The Taxation of Souls

I have had numerous requests for a copy of this paper as a result of I have decided to post it here.


“When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats: and he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.” – Matthew 25:31-33 [1]

This portion of the Gospel reflects a fundamental eschatological doctrine of the Church; all men will be judged as a result of the ways that they conducted their lives. In the Church’s doctrine there are doctrines regarding the judgment of man. The first is the Universal Judgment and the second is the Particular Judgment.

The Universal Judgment is the one that is referred to in the Gospel quote above. This judgment occurs at the Second Coming of Christ for the living and the dead, for the righteous, penitent and sinner. This judgment is final and definitive. It determines whether the person, both body and soul, will receive eternal blessedness or eternal torment.

The Particular Judgment occurs after the separation of the soul from the body at death. This doctrine states that soul will receive a judgment based on the life of the person to provide it with a foretaste of eternal blessedness or eternal torment based on the life of the person. One of the key passages of Holy Scripture that supports this doctrine is that of Christ’s parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus; Luke 16:19-31.

Fr. Michael Pomazansky in his book Orthodox Dogmatic Theology says the following about the Particular Judgment. “Based on …indications of Sacred Scripture, from antiquity the Holy Fathers of the Church have depicted the path of the soul after its separation from the body as a path through spiritual expanses, where dark powers seek to devour those who are weak spiritually, and therefore one is in special need of being defended by the heavenly angels and supported by prayer on the part of the living members of the Church. Among the ancient Fathers the following speak of this: Sts. Ephraim the Syrian, Athanasius the Great, Macarius the Great, Basil the Great, John Chrysostom, and others.” [2]

The Church uses various terminologies to describe the process of the Particular Judgment. Some of these terms are:
• The Accounting of Souls
• The Taxation of Souls
• Custom or Toll Houses

In order to understand this type of terminology one must remember that the Church is describing a spiritual reality using human experience and terminology. There are always limitations associated when this type of terminology is used. In order for someone to properly understand this type of terminology they must a common understanding of the terminology. Without this understanding that a spiritual reality is hidden under sensuous terms with their limitations one can easily be misled by what is being expressed.

Condition of the Soul Upon its Separation from the Body

When the soul separates from the body at death it is in pain because it was not created to be separated from the body. The soul is immortal. The body was created to be immortal but as a consequence of the Ancestral Sin [3] the body is no longer immortal; it dies.

The Church’s Dogma concerning the soul when it parts the body is that it is immortal and conscious; the soul is alive. [4] One of the key passages supporting this dogma is Christ’s parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus; Luke 16:19-31. Other Scriptural references that support this doctrine are the following:

“For he is not a God of the dead, but of the living: for all live unto him.” (Matt 22:32 and Luke 20:38)

“Knowing that shortly I must put off this my tabernacle, even as our Lord Jesus Christ has showed me. Moreover I will endeavor that ye may be able after my decease to have these things always in remembrance.” (2 Peter 1:14-15)

“For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven: If so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked. For we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life.” (2 Cor 5:1-4)

“For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand.” (2 Tim 4:6)

There are those have been spreading a teaching that the soul upon its separation from the body enters into a “state of sleep” until the Universal Judgment. This teaching is inconsistent with the teachings of the Church mentioned above. The Holy Synod of Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia declared this teaching to be heretical in it’s decision that resulted in the defrocking of Deacon Lev Puhalo one of the chief proponents of this teaching; he is currently known as Archbishop Lazar Puhalo retired bishop of the Orthodox Church in America (formerly the Russian Metropolia). [5]

Forgiveness of Sins

The Lord said to his disciples “Whatsoever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matt 16:19 and 18:18) With this statement Christ gave his disciples the power to forgive sins which has based down through Apostolic Succession to the priests of today.

The teaching of the Church is that when sins are forgiven through the Holy Mystery of Confession they are removed, it is as if the sin never occurred, with the proper repentance of the individual confessing the sin. Any epitimia (imperfect translation penance) that is given by the confessor is viewed a medicine or therapy for the person; not as a punishment as it is understood in Roman Catholic Theology. [6]

The sins of the unrepentant sinner are never forgiven they are bound here on earth and shall not be released in the life to come.

Sins of the person that have not had the proper repentance are open to God’s mercy depending on the state or disposition of the person at the time of death toward repenting of the sin or sins. An indicator of the state of repentance that the individual is in can be seen by the works of the person. As Saint James said “a man may say, You have faith, and I have works: show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” (James 2:18) These are the sins that the customs demons will vigorously attack and the angels will account for the state of the soul by its works to show that it was moving toward God and not away from Him. Thus, the angels make the case at the Particular Judgment that the soul has the possibility of receiving God’s mercy at the Universal Judgment.

Tax Collectors

The common image from the terms the Accounting of Souls, the Taxation of Souls and Custom or Toll Houses is that of demons that demand a tax or duty form the soul as it passes to its appointed place to await the Universal Judgment.

Whenever goods are transported across borders a duty or tax is placed on them. If the duty or tax cannot be paid then the goods are seized by the taxing authority. This image from commerce is what the Church is using to describe the souls transit from the body to its appointed place to await the Universal Judgment.

The image of the tax collector is one that takes away from or burdens a person’s life . People try to minimize their tax burden through various means while the tax collector is seen as someone that tries to maximize an individual’s tax and or one that is collecting taxes that are not owed. In tax issues a person is defended by accountants and lawyers to come to agreement on what is owed or not owed. This is a natural societal conflict that is used to show the interaction of the customs demons and the soul with the angels as its defenders during the Particular Judgment.

People in general have low opinions of tax collectors today however they were significantly lower in the past. One can clearly see this in the Gospel when Christ is maligned with the phrase He is “a friend with publicans (tax collectors) and sinners.” (Matt 11:19)

In the Roman Empire those who collected the tax were split into two the publicans or confiscators and tax collectors. The publicans were the more powerful and wealthy class. Publicans bought the taxes of others. Tax collectors on the other hand were salaried employees of the publicans that actually collected the taxes. The goal of these two groups were to make a profit on the taxes they of others that they bought. They used whatever means that was necessary to collect the tax and make a profit. They at times collected on previously paid taxes and taxes that the individual did not owe. [7]

Metropolitan Hiertheos (Vlachos) provides the following quotes to illustrate how corrupt this system of tax collection was:

“Plato said that tax collectors were oppressive, not so much when they collected duties from visible imports, ‘but when in looking for what was hidden they meddled in other peoples equipment and freight.’”

“Theocritus was asked what were the fiercest beasts, he answered: ‘in the mountains, bears and lions, and in the cities, tax collectors and sycophants.’” [8]

The Gospel also identifies the corruption of this manner of collecting taxes with His interaction with the Chief Publican Zacchaeus. (Luke 19:1-9). We can see from this interaction that he got very rich through the collection of taxes that he was able to give half of household to the poor and restore those he defrauded four times.

Probably the closest things that we have today to this method of tax collection are debt collectors, loan sharks, those that run protection rackets and those that reposess property to collect on a debt. However, today’s laws still curtail the efforts of those that conduct these enterprises. While the empire’s tax collectors had little to no boundaries for the collection of tax debts.

The attributes of these types of collectors of taxes must be assigned to the customs demons that the soul encounters upon leaving the body. The attributes are:

• Identifying sins that have not been completely repented of by the soul
• Claiming the unrepentant soul
• Claiming rights to a soul that was in the process of repenting of sins
• Trying to acquire the souls that had repented of their sins
• Attempting to search to soul for sins that they were not aware of to accuse the soul or to use the information against another soul.

The goal of the custom demons is to take souls away from God by whatever means they can employ whether justly or unjustly like the collection of taxes described above. However, the soul has the angels accompanying it to defend it from the charges that are made against it by the custom demons.

The angels that are protecting the soul show how the soul repented of a sin or how the works of the person were to be considered to show the intention of repentance that is worthy of God’s mercy.

Expressions of the Particular Judgment

There are numerous expressions and teachings regarding how the Particular Judgment occurs by various Holy Fathers of the Church. [9] The basic components of their teachings are that the soul will come under a more intense attack by the demons when it parts from the body then it ever endured while the body and soul were united. The Holy Angels will defend the soul from these attacks. The results of the battle over the soul will determine receive eternal blessedness or eternal torment.

One of the most popular and known expressions that identifies the process of the Particular Judgment is the revelation in the life of St. Basil the New of St. Theodora’s passage through the “toll houses” after her death. [10]

In this revelation the “toll houses” or “custom houses” present various categories of sin. The custom demons attack the soul accusing it of various sins in order to obtain the soul justly or unjustly. The Holy Angels defend the soul by identifying that the soul repented of the accusations or using the souls good deeds to demonstrate that the soul is worthy of God’s mercy.

The twenty toll houses identified in this revelation are:

• Sins of the Tongue
• Lying
• Slander
• Gluttony
• Laziness
• Theft
• Covetousness
• Usury
• Injustice
• Envy
• Pride
• Anger and Rage
• Remembering Evil
• Murder or causing Injury to Others
• Magic
• Lust
• Adultery
• Sodomy
• Heresy
• Unmercifulness

Fr. Dr. Thomas Hopko pointed out in a talk about Life and Death that “toll houses” must be understood symbolically as test one must pass through to see if the soul hangs on to its sin. He also points out that the soul must pass through the “toll houses” to do what Jesus did; that is conquer devils, resist temptation, and thereby destroy death. [11]

Metropolitan Dr. Kallistos Ware made the following observation about “toll houses” in an article in the journal Sobernost in 1981 “It is the normal teaching in the Orthodox Church that, during the period immediately following death, the soul, accompanied by the guardian angel, passes through a series of twenty-two telonia, celestial toll or custom houses.. This teaching about the toll houses has early origins; while not a dogma of the Church, is far more than mere legend or pious opinion. In picture language and symbolical terms it expresses truths about a state that is no longer subject to the categories of time and space.” [12]

In addition to these quotes Metropolitan Hierotheos (Vlachos) of Nafpaktos supports a similar position on the taxation of souls in his book Life After Death. [13]

These quotes validate that that the teachings on “toll houses” are the consistent teaching of the Church. The teaching on “toll houses” is consistent from the Holy Fathers; the Saints including modern saints like St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco and St. Nikolaj of Žicha; and prominent respected modern Orthodox Theologians.

The Controversy

There are groups within the Church that oppose the teaching of the taxation of souls or “toll houses.” There appears to be two opposition groups; one that believes that this teaching is akin to the Roman Catholic teaching on Purgatory, the other group sees this as a heretical teaching that is based on gnostic writings.

For those that adhere to the understanding that the taxation of souls is an Orthodox version of Purgatory Fr. Dr, Thomas Hopko provides the following response:

“The crazy teachings are that when you die you have to be punished for the things that you do and go through each of these tool-booths in order to get punished by the demons for that particular sin. So you go through the tollbooth of lust to get punished for your lust, you go through the tollbooth of greed to be punished for your greed, you go through the tollbooth of anger to be punished for anger, and so on until you are punished enough and make it.

In the western church, even before the Reformation, there was a teaching that if you pray for these people you can get some of the punishment off. It was called temporal punishment due to your sin and those were called were called indulgences and then you could actually go to church to light a candle, say a prayer or give some money to get the time off from the punishment. This was called the “purgatorium” (or the “purgatory”) connected with the doctrine of punishment and inflicted pain that had to be done away with. This is not our Orthodox teaching.” [14]

The second group that states that the teaching on the taxation of souls is based in Gnostic teaching and sources. This group was unknown until the Deacon Lev Puhalo, now known as Archbishop Lazar Puhalo retired bishop of the Orthodox Church in America (formerly the Russian Metropolia), gave it voice round the time of the publication of Fr. Seraphim Rose’s book The Soul After Death [15].

Fr. Seraphim’s book provides an explanation of the traditional teaching of the Church on “toll houses” as well as other issues such as out of body and near death experiences. Fr. Seraphim stresses that the teaching of Church on “toll houses” is to be understood symbolically. [16]

Archbishop Lazar sees the teaching of the Church on the taxation of souls as gnostic through its similarity to various gnostic writings. Some of these writing are the Egyptian and Tibetan Books of the Dead, the Zoroastrianism of the Persians, and the writing of various Christian Gnostic sects such as the Bogomils and the Manicheans. Two of Puhalo’s chief supporters in these arguments are the V. Rev. Dr. Michael Azkoul and Irene Matta MTh providing the same or similar arguments as Puhalo. [17]

What Archbishop Lazar and his supporters fail to mention is the Church traditionally has drawn on sources outside Herself to define and explain her teaching. A good example of this how the Holy Fathers of the Church took the teachings and language of the ancient philosophers, such as Plato and Plotinus, redefining them to teach the Christian faith. Additionally they fail to mention that heresies are for the most part the true teachings of the Church with the exception of one or more elements in a very subtle manner. Thus, just because a writing comes from a heretical sect it does not mean that the writing does not contain elements of the true teaching of the Church. However the writings of heretical sects must be approached with caution when being read to guard against falling into heresy.

One final observation about the writing of Archbishop Lazar is that he dismisses the writings of the Holy Fathers, such as the writings of Sts. Athanasius the Great, Macarius the Great, as gnostic forgeries with very little proof or outside supporting evidence that these documents are forgeries.

Pastoral Approach

There are groups within parishes that the issue of the taxation of souls can become an issue. The one thing in common that these groups will hold is that they read Orthodox Christian Literature for a variety of reasons. If they become aware of the conflict that exists regarding this teaching it may upset the balance and harmony of the parish.

The primary thing the parish priest should do in explaining the Church’s traditional teaching regarding the taxation of souls. The priest should avoid entering into speculation regarding the controversies that have recently developed or provide his own personal opinions on the topic to his parishioners. This is in line with Canon 19 of the Quinisext Council that states “if any controversy in regard to the Scripture shall be raised, let them not interpret it otherwise than as the lights and doctors of the Church in their writings … lest through their lack of skill they may have departed from what was fitting.” [18] The canon applies to this situation because it teaches that the clergy of the Church should not speculate on their own regarding controversial topics but only teach that which has been consistently taught by the Holy Fathers.

The next thing that should be done is shore up the traditional teaching of the Church with the Scriptural quotes referenced in this paper regarding the doctrine of the Particular Judgment.

The final point to make is that this teaching is referenced in the services and prayers of the Church. The following are examples of how the taxation of souls is referenced in services of the Church:

Numerous references in the Osmoglasnik of St. John Damascene

“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]” (Canon for the Parting of the Soul from the Ode IV, troparia 4; also Ode VIII, troparion 2).

“He guarded us at our departure from this life from the snares of the evil one and his grievous toll-houses of the air, that we may stand uncondemned before the throne of the Lord of Glory.” (Final prayer in the Akathist of St. George)

“And at the terrible hour of death, be not far from me, my good guardian, driving away the demons of darkness, who have the power to terrify my trembling soul; defend me from their net, when I shall pass through the aerial toll-houses, in order that, being guarded by thee, I may attain the desired paradise,….” ( Prayer to the Guardian Angel from the Canons for Holy Communion)

End Notes

1. Theophilos, version 3.16, Bible King James Version all other scriptural quotes are from this software.

2. Pomazansky, Fr. Michael; Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, translated by Hieromonk Seraphim Rose, St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood Platina, CA, 1994; pp. 333-334.

3. This refers to the sin of Adam and the consequences of that sin and not inherited guilt that is taught in Western Christianity. For a complete explanation see The Ancestral Sin by Fr. John Romanides, translated by George S. Gabrriel, Zephyr Publishing, Ridgewood, NJ, 1998.

4. Ibid pp.138-140 and Orthodox Dogmatic Theology p.332

5. Extract from the Minutes of the Session of the Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia; 19 November/2 December, 1980;

6. Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, pp. 286-288.

7. Hiertheos. Metropolitan of Nafpaktos; translated by Esther Willams; Life after Death; Birth of the Theotokos Monastery, Levadia, Hellas, 1996; p.63

8. Ibid; p.63; Metropolitan Heirthos does not provide any reference to a source for these quotes.

9. Reviewing the material in the Bibliography will assist the reader in finding the primary references to the Holy Fathers regarding the Particular Judgment.

10. A compete recounting of this revelation can be found in Eternal Mysteries Beyond The Grave; compiled by Archimandrite Panteleimon; Print Shop of St. Job of Pochaev; Holy Trinity Monastery; Jordanville, NY; 1968; pp. 70- 87

11. Transcript of a talk given by Fr. Thomas Hopko in Brisbane Australia October 1999 on” Life after death… Mysteries beyond the grave”;

12. Ware, Metropolitan Kallistos; “One Body in Christ: Death and the Communion of Saints;” Sobernost Vol. 3 Issue 2; 1981 pp. 182-183. It should be noted that there are different traditions regarding the number of “toll houses.” The numbers of “toll houses” either numbers 20 or 22 based on tradition.

13. Hiertheos. Life after Death; pp 62-80

14. Transcript of a talk given by Fr. Thomas Hopko in Brisbane Australia; October 1999

15.This was the second issue of Lev Puhalo’s teaching on death that was condemned in the previously mentioned extract from the Minutes of the Session of the Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia that ultimately led to his being defrocked for his failure to recant his teachings on death. There appears to be an element of conflict on this issue between Puhalo and Fr. Seraphim Rose that seems to fuel Puhalo’s writings on this subject.

16. Rose, Fr. Seraphim; The Soul After Death; The St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood; Platina, CA; 1980

17. See their books in the Bibliography.

18. Ford, David Phd; “Handouts for The Byzantine Church (Church History II); St. Tikhon’s Orthodox Seminary; South Canaan, PA; Spring Semester 2011; pp. 3-4 quoting the Canons of the Quinisext Council from NPNF 2,XIV, pp. 359-408.



Archimandrite Panteleimon
Eternal Mysteries Beyond The Grave, ; Print Shop of St. Job of Pochaev; Holy Trinity Monastery; Jordanville, NY; 1968

V. Rev Dr. Michael Azkoul and Irene Matta, MTh
The Toll House Myth: The neo- Gnossicism of Fr. Seraphim Rose, Synaxis Press, Dewdney, BC, Canada

Constantine Callinicos
Beyond the Grave, translated byRev geoge Demopoulos and Leslie Jerome Newville, Christian Orthodox Editions, Scranton PA, 1969

Father Michael Pomazansky
Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, translated by Hieromonk Seraphim Rose, St. Heraman of Alaska Brotherhood, Platina, CA, 1994

Ivan N. Ostroumoff
The history of the Council of Florence, translated by Basil Popoff, Holy Transfiguration Monastery, Boston MA, 1971

Lazar Puhalo
The Soul, The Body, And Death, Synaxis Press, Dewdney, BC, Canada, 1980
The Tale of the Elder Basil “The New” and the Theodora Myth, Synaxis Press, Dewdney, BC, Canada, 1992

Father John Romanides
The Ancestral Sin, translated by George S. Gabrriel, Zephyr Publishing, Ridgewood, NJ, 1998.
An Outline of Orthodox Patristic Dogmatics, translated by Fr. George Dion Dragas, Orthodox Research Institute, Rollinsford, NH, 2004.

Father Seraphim Rose
The soul after Death, St. Heraman of Alaska Brotherhood Platina, CA, 1977

Metropolitan Hierotheos (Vlachos)
Orthodox Psychotherapy – The Science of the Fathers, translated by Ester Williams, Birth of the Theotokos Monastery, Levadia, Hellas, 2006
Life After Death, , translated by Ester Williams, Birth of the Theotokos Monastery, Levadia, Hellas, 1996
The person in the Orthodox Tradition, , translated by Ester Williams, Birth of the Theotokos Monastery, Levadia, Hellas, 2002

Nikolas P. Vassiliadis
The Mystery of Death, The Orthodox Brotherhood of Theologians, Athens 1997

Hand outs/ Articles

Ford, David
“Handouts for The Byzantine Church (Church History II); St. Tikhon’s Orthodox Seminary; South Canaan, PA; Spring Semester 2011

Metropolitan Kallistos Ware
“One Body in Christ: Death and the Communion of Saints;”, Sobernost Vol. 3 Issue 2; 1981

Web Sites


Theophilos, version 3.16, Bible Stephanus Textus Receptus, King James Version
New Advent – CD ROM Edition 2

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