St. Theodora's Journey Through the Aerial Toll-Houses
According to the teachings of the Church, the particular judgment of souls by God is
preceded by their torments, or rather a series of tests; these take place in the regions
of the air, where the evil spirits have their domain (Eph. 6. 12). They detain the souls
and declare and make manifest all the sins which these souls perpetrated during their
lives. We know about these torments in great detail because they were revealed to Gregory,
the disciple of the holy monk St. Basil the New, who lived in the first half of the Tenth
century. Gregory in his vision learned about the hour of death and the passing through
torments of a woman known as the Blessed Theodora.
When Gregory asked her to tell him about her passing away and about the circumstances
that attended her death and followed it, she told him in great detail the following.
"My child Gregory," she said, "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, 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. As they looked at me, they were full of anger;
they threatened me, kept rushing at me and gnashing their teeth, and appeared ready to
devour me. Yet they seemed to wait for a judge who had not yet come but would do so: they
were making ready charts and unrolling scrolls on which were written all my evil deeds. My
miserable soul was taken by great fear and trembling. Not only the bitterness of death
tormented me but even more the terrible appearance and the cruel demeanor of the
frightening Ethiopians; these were to me like another death, only a worse one. I kept
turning away my eyes in all directions so as not to see their terrible faces, and wished
not to hear their voices, but I was unable to be rid of them. They turned everywhere and
there was no one to help me.
"When I was at the end of my strength I saw two radiant angels of God, who were
like youths of inexpressible beauty. They were coming toward me. Their faces were shining,
their gaze was full of love; their hair was like snow, white with a golden tinge; their
garments glistened like lightning and were girded with gold. When they came near me, they
stopped on the right side of my couch and entered into a quiet conversation between
themselves. As I saw them I was filled with joy and looked at them with pleasure.
"The black Ethiopians shuddered and retreated some distance. One of the
radiant youths, angrily addressing the black ones, said: 'O shameless, cursed, dark, and
evil enemies of the human race! Why do you always come first to the dying and frighten and
confuse every parting soul by your words? You have no reason to rejoice, for here you will
find nothing. God is merciful to this soul, and you have no part and no allotment in her.'
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.
"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 sinslet 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
angels gathered together everything that was good: all those instances when I gave alms to
the needy, or fed the hungry, or gave the thirsty to drink, or clothed the naked, or
brought into my house and rested there the homeless, or served the servants of God, or
visited the sick, and comforted them or those who were imprisoned; and also when I went
with diligence to God's house and prayed with all my heart and shed tears, or when I
attentively listened to what was read and sung in church, or brought to church incense and
candles, or filled with oil the church lamps before the icons, or kissed the icons with
awe and reverence; or when I fasted and abstained on Wednesdays, Fridays, or during other
fasts, or when I prostrated myself before God and spent nights awake in prayer, or when I
sighed to God and wept for my sins, or confessed my sins before my spiritual father with
great regret for what I had done, and then tried with all my strength to balance my sins
with good deeds; or when I did anything good to my neighbors, when I bore no anger to my
enemies, bore no grudges and meekly endured hurts and reproaches, did good in return for
evil, humbled myself, felt sorry for those who suffered and commiserated with those to
whom anything bad happened, comforted those who were weeping and rendered them assistance,
supported any good beginning and tried to turn people away from what was bad; or myself
turned my eyes away from vanity and kept my tongue from oaths, lies, or bearing false
witness, or speaking without needand all my other good deeds, even the least
important ones, did the holy angels gather and make ready to put on the scale in order to
balance my evil deeds.
"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.'
"He then disappeared, but the evil spirits, when they saw the gift of holy Basil,
at first stood dumbfounded. Then they raised plaintive cries and became invisible. Then
Basil, the man who had pleased God, came again. He bore many vessels of pure oil and
precious myrrh, and all these, one after the other, he poured on me. I was filled with
spiritual fragrance and felt that I had changed and become very light. Once more the holy
man said to the angels: 'When, holy angels, you will have done for this soul all that is
needed, lead her to the dwelling that the Lord has prepared for me, and let her remain
there.' Then he once more became invisible. The holy angels took me up, and we went
eastward through the air.
The First Torment. "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.
"There I saw recorded all my angry words, foul words, worldly shameless songs,
wild cries and laughter. The evil spirits accused me of all this and indicated the time
and place, when and where and in whose company, I spoke these vain words or evoked the
wrath of God by my unseemly words, even though at the time I did not consider such things
sinful; and paying no great attention to them did not confess them to my spiritual father,
and never repented. 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.
Second Torment. "Thence we ascended and drew near the torment of lying. Here
is tested every lying word: failure to keep oaths, vain use of God's name, failure to keep
vows given to God, insincere or false confession of sins, and the like. The spirits of
this station are evil and ruthless. They stopped us and began to question us closely.
However, I was accused of two things only: first, that I occasionally lied in matters of
small importancesomething that I did not even consider sinful; second, that, because
of a false sense of shame, I sometimes insincerely confessed my sins to my spiritual
father. As for false oaths or false witness, none of these, through Christ's grace, was
found in me. 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.
Third Torment. "We reached the station where souls answer for speaking evil of
others and spreading rumors about them. When we were stopped here, I understood how heavy
is the sin of speaking evil about one's neighbor, and how great an evil it is to spread
bad rumors, judge the deeds of others, damage someone's reputation, slander, give bad
words to people, or laugh at other's deficiencies. Such sinners are regarded as
Antichrists, since even before Christ has judged their neighbors they already allow
themselves this right of judgment. In me, however, through the grace of Christ, they did
not find much of these sins, for all the days of my life I always diligently strove not to
condemn anyone, never to spread falsehoods about people, never to laugh at anyone, and
never to give anyone bad words. Only occasionally, when I heard how other people condemn,
malign, or laugh, did I too happen to agree with them to some extent in thought, or even,
in my carelessness, add my word to what they were saying; but even then I instantly caught
myself and stopped. But here I was held responsible even for the inclination. Here also
the angels freed me by means of the prayers of the holy man Basil, and we continued to
Fourth Torment. "We reached the station where gluttony is punished, and evil
spirits immediately rushed out to meet us, for they hoped to find a victim. Their faces
resembled those of sensuous gluttons and despicable drunkards. They walked around us like
dogs and immediately showed their count of all the instances when I ate secretly from
others, or without need, or when I ate in the morning before I had even prayed and put on
myself the sign of the cross; or when, during the holy fasts, I ate before the church
service was over. They also revealed all the instances when I was drunk and even showed us
those very cups, goblets, and others vessels from which I became intoxicated at such and
such a time, during such and such a feast, with such and such companions. And every other
instance of my gluttony was pointed out to me, and the demons already rejoiced, as if they
had put their hands on me. 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.' When the spirits saw the
ransom, they cried out: 'woe! our labors and hopes have perished!' and threw their records
of my gluttony into the air. I, however, rejoiced, and we went on.
"As we were ascending, the holy angels talked among themselves and said words to
this effect: 'Truly does this soul have great help from Basil, a man who has pleased God.
If it had not been for his prayers, she would have suffered a great deal in those stations
of the air.' I took courage and said to them: 'It seems, holy angels, that none of the
earth dwellers knows what happens here and what the soul can expect after death.' 'But the
angels replied: 'Does not the Divine Scripture testify concerning all of this? It is read
in churches and preached by priests. Only those people who are passionately devoted to the
vanities of earth take no heed of what they are told, and since they consider daily
gluttony and drunkenness to be the greatest pleasure, they eat beyond measure and drink
without thinking of the fear of God. Their belly is their God. They have no thought of
future life and do not remember what is said in the Scripture: "Woe unto you that are
full! for ye shall hunger" (Luke 6. 25).
"'Still, even the gluttonous can be saved. Those of them that are merciful and
kindhearted to needy and beggars and help those who ask for helpsuch men can easily
obtain from God forgiveness of their sins, and because of their kindheartedness toward
their neighbors, pass the stations of torment without stopping. It is said in the
Scripture: alms save from death and cleanse every kind of sin; those who give alms and do
justice will be filled with life (Tob. 12. 9). But he who does not strive to cleanse his
sins by good deeds cannot escape the dark tormentors who lead the sinners down to hell and
hold them bound until the terrible judgment at Christ's Second Coming. You too would not
have escaped here your evil lot, were it not that you have received the treasure of holy
Fifth Torment. "During this conversation we reached the station of sloth,
where sinners are accused of all those days and hours which they spent in idleness. Here
too are detained those who did not work themselves but lived by the labor of others; and
those who were hired to work, took their wages, but did not fulfill the duties which they
had taken upon themselves. And also are stopped here those who do not care to praise God
and are too lazy to go to church on holidays and Sundays, either in the morning or to the
Divine Liturgy, or to other church services. And here too people are accused of
despondency and general carelessness about things that have to do with the salvation of
their souls; and this happens to both laymen and those who are ordained. Many are thence
led into the abyss. 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.
Sixth Torment. "Thence we came to the torment of stealing, and although we
were briefly stopped there, we went on after we had given a small ransom only: for no
stealing was found on my record, except some very unimportant occurrences in my childhood,
and those stemmed from lack of reason.
Seventh Torment. "We passed without stopping through the station of avarice
and love of money. By God's grace I never loved riches. I was content with what God gave
me and never was avaricious; on the contrary, I diligently gave to the needy that which I
Eighth Torment. "When we rose still higher, we came to the station of usury,
where those are accused who lend money for illegal interest; and here too are stopped
those who gain riches by exploiting their neighbors; and those who take bribes, or by some
other way stealing indirectly, acquire what really belongs to others. The tormentors, when
they did not find me guilty of such sins, gnashed their teeth with annoyance, but we went
on, praising God in the meanwhile.
Ninth Torment. "Now there lay before us the torment of injustice. Here are
punished the unjust judges who acquit the guilty and condemn the innocent, all for the
sake of gain; and also those who do not give the appointed wages to those whom they have
hired, and the merchants who use false weights and measures; and all the others who are in
some way or other unjust. We, however, by God's grace, passed this station without
incurring any grief after we had given only a little bit for my sins in this regard.
Tenth Torment. "As for the torment of envy, we passed it without giving
anything at all in payment, for I never had been envious. Here also people have to face
the accusations of lack of love, hatred toward their brethren, unfriendliness, and other
manifestations of hatred. Through the mercy of Christ our God, I was found innocent of all
these sins; and although I saw the savagery of the demons, I no longer was afraid of them.
Joyfully we went on.
Eleventh Torment. "We passed then the station of pride, where arrogant spirits
make accusations of vanity, absolute reliance on oneself rather than on God, disdain of
others, and bragging; and here too the souls are tormented for their failure to give
proper honor to their parents, their government, or their other superiors appointed by
God, and for failure to obey them. Here we put down very little for my sins, and I was
Twelfth Torment. "As we continued rising toward heaven, we encountered the
torment of anger and ruthlessness. Happy is the man who never in his life felt anger. The
eldest of the evil spirits was sitting here on a throne, and he was full of anger,
ruthlessness, and pride. Ruthlessly and angrily he ordered his servants to torment and
accuse me. They licked their chaps like dogs and began to point out not only all those
occasions when I actually said something angry or unfeeling to anyone, or harmed anyone by
my words, but even those instances when I merely looked angrily at my children or punished
them severely. All these cases they represented vividly and even indicated the time when
everything happened, the persons on whom I poured out my anger, the very words which I
then used, and in whose presence I used them. The angels replied to all this by offering
part of the treasure, and we went on.
Thirteenth Torment. "After this the torment of bearing grudges lay before us.
Here merciless accusations await those who nurture in their hearts evil thoughts against
their neighbors and return evil for evil. God's mercy saved me here too, for I did not
tend to have such wicked designs and did not use to keep in mind offences of others toward
me; on the contrary, whenever I could I displayed love and meekness toward those who
offended me, and thus overcame their evil by my goodness. Here we paid nothing. Joyful in
the Lord, we went on.
"Here I dared to ask my angel leaders: 'Tell me how can these terrible rulers of
the air know in such detail all the evil deeds of men, and not only the open ones but even
those that are secret?' The angels replied: 'Every Christian, as soon as he is baptized,
receives from God an appointed guardian angel who guards him invisibly and inspires him
night and day to every kind of good deed; he also records all his good deeds, for which
that man later can hope to receive from the Lord grace and eternal recompense in the
Heavenly Kingdom. The prince of darkness, who desires to draw into his own destruction the
whole race of men as well, also appoints one of his evil spirits to walk in the man's
steps and record all his evil deeds. It is his duty to inspire man to such deeds by any
vile trickery in his power; and when he succeeds in his designs, he records all the
wickedness of which the man has made himself guilty. Such an evil spirit spreads the
report of every man's sins to all the stations of torment, and this is how the sins become
known to the princes of the air. When the soul parts from its body and desires to go to
its Creator in heaven, the evil spirits prevent the soul and show to it its sins. If the
soul has done more good deeds than evil, they cannot keep it; but if the sins outweigh the
good deeds, they keep the soul for some time, shut it up in the prison where it cannot
know God, and torment it as much as God's power allows them, until that soul, by means of
prayers of the Church and good deeds done for its sake by those who are still on earth,
should be granted forgiveness.
"Those who believe in the Holy Trinity and take as frequently as possible the Holy
Communion of the Holy Mysteries of Christ our Saviour's Body and Bloodsuch people
can rise to heaven directly, with no hindrances, and the holy angels defend them, and the
holy saints of God pray for their salvation, since they have lived righteously. No one,
however, takes care of the wicked and depraved heretics, who do nothing useful during
their lives, and live in disbelief and heresy. The angels can say nothing in their
"When a soul proves to be so sinful and impure before God that it has no hope of
salvation, the evil spirits immediately bring it down into the abyss, where their own
place of eternal torment is also. There the lost souls are kept until the time of the
Lord's Second Coming. Then they will unite with their bodies and will incur torment in the
fiery hell together with the devils. 'Note also,' said the angels, 'that this is the way
by which only those who are enlightened by the faith and by holy baptism can rise and be
tested in the stations of torment. The unbelievers do not come here. Their souls belong to
hell even before they part from their bodies. When they die the devils take their souls
with no need to test them. Such souls are their proper prey, and they take them down to
Fourteenth Torment. "During our conversation we reached the torment of murder,
where are accused not only men such as robbers, but even those who have in some way
wounded another man, or given him a blow, or pushed him angrily, or shoved him. We gave a
little and went on.
Fifteenth Torment. "We passed the torment of magic, sorcery, poisoning, and
incantations. The spirits of this station resemble serpents, snakes, and toads. They are
frightening and repulsive. By the grace of God they found nothing of the kind in me, and
we went on, accompanied by the shouts of the demons: 'Soon you will come to the torment of
fornication; let us see how you will free yourself from it!'
"As we were rising, I dared to question the holy angels once more: 'Do all
Christians pass these torments? Is there no possibility to pass by the torments and not be
tested in any of the stations?' The angels replied: 'There is no other way for the souls
that rise toward heaven. Every one goes this way, but not everyone is tormented like you;
only sinners like you incur the torments, for they have not confessed their sins fully,
and moved by a false sense of shame, have kept their really shameful deeds secret from
their spiritual fathers. When a man wholeheartedly confesses his evil deeds and repents
and regrets them, his sins are invisibly wiped out by God's mercy. When a repentant soul
comes here, the tormentors of the air open their books but find nothing written there; the
soul, however, joyfully ascends to the throne of God.
"'The evil spirits open their records but find nothing written there, for the Holy
Spirit has made invisible all the writing. The spirits see this and know that what they
have recorded has all been obliterated because of the soul's confession, and they are very
much saddened by this. If the man is still alive when his confession has wiped out his
sins, the spirits once again try to have an occasion to record some new sins of his.
"'Indeed, there is a great source of salvation for man in his confession!
Confession saves him from many misfortunes and much unhappiness and gives him the
opportunity to pass all the torments with no hindrance and to approach God. Some people do
not confess their sins because they hope to have time for salvation and for a remittance
of their sins; others are simply ashamed of telling their spiritual father about their
sins. They will, however, be severely tested when they pass the stations of torment. There
are still other people, who are ashamed of telling everything to one spiritual father.
Therefore they choose several and reveal some of their sins to one and others to another,
and so on; they will be punished for this kind of confession and will suffer a great deal
as they pass from one torment into another.
"'If you too had made a complete confession of your sins and had been granted
remission of them, and had then done all you could to make up for them by good
deedsif you had done all this, you would not have been subjected to such terrible
torments in the stations. You were, however, greatly helped by the fact that you have long
ago ceased to commit deadly sins and have spent the rest of your life in virtue; and
especially have you been helped by the prayers of God's holy man Basil, whom you have
served much and diligently.'
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 herebut 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
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
"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 oneof 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
"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
"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
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
"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 themhe 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
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. (Lives of the Saints for March 26th).
From Eternal Mysteries Beyond the
Grave, compiled by Archimandrite Panteleimon (Jordanville: Holy Trinity
Monastery, 1996 ), pp. 69-87.