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|Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky|
Orthodox dogmatic theology
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On the question of the “Toll-Houses”
Our war is not against flesh and blood.
Our life among a population which, although it is nominally Christian, in many respects has different conceptions
and views than ours in the realm of faith. Sometimes this inspires us to respond to questions of our Faith when
they are raised and discussed from a non-Orthodox point of view by persons of other confessions, and sometimes by
Orthodox Christians who no longer have a firm Orthodox foundation under their feet.
In the limited conditions of our life we unfortunately are unable fully to react to statements or to reply to the
questions that arise. However, we sometimes feel such a need. In particular, we now have occasion to define the Orthodox
view of the “toll-houses,” which is one of the topics of a book which has appeared in English under the title,
Christian Mythology by Canon George Every. The “toll-houses” are the experience of the Christian soul immediately
after death, as these experiences are described by the Fathers of the Church and Christian ascetics. In recent years a
critical approach to a whole series of our Church beliefs has been observed; these beliefs are viewed as being “primitive,”
the result of a “naive” world view of piety, and they are characterized by such words as “myths,” “magic,” and
the like. It is our duty to respond.
The subject of the toll-houses is not specifically a topic of Orthodox Christian theology: it is not a dogma of
the Church in the precise sense, but comprises material of a moral and edifying character, one might say pedagogical.
To approach it correctly, it is essential to understand the foundations and the spirit of the Orthodox world-view. “For
what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? Even so, the things of God knoweth
no man, but the Spirit of God” (1 Cor. 2:11-12). We must ourselves come closer to the Church, “that we might know
the things that are freely given to us of God” (1 Cor. 2:12).
In the present question the foundation is: We believe in the Church. The Church is the heavenly and earthly
Body of Christ, pre-designated for the moral perfection of the members of its earthly part and for the blessed, joyful,
but always active life of its ranks in its heavenly realm. The Church on earth glorifies God, unites believers, and educates
them morally so that by this means it might ennoble and exalt earthly life itself — both the personal life of its
own children, and the life of mankind. Its chief aim is to help them in the attainment of eternal life in God, the attainment
of sanctity, without which no man shall see the Lord (Heb. 12:14).
Thus, it is essential that there be constant communion between those in the Church on earth and the heavenly
Church. In the Body of Christ all its members are interactive. In the Lord, the Shepherd of the Church, there are, as it
were, two flocks: the heavenly and the earthly (Epistle of the Eastern Patriarchs, 17th century). “Whether one member
suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honored, all the members rejoice with it” (1 Cor.
12:26). The heavenly Church rejoices, but at the same time it sympathizes with its fellow members on earth. St.
Gregory the Theologian gave to the earthly Church of his time the name of “suffering Orthodoxy”; and thus it has
remained until now. This interaction is valuable and indispensible for the common aim that “we may grow up into
Him in all things ... from Whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth,
according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the building
of itself in love” (Eph. 4:15-16).
The end of all this is deification in the Lord, that “God may be all in all” (1 Cor. 15:28). The earthly life of the
Christian should be a place of spiritual growth, progress, the ascent of the soul towards heaven. We deeply grieve
that, with the exception of a few of us, although we know our path, stray far away from it because of our attachment
to what is exclusively earthly. And, although we are ready to offer repentance, still we continue to live carelessly.
However, there is not in our souls that so-called “peace of soul” which is present in Western Christian psychology,
which is based upon some kind of “moral minimum” i.e., having fulfilled my obligation that provides a convenient
disposition of soul for occupying oneself with worldly interests.However, it is precisely there, where “peace of soul” ends, that there is opened the field of perfection for the
inward work of the Christians. “If we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth
no more sacrifice for sins, but only a certain fearful expectation of judgment and fiery indignation, which
shall devour the adversaries... It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb. 10:26-31). Passivity
and carelessness are unnatural to the soul; by being passive and careless we demean ourselves. However, to rise
up requires constant vigilance of the soul and, more than this, warfare.
With whom is this warfare? With oneself only? “We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities,
against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against the spirits of wickedness under the
heaven” (Eph. 6:12).