"When a person dies, he doesn't go straight to Paradise. The spirits that were close to him during life will meet with him after death. . . . Because of this, from the first to third day, when they are going through the tollhouses, it is a period of great trials. And the most difficult tollhouses are on the third day. . . ."
In 2009, Fr. Daniel Sysoev was murdered in his church by a Muslim fanatic. His death shook Orthodox Christians all over the world. Prior to his martyrdom, he was a towering figure in the Russian church, a talented, popular theologian, author, and evangelist. He was very active as a missionary, he engaged with Muslims in multiple public debates, and he converted dozens of them from Islam to Orthodoxy.
A while before his death, in the following television interview, he discusses a man's journey during the 40 days after death, including the tollhouses, and a tour of both heaven and hell:
Here is Sergei's question: "What events are connected with the commemorations of the dead on the third, ninth, and fortieth days? Please tell me the reason for these commemorations."
Well, we've already talked some about the tollhouses, really not that long ago. Once I was at the bedside of a dying person, and before her death there was a terrible attack of the evil spirits. She tried to defend herself, but it didn't help. Only after I read the Canon to the Guardian Angel did she calm down.
When a person dies, he doesn't go straight to Paradise. The spirits that were close to him during life will meet with him after death. For example, with whom will the alcoholic meet? Naturally, the demon of drunkeness. It makes sense. He will meet whomever he was attached to during life. With whom will people meet, if they created scandals? The demon of envy. As we say in Russia, "The illness of the conscience is fairness." So, he will meet the demon of envy. They will try to capture his soul, to whatever extent that he sinned.
Because of this, from the first to third day, when they are going through the tollhouses, it is a period of great trials. And the most difficult tollhouses are on the third day. The soul rises a little into the heavens. — St. Theodora says there are twenty tollhouses. We won't go into all of them now. — This is why the funeral is usually on the third day, with earnest prayers.
If any of your relatives have died, you should read the Psalter for them and have them commemorated at liturgies, in order to give them some spiritual support on their way.
If everything is alright, if that person didn't succumb to the Devil, if it turns out that he chose good over evil, then his Guardian Angel will take him to Paradise. And in the following days, until the ninth day, he will be shown the heavenly habitations. He will be shown what reward is given for every virtue.
But why is this? Well, sometimes it seems that good deeds aren't worth anything. What's the point? And the Lord says, "Look, this is the reason." "If you were chaste, you will live here." "If you were merciful, you will live here." "If you were humble, you will live here." "If you were loving, you will live here."
Do you understand? Every virtue comes to fruition in heaven. And they are shown all this until the ninth day. Then, on the ninth day, according to God's will, that person is shown Hell until the 40th day.
Because on Earth people are really attracted to evil, and it is necessary for God to show us what evil really is. Some might say, "Yes, I know God forbids this evil, but it's so enjoyable! It feels so good!"
And God says, "Alright, you think it's enjoyable? Come look! You wanted to cheat on your wife? Here are those who were unfaithful. Perhaps you wanted to spend time frivolously, maybe going for a walk on Sunday morning? Here are the people who did this!"
In one vision, people skipped liturgies in order to enjoy themselves, or worked on Sundays, and the demons turned them over the fire as if on a spit.
Then finally on the 40th day that person comes to bow before God, freed from all his attraction to sin, and God gives him a place in Paradise, where he will stay until the Day of Judgement.
As far as sinners go, of course it is not the same. If he lived his life in sins, especially if he was baptized, and did not repent, then he will immediately descend into hell, and he will stay there until the end of time. After that, he will be thrown into the lake of fire.
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