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Old 04-14-2014, 02:53 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Christís Descent into Hell


Long before the medieval theories of soteriology, Christian art and hymnography described our Lord's descent into hell as a sort of "surprise attack" on the realm of death. According to this imagery, the soul of Christ descended into the netherworld, even as His body was placed in the tomb. Neither place, however, was able to hold Him.

According to the prophet David, Christ was victorious over death both in the grave and in hell: "For You will not leave my soul in hell, / Nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption" (Psalm 16 [15]:10).

The Apostle Peter commented on this text: "His soul was not left in Hades, nor did His flesh see corruption. This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses" (Acts 2:31-32).

There was no way for the realm of death to prepare for the dramatic appearance of Jesus, whom it was unable to hold. Death had swallowed what it could not digest. St. John Chrysostom said it best: "The Savior's death has set us free. _ He that was held prisoner of it has annihilated it. By descending into Hell, He made Hell captive. He embittered it when it tasted of His flesh . . . It took a body, and met God face to face. It took earth, and encountered Heaven."

A special foreshadowing of that event in the nether world, surely, was the Ark of the Covenant, when the apparently victorious Philistines rashly seized it. They first took the Ark, we recall, to the temple of their own god, Dagon, as a trophy of combat. The trouble began right away: After the first night, Dagon was found lying prone before the Ark; after the second night, he was reduced to a stump (1 Samuel 5:3-4).

The Lord of the Ark, having disposed of the Philistine god, then turned to deal with the Philistines, wreaking havoc in three cities of their pentapolis (5:8-12). The reader is reminded of the plagues visited on Egypt ó both animal pests (Exodus 7:26-8:27; 10:1-15) and bodily affliction (Exodus 9:8-12), including death (Exodus 12:29-36).

As the Ark was moved from city to city, Philistine panic intensified. Its mere arrival at Ekron was sufficient to cause consternation, prior to any actual damage! In these descriptions, the biblical author is enjoying himself immensely. It is important to read this story as undiluted comedy.

Historians have variously identified the Philistine pestilence, the most severe suggestion being bubonic plague. Although that interpretation would account for the rodents and the physical symptoms (buboes or glandular swellings), we should not permit a preoccupation with diagnosis to obscure the author's literary and rhetorical intention ó to portray the affliction in terms of extreme discomfort and even embarrassment. The King James Version, sensing this intention, identified the swellings as hemorrhoids. That is to say, the emphasis in this account is on anal distress. Our earliest commentator on the story, Josephus (Antiquities 6.1.3), believed that death came from "dysentery." (I forego his description!)

The theological message of this account rests on the biblical theme of victory arising out of defeat. The Philistines had barely time to celebrate their supposed triumph when they began to suspect their mistake: They had swallowed what they could not digest. The tables were turned. Instead of the Ark borne as the spoils in a victory parade, its transport became the Lord's own victory march. The Philistines began to know how ancient Pharaoh felt, when the full force of the ten plagues made him eager for Israel to leave Egypt.

The comedic intent of this narrative should be carried over, I believe, to the later event it foreshadowed: the Lord's descent into hell. Certain elements in modern theology tend to portray as tragedy the creedal line that affirms, "He descended into hell." Some contemporary authors interpret that line in the darkest terms, as though Jesus, in descending into hell, experienced the essence of damnation: Radical abandonment by the Father.

Modern speculation on the psychological experience of Jesus, however, should not cause us to forget that the Church has traditionally regarded the descent into hell in terms, not of tragedy, but of comedy ó even ridicule. Hell, said Chrysostom, "was embittered, for it was mocked."

OrthodoxyToday.org | Christ’s Descent into Hell
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Old 04-14-2014, 02:57 PM   #2 (permalink)
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I like how in Orthodox Christian iconography they picture our Lord first releasing Adam and Eve from 'hell'.

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Old 04-14-2014, 03:32 PM   #3 (permalink)
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Christ’s Descent into Hades – icon explanation


Christ’s cape/robe is flowing upward, this symbolizes his radical descent into Hades to save all who have died.
The golden bars by his feet are the gates of Hades, which he has broken and torn apart. There are keys floating in the abyss below, which symbolizes that he has entered and conquered both death and Hades.
You may also note the skeletal figure who is chained up: that is Death. He has been bound and killed by Christ (all throughout Pascha we sing “Christ has trampled down death by death”).
The two figures whom Christ has grasped and is pulling on are Adam and Eve, symbolizing that his victory redeems all mankind, even back to the beginning. This resurrection scene is taking place in the past, present, and future.
To his left, we see three characters: David and Solomon, two of his ancestors according to his fleshly nature. We also see, closest to him John the Baptizer, who was his forerunner in both life and death.
On the right, we have the apostles who are alive. The purpose is to show that Christ’s redemption transcends time and space. You could very well picture yourself on the right side, coming to Christ as he is breaking down the gates of Hades and setting the captives free. As I alluded to above, Christ ignores the constraints of time and space. This is an act that happened in the past, is happening right now, and will happen in the future. Christ is always in the state of redeeming and setting us free.
The blue shape around Christ is called the Mandorla (which is Italian for almond, which describes its shape). The Mandorla is the uncreated, eternal light of Christ. In the writings of the Eastern Orthodox mystics, God is often prayerfully experienced as light. This is not simply a pretty bright light. It is the same light which filled the apostles with wonder when they witnessed His Transfiguration. It is the light which Christ Himself described as the power of the Kingdom of God (Mark 9:1 Matt 16:28 Luke 9:27). It is the light that filled the once perpetual darkness of Hades when Christ descended and brought life into the realm of death. It is also the light that is seen when one purifies their heart and mind (Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.)
The Mandorla progressively becomes darker as it moves toward Christ. If God is represented by light, the Mandorla may seem confusing. However, those who seek God will find that the more they know Him, the less they comprehend Him. To know God, to experience Him, is to walk in the darkness of His light, to enter into the mystery of His presence.

One of the key things to remember is that icons are not meant to be “photo recordings” of what happened. These are symbolic tools that help us to better grasp through our sense of sight and our imagination the gospel message.


Christ’s Descent into Hades – icon explanation | Orthodox Road
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