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Wednesday, 8 July 2015

St. Theodora’s Journey Through the Toll Houses(Part2)

Sixteenth Torment. “During our conversation we approached the torment of fornication, where souls are accused not of actual fornication only but also of amorous daydreaming, of finding such thoughts sweet, of impure glances, lustful touches and passionate strokings. The prince of this torment was clothed in a dirty and stenching garment befouled by a bloody foam, and there was a multitude of demons standing around him. When they saw me they marveled that I had already ‘Passed so many torments. 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. I kept silent and was trembling with shame and fear. The holy angels, however, said to the devils: ‘Long ago has she left her deeds of fornication and has spent the remainder of her life in purity, abstinence, and fasting.’ But the demons replied: ‘We too know that she has long ago ceased sinning, but she has not sincerely confessed to her spiritual father and has not received from him proper directions for the satisfaction which she should do for her sins. Therefore she is ours! Either leave her to us or ransom her with good deeds.’ 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.

Seventeenth Torment. “We reached the torment of adultery, where are accused of their sins those who are married but do not observe marital fidelity toward each other and do not keep their marriage bed undefiled; and here too rapes are punished. Besides, here are strictly punished those who have devoted themselves to God and promised to live for Christ alone, but have fallen and failed to keep their purity. 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.
Eighteenth Torment. “We approached the station of the Sodomic sins; here souls are Accused of all unnatural sins, incests, and others revolting deeds performed in secret, shameful and frightening even to think about. The prince of this torment was more disgusting than any other devil; he was befouled by pus and full of stench. His servants were similar to him. The stench that came from them was not to be endured, their ugliness was unimaginable, their cruelty and ruthlessness not to be expressed. They surrounded us but by the grace of God found nothing in me and ran away from us in their shame. We, however, went on.

“The holy angels said to me: ‘You have seen, Theodora, the frightening and disgusting torments of fornication! Know then that few are the souls that pass them without stopping and paying their ransom; for the whole world lies immersed in the evils of seductive foulness, and all mankind is sensuous. Few guard against the impurities of fornication and deaden the desire of their own flesh. And this is the reason why few pass here freely; many come as far as this place but perish here. The rulers of the torments of fornication boast that they more than any of the others fill the fiery abyss of hell with the souls of men. But you, Theodora, must thank God that you have already passed the torments of fornication by the prayers of the holy man Basil, your father. Now you will no longer fear.’

Nineteenth Torment. “Thereafter we came to the torment of heresies, where are punished those reasonings about faith which are not right, and also turning away from the Orthodox confession of faith, and lack of faith, doubts about it, denial of holy things or a negative attitude toward them, and other sins of the kind. I passed this torment without being tested; we were no longer far from the gates of Heaven.

Twentieth Torment. “But here we were met by the evil spirits of the last torment, the station that tests lack of compassion and cruelty of heart. Cruel are the tormentors of this place, and their prince is terrible, and dried-up and depressed is his appearance. Here the souls of the unmerciful are tormented without mercy. Even if a man performs the most outstanding deeds, mortifies himself by fasting, prays ceaselessly, and guards and keeps the purity of his body, but is merciless from this station he is cast down into the abyss of hell and will receive no mercy in all eternity. We, however, by the grace of Christ, passed this place without trouble, for we were helped by the prayers of the holy man Basil.

“Now we approached the gates of Heaven. We entered joyfully, for we had passed unharmed through the bitter tests of the torments. The gates resembled crystal, and the buildings that stood there glistened like stars. The youths who stood there were wearing golden garments. They joyfully received us, for they saw that a soul had escaped from the bitter tests of the torments of the air.

“As we were walking in heaven, joyful and glad to be saved, the water that was above the earth parted, and, then it closed again behind us. We came to a very awesome place where there were very beautiful youths in fiery garments. They saw the angels carrying me and met us with joy at the salvation of my soul for the kingdom of God. They went together with us and sang the Divine Song.

“As we continued walking, a cloud descended on us, and then another cloud; and when we had gone somewhat farther, we saw an inexplicable height on which was the throne of God; it was very white and enlightened all who stood before it. Around it stood very beautiful youths clothed in red and shining. Why should I, my child Gregory, tell you about it? There are things that cannot be either understood or explained. Reason is clouded by incapacity to understand fully, and memory vanishes there; I forgot where I was.
“The holy angels who had brought me there led me to the throne of God, and here I bowed before the Unseen God; and then I heard a voice which said: ‘Go with her and show her all the souls of the blessed and of the sinners, all the dwellings of the saints that are in Paradise, and the dwellings in the nether regions of hell; then grant her rest wherever my follower Basil will indicate.’

“We went on a road unknown to me and came to the dwellings of the saints. What shall I say about them? I am in confusion. There are various chambers arranged artfully and beautifully. Of course they are created by God’s hand and are what the Scripture calls ‘the cool place, the fruitful place, the place of rest.’
“When I saw all this I marveled and was very joyous and happily looked at everything. A holy angel who was showing these things to me explained: ‘This is the abode of the Apostles; that one—of the prophets and other martyrs; those others of the holy bishops, holy monks, and the holy righteous.’ All these were in their breadth and length like a king’s city.

“When we entered and found ourselves inside these lovely dwellings, the saints met us and kissed us in spirit and rejoiced in my salvation. Then they took me to the abode of the patriarch Abraham and showed me everything that was there. Everything was full of glory and of spiritual joy; of fragrant flowers, myrrh, and sweet odors.

“There were various chambers, which are made and upheld by God’s Spirit alone. We saw there a multitude of infants who were happy and rejoicing. I asked my angel leaders: ‘Who are these infants gathered here, bathed in light, rejoicing around this holy old man?’ The angels replied that this was the patriarch Abraham, and that the multitude was composed of Christian infants.
“Then we went to see the surroundings of Paradise; but their beauty simply cannot be described. If I should begin to tell all that I saw and heard there, I should be filled with fear and trembling.

“Then I was led into the nether reaches of hell, where the Lord has bound and imprisoned Satan. There I saw frightening torments. Thence they led me westward, and there too I saw similar horrible torments, ready for sinners. As the angels showed all this to me, they said: ‘Do you see from what misfortunes you have been saved by the prayers of the holy man?’
“The sinners in their horrible torments were shrieking and begging for mercy. I saw torments of such a kind that it is excruciating even to tell about them.
“When we had passed and examined all this, one of the angels who, accompanied me said: ‘You know, Theodora, that in the world there is the custom to remember the dead on the fortieth day after their death; today the holy man Basil remembers you on earth in his prayers.’

“Yes, my spiritual child Gregory, forty days have now passed since the time when my soul parted from my body, and I am in the place which is ready also for our holy father Basil. You are still in the world, and so is holy Basil, but he shows the way of truth to all who come to him, and by compelling them to repent he makes many turn to the Lord.
“Come with me. We shall enter my inner chamber and you will look at it. Not long before you came, the holy man Basil was also here.”
I went after her and we entered together. As we were walking along I saw that her garments were as white as snow.
We entered a palace decorated with gold. In its midst there were various trees that bore splendid fruit. When I looked east I saw luxurious halls, light and high. There was a large table on which stood golden vessels; they looked very expensive and were wondrous to look at. In the vessels were vegetables of all sorts, and fragrance issued from them.

The holy man Basil was there, sitting on a marvelous throne. Near the table there stood people, but they were unlike those who live on earth and have bodies: they were surrounded as if by the rays of the sun, but they still looked human.
As they ate the food that was on the table, the amount of the food became replenished of itself. Beautiful youths were serving them. When any of those who were at the table wished to drink, he poured a liquid into his mouth and experienced a spiritual sweetness. They spent long hours at this table. The youths who were serving them were girded with golden belts, and on their heads were crowns made from a precious stone.

Theodora approached the holy man and begged him for me. The holy man looked at me and joyfully called me to himself. I approached and bowed before him to the ground, as was our custom. He quietly told me: “God will be merciful to you and forgive you, my child! He is the All-merciful; He will reward you with all the heavenly goods.” He lifted me from the ground and continued: “Here is Theodora. You very much wished to see her and asked me for this so intently: now you do see her, and you see where she is and of what destiny her soul has been found worthy in this our life beyond death. Look at her well.”
Theodora looked at me and said: “My brother Gregory! Because you thought about me humbly, the merciful Lord has fulfilled your wish through the prayer of our father, the holy man Basil.”

The holy man turned to Theodora and said: “Go with him and show him my garden. Let him see its beauty.” She took me by my right hand and brought me to a wall in which there was a golden gate. After she had opened the gate, she led me inside the garden. There I saw trees of a marvelous beauty. Their leaves were golden, they were full of flowers and emitted an unusually pleasant fragrance.
There was a countless number of such lovely trees. Their branches were bowed to the ground because of the weight of the fruit. All this astonished me. Theodora turned toward me and asked: “Why do you wonder? How much would you marvel if you saw the garden called Paradise, which the Lord Himself planted in the East!? You would be astonished at its greatness and beauty. As compared to it, this garden is nothing.”

I begged Theodora to tell me who had planted this garden, for I had never seen anything like it. She replied that it was obvious that I never had, for I was still living on earth; here, however, everything was other than earthly, and the life led here was other than earthly.
“God grants such dwellings in the life beyond death, but only to those who have led a life full of labors and sweat, such as the life of our holy father Basil has been from his youth to his deep old age. Such dwellings are granted to those who pray zealously and deny their desires, as he has done when he slept on bare ground, endured intense heat and frost, ate on occasion nothing except grass. This is the kind of life which he has led before he came to Constantinople, but this life was a source of salvation to himself, and through him, to many others. This kind of life, and prayers of holy men like Basil, enable the departed to enter the abodes of the blessed.
“He who during his earthly life endures many griefs and misfortunes; he who strictly keeps the Lord’s commandments and does not swerve from them—he receives his reward and his comfort in the life beyond death. The holy author of the Psalms, David, said about the difficult life on earth that pleases God: ‘Eat of the fruit of your labors’.”

When Theodora told me that life in heaven is different from life on earth, I could not help touching myself, for I seemed eager to know if I was still in the flesh; as of course I was. My feelings and thoughts were pure, and my spirit rejoiced in all that I had seen. I wished to return to the palace by the same gate through which I had entered. When, however, I had returned to the palace, I no longer found anyone at the table.
I bowed to Theodora and returned home; and at that very moment I awoke and thought to myself: where have I been and what was all that which I have seen and heard?
I rose from my bed and went to the holy Basil in order to learn from him whether my vision was from God or from the devils. When I came to him, I, according to our custom, bowed to the ground. He blessed me, bade me to sit near him and asked me: “Do you know, my child, where you were this night?”
I pretended to know nothing and replied: “My father, I have been nowhere; I was sleeping on my bed.” The holy man said: “This is true. Your body actually was asleep on your bed, but your spirit was elsewhere, and you still know everything that was revealed to you this night.
“You have seen Theodora. When you approached the gates of the heavenly kingdom, she met you joyfully, led you inside the house, showed you everything, told you about her death and about all the torments that she had passed.
“Was it not at my bidding that you went into the court where you saw a marvelous table and its wondrous arrangement? Did you not see the vegetables placed there, and did you not recognize their sweetness and see the flowers, and what the feasters drank, and what youths were serving them?
“Did you not stand still and look at the beauty of those halls? When I came, did I not tell you to look at Theodora, since you had so much wished to see her and learn from her how she had been rewarded for her saintly life?
“Did she then not lead you at my bidding within the sacred enclosure? Did you not see all this in your vision this night?
“How is it then that you are saying that you have seen nothing?”
When I heard the saint saying all this, I no longer doubted that this was no delusion, no dream, but an actual vision sent to me by the Lord God.

I said to myself: how great must this holy man be before God! He himself was there in both his body and his soul, and now he knows all that I have seen and heard there! My eyes filled with tears and I said: “It is true, my holy father; everything was such as you have said. I thank the Lover of Men, the Lord our God Jesus Christ, Who has granted it to me to see all this and has put it in my thoughts to take recourse to you, so that I can constantly be under the protection of your prayers and can be filled with the sweetness of my vision, in which such great marvels have been revealed to me.”
The saint said to me: “If, my child Gregory, you will complete your earthly journey rightly and will not swerve from the Divine commandments, the evil spirits of the torments in the air will be unable after your death to harm you; you have heard this from Theodora: you will pass the stations of torment and will be blessed. Joyfully will you be met where you have been this night and have seen Theodora; and where 1, sinner that I am, also hope to be admitted to the abode which you have seen; for I place my hope upon Christ, Who has promised to give His grace to me.

“Listen, my child, to what I am saying to you, but keep the secret of your father. I wish to die before you, and you will follow me after a long time, when you will have perfected yourself in good works. This has been revealed to me by the Lord.
“Keep secret all that I have told you, while I am alive; let no one find out anything of what you have heard.

“When I am dead, if you should wish to undertake the labor and not to leave my humble life without remembrance, describe it as it is customary to describe the lives of those who have exerted themselves in virtue.
“Describe, that is, not so much my life as that divine grace which has led and strengthened me throughout my entire life, and give me the ability to perform not only good deeds but even miracles.
“Represent all that you seen and heard, and let it benefit those who will read or listen to your account. But be careful to state, first of all, that the Lord, when He so deigns, helps any man to do great wonders; and tell everything about these wonders witnessed by you, so that those who will learn about them from you may praise God, Who is generous with what is good.
“Beware of the traps of the evil one at all times of day and night until the Lord should call you.” All this and many other things did the holy man tell me. Then he prayed and dismissed me.

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Item Reviewed: St. Theodora’s Journey Through the Toll Houses(Part2) Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Tom Manakis
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