Orthodox Teachings about Life after Death
The following study will show that the belief of the Orthodox Church about the afterlife contains many errors. Such errors stem from Orthodoxy’s reliance on a number of teachings coming from non-biblical sources. In fact, at times they clearly contradict the teachings of God’s Word. One major source of these Orthodox teachings is pagan customs that were adapted into the church centuries after Christ. A second group of major sources for these strange Orthodox teachings is based on dreams and visions of the afterlife that came from people who lived centuries after the apostles (even in the twentieth century). Yet a third major source of Orthodox doctrine on the afterlife stems from its doctrine of salvation through good works. This subject was addressed and refuted in Chapters Two and Three of this book.
Naturally, in order to rationalize their unbiblical doctrines, Eastern Orthodox teachers once again resort to misquoting biblical texts outside of their actual contexts. They feel compelled to misquote the Bible in an attempt to rationalize their sayings based on sacred traditions that come from men. As stated earlier, it will be quite easy to expose the fallaciousness of these strange Orthodox teachings on life after death. We will present the truth later in this chapter.
Prayers for the Dead
The beginning of our study on Eastern Orthodoxy’s teachings on the afterlife commences with the belief in the necessity of prayers for the dead. We will cite once again a statement from Ivan Nikolin, the Russian Orthodox apologist. Even Nikolin admits the reality that the concept of “prayers for the dead” has no basis in Holy Scripture. Indeed, it arose at a later date through sacred tradition (e.g. the teaching of the church fathers):
“If Sacred Tradition were unable to complement Holy Scripture, then many
religious issues (veneration for the saints, icons, prayers for the dead) would remain without a favorable verdict.”
It is critical to remember this assertion of the Russian Orthodox theologian before embarking on further study. Clearly this is why Orthodox colleagues are compelled to cite a number of Scriptural texts in order to defend the practice of prayers for the dead. What will naturally become clear very quickly is that these verses in their proper context show something completely different. Indeed, the meaning of these Scriptures in no way can be used for proving the dogma of prayers for the dead.
Serbian Orthodox apologist Lazar Milin attempts to justify the practice of prayer for the dead:
“As God’s final judgment will be rendered only after the resurrection, a verdict binding for all eternity, then no particular judgment is complete or definitive from the time after a person’s death until the final judgment. If the sins of the soul concerned are not mortal, then judgment can be alleviated by prayers for the dead.
The basis for such prayer comes from the Scriptures. The Scriptures teach us that we should pray for one another (James 5:16), and to pray for all men (1 Timothy 2:1). The Scriptures make no spatial or temporal limitations to how people should pray, for to God “all live to Him” (Luke 20:38) and thus we all belong to the Lord, whether we live or have died (Romans 14:8). Therefore, Holy Scripture teaches us to pray for one another, not only for our acquaintances still alive on this earth, but also for our brothers who have departed from the earthly to the spiritual world.
The Savior said that “…whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come.” (Matthew 12:32) The implication is that there exist sins that could be forgiven in the age to come. Such sins include anything that does not involve blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (Matthew 12:31-2)… But since the dead can no longer do anything to improve his condition after death, yet the principle states that his condition could still be improved because some of his sins could still be forgiven in “the age to come”, it follows that forgiveness can be obtained from God only through the prayers of the Church and those still alive who are praying for these dead souls.
The Savior has given us a very reassuring promise: “And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything in My name, I will do it.” (John 14:13-14) Since the Savior is the only mediator between God and man (1 Timothy 2:5), He has reconciled humanity with God by offering Himself as a sacrifice for the sins of the world and having shed His blood (Matthew 26: 26-28, Luke. 22:19-20). Thus, our prayers extend not just for the living, but also on behalf of the dead. Such prayers are very pleasing to God and represent mercy to the deceased ones who are connected to the bloody sacrifice brought forth by the liturgy.
The Church has inherited this teaching, clearly based on Holy Scripture, from the Sacred Tradition of the Holy Apostles. Yet, since the earliest times of the Church, prayer was conducted not only on behalf of the living, but also for the dead… As we have seen, the Church’s practice of prayers for the dead and all its liturgical rites, including funerals, divine liturgy, and memorials, are strictly based on the Scriptures.”
Throughout this lengthy excerpt from Milin’s book on the Orthodox Church and “sects”, he attempts to prove the fallaciousness of beliefs of evangelical Christians. He cites numerous verses from the Book of Books. According to Milin, there is no doubt that Scripture affirms Orthodox belief and practice. But if we assume that Ivan Nikolin, also an Orthodox theologian, has as much theological education as Milin, then a question arises. How could these two Orthodox theologians arrive at two completely opposite conclusions? Nikolin appears sincere in his statement that without sacred tradition, Holy Scripture does not affirm the Orthodox doctrine of prayers for the dead. (Lest Scriptures are misquoted out of context, as some Orthodox teachers are willing to do.) It is easy to prove that Nikolin’s statement is correct. Let us examine in context the Biblical verses cited by L. Milin. (It is noteworthy that Milin chooses merely to cite verse references and paraphrase content as he sees fit.) Let the discerning reader check his or her own Bible to verify whether Milin has accurately represented the Bible or not.
Indeed, James 5:16 exhorts believers to pray for one another: 1 Timothy 2:1 commands believers to pray for all men. However, the apostles do not tell believers to pray for the souls of the dead. The context of James 5:16 deals with the recuperation of living people fighting disease. The context of 1 Timothy 2:1 informs us to pray for the conversion of people who do not yet believe in the Savior, their adoption of salvation through faith in Christ, and for people already converted to devote themselves to a quiet life (without persecution).
Later on, Milin gives us a liberal interpretation that Scripture implies that one should pray for all people – without any boundaries of time – that he claims to encompass both those who are alive and those who are dead. He bases his interpretation on Luke 20:38 that “all live to Him”. This verse was analyzed in the previous chapter on “Veneration of the Saints”, which revealed that the full context of verses 27-40 describes Christ’s answer to the Sadducees regarding the resurrection from the dead. Milin has no basis whatsoever to infer that this text establishes the doctrine of prayers for the dead.
Milin mentions Romans 14:8 as his next proof text. Here is the context of the verse (Romans 14:7-9):
“For none of us lives to himself, and no one dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and rose and lived again, that He might be Lord of both the dead and the living.”
In this section as well as the one that precedes it (verses 1-6), the apostle Paul asserts the fact that the life of every Christian believer should be entirely subordinated to the will of the Lord and serving his or her neighbor. It also talks about the security of salvation (by faith in the Savior), because “whether we live, whether we die, we belong to the Lord.” Christ Himself said:
“I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live.”
It is obvious that these verses have nothing to do with prayers for the dead. In fact, they suggest an implication opposite to that which Milin infers into these texts. Namely, a true Christian belongs to the Lord both during his lifetime and after death. (The opposite is also the case for unbelievers as shown in Christ’s word of eternal condemnation recorded in John 3:18, 36.) It is not at all clear why the Orthodox associate these verses with their belief.
Milin’s next selection of verses does not support the practice of prayer for the dead. These verses consist of Christ speaking of “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit” as an unpardonable sin, which “will not be forgiven in this age or the age to come.” Eastern Orthodox logic infers from these verses that sins except “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit” can be forgiven in the next world, even though the Lord never indicated the slightest possibility for such speculation. Thus, as with any other verse that cannot be interpreted outside of its context, so we must examine the context of this verse.
What preceded Jesus’ statement that “all sins could be forgiven of men, except for blasphemy against the Holy Spirit” was an accusation against Jesus. The Pharisees accused Him of being the servant of the devil, Beelzebub. According to the Pharisees’ perverse logic, only the ruler of demons could cast out demons (verses 23-24). This is the Lord’s answer:
“But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you.”
So, Jesus cast out demons by the Spirit of God, not by the devil’s power. Christ’s response to the accusation by the traditionalist Pharisees of equating the Holy Spirit of God with the unclean spirit of Beelzebub, is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit – a sin that can never be forgiven. In fact, the apostle John in the third chapter of his Gospel says that Nicodemus acknowledged that the Pharisees had the insight that Jesus performed miracles with divine power:
“There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, ‘Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.’”
However, even though they knew that He was a teacher who came from God, the Pharisees as religious people were disobedient to the Lord’s will and were driven by concerns about losing prestige and respect from the people who gave them all kinds of honor (see Mark 15:9-10, John 11:47-48, 12:19). Jesus was accused of various crimes. One of the most serious charges was their accusation declaring Jesus to be Satan’s servant. It appears that the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (the sin that shall never be forgiven) was actually a conscious and deliberate rejection of Jesus Christ as the Son of God and Savior.
By no means does it mean that all other sins can be forgiven after the death of the individual. On the contrary! When Christ states that “all sins can be forgiven of men”, he means that God’s forgiveness is conditioned upon the repentance of those who have blasphemed God and His Son Jesus Christ out of their unbelief. According to the Lord’s words, the Holy Spirit conviction of the world proves that the lack of faith in the Savior is indeed a great sin:
“However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come.”
“And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: of sin, because they do not believe in Me…”
The only way for a person to be saved is for his sins to be forgiven. This not only entails that such a person did not blaspheme the Holy Spirit. That person must also have listened to the Holy Spirit in faith and dedicated his life to Christ the Savior. The Word of God testifies that any man who dies spiritually unregenerate certainly will be judged. No mercy or forgiveness will be available for him.
“He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God… He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”
Thus, the phrase that “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit” cannot be forgiven, neither in this age, nor in the other world, does not mean that other sins can be forgiven. Rather, this verse points to the magnitude of sin and disobedience to the voice of the Holy Spirit who bears witness of the Savior (cf. John 15:26).
Knowledge of the foundational truths of Scripture render it almost unnecessary to analyze the remaining verses of the Gospel that the Eastern Orthodox Church uses to rationalize its practice of prayers for the dead. John 14:13-14 mentions Jesus’ promise to the disciples that He will answer each prayer offered to Him according to His will. This passage offers no support whatsoever for prayers for the dead. Indeed, such prayers would be superfluous because Christians who would have died would have already experienced God’s grace of forgiveness of sin and experience of the new spiritual birth. The verses from Romans 14:7-8 do not conform to Milin’s misinterpretation. On the other hand, the unbelieving people have been convicted because of his infidelity, the eternal threat of condemnation to a person who does not repent until the end of his earthly existence.
Thus, these Biblical references cited by Milin fail to support the Orthodox teaching on prayer for the dead. Indeed, Ivan Nikolin’s assertion that the Bible does not support prayer for the dead is correct. Only Sacred Tradition can be cited to support the Orthodox practice of prayer for the dead. In fact, the Bible would suggest that prayer for the dead is a harmful practice, not a praiseworthy one.
Apocryphal Literature and Prayer for the Dead
While the Orthodox cannot find support for prayer for the dead in neither the Old nor the New Testament, they are able to make an appeal to apocryphal literature. It is a fact that many theologians of the Eastern Orthodox Church defend their dogma of the Mother of God, which cannot be found in the Bible, based on the apocryphal book “The Protoevangelium of James”, which was examine in Chapter 5 of our book. Speaking of the toll-houses (a topic to be discussed later in this chapter) and offerings for the souls of the dead for the forgiveness of their sins, Serbian Orthodox apologist Lazar Milin cites “evidence” from two apocryphal books allegedly from Old Testament times. These two books are Sirach and 2 Maccabees. This is what Milin writes:
“Finally, it is interesting to note that Old Testament Jews practiced prayers for the dead. When they found amulets devoted to pagan idols inside the robes of Jewish soldiers killed during the uprising of Judas Maccabees, then all the Jews turned to God in prayer to ask forgiveness for this sin on behalf of the dead soldiers. Judas himself sent to Jerusalem a burnt offering on behalf of the sins of the dead soldiers and as prayer for the dead to be cleansed from sin (2 Mac. 12:39-46). So, prayer for the dead did not originate solely from polytheistic traditions that the Church allegedly copied, but it is a custom practiced throughout humanity. Prayer for the dead was introduced into the Church on the basis of Scripture and Holy Tradition.”
What the Orthodox theologian omitted to tell us is that these “Old Testament Jews” were living in a time after the writing of the Old Testament (in the second century B.C.) when Hellenistic (Greek) culture and beliefs held great influence over the Jewish religion. These Jews certainly could not have found the practice of prayers for the dead in the Old Testament books written by God’s prophets, for the Old Testament knew no such things. In contrast, Greek religion rationalized the continued existence of the soul after death by prescribing certain rituals for the living to ensure their welfare in the afterlife.
The reason such books are called apocryphal and are excluded from the Old and New Testaments is because the apocryphal books diverged from divine revelation. As mentioned in the first chapter, the Apocryphal books, such as the very 2 Maccabees cited by Milin, condone suicide and call it an “honorable practice.” (2 Maccabees 14:41-6) Such teaching utterly opposes the Word of God in the Old Testament canon. The Old Testament condemns suicide and says that our days belong to the Lord and not in our hands (Psalm 31:15-16).
After all, Milin himself admits that the practice of prayers for the dead are “customs practiced throughout humanity” (which is mostly pagan) and were introduced to the Church on the basis of Scripture. The Orthodox Church considers the Apocrypha to be deuterocanonical and not apocryphal. In other words, Eastern Orthodoxy considers the authority of the Apocrypha as binding on believers as much as the Holy Scriptures. Such a position enables Orthodoxy to rationalize its practices introduced through Sacred Tradition (that is, religious ideas later introduced by teachers who were not totally converted to Christianity, the Church Fathers).
And learning how sacred tradition, which dates from later centuries, is different from what were at the beginning of the Christian era and the apostles preached Christ, the best way to show the belief of the existence of heavenly demonic customs.
Teaching about Aerial Toll Houses
It is useful to note that this teaching appeared in the dogma of the Orthodox Church after the Seventh Ecumenical Council. Vladeta Jerotić in his work The Old and the New in Christianity asserts that the doctrine of toll houses actually is still considered to be unofficial teaching – probably because it has not been confirmed by any ecumenical council. Eastern Orthodox literature offers as proof for these “heavenly custom houses” the content of the dreams of the Venerable Gregory, a disciple of St.. Basil the New, who alleged to have these dreams in the tenth century AD. Before examining the content of the dreams offered as proof by the Orthodox for tollhouses, let us answer a simpler question: what exactly are toll-houses? Here is one explanation by an Orthodox teacher:
“Toll houses are a type of customs office, which the souls of dead people passed by on their way to the throne of the Heavenly Judge. Within the toll houses dwell evil spirits which demand tolls or fines as a result of the sins committed by each soul. The tolls or fines are paid in good works to offset the extent of the sin. The names “toll house” and “tax collector” are borrowed from Jewish history. According to the Jews, toll houses (e.g., tax collectors) are the designation given to people appointed by the Romans to collect taxes. In this work, the tax collector uses all possible means to collect more taxes. The tax collector stands at the customs office of the special or excise duty station and charges excise duties on goods sold. Such excise stations were called toll houses.
Christian writers used the name ‘toll house’ to denote aerial toll houses located between heaven and earth. Inside these aerial toll houses, evil spirits meet the souls of the deceased at the entrance of the Throne of their Lord, investigate their sins, prosecute their souls for all possible sins, and thus attempt to bring them down to Hell.”
The Bible does not support this explanation of the Orthodox teaching on toll houses in the afterlife. Contrary to what Scripture teaches, this Orthodox belief is based on utterly unbiblical presumptions, including the doctrine of salvation through good works and demons that have the power to prosecute the soul of a Christian upon physical death. In an attempt to support such innovative doctrine, the Orthodox often use verses from Ephesians 2:1-2 and 6:12. Here is an excerpt from the tract by the Mileshev Monastery.
“Holy Scriptures… call it the air: a cloud of evil spirits. Because our war is not against flesh and blood, but we fight against powers, principalities, and the rulers of this dark world, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places, and their prince, who is the prince of the air.”
This Orthodox tract refers to the following verses in Scripture:
“And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience..”
“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.”
The apostle Paul in these two verses says nothing about the afterlife and the soul passing through Orthodox toll houses. An examination of the verses’ broader contexts demonstrates this point even more clearly. Rather, Paul describes the scope of satanic activity in the area where living human beings dwell, that is, the demons operating in the sky over the Earth where human beings walk. The implication for Christians is that Satan along with his demonic army is very close. Thus, Christians need to use spiritual weapons on the earth to preach the Gospel to people who are ignorant and thus still under Satan’s domain (see 2 Corinthians 4:3-4 and Acts. 26:17-18).
The wider context of this passage in Ephesians illustrates this conclusion:
“Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God…”
The Orthodox tear out one verse out of its context and distort Paul’s idea in Ephesians 6. Such misinterpretation only demonstrates the weakness of the faulty reasoning of Orthodox theologians. These Orthodox teachers in vain try to force the Bible to support their ideas from sacred tradition, which, unfortunately, they trust much more than God’s own words.
Now let us study the content and details of the dreams of the Venerable Gregory. This study will reveal how far the Orthodox teachings on the afterlife compare with the truth of the teachings of Christ and His apostles.
The Venerable Gregory
Basil the New was a famous Orthodox saint from the tenth century. He had two disciples, Gregory and Theodora. After her death, Gregory wanted to know what happened to Theodora’s soul, and asked St. Basil to pray to God in order to satisfy his curiosity.
This account originating from the blessed Theodora of the fate of the soul after death is characteristic of the Middle Ages, an era where ignorance and distortion of the Word of God by Satan’s lies and deception were rampant:
“Theodora was a nun and servant of St. Basil the New (March 26). After her death, she appeared to St. Gregory, a disciple of Basil, and described for him all twenty toll-houses through which her soul had passed until, through the prayers of St. Basil, she had entered into eternal rest. Theodora presented herself to the Lord on December 30, 940.”
“And Gregory saw a vision in his dream and recorded what Theodora had told him:
‘My child Gregory, you have asked me about a terrible thing, which it is frightening even to recollect.
When the hour of my death came, I saw faces such as I had never seen before, and heard words such as I had never heard. What shall I say? Cruel and hard to endure evils, of which I formerly had no idea, encountered me then because of my evil deeds. However, through the prayers and the assistance of our common spiritual father Basil I was saved from these hardships. But how shall I tell you about that physical pain, that stress and close feeling which the dying experience? Like a man who, entirely naked, falls into a great fire, burns, melts, and turns into ashes; so the dying are destroyed by their deathly illness in the bitter hour when the soul parts from the body.
When I drew near the end of my life and the time of my departure hence had come, I saw a great multitude of Ethiopians who had surrounded my couch. Their faces were dark like soot and pitch, their eyes were like glowing coals, and their entire appearance was as frightening and evil as the fiery hell itself. They began to grow indignant and to make noise like dogs; others howled like wolves… When I was at the end of my strength I saw two radiant angels of God, who were like youths of inexpressible beauty… As I saw them I was filled with joy and looked at them with pleasure.
The black Ethiopians shuddered and retreated some distance… When the angel ceased speaking, the Ethiopians tottered, began to cry out, and mutter, and point to all my evil deeds, committed from my youth on. They exclaimed: ‘We have no part in her, you say! Whose sins then are these? Did she not do such and such?’ With such exclamations they kept their position and were waiting for death. When death came, it was roaring like a lion and was very frightening in appearance. It looked like a human being but had no body; instead it consisted of human bones. Death brought various instruments of torture, such as swords, arrows, javelins, sickles, saws, and others unknown to me. When I saw these, my humble soul trembled with fear. The holy angels said to death: ‘Do not tarry, free this soul from its bodily ties, and do it fast and quietly, for she has but a small burden of sins.’ Death stepped up to me, took a small axe and separated my legs, then my arms; then with its other instruments it weakened all the rest of my limbs, separating them joint by joint. I lost the use of my arms and legs, my whole body grew numb, and I no longer was able to move. Finally death cut off my head, and I no longer could move it, for it felt as if it belonged to someone else. Lastly, death dissolved in a cup some kind of mixture, and putting the cup to my lips, made me drink. The potion was so bitter that my soul was unable to endure it. It shuddered and went out of my body.’”
To summarize Theodora’s account of the afterlife in this “Christian” nun’s experience, her soul traveled 40 days to Heaven by passing through the satanic toll houses. At the toll houses her soul was tested for her past sins. At the first toll house, she was tormented by the sins of speaking (empty conversation, laughter, blasphemy, obscene shouts, singing songs, etc.). At the second toll house, she was tormented with other verbal sins: lies, perjury, and failure to comply with covenants and oaths, and the like. At the third toll house she was tormented by ridicule, condemnation, and vilification by relatives, as well as mockery and humiliation.
The remaining toll houses include:
“• The fourth is the toll-house of gluttony;
• The fifth is the toll-house of laziness;
• The sixth toll-house is the toll-house of theft;
• The seventh is the toll-house of covetousness;
• The eight is the toll-house of usury;
• The ninth is the toll-house of injustice;
• The tenth is the toll-house of envy;
• The eleventh is the toll-house of pride;
• The twelve is the toll-house of anger;
• The thirteenth is the toll-house of remembering evil;
• The fourteenth is the toll-house of murder;
• The fifteenth is the toll-house of magic;
• The sixteenth is the toll-house of lust;
• The seventeenth is the toll-house of adultery;
• The eighteenth is the toll-house of sodomy;
• The nineteenth is the toll-house of heresy (false teaching on faith, apostasy from the Orthodox faith, and blasphemy);
• The twentieth toll-house is the toll-house of lack of mercy.”
According to the vision of the Blessed Theodora, none of a person’s good deeds will save him or her at the twentieth toll house if that person believed anything contrary to the rules established by the Orthodox Church and its canons. (Indeed, many of today’s Orthodox Serbs believe in things like reincarnation and astrology, which are contrary to the teachings of Eastern Orthodoxy.) Such a person would unquestionably be thrown into hell as the demons would expose the burden of heresy on the deceased soul.
Scripture makes it very clear that the Orthodox doctrine of toll houses completely negates the value of Christ’s redeeming death and His resurrection from the dead. As discussed in chapters two and three, the Word of God strongly emphasizes that God saves people not on the basis of their good works, but rather only through faith in Jesus Christ the Savior. Such faith gives believers spiritual rebirth of God the Holy Spirit and makes them children of God:
“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.”
However, despite this clear Biblical teaching, sacred tradition asserts that not only must a person be saved by his own good works, but the living saints can redeem the souls of the deceased with their prayers (in the form of gold coins) paid to the demonic customs offices as a result of past sins when the deceased had lived on the earth. Let the Blessed Theodora explain:
“The light-bearing angels immediately took it in their arms. When I looked back I saw my body lying breathless and immovable. I looked at my body like someone who has taken off his clothes and thrown them down; this was a strange feeling. Meanwhile, although the holy angels were holding me, the demons, in their Ethiopian guise, surrounded us and cried: ‘This soul has a multitude of sins—let her answer for them!’ They kept pointing to my sins, but the holy angels sought out my good deeds; and indeed, with God’s help they found all that, by God’s grace, I ever did of good…
The Ethiopians, however, saw this and gnashed their teeth at me. They wanted to tear me instantly from the angels’ arms and to carry me down to the bottom of hell. At this time holy Basil himself appeared unexpectedly and said to the holy angels. ‘Holy angels! This soul did great service to ease my old age, and therefore I prayed for her to God, and God has given her to me.’ Having said this, he took something out that appeared like a little bag of gold and gave it 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. I am rich by the grace of God, I gathered my large stash of sweat and toil. I give you this bag to help your soul.’ After he said that, he left. “”
We see that it is possible to pay a “bribe” at the toll houses in the spiritual world just as it occurs on earth. Demons take gold from the hands of angels on behalf of the soul. On the soul’s own merits, the soul would never arrive in Heaven. Nowhere does this fable mention anything about the blood of Jesus Christ that cleanses the sins of those who repent. Yet, this passage mentions the redemption of sins based on money.
Here is what the Word of God reveals as the only source of true redemption and forgiveness of sins before God:
“Knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot. He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you.”
“…And the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin… If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
However, the gold of St. Basil gives a different method, as it symbolizes the saint’s “good deeds”. After all, St. Basil asserts that he has amassed a great “stash of sweat and toil”. Not only does he possess enough good works to save himself, but he has a surplus that he can share with others.
St. Basil’s statements contradict the teaching of the apostle Paul in Ephesians 2:9 that salvation is “not of works lest any man should boast.” Yet in spite of the clear teaching of Scripture, St. Basil praises his own works and merits!
The Bible never ever teaches that God’s servants can boast of any merit or goodness before Him. Instead of boasting, God’s people confessed their own imperfections, though they were worshipers of God. Thus, the prophet Isaiah was able to say:
“Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, The LORD of hosts.”
The prophet Isaiah identified himself with the unclean environment of the Israelites with whom he lived:
“But we are all like an unclean thing,
And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags;
We all fade as a leaf,
And our iniquities, like the wind,
Have taken us away.”
In a similar way, Daniel, the great man of God, prayed in a very humble way:
“And I prayed to the LORD my God, and made confession, and said, ‘O Lord, great and awesome God… we have sinned and committed iniquity, we have done wickedly and rebelled, even by departing from Your precepts and Your judgments… O Lord, righteousness belongs to You, but to us shame of face…’”
Consistent with the examples of men in the Old Testament, the apostle Paul confessed about himself:
“This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.”
Here is yet another clear refutation by the early apostles to the claim of sacred tradition that a person’s own goodness and righteousness can save himself:
“But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”
While Scripture clearly teaches that people can be saved only through God’s mercy, not their own, Eastern Orthodoxy teaches otherwise. For example, the gold which St. Basil gave to the angels was very useful in paying for the redemption from the sins of the Venerable Theodora. This is what Orthodoxy alleges to have occurred at some of the toll houses:
“As we were rising from the earth to the heights of heaven, we were first met by the spirits of the first torment. Here the souls are tormented for the sins of idle speech; this is, for speaking without thinking, or speaking what is vile and shameless, or speaking without need or order. We stopped, and many scrolls were brought out on which there were recorded all the words that I had uttered from my youth on, either needlessly or unreasonably; and especially when such words expressed anything unclean or blasphemous, as young people frequently bear on their tongue… Now I kept silent, as if I had lost my voice. I was unable to reply because the evil spirits accused me rightly. But while I was silent in my shame and trembled with fear, the holy angels offered some of my good deeds and, since these were not enough, they added something from the treasure given me by the holy man Basil; and thus they paid my debts at this station.
Thence we ascended [to the second tollhouse] and drew near the torment of lying… Here the holy angels put down for my sins some of my good deeds, but the prayers of my spiritual father did even more to save me. We went on.
We reached the [third] station where souls answer for speaking evil of others and spreading rumors about them… Here also the angels freed me by means of the prayers of the holy man Basil, and we continued to ascend.
We reached the [fourth] station where gluttony is punished… I was trembling at the sight of such accusations and did not know how to object. But the holy angels took out enough from what was given to us by the holy man Basil, balanced my sins with this and set me free.
During this conversation we reached the [fifth] station of sloth, where sinners are accused of all those days and hours which they spent in idleness… I too was accused there of much and could not have freed myself if the holy angels had not balanced my deficiencies by the gifts of the holy man Basil.
During our conversation we approached the [sixteenth] torment of fornication… They brought out the records of all my deeds of fornication and accused me by pointing out the persons, the places, and the times: with whom, when, and where I sinned in my youth… The angels put down many of my good deeds but even more did they take from the gift given us by the holy man Basil; barely did I save myself from great grief.
We reached the [seventeenth] torment of adultery… I too had a great debt here; the evil spirits already had accused me and were about to tear me from the arms of the angels, but the angels began to argue with them and show them all my later labors and good deeds. After some time they rescued me, but with difficulty, and not so much by my good deeds, all of which, down to the last, they deposited here—but rather by the treasure of my father Basil, from which they also took very much to put on the scale to balance my iniquities. Then they took me and we went on.
But here we were met by the evil spirits of the last [twentieth] torment, the station that tests lack of compassion and cruelty of heart… We, however, by the grace of Christ, passed this place without trouble, for we were helped by the prayers of the holy man Basil.”
Such wonderful help by St. Basil on behalf of the soul of Theodora led the angels to the following conclusion:
“As they traveled, the holy angels were talking among themselves: ‘Truly, what great help did this soul receive from Basil, the friend of God. If he had not assisted her with his good deeds and prayers, she would have suffered much torment when passing through the toll-houses… But even these [the angels escorting Theodora’s soul] could not have passed through the tollhouses without the redemptive gift of the Venerable Basil.”
What is surprising about this “truth” realized by the angels is that even this “self-sacrificing follower of Christ” could not enter Heaven because of her sinfulness on her own. She needed assistance from those who were still alive. (During Theodora’s travel on the way through the tollhouses, St. Basil was still alive and offered her assistance. He prayed for her soul and his good works redeemed her sins.)
So then another question arises: how can many other Orthodox believers, who are nowhere even close to being such “followers of Christ” like the nun, neither who serve a spiritual elder who can assist their souls with gold from his “wallet”, have any hope for entering Heaven?
The strangest implication of this teaching in the Eastern Orthodox Churches comes to this extreme. Even “the Most Holy Mother of God” herself was afraid of her death because she, too, would have to pass through the spiritual tollhouses:
“Second, we learn how she, in her prayer, prayed for a quick departure from this life that her soul, at the time of her separation from the body, not see the prince of darkness and his horrors, and hidden from the dark regions not encounter the power of Satan. Do you see how terrible it is for the soul to pass through the toll-gates [mitarstva]! When she, who gave birth to the Destroyer of Hades and, who herself has frightening power over demons prayed thusly, what then is left for us?”
As a reminder of what the Orthodox Churches teach about the Holy Virgin Mary, let us cite the elder Cleopas who clearly states that Mary rules over all of creation:
“Do you know who the Mother of the Lord is? She is the Queen of the Cherubim, the Empress over all creation, the Vessel of the incarnation of the Lord, the Door of holiness, the Door of life, the One of whose closed doors no one can enter except our Lord Jesus Christ. She is the ladder to heaven, the divine lamp, and the temple of the Holy Spirit. The Mother of the Lord is the Bride of the Father, the mother of the Logos (word) and of the Church of the Divine Spirit.”
So Bishop Nikolai forces the question: if the “Mother of God”, who has so much power in the universe, had fear before demons with whom she was supposed to meet after death, then what hope could any mere mortal person have?
Based on everything mentioned so far, it is clear that the Orthodox dogma of salvation through good works and religious deeds fails not only to secure peace and security during one’s earthly life. Orthodoxy gives a person no clarity as to whether or not God accepts that person. However, Orthodoxy also leaves a miserable person who dies at the “mercies” of bloodthirsty demons who are dubbed “lords”. Such nonexistent “lords” exact “celestial custom taxes” on the one hand, while on the other hand, people are commanded to pray for the souls of the deceased. How far off the mark Orthodox teaching compares with the wonderful truth that Christ preached. He preached that every believer who is born of the Spirit has absolute assurance of his salvation. The believer belongs to the Lord both during his earthly life and after death!
However, it is critical not to forget yet one more very important and interesting teaching.
Namely, as often happens with Eastern Orthodoxy, the absence of biblical evidence to substantiate a particular doctrine forces Orthodox teachers to resort to citing teachings of the holy fathers, or apocryphal books. Here is an excerpt from the life of St. Basil the New, who alleges that Scripture teaches the forgiveness of sins can be obtained through giving alms to the poor:
“People who are distracted by earthly vanities worry about daily food and drink without the fear of God. Their god is their stomach, not God, and they do not care about the future of their lives, neither the warnings of Scripture, which says: ‘Woe to you who are full, for you shall hunger. Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.’ (Luke 6:25) They view Holy Scripture as a fable, and they live in safety and without worry, enjoying every day just like the rich man in the Gospel. But those among them who are merciful and compassionate, and who do kind deeds for the poor and downtrodden – they will easily find forgiveness from God for their sins and can easily pass through the tollhouses without fear because of their charitable deeds, for the Bible says: ‘For alms delivers from death, and the same is that which purges away sins, and makes to find mercy and life everlasting.’ (Tobit 12:9 – Apocrypha) Those who do not care that alms cleanse their sins cannot go to these trials in peace. They will be seized by the lords of the tollhouses.”
So, we see that Eastern Orthodoxy teaches the doctrine that forgiveness of sins can be obtained through giving alms to the poor. Such doctrine, based upon salvation by works, contradicts God’s Word! The true canonical books of the Bible contradict salvation by works as valid before God. Thus, Eastern Orthodoxy must parade out the apocryphal book of Tobit, which was written around the times of the Old Testament. Tobit was written in the third or fourth century B.C. Tobit describes stories that were alleged to have occurred within a family of Jews who lived in the diaspora after the collapse of the northern kingdom of Israel in the eighth century B.C. The words quoted above were allegedly spoken by an angel named Rafael, who is never mentioned in the Bible. In contrast with what God’s Word teaches, it is obvious that this “angel” teaches doctrine completely opposite to the Lord’s instruction. Rafael claims there exist a legion of spirits without physical bodies and spiritual tollhouses that test the departed souls of Christ’s faithful – similar to the dream of Gregory.
The Apostle Paul clearly warns Christians not to accept everything taught from the “other side” of life as being of divine origin:
“And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light.”
Neither the Lord Jesus Christ nor the apostles ever quoted or taught the lessons from the book of Tobit. Tobit was not included in the canon of the Jewish Old Testament books nor was it read in the synagogues. It is clear that they did not consider its spiritual message to be authentic or divinely inspired.
Let us examine further evidence that Eastern Orthodoxy teaching on the fate of people after death is based on the dogma of salvation through good works. The next section will also reveal evidence that such teachings (like many other teachings in the Eastern Orthodox Churches) originates from unclean, evil spirits instead of God’s holy angels.
Parastas (Memorial Services for the Dead)
Regarding the cult of the dead, Eastern Orthodoxy devised the memorial for the dead, an official memorial service that is better known as “the wake”. As can be expected, this practice of memorials for the dead has no basis in the teaching of Holy Scripture. Rather, it is based entirely on tradition, which, “coincidentally”, derives its origins from Greek polytheistic religion. Here is how Eastern Orthodoxy explains memorials for the dead:
“Secondly, focused exclusively on prayer for the rest of the departed souls of Christians, is the memorial service for the dead. Typically, such services occur on the third, ninth, and fortieth days after the person’s death… People who attend memorial services know it as the ‘wake’. The service is scheduled at a specific time on a specific day without fail. Forty days after death is a special time. The tradition of our Holy Church teaches us that this is the day when the Kingdom of God holds a special tribunal for departed souls. The soul will receive either temporal reward or punishment consistent with that person’s faith and deeds as well as the prayers of our Holy Church for that person’s salvation from eternal damnation. Those prayers come from our people who are still living. In this manner, the memorials are performed forty days after the person’s death, or at the latest one day afterward.”
So, according to the teachings of Eastern Church, the third, ninth and fortieth days after death are very important for the departed souls of Christians! For further information on Eastern Orthodox teaching on life after death, let us read a lengthy excerpt from the writings of St. Macarius of Alexandria, who lived in the fourth century after Christ. The excerpt is an answer received by St. Macarius allegedly from an angel of God regarding the importance of holding memorials for the dead on the third, ninth, and fortieth days after a person’s death. This excerpt also clearly demonstrates the importance of the patristic tradition to Eastern Orthodoxy:
“One time, St. Macarius of Alexandria asked a question of the Angel who escorted him in the desert: ‘Why did the Holy Fathers pass on to the Church the teaching that she should conduct a memorial service for the dead on the third, ninth, and fortieth day? How does it benefit the soul of the deceased?’ The Angel replied: ‘God never passed on to the Church anything that was unnecessary and useless. When the Church offers a memorial service on the third day, then the soul of the deceased receives from the angel miraculous comfort from the sorrow of separation from the body. The soul receives comfort because he sees that the separation is done for the glory of God and the Church, and in this he receives hope. For two days, the soul hovers around the earth. Naturally, the soul loves the body (where the soul dwelled in earthly life). Sometimes, the soul wanders around the house where he had dwelled in earthly life, sometimes the soul roams around the grave where the body is buried. The soul spends these two days like a bird building its nest. The soul that performed good works visits places where truth was formed within him. On the third day, He who had resurrected from the dead commanded that every Christian soul, modeled after His resurrection, should ascend into Heaven and worship God in everything. Thus, the Church performs a good ritual in giving sacrifice and prayer for the soul on the third day.
After worshiping God, God orders the angels to show the soul the variety and beauty of the Saints and the holy beauty of Heaven. This six day tour leads the soul to worship and praise God, the Creator of everything. After observing all this, the soul forgets its grief of separation from the body. But if the soul is guilty of sin by viewing the blessings of the Saints, the soul breaks down in tears, saying: ‘Woe is me! How much time I wasted in the world! Having pursued the lusts of the flesh, instead I could have spent much of my life with peace of mind to serve God properly. Then I would have been worthy of grace and glory. Woe is me… And after viewing the six days of joy the Righteous Angels again extol the worship of God. Yet again, the Church does the right thing in performing the ninth day of ministry and commemoration of the dead. After the second session of worship, the Ruler (Lord) of all commands the angels to take the soul to Hell and reveal all the local places of torture, its various departments, and various unclean torments that cause the souls of sinners there to constantly wail and gnash their teeth. The soul trembles and endures these various places of torment over thirty days, even though the soul itself is not sentenced to imprisonment in them. On the fortieth day, the soul once again ascends to worship God, and the Judge has already determined where the soul will stay according to the deeds of that person. Thus, the Church does well to perform the fortieth day of commemoration for the deceased.’”
Not only does the above text oppose the Bible’s teaching on life after death, but it also apparently contradicts the Orthodox teaching on spiritual tollhouses cited earlier. According to the earlier revelation to Theodora, the baptized soul after death travels to Heaven over several weeks along a spiritual road where there are located demonic customs houses. Her vision does not mention any incident of worship before God’s throne on the third or ninth day after death.
The second revelation given by the “angel” to St. Macarius reveals that for two days, souls can freely wander the earth, after which with the angels they spend six days in Heaven, and finally they spend thirty days in Hell. Nevertheless, this revelation makes no mention of the tollhouses!
It is critical for us to know that the revelation to St. Macarius dates from the IV century, while the revelation of tollhouses dates from the X century after Christ. Thus, St. Macarius was unable to write about tollhouses of which he was unaware, because this doctrine was introduced into Orthodox teaching only six centuries after his death. St. Macarius is solely interested in the reason for observing memorials for the dead. We have already read the angel’s answer. However, putting aside such a statement from a “higher power”, let us look for a more realistic answer from earthly historical sources. We arrive at a completely different explanation.
First, let us recall the statement of Russian Orthodox priest and theologian Alexander Schmemann about the celebration of Christmas (see chapter 7).
“The main method which the church used to attract pagans to Christianity was a method of sublimation and transformation of the pagan beliefs themselves; the Church adapted some pagan customs and invested them with Christian meaning and content.”
Now let us read about some pagan rites that were transformed and invested with Christian meaning. The answer to this question will be given by the Orthodox historian Eusebius Popovic:
“Specific to this rite, they conducted religious services for the peace of deceased souls (‘All Souls Day’) with the offering of the Eucharistic sacrifice, if possible, next to the grave. This rite had the symbolism of showing love to the souls of the deceased (‘agape’ for the soul as a free gift) and was usually held on the third, seventh or ninth, thirtieth or fortieth day, and also on the one year anniversary of the death or funeral. The numbers seven and thirty as well as the one year anniversary were chosen as specific final conditions of weeks, months, and years after the death or burial of the deceased.
Now they might have chosen to associate the third, ninth, and fortieth days with Christ: the third day related to His resurrection on the third day, the fortieth day in relation to His ascension to Heaven, and the ninth day related as the product of three in order to emphasize His resurrection on the third day three times.
But such is not the case. The pagan Greeks offered sacrifices to their dead on the third, ninth, and thirtieth days as well as on the anniversary of a person’s death.”
Besides that mentioned above, A.G. Hamman in his book Rome and the First Christians describes traditions held by Christians that bore a remarkable resemblance to those followed by pagans:
“Similar to their fellow countrymen, the believers in Greece observed memorials on the third, ninth, and fortieth day after the death of a person. In Rome, the ritual was observed on the ninth day after burial – after which they held a meal in which relatives and friends gathered… Like the pagans, Christians organized holidays in honor of the deceased called ‘refrigeria’ (refreshment).”
So we learn that the pagan Greeks observed the practice of memorial services for the souls of the dead on the third, ninth, and fortieth days after death. It becomes very clear that the “Church” invested some Christian meaning to this custom. Indeed, this is a much more robust explanation than believing some alleged revelation to St. Macarius by some angel! Such a conclusion is even more obvious when we consider than the Bible contains not a single trace of such teaching!
What also becomes apparent is the fact that tradition gives especial meaning to the fortieth day after the death of a deceased soul throughout the centuries (including the “Christianization” of pagan faiths). This tradition existed in the Church during the Middle Ages, a time when St. Bail the New and his disciples lived. This is why the soul of the venerable Theodora, after she passed by the tollhouses and then was led through Hell, could tell Gregory in a dream that she was resting in Heaven on the fortieth day after her death – the very time when St. Basil was conducting a memorial service on Earth on her behalf.
However, the assimilation of pagan practices by some Christian churches and movements and dressing them in Christian attire (for the sake of “converting” pagans) was not only an ancient custom, but it still occurs today. Let us examine evidence presented by Roman Miz:
“The population of the whole series of countries in Central Africa, which at the beginning of the twentieth century was overwhelmingly polytheistic, now profess Christianity or subscribes to the so-called ‘new African movements’ – syncretistic concoctions that successfully combine elements of Christianity with those of traditional tribal religions. In China, even very superficial and inadequate statistics testify to the presence of tens of millions of Christians. Rising interest in Christianity continues in Northeast Asia. In contrast, the ‘Christian bastions’ of Europe at the end of the century do not look invincible at all… The “de-Europeanization” of Christianity is not only a process confined to geography but also extends to sociology and culture, perhaps to an even greater degree… Differences pertain not only to specifics of rituals, religious architecture, or devotional differences, but also the doctrinal issues that concern the very essence of the doctrine of the Christian religion. For example, in Japan, the Catholic Mass conducts memorials for the dead on the first, third, seventh, thirteenth, and thirtieth anniversary after the death of a person – identical to Buddhism.”
Thus far in this section, we have seen evidence that the teachings of Eastern Orthodoxy on life after death are false. Neither the visions of tollhouses, nor of souls worshiping God on the third, ninth, and fortieth day after a person’s death, not even the necessity of a church holding memorial services to pray for deceased souls have any foundation whatsoever in Scripture.
The last section of this chapter will examine some very interesting visions, dreams and experiences allegedly had by dead Orthodox believers. Analysis of these fables will give the reader complete confidence in the thesis proposed at the beginning of this chapter. Eastern Orthodox teachings about life after death are utterly unbiblical (or, more accurately, anti-Biblical).
Other Visions and Dreams
All the examples listed below are based solely on dreams, visions, and other “revelations” received by Orthodox Christians (both saints-monks and laypeople). Along with the teachings of the Holy Fathers, the decisions of the Councils and other rules for religious life, these “revelations” comprise so-called “Sacred Tradition”. (See the citation from St. Bishop Nikolai Velimirovic in chapter 1 of this book.) They are unable to supply even one text from Holy Scripture as adequate support for any of these traditions. On the other hand, it will be easy to recognize that many of these traditions are simply opposite to the revelation recorded in the Scriptures.
Angelic Errors in Killing the Wrong Person
Orthodox faith teaches that over the course of the entire history of the Christian Church there occurred some things that are truly amazing. The issue is that angelic beings demonstrate their imperfections and inadequate understanding of the Lord’s commands. They often find themselves in the situation where they must atone for their crimes. Here are several stories of which Bishop Nikolai Velimirovic wants us to believe in their godly truth that relate the experience of believers who were murdered by the errors of angels:
“In 1910 in the vicinity of Pozharevac occurred an unforgettable event which testifies to the infinite existence of the soul. There lies a village in the vicinity called Mali Crnic, and another village called Kula. In the summer of 1910, a man by the name of Stevan was very ill in Mali Crnic. He suffered and died. He had been dead for 24 hours, and they brought him to the funeral. A grave has been dug out. The funeral party carrying his body was large. His wife was crying. As they approached the cemetery, just before they were to step through the gate, the dead Stevan began to tremble as if he were alive. People attending the funeral were terrified and ran away. Stevan get up from the stretcher and returned to his home. They asked him what happened to them, and whether he was actually dead. Stevan explained: ‘I was truly dead, and my soul traversed that world, until he arrived at a place where he was forbidden to enter. He heard some elder say: ‘Not the Stevan of Crnic, but the Stevan from Kula.’ And my soul returned to my body before entering the cemetery.”
“In the Wallachian village Magarevo near Bitola, there is a slight man named Costa who is roughly 60 years old. When he was about 30 years old, he fell ill and died. He was dead for 24 hours. When he died, three angels came and led him through the spiritual realm. They came to one place and encountered Satan, who said, ‘Go, child, and drink some water. You are thirsty.’ Costa replied: ‘Get away from me, Satan! For 3 years I fasted for my Lord Jesus Christ.’ He bent down to pick up stones to throw at him. Then he went on, crossed the bridge, and entered Heaven. There, he kissed the right hand of Christ. ‘It is good that you arrived, O my soul!’ said Christ. They took Costa to the judgment seat of Christ. But Christ said to the angels, “You made a mistake in bringing this man. You were supposed to bring the other Kosta from the same village.’”
“In Trstenik, in the village Bogdanje during the night between December 10 and 11, 1929, according to the church calendar, there occurred a rare and glorious event:
A man from Bogdanje, Mikhail Avakumovich Kovac, woke up around midnight to visit his little forge. It was an unusually quiet night. The clock on the church in Trstenik struck midnight. Mikhail returned to his room. His wife stood up just then to perform some work. When Michael falls asleep, there came a young man by the age of 18, unusual-looking and bright-faced, and said, ‘Miko, let’s go, the hour has come! The Lord has commanded you.’ Michael immediately went to the young man who was on his right side. So they came to a large meadow with grass unusually beautiful. The eyes could not fully take it all in. There appeared three paths at one place. The middle was decorated with fine precious stones. The left path did not appear so attractive. His companion led him through the middle way.
We traveled eastward in the direction of one large tree. We see in the East the rays of the sun of unusual greatness. Under the tree was a throne under which an unusual man was sitting. He was no more than 32 years gold. His hair was long and even at the ends. His face shone and emanated wisdom. He said to my companion: ‘Why have you brought this man?’ My companion replied that the Lord commanded him to do so. Then the man opened an unusually large book that stood in front of the throne. There he found my name written down, and said: ‘You got the wrong Mikhail! Michael is supposed to live 86 years on the earth and die peacefully! The Lord commanded you to get Kosta Ivanovic from Stragar. Bring Michael home at once!’”
Orthodoxy teaches that angels are capable of making mistakes in obeying God’s commandments. Mistakes could involve confusion over taking a man with the same name from the same village, but with the wrong surname. Other times, the angels can take a person with the same name but from the wrong village. Sometimes, accidents occur where the angel fouls up both the name and the village of the person.
We can freely ask several questions. What would have happened had the angels mistakenly proclaimed the birth of John the Baptist to someone else besides Zechariah? Or what would have happened had the angel Gabriel proclaimed the birth of the Savior to a different Mary, or another virgin with a completely different name in a different village other than Nazareth? What would have happened if the angels were to have had announced the birth of Christ not to the shepherds of Bethlehem, but rather to the pig farmers in the Gadarene region? Or if they had proclaimed the Savior would have been born in Bethany or Beth Fagi, but not in Bethlehem?
Although angelic beings do not possess the quality of perfection which God possesses,
not one single word of Holy Scripture allows for even the slightest possibility of these events taught by Eastern Orthodoxy. The Bible contains not one single shred of evidence for angels doing the wrong job and misunderstanding God’s commands.
God’s Word says much about angels who deliberately disobeyed and sinned. Scriptures discuss the fallen angels – Satan’s demons – that use all kinds of tactics to deceive people, particularly religious farces. So as we examine these events that talk about short periods of death (also including statements that those who do not fast and pray will spend 40 years in Hell, and also the experience of Kosta from Magarev with the temptation of the Devil ), it becomes apparent that all these events bear more resemblance to occult spirituality than God’s revelation.
In a moment, we will examine how these statements are completely incompatible with the Scriptures.
Visions of Life in Heaven and Hellish Torments of Sinners
According to Bishop Nikolai, that is, the people who related to him these stories, the life of the soul after death differs dramatically from what the Bible tells us. Here is what the girl Milka Cairovic of the village Borcha near Kragujevac tells us:
“My eyes were opened to see who took me: two girls in white dresses. There was a square table on which were laid 3 open books. And there was a large key on the edge of one book. An elder who looked like a priest stood beside the table. I went up to him, bowed down, and kissed his hand. He said to me: ‘Milka, you were alive! I am St. Peter. Come in and take a look at what God’s Heaven looks like.” But I thought to myself: how could I go into that world so inadequately dressed? When I considered that I was so unworthy, there appeared a large mirror in front of me. I looked into the mirror and gasped as I saw white silk on myself as well as being worn by a great mass of people. Some time passed, and then I heard church bells. There was endless light and then all the girls dressed in silk entered the church. Everyone went in three by three. The girls say nothing and just stare at me. One of them recognized me and said: ‘It is Milka, who attends church every week.’ I looked and recognized who she was. It was my friend Milunika Jovanovic, my teacher from the seventh grade. She had died five years ago. We kept walking until we came to a tree with three types of leaves: gold, green, and black. My guide on the left side explained to me the tree: ‘This is the tree in the midst of God’s Paradise called the Tree of Life. The world is sustained by it. The golden foliage symbolizes friends of God on the earth. The green foliage represents average godly people. The black foliage represents unhappy people who curse God.’ We walk by the tree of life and meet some older people sitting on a throne. They are dressed in purple, green, and crimson. Their conversation dots the air. Before them stand all kinds of food and drink. I asked myself why these people are not eating when there is such abundance. My guide read my thought and told me: ‘These people only eat three times a year: Christmas, Easter, and the Day of the Holy Trinity.’ We continued walking by the tables when I recognized my grandmother, who had died two months ago. Her name is Zhivana. When she saw me, she recognized me and said, ‘This is my granddaughter Milka!’ She wore a belt and told me, ‘I wear this belt at the request of Maksim. He was buried without a belt.’ In fact, this was true. The mother of my mother always complained how a person in that world could die without a belt.”
After these visions of paradise (including places of worship, church bells, the tree of life with colorful leaves, and her grandmother who wanted her late husband to wearing his belt – because it is improper to be buried without one), St Peter sends Milka to see what Hell looks like. In addition, he gave her money to pay the demons to enter and exit from Hell in the event they did not want to let her leave:
“Once again I came to St. Peter, and he said, ‘Oh, Milka, did you see God’s Paradise? Did you see the books? The first book contains names written with golden letters. These are people who gave to the monastery. And the black letters indicate those people who did not give to the monastery. Here in black letters is written what your grandfather promised to give the Vrachevsnica Monastery, but he never gave. The second book, the Book of Life, contains the names of those who are in God’s Paradise. The third book, the Book of the Dead, contains names of those who are dead to God because they are in Hell. This is the money you gave to the churches and churches as offerings. Let us go and look at what Hell looks like. Here is a pair of coins, just in case you need to pay to get out of Hell…’ We came up to two black beasts and a sea between them through which to pass. I was scared. But my guide explained to me: ‘Do not fear! Only those who are sinful are taken and thrown into Hell.’ We passed in between them, and they did not look at us. We found a hut. The door opened, and a woman came out from there. She said, ‘Here is Milka who attends church every week.’ I recognized her as Polka, the wife of Matija Uroshevich of Brestovica who had died 15 years ago. When we entered the gate, we saw a woman on a bed. Underneath her bed, a fire burns. And Polka threw various rocks at her, and she was in total pain. Polka told me, ‘Milka, I taught women not to have children, and God is punishing me by watching this martyr drown like a child.’ The woman on the bed told me, ‘Milka, I am Stoyka Arsenija Uroshevic, a woman from Brestovica. I strangled 24 children either with shirts or socks or even worse. And burning eternally, I am in intense pain.’ She showed me to a door, where I heard wind and waves, and she said that there were millers and fortune tellers. The millers had dishonest scales. The fortune tellers put a hex on women so they could not have children. (?) The millers wear millstones, and the fortune tellers wear tubs (?). We saw another gate. There was great wailing because those who curse and deny God fight each other. A third door appeared behind which was boiling tar and pitch. They told me there dwell great sinners who are doomed to boil in a cauldron. I was unable to enter through the door.”
Any student of the Scriptures who reads this would be left speechless. Sinners who are boiled in the cauldron of pitch, millers with millstones, and wizards that carry tubs sound more like details from a movie rather than true divine revelation. What would the equivalent punishments in a modern society comprise today? Should a taxi driver, who charged a higher price by faking the odometer, be punished by pushing his car that ran out of fuel? Or maybe programmers of computer viruses and illegally broke into another’s computer should suffer punishment in Hell by bearing on their backs heavy outdated computer monitors? Or maybe athletes who cheated to get great results with doping should now be doomed to run a marathon for eternity? It is quite obvious that this view of Hell in no way corresponds to the biblical revelation. Indeed, it looks very similar to the old medieval primitive notions of the afterlife, only lacking the horned devil rapping the hooves on his feet, which is holding the triple set of doors and personally fueling the fire just below the boiling cauldrons filled with pitch! But to some extent, the “comic” details of life after death do not end here either. Here is new evidence and data that will be of particular interest to farmers (fruit growers) and botanists. Here is what “God” revealed to a Serbian farmer, Momir Jakovljevic, before World War II:
“The Lord showed me that the apple trees in Paradise are short. He told me that the apple trees on the earth are tall in order that women could not climb them. This is related to Eve’s sin.”
So now we know that not only are there short apple trees in heaven, but why the apple trees on earth are tall, allegedly! However, the question is, why not make them a little taller, because women still are able, without climbing, to stretch forth her hand and pick fruit (and thus repeat the act with which Eve sinned)?! Although Bishop Nikolai at the end of this presentation claims that “whoever has faith and recognizes the true signs of the faithful cannot have any doubts” , serious students of Scripture are bemused and wonder how this is all possible? Is there anyone that ignorant to actually believe these fairy tales?!
Other Miraculous Visions
This chapter will conclude with two examples of the fates of people after death. It will quickly become apparent that these tales resemble medieval notions of the afterlife and hardly at all something that could come from God. These examples are related to people who are hung upside down and so are doomed to more years, while others are bound to a pillar between Heaven and Hell. These texts teach that salvation is achieved by human merit, e.g. good works. Such teaching completely goes against the clear principles laid out in Scripture of salvation by grace alone in Christ alone:
“A devout soldier was dying and came back to life. He said that he saw a dark river and a bridge. Everything that he had in this life is needed in order for him to cross into the next. The righteous ones can cross freely, but sinners fall into the dark and smelly river. On the other side of the river he saw green meadows with fragrant flowers and grass, along with beautiful homes and people dressed in white robes… Near the terrible river I saw the Abbot Peter, who died four years ago, chained and hanging upside down. When I asked him why he was so tormented, he replied: ‘When I was commanded to punish offenders at the monastery, not only did I do enough to obey the command, but I went beyond it to satisfy my own cruel and inhuman character. That is why I am suffering like this.’… The icon of Christ’s Last Judgement shows a man tied to a pillar, facing the kingdom of heaven. Such an image of the icon is not fiction, but is essentially revealed truth. During the reign of Emperor Leo in Constantinople lived a rich and famous man, who loved the poor very much, but was a slave to passionate lusts even in his old age. Unfortunately, he died without repentance. People began to debate the fate of the rich man’s soul before Bishop and Patriarch Hermogen. One of them argued for his works of mercy as redeeming him from trouble, while others argued that to enter into heaven required chastity and spiritual purity. He was one who sinned and never repented. As the Lord said, “What’s found there, that I will judge.” In order to address the resolution of this dispute before God, the Patriarch advised all the monks to pray to God to reveal the fate of the rich man. God heard the prayer of His servants. One of them, a monk – prisoner learned where the rich man was and in what condition. Calling the Patriarch, the prisoner in front of everybody said this: ‘Last night during a prayer to God I saw unspeakable graces, and on the left the lake of fire, whose flames reached the heavens. Between Heaven and the lake there was a rich man tied to a pillar. He often looked to heaven, cried, and sobbed bitterly. I saw an angel who said, ‘Man, why do you wail in vain? Your alms would have delivered you from trouble, but since you did not leave your shameful debauchery, you are deprived of paradise. For the unclean cannot see God.”
The conclusion is obvious after studying the Orthodox belief on life after death. For all the pains that theologians of the Eastern Orthodox Church take in believing the dogmas mentioned in this chapter, their teachings find no support from the Scriptures. In fact, Holy Scripture contradicts the teachings of Orthodoxy on this subject. Contrary to all superstition, folk belief, and the occult disclosures embedded within the teachings of “the One and Only Holy and Apostolic Church”, evangelical Christians believe only in what God’s Word teaches. Yet again, for the umpteenth time, my readers must clearly recognize why the Christian faith must discard the details from the teachings of later church authorities. These church authorities have no business in attempting to “complement” God’s clear revelation of the Book of books.