God to right a wrong?

                    So God sends the demon D.A.s office to see if there’s anything that would hold up in court against me? But I can make a plea bargin with my good deeds if something looks like its going to stick?

                    You guys need to be honest about entirety of the whole modern version of the toll house concept. It’s not just demons accusing in the way as they always do (why God would listen to demonic accusations I do not know. The devil accuses us in this life in an attempt to weaken us. When we’re dead, our soul is fixed, so I dont understand why God would allow us to be hindered by accounting toll demons). It’s a spooky mental picture that puts demons over us at death

                    When someone is dying on their deathbed, and they are a Christian, we pray with them and talk about the great comfort that is to come by being recieved by Christ. That our angel comes for us, but also that Christ comes for us to receive us

                    We dont say, “Well Stan, sorry about the terminal disease and that your body is about to finish dying in the most horrible suffering pain possible. But take comfort – soon you will be in the presence of the Lord, surrounded by his angels – living in heaven experiencing God’s love and joy forever and ever! That is, of course, after you’ve finished suffocating, die, and then are attacked and opposed by a myriad of horrible torturous demons that will first demand an account of all your sins . . . Good luck with that! Not everbody gets past the tolls without getting sucked into hell, you know . . . and lets be honest, we’re talking about you here . . .”

                    I can’t wait to see “The Toll Houses” children’s book. That should be in every home ready for bedtime stories

                    Or how about the toll house nursing home church service sermon? That will sure go over well with the staff

                    Remember the protestant churches years ago that were doing the controversial “Hell Houses?” (Evangelical haunted houses in an attempt to gain converts) . Just imagine if we celebrated Halloween with the Haunted Toll Houses! The theory could actually work as the greatest concept of a haunted house ever! The OCA would try to get converts and fail miserably. The GOA could probably make a pretty good penny, though

                    All those ideas are sick, but we still want to hold onto this teaching?

                • Billy Jack Sunday,

                  For clarity, please point me to a presentation of the toll house teaching where the visions of blessed Theodora, etc. are understood literally and legalistically.

                  In the book that I referenced earlier, Dr. Contantine Cavarnos is crystal clear:

                  The souls of sinners, those who died unrepentant, without works, without virtues to protect them against the powers, the demons, are captured by them. They are not captured without divine allowance because God is the Lord of life and death.

                  And further on again he indicates that:

                  Where the soul will be lead that has been separated from the body is not decided by the demons but by the all-knower and righteous judge, God. He pronounces the decision, according to which the soul is led to either Paradise or Hell. This judgment of God is called the “Particular Judgement”.

                  Fr. Seraphim Rose also took great pains to clarify the Church’s teaching on the toll houses to those who misunderstood and misrepresented it:

                  The “bag of gold” with which the angels “paid the debts” of Blessed Theodora at the toll-houses has often been misunderstood by critics of the Orthodox Teaching; it is sometimes mistakenly compared to the Latin notion of the “excess merits” of saints. Again, such critics are too literal-minded in their reading of Orthodox texts. Nothing else is referred to here than the prayers of a holy man and spiritual father. The form in which this is described – it should hardly be necessary to say – is metaphorical.

                  Contrary to the claim made earlier that nobody knows what immediately follows death, St. Paisios advised his spiritual children the following:

                  When a soul is well prepared and ascending to Heaven, the demons can’t assault it. If it isn’t prepared, it is tormented by the demons. Sometimes, God may allow a soul with unpaid debts at the time of their death to see the toll houses, so that we, who will continue to live, struggle to repay our debts here. Do you remember reading about the event with Theodora?. In other words, God provided that some people see certain things to help others repent. In the life of Saint Euphrosynos, for example, we read that after the vision he experienced, the Abbot found himself with the apples in his hand for the others to see and be helped in their spiritual life.

                  Sometimes God will provide for a soul to have dialogue at the time of death, so that the person themselves might repent even at the last minute, or for the benefit of those who are listening. You see, God has many ways to save people.

                • Gail Sheppard says

                  BJS, I can tell by your description that you’re unclear about the teaching. This is GOOD news! I can now see why you’re reacting the way you are.

                  Demons “judge” but not in a way that matters. Christ is the only real judge, which you have rightly acknowledged. Of course, they’re able to recite a litany of your sins since they probably encouraged you to commit them! They know us very well. They don’t need lists. They know our weaknesses and have been preying on them our entire lives.

                  They don’t demand (well, they may try) so much as accuse and undermine. They have no authority to demand “good deeds” or anything else from you and if they demand an “account” or “payment,” ignore them. You aren’t accountable to them. Only to God. The only power they have over you is the power you give them. That’s why I told you not to engage them. You have your Guardian Angel to advocate for you. Be silent.

                  BJS, these are demons. They may be quite unpleasant, but at the end of the day, they are just nats in the air. God has all the power. It doesn’t hurt to be prepared because demons do exist and there may be a period of time when we have to see them as we have never had to see them before. Doesn’t make them any more powerful or authoritative. Only shocking and unpleasant. It is good to be mindful of this and how dependent we are on God. We need to be very sure in our hearts that it is God that we seek, because death can come “like a theif in the night.”

              • Billy Jack Sunday,

                For clarity, please point to a presentation of the toll house teaching where the visions of blessed Theodora, etc. are understood literally and legalistically.

                In the book that I referenced earlier, Dr. Contantine Cavarnos is crystal clear:

                The souls of sinners, those who died unrepentant, without works, without virtues to protect them against the powers, the demons, are captured by them. They are not captured without divine allowance because God is the Lord of life and death.

                And further on again he indicates that:

                Where the soul that has been separated from the body will be lead is not decided by the demons but by the all-knower and righteous judge, God. He pronounces the decision, according to which the soul is led to either Paradise or Hell. This judgment of God is called the “Particular Judgment”.

                Fr. Seraphim Rose also took great pains to clarify the Church’s teaching on the toll houses to those who misunderstood or misrepresented it:

                The “bag of gold” with which the angels “paid the debts” of Blessed Theodora at the toll-houses has often been misunderstood by critics of the Orthodox Teaching; it is sometimes mistakenly compared to the Latin notion of the “excess merits” of saints. Again, such critics are too literal minded in their reading of Orthodox texts. Nothing else is referred to here than the prayers of a holy man and spiritual father. The form in which this is described – it should hardly be necessary to say – is metaphorical.

                Contrary to the claim made earlier that nobody knows what immediately follows death, St. Paisios advised his spiritual children the following:

                When a soul is well prepared and ascending to Heaven, the demons can’t assault it. If it isn’t prepared, it is tormented by the demons. Sometimes, God may allow a soul with unpaid debts at the time of their death to see the toll houses, so that we, who will continue to live, struggle to repay our debts here. Do you remember reading about the event with Theodora?. In other words, God provided that some people see certain things to help others repent. In the life of Saint Euphrosynos, for example, we read that after the vision he experienced, the Abbot found himself with the apples in his hand for the others to see and be helped in their spiritual life.

                Sometimes God will provide for a soul to have dialogue at the time of death, so that the person themselves might repent even at the last minute, or for the benefit of those who are listening. You see, God has many ways to save people.

                • DBG

                  So what you are saying is that the toll houses are not to be taken literally or legalistically, Christ is our only judge, and the demons are only able to take/torment the souls of the damned – who are damned only according to the judgement of God?

                  Another way of saying that is – there are no aerial toll houses

                  Too much mental gymnastics with this topic

                  There needs to be a drinking game called the aerial toll houses: 20 shots of tequila – each representing one of the toll houses in order. You can have one guardian angel friend take as much as 1 shot every other shot to get through them all – but whatever shot he takes for you, you must confess something big and relevant to the designated topic of the tollhouse shot he took. The goal is to see if you are still able to stand at the end. If you can, you win!

                  After this thread, I could go for a game

                  • No, what I was getting at was that being unfamiliar with the sources, you interpreted the tollhouses literally and legalistically. It was an honest mistake I’m sure. It happens.

                    Look to the Holy Fathers as your sure and trustworthy guides and I promise you that no mental gymnastics will be further required.

          • M. Stankovich says

            Certainly not to dispute the Ecumenical Patriarch’s observation that “Damascene was still alive” when his Ochtoechos was accepted as “universal,” but his (and your) familiarity with the theological writings of St. John leave much to be desired if you intend to rely upon him to defend this notion of the toll-houses. It would seem to me that he would be difficult to convince if you were to rely upon the conclusions he reaches in his Homily on Holy Saturday.

            Like many of the Holy Fathers, St. John – the author of the the Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith and the precise defender of the Holy Images – would be expected to recount the salvation history of our God and Creator who takes upon Himself our fallen humanity, offers Himself as a righteous sacrifice for a people who have disobeyed, and pays for sins He did not commit in order to save us. Nevertheless, St. John of Damascus provides a description of a confrontation in the depths of hell that is so stark and so dramatic that it seems to question the possibility that “demons” wait to examine with any authority whatsoever within the hearing of the shout of the immortal Son of God:

            Now, the King of Glory (Ps. 23:7-10) approaches the tyrant: He Who is mighty in war (Ps.23:8), and Whose going forth toward us are from the height of heaven (cf. Ps. 18:7); Who traverses the courses the course of this life like a giant (Ps. 18:6). But this combined with the weakness of humanity, and He binds the strong man (cf. Matt. 12:29) like a sparrow, driving away his bodyguards with His omnipotent divinity. He plunders his coffers, nobly retrieving what the other had dragged off.

            Now the Word descends toward the dragon, the apostate Leviathan, the great mind of the Assyrians (Isa.10:12), that is, the oppossing powers, who lurk in the hearty of the earth. He drags him up with the fish-hook of His divinity, concealed as in a worm. Utterly dominating him. He forces him to pathetically vomit forth those whom he had swallowed, sending away empty him who boasts in his riches. The Child Who is born and given to us (Isa. 9:6), having descended into the cobra’s den (cf. Isa.11:8), captures, chokes, and kills the proud and arrogant one.

            And to answer Mr. Michalopulos’ question – “And he said to Jesus, ‘Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Truly I say to you, today [σήμερον] shall you be with me in paradise.’” (Lk. 23:43) – “today” is not a figure of speech or philosophical statement, but as St. John continues,

            Now, hades has become heaven. The nether regions are filled with light, and the darkness that once pursued us is itself driven away. The blind are given their sight once again, for the orient from on high (Lk. 1:78) shone forth upon those who sat in darkness and the shadow of death (Lk. 1:79). These are the things that the prophets, the patriarchs, and the righteous clearly prefigured and foretold.

            and finally, St. John writes,

            Let us, who have not seen, understand; and let us believe the report of those who bring the glad tidings of peace. For the arm of the Lord, His all-creating power, is hidden from us (cf. Isa. 53:1). But if we understand, we will be glorified – supremely glorified!

            All emphasis are as found in the original text.

            Here, in the writings of perhaps the greatest dogmatic theologian- both in his written word in the sacred canon of the liturgical hymnography of the Church – is the victory of our Lord God and Savior over the power of the devil and his demons in this world. If you know the St. John’s Pascha Canon, you should be able to sing it: “Today, all things are filled with light! Heaven and earth, and all the regions under the earth, for Christ is risen, our eternal joy!” “Yesterday, I was buried with You, O Christ, but today I arise with You in Your Resurrection!” Or from St. John’s Octoechos, “Courage, courage, O people of God! For Christ will destroy our enemies since He is all-powerful!” “Save us, O Savior, by Your Resurrection!” Where is their room in this victory for “prosecuting demons” to tempt away people of faith and why would we answer to demons?

            • Stankovich

              You’ve gone from stormtrooper to Boba Fett

              I finally see what some of the other commenters have said about your contributions. You really landed this one and I found your comments to be very beneficial.

              Very nicely done – thanks

              • Indeed!! What a beautifully written and powerful post by Dr. Stankovich. I always enjoy reading and learn from his posts but this one made me want to learn more about the ancient writings of my faith. I cannot think of a higher compliment to pay to him. God bless and keep writing please!

            • What a fantastic, inspiring post full of grace, truth and elegance! By far and away, the most intelligent, enlightened post on this topic. Bravo!

            • Estonian Slovak says

              Then, Dr. Stankovich, isn’t it sad that many, if not most Orthodox parishes don’t serve Matins anymore?
              Thus we hear these beautiful words of the Paschal canon only on Pascha itself, not on the following Sundays up until Ascension.
              Likewise, we don’t hear, “Christ is Born, give ye glory,” during the Nativity Fast. Nor do we hear “Having beheld the Resurrection of Christ” standard for all Sundays except when a Feast of the Lord displaces the usual order. And one could go on and on…

              • M. Stankovich says

                Estonian Slovak,

                It is heartbreaking when you consider that a second generation of Orthodox Christians has lost the basic principle of the sanctification of time and St. Paul’s directive to “Pray without ceasing. ” (1 Thess. 5:17)

                I remember one Holy Week at SVS, during the priest’s comunion of the Liturgy of the Pre-Sanctified Gifts, Fr. John Meyendorff & and a long forgotten visiting “Greek music scholar” came from the altar and stopped the singing of some wacky Russian take-off on the chords from “Rhapsody in Blue” – who knows (I’m kidding) – and Fr. John started singing, “Γεύσασθε καὶ ἴδετε ὅτι χρηστὸς ὁ Κύριος!” which we knew (because of the time) was Ps. 33:9, “O taste and see that the Lord is good!” Then this heavenly, angelic voice sings, “ΕΥΛΟΓΗΣΩ τὸν Κύριον ἐν παντὶ καιρῷ, διὰ παντὸς ἡ αἴνεσις αὐτοῦ ἐν τῷ στόματί μου!” (I will bless the bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall always be on my lips!) And Fr. John invited the refrain, “Γεύσασθε καὶ ἴδετε ὅτι χρηστὸς ὁ Κύριος!” and this angel of a man continued to sing the verses, and by the fifth or sixth verse everyone was singing the refrain, and there are only 23 verses to the Psalm, but it could not have stopped there! And I remember “In the fear of God, and with faith, draw near!” And again the refrain and the verses as everyone came to Communion. After the Liturgy, I asked, “What was that melody?” And as blandly as is contained on the page on the site of the EC, “the Communion Hymn of the Pre-Sanctified Liturgy in Tone One, composed by St. John of Damascus.” Who knew?

                Let us pray, brother, that we will again restore the greatest “multi-media” instructor of the dogmatic theology of the Church, the Octoechos, to its rightful place in the mind, in the ears, on the lips, and in the heart of the faithful. So simply, Fr. Alexander Schmemman used to say, “If we believe it, we sing it.”

            • M. Stankovich says

              Pardon me all, lest you lose perspective: Stankovich the savant has merely provided you the words of him who, by word and deed, is referred to as “Pillar of the Orthodox Faith and Defender of the Holy Images.” Venerable Father John of Damascus pray to God for us!

              • Amen!! Father John of Damascus and Abbot of Sinai pray for us!

              • Well, I want to thank Dr. Stankovich for exposing me to the writings of St. John of Damascus. To my spiritual detriment, I was largely unaware of his writings. He is considered one of the last of the early church fathers, and is a doctor of the Catholic Church. There are some translations of his books on Amazon. To me, he is must reading. Thank you Dr. Stankovich.

              • Dearest M. Stankovich the self proclaimed savant! I don’t disagree you are the most learned of the bunch here on Monomakhos, and at times the most cantankerous, but the wealth of knowledge you have given me, will never be forgotten. You are always in my prayers, and hopefully sometimes you may remember me as well. I myself the least humble, and savant, here on Monomakhos, try my best, but generally fail miserably. Hopefully “A” for effort. Please understand I always vex those I care for and look up to. We might not always agree, but in our differences, we gain more knowledge, and perspective. This is the true beauty of Monomakhos, regardless of it pitfalls. Please continue to enlighten us, I for one sincerely appreciate your knowledge,experience, perspective, and spirit. Please don’t anger at my jest, and vanity. Laughter is not a always a sin!

                Yours Truly,
                Dino, The Most Gallant, and Dashing

                Venerable Father John of Damascus pray for us indeed!

              • Bishop Tikhon (Fitzgerald) says

                St John of Damascus (family name: Mansour) is, indeed one of the greatest teachers EVER ! Many are unaware of how relevant his life and teachings are, especially for today!He knew Islam extremely well. He served for a while as Vizier to the Umayyad Caliph of Baghdad, as did, I believe, his father before him. It was his grandfather that allegedly threw open the gates of Damascus to allow the Islamic forces free entry. The Moslems sheltered those who venerate Icons from the assaults of Iconoclastic Constantinople everywhere, not only in Baghdad, but on Mount Sinai, etc., although the Iconoclasts considered themselves to be totally Christian, compared to the Moslems! An Arab and former Vizier to the Caliph, St John was much closer to the sources and origins of Islam than anyone today. He wrote extensively of Islam as a heresy in his famous and, of course, authoritative work, “Against Heresies.”

            • But none of St. John’s writing excludes or dismisses the fact of the personal judgment:

              Liturgical Evidence

              In both the Greek and Slavonic Euchologion, in the canon for the departure of the soul by St. Andrew , we find in Ode 7: “All holy angels of the Almighty God, have mercy upon me and save me from all the evil toll-houses.”

              Likewise, in the Canon of Supplication at the Parting of the Soul in The Great Book of Needs are the following references to the struggle of a soul passing through the toll-houses:

              “Count me worthy to pass, unhindered, by the persecutor, the prince of the air, the tyrant, him that stands guard in the dread pathways, and the false accusation of these, as I depart from earth.” (Ode 4, p. 77).
              “Do thou count me worthy to escape the hordes of bodiless barbarians, and rise through the aerial depths and enter into Heaven…” (Ode 8, p. 81).
              “[W]hen I come to die, do thou banish far from me the commander of the bitter toll-gatherers and ruler of the earth…” (Ode 8, p. 81).

              In the Octoechos, there are many references to the Toll Houses:

              “When my soul is about to be forcibly parted from my body’s limbs, then stand by my side and scatter the counsels of my bodiless foes and smash the teeth of those who implacably seek to swallow me down, so that I may pass unhindered through the rulers of darkness who wait in the air, O Bride of God.” Octoechos, Tone Two, Friday Vespers

              “Pilot my wretched soul, pure Virgin, and have compassion on it, as it slides under a multitude of offences into the deep of destruction; and at the fearful hour of death snatch me from the accusing demons and from every punishment.” Ode 6, Tone 1 Midnight Office for Sunday

              In the Saturday Midnight Office, the prayer of St. Eustratius, contains the following:

              “And now, O Master, let Thy hand shelter me and let Thy mercy descend upon me, for my soul is distracted and pained at its departure from this my wretched and filthy body, lest the evil design of the adversary overtake it and make it stumble into the darkness for the unknown and known sins amassed by me in this life. Be merciful unto me, O Master, and let not my soul see the dark countenances of the evil spirits, but let it be received by Thine Angels bright and shining. Glorify Thy holy name and by Thy might set me before Thy divine judgment seat. When I am being judged, suffer not that the hand of the prince of this world should take hold of me to throw me, a sinner, into the depths of hades, but stand by me and be unto me a savior and mediator…” [6] –

              * * *

              There is disagreement in certain circles regarding the status of this teaching within the Orthodox Church. Some, including Archbishop Lazar (Puhalo) of Ottawa, consider this teaching controversial, even false (describing it as gnostic or of pagan origin). These accusations were later declared to be wrong by the Holy Synod of the Russian Church Abroad.[8] The traditional proponents of the teaching argue that it appears in the hymnology of the Church,[9] [10] in stories of the lives of saints (for example, the Life of St. Anthony the Great, written by St. Athanasius the Great, the life of St. Basil the New, and St. Theodora), in the homilies of St. Cyril of Alexandria[11] in the Discourses of Abba Isaiah,[12] the Philokalia, the Ladder of Divine Ascent, and the Dogmatics of the Orthodox Church by Blessed Justin Popovich. Several contemporary Church figures speak about toll-houses.[13] [14] [15] [16] Secondly, not a single Church Father ever wrote even one sentence expressing doubt about this teaching (which is present in its most general form in the Church since at least fourth century), although their discussions of the topic are always about general struggles with “tax-collector” demons, lacking the details present in Gregory’s vision (apart from one pseudo-Makarian story which also mentions numerous toll-houses and a bargaining over sins at each one). Thirdly, some of the greatest modern authorities of the Orthodox Church, such as St. Ignatius Brianchaninov[17] and St. Theophan the Recluse,[18] insisted not only on the truthfulness, but on the necessity of this teaching in the spiritual life of a Christian – ibid

              It is not really a debatable question. One can side with the author/editor of the Octoechos or against him, against the Fathers or with them.

              It need not be a troubling or controversial teaching. It is simply an attempt to express the invisible realities of the personal judgment which await us all. The Good Thief, for his faith, may very well have been spared the gauntlet. Many ascetics as well are spared the gauntlet which is the point of the saying on some of the monasteries of the Holy Mountain:

              “If you die before you die, then you won’t die when you die.”

              I.e., we must go through the personal katharsis of being righted by God. Better to get on with it in this life than have it done involuntarily (and with jeopardy of an infernal repose) in the hereafter.

  27. V.Rev. Fr. Alexiev

    The priest you referenced as having been the first Orthodox Chaplain to serve in our armed forces is not the person whose name I vividly recall phonetically as the only Orthodox Chaplain in the Navy at the time I enlisted. I say this with certainty because years later upon perusal of archival material during a visit in Minneapolis, I read about the very chaplain I knew as a recruit. Your mention of Fr. Borichevsky, however, suggests another story worth telling.

  28. V. Rev. Andrei Alexiev says

    Thank you! Fr. Vladimir Borichevsky was the first chaplain, but he was in the Army. He met the future Archbishop Dmitri of Dallas when the latter was an Army Officer during the Second World War and they remained close until Fr. Vladimir’s death in 1990.
    I can’t really do justice to Fr. Vladimir’s life, but he was a unique person. He was a walking encyclopedia of Orthodoxy and Russian church life. He was born just after the Russian Revolution here in the US. His father was an early missionary priest from Belarus. He and his wife produced eight other children. Fr. Vladimir had five or six brothers, but none of them followed Fr. Stakhy, their father, into the priesthood.
    Interestingly enough. Fr. Vladimir and his wife also had nine children, but no one in that generation became a cleric. Like so many people, Fr. Vladimir was a person I never fully appreciated when he was with us. I now regret not knowing more about him. Perhaps some of his other students can help us out.

    • Wish i knew more says

      I have heard some wonderful reminiscences of Fr Vladimir. Obviously never knew or met him, but wish I had. He was truly a visionary of Orthodox mission to America.

      One of my favorite stories about him is how Abp Dmitri first met him. The future Archbp was a Japanese linguist in the Army in 1943 in San Francisco. He had become Orthodox a few years earlier in a Greek church in Dallas, where English use was unheard of. The future Abp. saw a sign on the military base chapel in San Francisco that said “Eastern Orthodox Liturgy in English” — he was astounded. He went in, and there was Fr Vladimir, the first and only Orthodox chaplain in the US military at that time. Truly God’s providence!

  29. Michael Bauman says

    Cyprian, you have an incorrect idea of Fr. Seraphim. He is fundamental only in that he looks for the foundation of Orthodox Christianity through the muck and excrement in this world.

    All that is of the world is not for our salvation. Only the Church as the Body of Christ is the path of salvation.

    He took the bold step of attempting to describe the dangers of this world. His descriptions are not “classic” as they are rooted in the forms of delusion common to our time primarily nihilism, it’s twin philosophical naturalism and the activity of demons.

    My experience is that most folks don’t like his descriptions of demonic delusions. That is just gauche after all and no modern educated person can possibly believe in demons. To do so is fundamentalism and we might as well join the trailer park Protestamts.

    Fr. Seraphim also spent a lot of effort making a case against legalism and ethnic divisions plus the use of the English language and really inculcating the Church into this land. That is what made him controversial.

    Another significant part of his work was a direct result of St. John of San Francisco–the veneration of local saints.

    He translated a lot of material into English

    He had a long standing disagreement with Fr. Schmemann. Fr. Seraphim took the initiative to heal it by going to Fr. Schmemann, prostrating himself and asking forgiveness.

    You don’t really know the man, Cyprian. Your aversion to him is based on nothing.

    • Estonian Slovak says

      I must correct you here, Michael. It was not Fr. Seraphim who prostrated before Fr. Schmemann, but rather Fr. Herman, who had been cofounder of Platina with Fr. Seraphim. Fr. Seraphim reposed in the fall of 1982. Fr. Alexander was already fatally ill with cancer when Fr. Herman visited him to ask forgiveness.

    • Am I not entitled to think for myself? No, I don’t know the man and have no desire to. If you find him edifying, then great. I’m glad you find solace in his writings. You have no way of knowing why I have an aversion to him. We wouldn’t even know about the toll house heresy if it was not for Father Seraphim Rose’s neo- gnostic writings. Unless you are clairvoyant, please don’t attempt to read my mind or to draw baseless conclusions. Believe me, the personal attacks by you, Estonian Slovak, and Deal with it will not change my opinions in the slightest, least bit. I see very little of the love of Jesus Christ displayed in your posts. Maybe you really love the Lord; I just can’t tell by the acerbic tone of your posts. May you come to know the love of our Lord Jesus Christ and the peace that passes all understanding.

      • You began the very first sentence of your first post on this thread with insults and you want to complain about being wronged? Later, you lectured on Christian ethics while in the same breath hurling more insults. Surely you can see the problem there.

      • Michael Bauman says

        Wow, Cyprian forgive me

  30. Gail Sheppard says

    BJS, I can tell by your description that you’re unclear about the teaching. This is GOOD news! I can now see why you’re reacting the way you are.

    Demons “judge” (find you lacking) but not in a way that matters, as the others have explained. Christ is the only real judge, which you have rightly acknowledged.

    Of course, they’re able to recite a litany of your sins since they probably encouraged you to commit them! They know us very well. They don’t need lists. They know our weaknesses and have been preying on them our entire lives.

    They don’t demand (well, they may try) so much as accuse and undermine. They have no authority to demand “good deeds” or anything else from you and if they demand an “account” or “payment,” ignore them. You aren’t accountable to them. Only to God.

    The only power demons have over you is the power you give them. That’s why I told you not to engage them. You have your Guardian Angel to advocate for you. Be silent.

    BJS, demons may be quite unpleasant, but at the end of the day, they are just nats filling the air. God has all the power. It doesn’t hurt to be prepared because demons do exist and there may be a period of time when we have to see them as we have never had to see them before. It doesn’t make them any more powerful or authoritative; only shocking and unpleasant. It is good to be mindful of this and how dependent we are on God. We need to be very sure in our hearts that it is God whom we seek, because death, too, can come “like a thief in the night” and we need to be prepared.

    Individual accounts of this sort of thing will be filled with delusions specific to the individual. Your experience will probably not be like their experience. IMO, it is a mistake to take personal accounts too literally. Suffice it to say that exposure to the “demon part” may be very real, unfortunately, and we just need to be cognizant of that.

  31. Fr. George Washburn says

    Hello friends:

    The toll house discussion here in recent days touches on a really worthwhile and terribly nuanced topic. There have been some really valuable contributions from both “sides.”

    In the end, howeve, I am left feeling that the exchange proves once again how impossible it is to have a serious and principled discussion in this forum among a jostling crowd of masked participants who often exhibit their unhealed passions more clearly than the actual points they try make.

    Could we have a serious theological discussion, say, during Mardi Gras on the streets of New Orleans, or among the masked and costumed masses at Carnival in Rio? How about a serious foreign or social policy discussion during the early Republican ‘debates’ of 2016 where ten or twelve egos were on display competing for limited air time? Wasn’t gonna happen!

    I suspect if we could cram the more energetic participants here into a centrifuge one after the other, or at least their masks and arguments, and give each of ’em a good, long spin, we’d end up with a theogical precipitate that was just about identical. “God’s power always trumps demons, but they aren’t gonna quit trying, especially when a sinner doesn’t repent in this life and cast himself fully on divine mercy and do works consistent with repentance.”


    Fr. George

    • A thinly veiled inflammatory ad hominem attack from behind the cloth against “masked” persons (unnamed but obviously referring to certain pseudonyms) conducting ad hominem attacks and other kinds of inflammatory writings as well?

      I love it!

      It’s like watching a Muslim imam draw a picture of Mohammed drawing a picture of a guy who’s drawing a picture of Mohammed

  32. Fr. George Washburn says

    Good morning, friends:

    I think that was BJS’ conscience saying “touché” but feeling a little too uncomfortable to say it directly. O.K.

    Neither he nor his conscience is addressing my main point, that when we strip away the puffed-up rhetoric there seems to be such substantial agreement among seemingly opposing parties! O.K.

    He zeroes in on what he doesn’t like, my contention there shouldn’t be such indiscriminate, self-awarded anonymity if we want to have wise, helpful Christian dialogue here or elsewhere on the internet.

    There are two and only two questions that we need to ask ourselves to objectively look at my point:
    1. In my experience, do other people behave better when they think others can see them or when they think they can’t?
    2. Do I behave better when I know others can see me than when I’m sure they can’t?

    In my own case, the answer is “yes” to both. And yours, and even BJS’ too.

    That settled, we get to ask ourselves (or refuse to ask ourselves) if a theological discussion like our toll house talk lead to more benefit with the masked setting so much of the tone, or the unmasked? Tone, not content.

    Just scroll back through this topic. Aren’t people with real names (regardless of “side”) far more prone to charity, clarity, content? And the pseudonymous more tempted to the opposite?

    Now that I am in my eighth decade of the Christian experience it seems clearer than ever that a great deal of what hamstrings the Church and repels others arises from passionate words said to or about other believers. Self inflicted wounds to the Body of Christ by its members more than any observable work by the demons.


    Fr. George

  33. Alitheia1875 says

    This thread began with the issue of a disco on a Saturday night. It ended up about judgement, toll houses, etc., which can, and should be discussed aside from other issues. I’m late to the discussion but I would like to return to the original issue. Being somewhat advanced in years I can remember when there were no festivals. Festivals nowadays are big business. If a parish needs a festival and raffles (gambling) to survive, well, there is a problem with the parish that its members are either unwilling or unable to understand and address. Not to mention that Orthodox Christians are supposed to fast on Wednesdays and Fridays but so what, it’s OK to have a festival on Friday and serve gyros and souvlakia and other nice Greek pastries. Then there is the issue of dances on Saturday night regardless of whether there is a Saturday night vespers which should be a great vespers because it’s celebrated the night before a liturgy. So, why have a dance on a Saturday night but not on a Sunday night? Why, folks have to get up for work on Monday morning. It’s obvious what the irony is here but it escapes many. And since we’re talking about money why is it that so many large parishes have only one priest to serve 500, 600 or perhaps even more, families? This is a pastoral issue of great importance which has not been addressed. Where does all that festival money go? The Archdiocese assessments? A good chunk of it. This whole issue is very unfortunate and very damaging. Why do we continue to wonder why people leave the church and, in many cases, leave Christianity?

  34. Michael Bauman says

    Discos, festivals, toll houses. Are they all one?