Concerning "Irish Hermit"'s objections to the journey of Theodora
Msg #128 from “Irish Hermit”:
I believe that there are elements in the Theodoran Revelations which are heretical and I believe that the overall theory causes a major aberration in orthodox soteriology.
Msg# 130 from “Irish Hermit”:
I ask you to go back to message 110 and tell me which of those teachings found in the Theodoran Revelations are not simply heretical or borderline heretical.
Msg# 110 from “Irish Hermit”:
1. It is not true that you may be taken down to hell if the demons at the tollhouses catch you out with a sin which you have not confessed to a priest and received absolution.
Surely you are not suggesting here that it is then okay to conceal certain sins at the time of confession? Which is more beneficial for the soul, to believe that one must confess all of their sins so as to stand blameless at the Final Judgment (and pass swiftly through the Particular Judgment), or to suggest that a person can still save their souls if they conceal their sins or abstain from confession? In any case, with regard to the journey of Theodora, this story certainly does emphasize the importance of making a thorough confession. If you read the entire story, though, you will find that it does not support your assertion that a person will go to hell for a single unconfessed sin. For instance, at the fourth toll-house it is said that:
“Still, even the gluttonous can be saved. Those of them that are merciful and kindhearted to needy and beggars and help those who ask for help—such men can easily obtain from God forgiveness of their sins, and because of their kindheartedness toward their neighbors, pass the stations of torment without stopping. It is said in the Scripture: alms save from death and cleanse every kind of sin; those who give alms and do justice will be filled with life (Tob. 12. 9).”
Where sins were not sufficiently confessed, the prayers of the Church also helped the soul of Blessed Theodora, represented by the prayers of her spiritual father St. Basil.
Furthermore, what do the angels explain to Theodora after the fifteenth toll-house concerning confession of sins?
“Every one goes this way, but not everyone is tormented like you; only sinners like you incur the torments, for they have not confessed their sins fully, and moved by a false sense of shame, have kept their really shameful deeds secret from their spiritual fathers. When a man wholeheartedly confesses his evil deeds and repents and regrets them, his sins are invisibly wiped out by God's mercy. When a repentant soul comes here, the tormentors of the air open their books but find nothing written there; the soul, however, joyfully ascends to the throne of God.
"'The evil spirits open their records but find nothing written there, for the Holy Spirit has made invisible all the writing. The spirits see this and know that what they have recorded has all been obliterated because of the soul's confession, and they are very much saddened by this. If the man is still alive when his confession has wiped out his sins, the spirits once again try to have an occasion to record some new sins of his.
"'Indeed, there is a great source of salvation for man in his confession! Confession saves him from many misfortunes and much unhappiness and gives him the opportunity to pass all the torments with no hindrance and to approach God. Some people do not confess their sins because they hope to have time for salvation and for a remittance of their sins; others are simply ashamed of telling their spiritual father about their sins. They will, however, be severely tested when they pass the stations of torment. There are still other people, who are ashamed of telling everything to one spiritual father. Therefore they choose several and reveal some of their sins to one and others to another, and so on; they will be punished for this kind of confession and will suffer a great deal as they pass from one torment into another.
"'If you too had made a complete confession of your sins and had been granted remission of them, and had then done all you could to make up for them by good deeds—if you had done all this, you would not have been subjected to such terrible torments in the stations.”
These are extremely edifying words! Do you consider this heresy? Here it is not said that a person is cast into hell because a week went by after their last confession and a few sins had occurred in the interval between the last confession and their untimely death, but it rather addresses those who knowingly conceal their sins from their spiritual father.
Msg# 110 from “Irish Hermit”:
2. It is not true that the demons may take you down to hell if they can get you to commit a fresh sin after death while going through the toll houses.
Can you point out where this is stated in the journey of Theodora? I looked but couldn’t find it anywhere. Without reading it, I cannot comment.
Msg# 110 from “Irish Hermit”:
3. It is not true that somebody alive on earth may pay for a soul to get through the toll houses by giving the demons the superfluous merits he has earned from his good deeds. This is the heresy of supererogatory works and even worse than indulgences because the payment is made to the evil powers.
The account I have states that where Blessed Theodora had not sufficiently confessed her sins, or where her good deeds were not sufficient to cover her sins, the prayers of St. Basil made up for what was lacking and helped her to advance through the toll-houses. In the account I have, St. Basil presents a bag of gold to the angels with the words:
'Here is the treasure of prayers before the Lord for this soul! As you pass through the torments of the air and the evil spirits begin to torment her, pay her debts with this.'
You say that this is [intentionally] mistranslated, and should rather read:
‘I am wealthy in God's grace, gathered many riches by
fasting and my labors, and I make a gift of this bag to the soul that
served me'. Having said this, he departed.’
The account I have states at several toll-houses words such as:
Here also the angels freed me by means of the prayers of the holy man Basil, and we continued to ascend.
Does the version you have also state that his “deeds” or “merits” or anything other than his prayers helped her through the toll-houses, aside from that one sentence regarding his bag?
In regard to your phrasing of St. Basil’s words, which you claim is more accurate, does this really teach the heresy of “supererogatory works”? Could this not be instead interpreted as the good deeds St. Basil offers for the soul of Theodora? I’m sure you agree that the Church teaches that the soul after its departure from the body is benefitted by prayers (and fasting joined with prayer), good works done on behalf of the soul (almsgiving), and especially the commemoration of the name of the departed during the Divine Liturgy. The “many riches” St. Basil has acquired through “fasting and prayer”, according to your translation, can be understood in this entirely Orthodox context of prayers and deeds offered on behalf of the departed soul.
Concerning “supererogatory works”, Fr. Victor Potapov says the following:
According to Catholic teaching, many of God's saints, especially the Most Holy Virgin Mary, in endeavoring to realize in their life not only God's law or the commandments (præcepta), offered superabundant and supererogatory satisfaction to the divine justice and performed supererogatory good works (opera supererogationis). From them, a certain quantity still remains, as it were, of excess, supererogatory good works. This excess makes up the so called treasury of supererogatory merits (thesaurus meritorium), which is at the full and unconditional disposal of the pope. Whoever does not have as many of his own deeds as are needed to satisfy God's justice for his sins, can, by the mercy of the pope, make use of the supererogatory merits of the saints in the church's treasury. This teaching was confirmed in 1343 by Pope Clement VI.
The Roman Catholic teaching of supererogatory works, from this description, indicates that saints who have passed from this life have an excess of good works which build up a reserve that the Pope can then withdraw from in order to cover the debts of those whose works are insufficient to satisfy divine justice. The differences between this teaching and what is expressed in the journey of Theodora should be obvious, but for one thing St. Basil’s deeds (according to your translation) were offered specifically on behalf of Theodora by him (who was still living) to assist her specifically in her passage. These were not accumulated merits of departed saints which went into some general bank account to be withdrawn by the Pope and applied by him to souls according to how much money they had been spent to acquire papal indulgences. In other words, regardless of the translation discrepancies, what is described in the journey of Theodora seems reflective of the Orthodox teaching regarding the benefit to the soul of prayers, alms-giving, and commemoration in Divine Liturgies, rather than the Roman Catholic heresy of “supererogatory works” which is bound up with the teaching of papal indulgences.
Msg# 110 from “Irish Hermit”:
4. It is not true that without the merits of a spiritual father a soul will be taken down to hell (This one is not from the Aerial Journey but from Saint Seraphim - two Russian abbesses in the toll houses would be in hell today if he had not come to their aid. Pity the Christian who does not have a spiritual father.
You say this is from St. Seraphim and not the journey of Theodora. I haven’t read this so I cannot comment. Does this story refer to his “merits” or to his “prayers” on their behalf? Please explain. Regardless of what is said here, however, I do not recall reading from anyone who believes in the toll-houses the assertion that only
the prayers or good deeds of a holy spiritual father can help a person through the toll-houses. Rather, prayers for the departed in general, almsgiving, and commemoration in Divine Liturgies are emphasized as helping the departed soul, with the latter said to be most important.
Msg# 110 from “Irish Hermit”:
5. It is not true that only the baptized Orthodox go through the toll houses and the rest of mankind is taken down immediately at death into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
Do you know this for a fact? If so, then how do you know? St. Paisius Velichkovsky, in a letter to a Uniate priest, encouraged him not to delay his departure from the Uniates and his entrance into the Orthodox Church, lest death overtake him while still a Uniate and he be counted among the unbelievers and the ungodly rather than among the believers. That being said, I do not recall that anyone who has described the toll-house teaching and referenced the journey of Theodora in their description of this teaching (Fr. Seraphim Rose, St. Justin Popovic, Met Mekary, Monk Mitrophan, St. Ignatius Brianchaninov, St. Justin Popovic, St. Theophan the Recluse, St. John the Wonderworker, etc.) has actually reiterated or affirmed this concerning the non-Orthodox from the story of Theodora. Nevertheless, countless Fathers have stated that “there is no salvation outside of the Church”. Do we have any proof, from any lives of the saints, any writing of the Fathers, or any Church services, that non-Orthodox will find salvation outside of the Church? If not, how can you say it is heretical to believe that the non-Orthodox will not be saved?
Regarding the journey of Theodora, in the section which you refer to, following the thirteenth toll-house and concerning those who are heretics and unbelievers, the angels say to Theodora:
“When a soul proves to be so sinful and impure before God that it has no hope of salvation, the evil spirits immediately bring it down into the abyss, where their own place of eternal torment is also. There the lost souls are kept until the time of the Lord's Second Coming. Then they will unite with their bodies and will incur torment in the fiery hell together with the devils.”
It seems here that a distinction is made between the “abyss” where the soul goes after the Particular Judgment, and the “fiery hell” where the souls are sent after the Final Judgment. Sure, the distinction of Hades/Gehenna and Paradise/Heaven may lack clarity, but is this a problem with the translation or is it the case that Russian texts do not generally distinguish between “Hades” and “Gehenna”?
Msg# 110 from “Irish Hermit”:
6. It is not true that demons, the evil and malevolent enemies of humankind who desire only our damnation, may judge human souls. This is repugnant to the justice of God.
The toll-house teaching states that the soul is ultimately taken captive after its separation from the body by those to whom it was most inclined during this life – whether the soul served the Evil One or God during its life by its works. The journey of Theodora states quite clearly that the soul is taken either by the demons or the angels to the place where they await the Final Judgment following the resurrection of the body at the Second Coming of Christ. Final Judgment belongs to God alone, without the assistance of the angels. Another way to understand this is that those who have had authority over the soul on earth continue to have authority over the soul after its separation from the body, until the Final Judgment. The demons are not able to have any authority over the soul which the soul did not freely give to the demons during its life by its deeds. This is neither heretical nor repugnant to the justice of God, but an affirmation of the justice of the God who says that we will be judged according to our works.
Here we find the same principle expressed by Christ to the Jews in chapter 8 of the gospel of St. John:
Jesus said to them, "If you were Abraham's children, you would do the works of Abraham… You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do.”
Similarly, in chapter 13 of the gospel of St. Luke it states:
Then one said to Him, "Lord, are there few who are saved?" And He said to them, "Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able. When once the Master of the house has risen up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and knock at the door, saying, 'Lord, Lord, open for us,' and He will answer and say to you, 'I do not know you, where you are from,' then you will begin to say, 'We ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets.' But He will say, 'I tell you I do not know you, where you are from. Depart from Me, all you workers of iniquity.' There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and yourselves thrust out.”
Msg# 110 from “Irish Hermit”:
7. It is not true that our fate will be decided by a balancing between our good deeds and our evil deeds.
Matthew 16:27 – “For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works.”
Rev 20:13 – “The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works.”
The journey of Theodora does show that our Particular Judgment is accomplished as the demons accuse us of various passions and the angels defend us by producing our good deeds. The story does not say that “by works alone” our fate is decided, nor by the sole balance of good deeds against bad. The story explains how the demons cannot take control of a soul for sins that have been confessed and repented of, it demonstrates the power of mercy shown in this life to cover our sins at the particular judgment, and it illustrates the benefit to the soul of prayers offered on its behalf after its separation from the body.
But why do you ignore the following words of the angels to Theodora regarding those who depart having lived righteously?:
Those who believe in the Holy Trinity and take as frequently as possible the Holy Communion of the Holy Mysteries of Christ our Saviour's Body and Blood—such people can rise to heaven directly, with no hindrances, and the holy angels defend them, and the holy saints of God pray for their salvation, since they have lived righteously.
I have attempted to address these objections to the journey of Theodora because you indicate that you do not believe the toll-house teaching to be heretical, but rather certain elements in the journey of Theodora, which you summarized in the seven points above. I have to reiterate, though, that even if there is nothing “wrong” with the story of Theodora, it is extremely misguided to focus one’s attention on this one vision from the life of one saint as the basis for either accepting or rejecting the toll-house teaching. Nobody has sought to dogmatize this life, and it is very much lacking in discretion to take a single vision in one life of a saint as an infallible dogmatic explanation. Nobody who has claimed to believe that the toll-house teaching is a “dogma” or “doctrine” has given the description of the toll-houses found in the journey of Theodora nearly the importance that you and other critics have attributed to it. The reason why I keep pointing to Met Hierotheos Vlachos’ description of the toll-house teaching is because he best summarizes the universal teaching of the Church concerning this subject, and since the Life of St. Basil the New is not accepted in the Byzantine Church, he describes this doctrine completely without any reference to the journey of Theodora or to the Russian saints of the 19th and 20th centuries who used this life as one of a multitude of references on the topic. Met Hierotheos most concisely summarizes the Church’s universal teaching on the subject, but his exposition is not at all in conflict with the basic teaching expressed also by the Russian saints. So, please read the following description from Met Hierotheos and tell me what “heresies” you find here:http://www.orthodoxinfo.com/death/soul_taxing.aspx
Then, perhaps you can also explain, if the toll-house teaching is considered by you to be a theologoumenon
, what other “mere opinions” has the Church allowed to be dogmatized by incorporating such “opinions” into the Church’s prayers and service books. What do you do when you encounter such references in your prayers? Do you skip over them? Are there other theologoumena
that are expressed in our service books that we can skip over as well?
In the Octoechos of St. John Damascene, in the Canon for the dead:
"When my soul desires to separate its bodily ties and depart from
life, do Thou appear to me, O Mistress, and destroy the councils of
the bodiless enemies, crush their jaws of those who seek to devour me:
that I may without hindrance pass the princes of darkness, standing in
the air, O Bride of God, "(Tone 2, Sat. Ode 9, Tr. 16).
In Canon to the Guardian Angel:
"All my life I have spent much time in vain, now I approach the end: I
pray thee, my keeper, be a protector to me and an undefeated champion,
when I will pass the toll-houses of the ferocious keeper of the
world"(Ode. 9, tr. 3)
In the Prayer after the fourth Kathisma:
"O Lord, grant me tears of compunction ... that with them I will pray
to Thee to be cleansed before my end of every sin: a fearsome and
stern place I must pass, having separated from my body, and a
multitude of dark and inhumane demons will meet me (Psalt. Prayer
after the 4th Kath.).
"Be merciful unto me, O angels of all-holy God Almighty,
and save me from all of the evil toll-houses: for I do not have good
deeds to measure against the measure of my evil doings." (Trebnik. p.
182 on the reverse, M. 1836).
The above prayers were cited by Met Makary of Moscow in the description of the toll-house teaching of the Church in his 6 Volume work on Orthodox Dogmatic Theology published between the years of 1847 and 1853, so it cannot be explained away that these words were mistranslated into English.