The above warning was given to me when I first met Orthodoxy in 1986. Today [2009] it is even more perilous, even more difficult to find the Royal Path. For one thing there is a far greater abundance of misinformation. And many materials are missing, and other materials are being rapidly rewritten. For another thing there are fewer than ever guides remaining on the Royal Path, especially who speak English. Hopefully this website will be a place where Newcomers to the Faith can keep at least one foot on solid ground, while they are "exploring."

blog owner: Joanna Higginbotham


jurisdiction: ROCA under Vladyka Agafangel

who did not submit to the RocorMP union in 2007


07 April 2008

The Soul After Death

Book Review

The Soul After Death
by Fr. Seraphim Rose
copyright 1980, second printing 1982

 This book review is in 3 parts:
1. Table of CONTENTS of the book, Soul After Death
2. Homily on LIFE AFTER DEATH by St. John S&SF
3. Extract from the Minutes of a 1980 Session of the Synod of ROCOR Bishops 

Chapter One:  Some Aspects of Today's Experiences
  1. The "Out-of-Body" Experience
  2. The Meeting with Others
  3. The "Being of Light"
Chapter Two:  The Orthodox Doctrine of Angels
Chapter Three:  Appearances of Angels and Demons at the Hour of Death
Chapter Four:  The Contemporary Experience of Heaven
Chapter Five: The Aerial Realm of Spirits
Mans Original Nature
  The Fall of Man
  Contact With Fallen Spirits
  The Opening of the Senses
  The Danger of Contact With Spirits
  Some Practical Advice
Chapter Six:  The Aerial Toll-houses
  How to Understand the Toll-houses
  Patristic Testimony of the Toll-houses
  The Toll-houses in Lives of the Saints
  A Modern Experience of the Toll-houses
  The Toll-houses Experienced Before Death
  The Particular Judgment
  The Toll-houses: A Touchstone of Authentic After-Death Experience
  The Teaching of Bishop Theophan the Recluse on the Aerial Toll-houses
Chapter Seven:  "Out-of-Body" Experiences in Occult Literature
  The Tibetan Book of the Dead
  The Writings of Emanuel Swedenborg
  The "Astral Plane" of Theosophy
  "Astral Projection"
  "Astral Travelling"
  Conclusion about the "Out-of-Body" Realm
  A Note on Reincarnation
Chapter Eight:  True Christian Experience of Heaven
  1. The "Location" of Heaven and Hell
  2. Christian Experiences of Heaven
  3. Characteristics of the True Experience of Heaven
  A Note on  Visions of Hell
Chapter Nine:  The Meaning of Today's "After-Death" Experiences
  1. What Do Today;s Experiences "Prove"?
  2. The Connection With Occultism
  3. The Occult Teaching of Today's Investigators
  4. The "Message" of Today's "After-Death" Experiences
  5. The Christian Attitude Towards Death
Chapter Ten:  Summary of the Orthodox Teaching on the Fate of the Soul After Death
  Life after Death by Archbishop John Maximovitch
  The Beginning of Spiritual Vision
  Encounters With Spirits
  The First Two Days After Death
  The Toll-houses
  The Forty Days
  The State of Souls Until the Last Judgment
  Prayer for the Dead
  What We Can Do for the Dead
  The Resurrection of the Body
Appendix I:  The Orthodox Teaching of St. Mark of Ephesus on the State of Souls after Death
  First Homily: Refutation of the Latin Chapters Concerning Purgatorial Fire
  From the Second Homily against Purgatorial Fire
Appendix II:  The Prayer of Orthodox Christians for Those Who Have Died Outside the Church
Appendix III:  Some Recent Orthodox Responses to the Current Discussions on Life after Death
  1. The Mystery of Death and the Beyond by Father Ambroise Fontrier
  The Great Wager Between Believers and Unbelievers by Photios Kontoglou
  2. A Return from the Dead in Contemporary Greece by Archimandrite Cyprian
  3. The "Dead" Appear in Contemporary Moscow by Priest Dimitry Dudko
Appendix IV:  Answer to a Critic
  1. The "Contradictions" of Orthodox Literature on the Soul After Death
  2. Is there such a thing as an "out-of-body" experience or an "other world" which souls inhabit?
  3. Does the soul "sleep" after death?
  4. Are the toll-houses "imaginary"?


by Archbishop John Maximovitch
known today as St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco

Here is St. John's homily as it was published in The Soul After Death, by Fr. Seraphim Rose, 1980 edition.  Fr. Seraphim used this homily as an outline for his concluding chapter.  The ubiquitous internet version of this homily is quite different from the original.  It has omissions, additions, and contains footnotes all made by an apostate Antiochian priest who left the Orthodox Church and joined the Catholics 2007.

I look for the resurrection of the dead, 
and the life of the ager to come.
Nicene Creed

Limitless and without consolation would have been our sorrow for close ones who are dying, if the Lord had not given us eternal life.  Our life would be pointless if it ended with death.  What benefit would there then be from virtue and good deeds?  Then they would be correct who say: "Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die!"  But man was created for immortality, and by His resurrection Christ opened the gates of the Heavenly Kingdom, of eternal blessedness for those who have believed in Him and have lived righteously.  Our earthly life is a preparation for the future life, and this preparation ends with our death.  "It is appointed unto man once to die, but after this the judgment" (Heb 9:27). Then a man leaves all his earthly cares; the body disintegrates, in order to rise anew at the General Resurrection.

But his soul continues to live, and not for an instant does it cease its existence.  By many manifestations of the dead it has been given us to know in part what occurs to the soul when it leaves the body.  When the vision of its bodily eyes ceases, its spiritual vision begins.

Often (this spiritual vision) begins in the dying even before death, and while still seeing those around them and even speaking with them, they see what others do not see.

But when it leaves the body, the soul finds itself among other spirits, good and evil.  Usually it inclines toward those which are more akin to it in spirit, and if while in the body it was under the influence of certain ones, it will remain in dependence upon them when it leaves the body, however unpleasant they may turn out to be upon encountering them.

For the course of two days the soul enjoys relative freedom and can visit places on earth which were dear to it, but on the third day it moves into other spheres. 

At this time (the third day), it passes through legions of evil spirits which obstruct its path and accuse it of various sins, to which they themselves had tempted it.  According to various revelations there are twenty such obstacles, the so-called "toll-houses," at each of which one or another form of sin is tested; after passing through one the soul comes upon the next one, and only after successfully passing through all of them can the soul continue its path without being immediately cast into gehenna.  How terrible these demons and their toll-houses are may be seen in the fact that Mother of God Herself, when informed by the Archangel Gabriel of Her approaching death, begged Her Son to deliver Her soul from these demons and, answering Her prayer, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself appeared from heaven to receive the soul of His Most Pure Mother and conduct it to heaven. Terrible indeed is the third day for the soul of the departed, and for this reason it especially needs prayers then for itself.

Then, having successfully passed through the toll-houses and bowed down before God, the soul for the course of 37 more days visits the heavenly habitations and the abysses of hell, not knowing yet where it will remain, and only on the fortieth day is its place appointed until the resurrection of the dead.  Some souls find themselves (after the forty days) in a condition of foretasting eternal joy and blessedness, and others in fear of the eternal torments which will come in full after the Last Judgment.  Until then changes are possible in the condition of souls, especially through offering for them the Bloodless Sacrifice (commemoration at the Liturgy), and likewise by other prayers.

How important commemoration at the Liturgy is may be seen in the following occurrence: Before the uncovering of the relics of St. Theodosius of Chernigov (1896), the priest-monk (the renowned Starets Alexis of Goloseyevsky Hermitage, of the Kiev-Caves Lavra, who died in 1916) who was conducting the re-vesting of the relics, becoming weary while sitting by the relics, dozed off and saw before him the Saint, who told him: "I thank you for laboring for me.  I beg you also, when you will serve the Liturgy, to commemorate my parents" – and he gave their names (Priest Nikita and Maria).  "How can you, O Saint, ask my prayers, when you yourself stand at the heavenly Throne and grant to people God's mercy?" the priest-monk asked.  "Yes, that is true," replied St. Theodosius, "but the offering at the Liturgy is more powerful than my prayer."

Therefore, panikhidas and prayer at home for the dead are beneficial for them, as are good deeds done in their memory, such as alms or contributions to the church.  But especially beneficial for them is commemoration at the Divine Liturgy.  There have been many appearances of the dead and other occurrences which confirm how beneficial is the commemoration of the dead.  Many who died in repentance, but who were unable to manifest this while they were alive, have been freed from tortures and have obtained repose.  In the Church prayers are ever offered for the repose of the dead, and on the day of the Descent of the Holy Spirit, in the kneeling prayers at vespers, there is even a special petition "for those in hell."

Every one of us who desires to manifest his love for the dead and give them real help, can do this best of all through prayer for them, and particularly by commemorating them at the Liturgy, when the particles which are cut out for the living and the dead are let fall into the Blood of the Lord with the words: "Wash away, O Lord, the sins of those here commemorated by Thy Precious Blood and by the prayers of Thy saints." We can do nothing better or greater for the dead than to pray for them, offering commemoration for them at the Liturgy.  Of this they are always in need, and especially during those forty days when the soul of the deceased is proceeding on its path to the eternal habitations.  The body feels nothing then: it does not see its close ones who have assembled, does not smell the fragrance of the flowers, does not hear the funeral orations.  But the soul senses the prayers offered for it and is grateful to those who make them and is spiritually close to them.

O relatives and close ones of the dead!  Do for them what is needful for them and within your power.  Use your money not for outward adornment of the coffin and grave, but in order to help those in need, in memory of your close ones who have died, for churches, where prayers for them are offered.  Show mercy to the dead, take care of their souls.  Before us all stands the same path, and how we shall then wish that we would be remembered in prayer!  Let us therefore be ourselves merciful to the dead. 

As soon as someone has reposed, immediately call or inform a priest, so he can read the "Prayers on the Departure of the Soul," which are appointed to be read over all Orthodox Christians after death.  Try, if it be possible, to have the funeral in Church and to have the Psalter read over the deceased until the funeral.  The funeral need not be performed elaborately, but most definitely it should be complete without abbreviations; think at this time not of yourself and your convenience, but of the deceased, with whom you are parting forever.  If there are several  of the deceased in church at the same time, don't refuse if it be proposed to serve the funeral all together.  It is better for a funeral to be served for two or more of the deceased at the same time, when the prayer of the close ones who have gathered will be more fervent, than for several funerals to be served in succession and the services, owing to lack of time and energy, abbreviated; because each word of prayer for the reposed is like a drop of water to a thirsty man.  

Most definitely arrange at once for the serving of the forty-day memorial, that is, daily commemoration at the Liturgy for the course of forty days.  Usually in churches where there are daily services, the deceased whose funerals have been served there are commemorated for forty days and longer.  But if the funeral is in a church where there are no daily services, the relatives themselves should take care to order the forty day memorial where ever there are daily services.  It is likewise good to send contributions for commemoration to monasteries, as well as to Jerusalem, where there is constant prayer at the holy places.  But the forty day memorial must begin immediately after death, when the soul is especially in need of help in prayer, and therefore one should begin commemoration in the nearest place where there are daily services. 

Let us take care for those who have departed into the other world before us, in order to do for them all that we can, remembering that "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy."

  

This that follows below is excerpted is from the minutes of the November/December 1980 Session of the ROCOR Synod regarding controversial criticism of Fr. Seraphim's book.  It inadvertently makes a good book review.   -jh

Extract from the Minutes of the Session of the Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside or Russia

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 [he was soon later defrocked by Rocor] 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 at 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 resolves:  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.