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Extract from the Minutes of the Session of the Synod of Bishops of ROCOR on the Toll-Houses

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  • Christopher Orr
    ... A more extensive extract from the Minutes of a 1980 Session of the Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside or Russia Bishop relayed by
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 15, 2008
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      >
      > ...addressing ourselves to contemporary conjectures on the life of the soul
      > after death, I propose that we ought to follow the advice of Bishop Theophan
      > [the Recluse]," to terminate our speculation as regards the accounts of what
      > takes place in the spiritual world. Read, delve deeply, be edified, but do
      > not rush to draw any such conclusions therefrom. For that which is there,
      > "eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of
      > man" (I Cor. 2:9) (*The Soul and Angels Are Not Body, But Spirit,* Moscow:
      > 1891, pp. 90-92).
      >
      > Taking all of the forgoing into consideration, the Synod of Bishops [of
      > ROCOR] resolve: In the deliberations on life after death one must in general
      > keep in mind that it [has] 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.
      >
      > In view of this, at the present time of the Synod of Bishop's demands the
      > cessation in our magazines of controversy on dogmatic questions and, in
      > particular, on questions concerning life after death....
      >

      A more extensive extract from the Minutes of a 1980 Session of the Synod of
      Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside or Russia Bishop relayed by
      Bishop Gregory Grabbe, Secretary of the Synod of Bishops, can be found
      below. This was printed in *Orthodox Life*, Vol. 31, No. 1 (Jan-Feb, 1981),
      pp. 23-37.

      This is a question that must usually be 'dealt with' by converts as it is
      one of the 'hard questions' that help to put quite a lot of Orthodoxy in
      perspective, especially the 'way' in which theology is done, how we handle
      the authority of Tradition, our bishops, spiritual fathers, etc. Those born
      in the Faith don't usually have to deal with these questions at the early
      stages of their spiritual lives. These questions are really only to be
      dealt with once one has become a prepared reader that is "fully established
      in the Faith".

      St. Theophan's advice is very, very important: "do not rush to draw any such
      conclusions" - one way or the other. The Synod also offers wise pastoral
      advice: "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... 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."

      Christopher



      The Debate Over Aerial Toll-Houses Extract from the Minutes of the Session
      of the Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside or Russia
      http://www.orthodoxinfo.com/death/tollhouse_debate.aspx

      On 19 November/2 December, 1980, the Synod of the Bishops of the Russian
      Orthodox Church Outside Russia heard: the extensive correspondence connected
      with the controversy raised by Deacon Lev. Puhalo [(Ed. now Archbishop
      Lazarus of New Ostrog Monastery (Synaxis Press)] with regard to a book by
      Hieromonk Seraphim Rose on life after death. In the book in question a great
      many false teachings concerning the soul outside the body are investigated,
      with however, the purpose of contrasting an Orthodox explanation with them.
      However, entering a domain which has not been fully revealed to us, and
      furthermore, unwillingly employing non-Orthodox materials. Hieromonk
      Seraphim, despite various reservations, initiated a controversy, in which
      his opponent, Deacon Lev Puhalo, paying no heed to the disclaimers, with yet
      greater persistence, and with a spirit of condemnation, wrongly accuses him
      of heresy. This controversy can cause great harm to the souls of the
      faithful.
      * *

      *They directed:* Theologically evaluating the book of Deacon Lev Puhalo,
      Bishop Gregory, in the review he made for the Synod of Bishops, reports the
      following:

      Fearing, as is natural for an Orthodox person, the possibility of an Western
      or other non-Orthodox influence, Deacon Lev Puhalo has gone to the opposite
      extreme and contradicts a number of teachings which have long been accepted
      in Orthodox Dogmatic Theology. Thus for example, fearing lest the teaching
      concerning the "Toll-Stations" be likened to the Latin Doctrine of
      Purgatory, he leaves almost no place for what in Orthodox dogmatic theology
      is referred to as the "particular judgment", after which the soul
      experiences a foretaste of the blessedness or the eternal torment which
      awaits it after the resurrection.

      The state of the soul after death Deacon Lev Puhalo represents as its utter
      inability to function in any way whatsoever other than with the assistance
      of the body (p.7). As he understands the matter, after its departure from
      the body, the soul finds itself in a state of mute and blind repose. "An
      active, intellectual life or functioning of the soul alone could never be
      conceived in either Old or New Testament thought. For the soul to function,
      its restoration with the body as the 'whole person' would be absolutely
      necessary" (p.9). "�Without the body, the soul� is not even a person, but
      only something 'of ' a person� the soul without the body cannot speak, nor
      remember, nor discern, nor think, nor be roused, nor see� " (p.23)

      Such a concept of the soul separated from the body does not correspond in
      the least to the Orthodox concept. To begin with, it is at variance with the
      teaching concerning the preaching of the Forerunner in Hades prior to the
      arrival of the Saviour there, as well as the possibility of the souls of the
      Old Testament personages of heeding the preaching of the Saviour in Hades or
      their going with Him in paradise. Likewise, the parable of the rich man and
      Lazarus contradicts Fr. Lev's teaching. The synaxarion for Meatfare Sunday
      says: "Be it known that there all shall know one another�them that they
      know, and them that they have never seen, as saith Chrysostom� " The same
      synaxarion teaches concerning St. Basil the Great that he "saith in his
      discourse on the departed that before the general resurrection it hath been
      given to the saints to know one another and to rejoice together." The very
      appearance of Moses on Mt. Tabor reveals his soul as active and capable of
      taking part in conversation with the Saviour concerning His redemption of
      the Human Race. The state and life of people beyond the grave are not all
      the same, but depend upon the degree of sanctity or sinfulness of their life
      on earth. After death, some souls can in no wise manifest themselves on
      earth, but the saints receive such boldness that they can do good unto us in
      answer to our prayer.

      While expressing certain healthy and good thoughts concerning life after
      death, Deacon Lev Puhalo has allowed himself to become too keen on battling
      that which appears to him to be scholastic, and from which he strives to
      free Orthodox theology. However, even such ascetics as St. Dimitry of
      Rostov, or Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow, Bishop Sylvester and other
      prominent Russian theologians as times managed to express genuinely Orthodox
      truth employing the outwardly scholastic expression of the theological
      science of their times, inasmuch as they drew such truth forth from the rich
      well of the Tradition of the Church. Among such ancient traditions is the
      tradition of the so-called toll-stations, which Deacon Lev Puhalo so
      determinedly dismisses, stating this doctrine, however, in an exaggerated
      manner. Actually, no one can dogmatically establish the existence of the
      toll-houses precisely in accordance with the form described in the dream (of
      Gregory recounted in the life) of Basil the New, insofar as no direct
      indication thereto is to be found in the Scriptures. However, this tradition
      has been preserved, with varying details, from profound antiquity and
      contains nothing that is contrary to piety. It is cited in all texts of
      dogmatic theology. The unorthodox explanation of Deacon Lev Puhalo, that the
      soul, separated from the body can neither see nor hear, that it cannot be
      subjected to the "particular judgment" of God without the body, and his very
      understanding of the toll-stations as mere bargaining between the angels and
      the demons indicates the hastiness of his judgments. Archimandrite Justin
      (Popovich), the most recent author in the field of dogmatic theology, writes
      of the toll-stations in the same spirit as they are described in the dream
      (of Gregory recounted in the life) of Basil the New. Archpriest Malinovsky,
      the author of a dogmatic theology text valued highly by Metropolitan
      Anthony, writes on the question: "How is the particular judgment conducted?
      What are the forms and manners of its implementation? The Scriptures do not
      speak of this. A trial has two aspects: the investigation of the innocence
      or guilt of the one being tried and the pronouncement of the sentence over
      him. But when the trial is conducted by the by the Omniscient God, for Whom
      the mortal state and worthiness of a man are ever apparent, the first aspect
      of the trial must be understood exclusively in the bringing of the soul to
      an awareness of its mortal state. For man's individual awareness is revealed
      by means of his conscience, that incorruptible judge established by God
      Himself within the soul. It is exactly in this way that one cannot accept
      the pronouncement of the sentence by the Almighty Being only in the sense of
      the announcing of the Judge's decision to the soul; the word of God is also
      the activity of His will, and for this reason the decision of the Almighty
      Judge is also the blessing of a soul or the refusal to permit its entry into
      the Kingdom of eternal life. Doubtless, the justice of God's judgment which
      determines its fate will be clearly acknowledged by the soul itself which is
      judged by its own conscience" (Archpriest N. Malinovsky, *Orthodox Dogmatic
      Theology*, Sergiev Posad, 1909, Vol. IV, pp. 448-450). Malinovsky mentions
      that even the ancient teachers, citing the account of the toll-stations, saw
      it only a "weak depiction of the heavenly things" (ibid., pp. 453-454).
      However, in the prayer of the Church there is considerable mention of the
      toll-stations themselves as attempts of the powers of darkness to affect the
      souls of the departed after their departure after their departure of the
      body. Thus, in the canon chanted at the parting of the soul from the body,
      we read: "The prince of the air, the oppressor, the tyrant who standeth on
      the dread paths, the relentless accountant thereof, do thou vouchsafe me who
      am departing from the earth to pass [O Theotokos]" (Ode IV, troparia 4; also
      Ode VIII, troparion 2). Mention of them is also made in the Octoechos of St.
      John Damascene.

      In this encounter with the powers of darkness, that have caused a man to
      stumble in the course of life and strive also to suggest to his soul that by
      its constitution it belongs to them and not to the Kingdom of Heaven, is the
      particular judgment accomplished. On the other hand, in accordance with the
      Savior's words, the righteous can pass through these toll-stations
      unhindered" "Verily, verily I say unto you, He that heareth My word, and
      believeth on Him that sent Me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come
      into condemnation, but is passed from death unto life" (Jn 5:24). The soul
      of one who on earth has completed the course of the faith, thereby frees
      itself from evil. The demons have nothing in common with it and cannot touch
      it. Between these two aspects of souls�of the sinful and the holy�there
      still stand various degrees of sanctity or sinfulness, and in various
      degrees, the demons may harry them. These actions, which must in no way be
      accepted as the participation of the demons in the preliminary judgment, are
      what are referred to as the toll-stations. Rejection of possibility of their
      existence contradicts the consciousness of the ancient Church, as this is
      apparent from the Canon of Departure of the Soul.

      Minimizing the significance of the fear in the face of the consequences of a
      sinful life and after the departure of the soul from the body, teaching of
      Fr. Lev. can weaken in the souls of his readers one of the stimuli to do
      battle with sin.

      To maintain that the soul, having been separated from the body, finds itself
      in some state of sleep, since without the body it cannot experience either
      blessedness or suffering, or hear, or speak, and that the demons also cannot
      even see it, is contrary to our Faith. The Church has never taught this. In
      certain cases the citations made by Fr. Lev have in mind the insensibility
      not of the soul, but of the dead body.

      How exactly disembodied souls can speak and be saved has not been revealed
      to us. The Church teaches only that without the body the soul does not
      experience either the fullness of blessedness or the fullness of torment.
      However, a pious soul already experiences repose because it has departed
      from earthly pangs and testings and may be more closely united with the Lord
      than it did on earth. Nevertheless, this blessedness is still only
      preliminary to the complete blessedness, which we await after the reuniting
      of soul and body at the general resurrection. In reply to question 61 in the
      Confession of the Eastern Patriarchs, we find: "Inasmuch as an accounting
      will not be required of each one separately on the day of the Last Judgment,
      since all is known to God; and inasmuch as at death each one knows his own
      deeds, after death each one also learns of the recompense for his deeds. For
      if each one knows his deeds, the sentence of God upon him is also known, as
      Gregory the Theologian says in his discourse on Caesarius, his brother Thus,
      one must think of the souls of sinners only from reversed perspective; i.e.
      that they know and foresee the torments which await them. Neither the
      righteous, nor the sinful receive the full reward for their deeds before the
      Last Judgment. Moreover, not all souls are found in the same state, nor are
      they sent to one and the same place." In connection with this there is the
      reservation that "when we say that God does not ask of us an accounting for
      our life, this must be understood in the sense that we shall be given an
      accounting not in the manner of human accountings" (Ibid.). To put it
      otherwise, life after death is not portrayable with sufficient fullness in
      earthly understandings and expressions.

      Bishop Theophan the Recluse writes well of this. Referring to various
      visions similar to that (recounted in the life) of Basil the New and others,
      he poses the questions: "Can one definitely suppose that everything
      presented in them is reality of the matter, is exactly as is depicted
      therein? Are they not comparative images for a more vital and full
      representation of a reality not contained in such images, which is being
      introduced here?� All of these impressionably express the reality, but, I
      maintain, one may not think that the reality itself is exactly such, despite
      the fact that it is always expressed in no other way than by means of these
      images� " Calling to mind that the spiritual world is for us something
      mysterious, Bishop Theophan maintains that "these images represent the
      reality, but are not the reality itself. It is spiritual, noetic, devoid of
      anything fleshly. The Apostle Paul was caught up into Heaven,�and what did
      he say of his experience? That what is there, he says, "it is not lawful for
      a man to utter" (II Cor. 12:4). We have no words to express this. Our words
      are crude, bound to our senses, figurative.

      Thus, addressing ourselves to contemporary conjectures on the life of the
      soul after death, I propose that we ought to follow the advice of Bishop
      Theophan," to terminate our speculation as regards the accounts of what
      takes place in the spiritual world. Read, delve deeply, be edified, but do
      not rush to draw any such conclusions therefrom. For that which is there,
      "eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of
      man" (I Cor. 2:9) (*The Soul and Angels Are Not Body, But Spirit,* Moscow:
      1891, pp. 90-92).

      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.


      In view of this, at the present time of the Synod of Bishop's demands the
      cessation in our magazines of controversy on dogmatic questions and, in
      particular, on questions concerning life after death. This controversy must
      be ended on both sides, and Deacon Lev Puhalo is forbidden to lecture in the
      parishes until he signs a pledge satisfactory to the Synod to terminate his
      public statements on questions of internal disputes between Orthodox on
      subjects which may provoke confusion among the faithful.

      (Resolved also:) To announce this resolution to Deacon Lev Puhalo and to
      editors of religious magazines.

      Certified as an accurate translation of the original.

      +Bishop Gregory
      Secretary of the Synod of Bishops

      *From **Orthodox Life**, Vol. 31, No. 1 (Jan-Feb, 1981), pp. 23-37.*


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