I wish to add a few thoughts to Dr. Heckscher's discussion of the
Oh, dear! First of all, I remember that certain persons were fanning
the flames surrounding this doctrine back in the early '80's when we
were part of ROCOR. I have a sense of deja vu. But I read both sides
of the issue then, and I'm speaking thoughtfully, albeit ex tempore.
1)First of all, we need to bear in mind the teaching of St. Vincent of
Lerins: "Now in the Catholic--i.e. Orthodox--Church itself we take the
greatest care to hold THAT WHICH HAD BEEN BELIEVED ALWAYS, EVERYWHERE,
AND BY ALL."
Hence, the mere antiquity of a belief is no guarantee of its
Orthodoxy. Arianism, Nestorianism, Monophysitism, Monothelitism, and
Iconoclasm, as well as Gnosticism and Manicheanism, are all ancient
beliefs, and the Roman Catholics have believed in Purgatory lo, these
We also need to consider St. Vincent's criteria of universality and
consent. Has a belief in the toll-houses been held by all Orthodox
Christians everywhere? It would seem not. As far as I know, the
Greek Churches, and no doubt others, do not subscribe to this
teaching. However, the doctrine in question seems to have been
endorsec by many in the Russian Orthodox Church. (And I don't mean to
bash Russians. All the local Churches have their own bees in their
bonnets.) Furthermore, we might inquire if all Orthodox Christians
consent to this belief. Well, obviously not!
2) In order to articulate an Orthodox consesus on this issue, we need
to consider its theological implications. True, some of these
narratives might be edifying because they inspire us to "walk
circumspectly" and curb our wicked actions. However, our faith
teaches that the unspiritual person heeds the law of God because he's
afraid to "go to hell." And let's face it--this is the reason most of
us behave ourselves, if we do. However, Orthodoxy teaches that the
truly spiritual person, despite his human weakness, practices the
virtues and avoids sinful conduct out of love for God.
Furthermore, we need to ask ourselves what these stories say about
God. If we have died "in sin" and he turns us over to the demons to
be tormented, then he is granting these wicked beings power over His
creation. Well then, perhaps He's not all-powerful in the first
place. Nor is He all-merciful; where is the God who "desires not the
death of a sinner?" And what of the Good Thief and all those martyrs
who underwent the "baptism of blood"? Dear me, if they forgot to
confess some sin in the midst of their podvigs, are they to be handed
over to torment? I think we can say that such a doctrine of God is a
foul mishmash of semi-Manichean, semi-Nestorian(perhaps) 100% blasphemy!
Certainly such doctines also nullify the power of the Resurrection, as
the Orthodox believe in it.
So dear brothers and sisters, please forgive me if I've offended you.
I've just attemped to offer some constructive thoughts on this issue.