“He descended into Hell” Resurrecting Holy Saturday, Easters Missing Link


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A Theology of Holy Saturday

Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead! Arise, my seed! So, in this ancient sermon, one finds that the author uses the images of Adam and Eve to represent fallen humanity. It was the mission of the Apostles through the power of the Holy Spirit to proclaim the Gospel, or good news, to those on earth Mt The Church could not make this proclamation to the dead.

Only Christ could do so. Likewise, it was only Christ who could preach the good news to those who had died prior to the crucifixion. So What? This is all nice, but what does it mean for our daily lives? Imagine, for a second, what the disciples of Christ must have been thinking on that first Holy Saturday. They had heard Jesus preach, and they believed his promises. But now he who raised the dead was dead himself.


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All of their plans were shattered. How they must have despaired! What about us? Have we ever felt as if God was sleeping on the job? We see that God always has a plan for our lives, no matter how grim the situation may appear. So Christ is actually teaching us something from the tomb.

We see that, in the tomb, darkness surrounds Christ who is the Light of the World. If darkness surrounded the Light of the World, how much greater must the darkness have been for the Apostles and followers of Christ? It was a darkness that led them to hide and lock the doors. Sometimes, we, too, feel like we are surrounded by darkness. What Christ is teaching us from the tomb is that the only way to come into the light is to fight through the darkness of our own crosses and sufferings.

The Feast of the Annunciation

If darkness surrounded the mortal body of Christ, so, too, darkness will try to envelop his mystical body, his bride, the Church. But the message of Holy Saturday is not one of despair, but one of hope. The message is one of hope because unlike the first disciples of Christ, we know the end of the story. We know that Christ has already won the battle with sin and death. Satan has lost, but he wants to discourage us so that we lose faith, lose hope, and lose love.

So when the darkness of the world surrounds us, and when temptation to despair, and cynicism, close in on us, we must remember that even though evil has its hour, the resurrection is close at hand. What about those questions the disciples must have had in the upper room? We all face those same doubts and fears in varying degrees at different times in our lives.

Holy Saturday gives us a unique opportunity, once a year, to ask what our lives would be like without Christ. Perhaps, we may even question whether Christ is dead in our lives, and how that ever happened. Robert P. Miller is an assistant professor of religious studies at Mount St. Mary College in Newburgh, NY. He holds a Ph. In addition to teaching a variety of courses in scripture, Dr. Miller also teaches theology and film, the writings of C. Why sing that long text a second time? Thanks to a squat little volume containing the Holy Week services presented me by my Greek Godmother for Pascha, I could set myself to scrutinizing the long text as the Greeks sang it again that Saturday evening.

One or more canons comprise a major portion of Orthodox Matins, and canons may also be integrated into other offices. In practice, however, as a convert soon learns, only eight odes are utilized, the second, deemed too long, being normally left out. Once seasoned to Orthodox ways, the convert blithely passes from Ode One to Ode Three without the slightest blink!

Be that as it may, each of the nine odes is inspired by a particular biblical canticle or prayer dealing with a revelation of God as Saviour of His people in Jewish history. The first eight odes are based on Old Testament examples, the ninth on the two canticles found in the first chapter of St. John the Baptist Lk The First Ode draws its inspiration from the canticle of Moses celebrating his triumph in leading the Hebrews through the Red Sea Ex , as does also the Second usually omitted Ode, based on a much longer text of Moses Deut Their final prayer before that ordeal inspires the Seventh Ode Dan , their canticle of praises actually sung in the furnace Dan , the Eighth.

Though some subtle reference to the original biblical text is frequently discernible in the first troparia of each ode, as a whole a canon composed for a feast completely takes on the identity of the feast. Of course, on my first Holy Saturday evening as an Orthodox Christian I knew nothing at all either about canons, their derivation, or their significance in Orthodox worship. Be that as it may, the deep, underlying pascal joy announced in the texts I was scrutinizing was overwhelmingly evident as I attentively followed along. The Ninth Ode actually proclaims the ultimate, definitive victory of Christ over Death.

Yet the harrowing of Hades, I must confess, was as alien to my own consciousness as it was obviously inextricably entrenched in the whole of Orthodox consciousness. But how much more then must that logic be painfully challenged by the mystery of the harrowing of hell! Peter I Pet ; It must therefore, I realized, have been a basic tenant of Christianity since apostolic times. Orthodoxy, on the other hand, uncompromisingly maintains the importance of this mystery of the holy Christian faith, taught by St. Peter himself. Even in its Resurrection icon Orthodoxy insists upon this mystery as the fundamental one of Easter.

In that holy image one sees the Lord standing on the broken doors of the kingdom of the dead, stretching forth his nail-pierced hands to draw Adam and Eve and all their descendants out of realm of Death and into His kingdom of the Resurrection. Nothing, however, is more enlightening on this subject than the texts making up that canon I had discovered common both to Good Friday and Holy Saturday evenings. These texts demonstrate not only what Orthodox Pascha is all about, but, what is more important, how this basic dimension of the apostolic faith remains pristine and intact in Orthodoxy today.

Untouched either by the Reformation or the Counter Reformation, these texts graphically illustrate just what the mystery of the harrowing of hell represents to the Orthodox Christian psyche. The dead Christ is, after all, none other than the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, the Word of God, who once caused the old tyrant, Pharaoh, to disappear in the waves of the Red Sea. Yet He has now, quite incongruously, been buried by the descendants of those He saved that day.

It is not for man to judge this divine irony, however, but to praise Him as being glorified in glory, just as did the Hebrew maidens who praised Him for saving them from Pharaoh and the Red Sea. Has He not, by His death, caused us to enter into Life? Has His death not caused both Death and Hades to die? This thought continues into the third troparion where we are reminded that the paradoxical nature of simultaneously singing dirges and paeans of praise is experienced not just by us men, but also by the angelic hosts.

Unlike us men, these incorporeal beings, situated both above and below the earth, can behold Him simultaneously seated on His throne on high, and lying in the grave. They tremble at seeing that He, the very Element of Life, is truly dead in a way that transcends human minds. In the fourth troparion we recall that He descended, in all the splendour of His Godhead, to fill all Hades with His glory.

Recalling the creation of the first man, we confess that our future existence, totally invisible and only latent in Adam, was nonetheless not at all hidden from the all-knowing gaze of the second Adam, whose burial we now hymn. Ode Three The Third Ode starts with the paradox of the Creator of the world, He who had once suspended the earth in the midst of the waves, now being suspended on Golgatha from the tree of the cross. But it is only now, with His descent into Hades, that the hidden secrets of God have been fully revealed to those imprisoned there since the death of Adam.

Now, by submitting to the bonds of being restrained in a linen shroud, He also loosens the death-bonds of those captive in Hades. He, the uncontainable God, has been contained both by a grave and by seals. Ode Four The Fourth Ode emphasizes the kenosis of God in Jesus Christ, that is His self-willed emptying out of the glory of His Godhead in order to become accessible to mortal, fallen man and thereby harrow hell. The first troparion notes that the prophet Habbakuk had foreseen this divine condescension of God through which he would offer up His only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ, incarnation of the Second Person of the Holy Trinity.

3 Reasons Why Christ’s Descent into Hell Is Good News

The prophet also foresaw how the unassailable and ancient prestige of Death and Hades would be shattered when the immolated, crucified Word appeared there, transforming all by His presence. The second troparion reminds us of the holiness of the Sabbath whereon God rested after creating the world, and states that by resting in the tomb He is now once again keeping the Sabbath, His great work of re-creation accomplished.


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Through His Passion and Death, the Lord of glory Himself has not only brought forth everything, but has renewed and restored it to its first, unfallen state. The third troparion probes the theology of the suffering and death of incarnate God. This is further pursued in the fourth troparion. Hades was truly vexed in beholding the Almighty One appear in its depths as a defied Man, marked with wounds. At such a terrible and paradoxical sight, almighty Hades itself at last cried out in fear. Ode Five The Fifth Ode, inspired by the prayer of Isaiah Is , invokes the resurrection of all those in the tombs, saying that Isaiah made this prophecy because he had foreseen the light of the divine condescension of Christ coming in pity to visit mankind.

Thus was he enabled to proclaim that all in the tombs would arise and that all on the earth would rejoice. The second troparion states that all earthly being was renewed by its Creator when He Himself became an earthly being. The linen and grave both point to this hidden plan of the divine condescension, a plan fulfilled by Joseph of Arimathea who came to shroud the immolated body of incarnate God by which we have all been renewed. The third troparion describes how our mortality itself was transformed from death and corruption through the burial of Christ.

Through His divine power, the human nature He took upon Himself was rendered immortal, His flesh was made incorruptible, and His soul, in a strange manner, was not left to abide in Hades. Finally, the fourth troparion recalls that the Word was born from a Virgin who knew no labour in giving birth.

Moreover, through the supernatural sleep into which the New Adam has fallen, the Almighty has renewed both nature and life from the corruption into which it had fallen. Ode Six The Sixth Ode, based on the prayer of Jonah Jon , draws a parallel between the belly of the whale and the tomb of Christ, recalling that Jonah too was buried and came forth from his tomb.

Though the bodily temple was dissolved at the time of the Passion, His humanity and divinity were still intact in the one Person He is: both God and Man, the only-begotten Son and Word of God. The third troparion recalls that the fall of Adam did not result in the death of God, but rather in the death of man. Whence it is that although the earthly substance of Christ suffered in His passion, His divinity did not suffer.

Thereby was the corrupt transformed into incorruptibility: by His Resurrection He has uncovered the incorrupt fountain of Life. The fourth troparion recalls that though Hades long ruled the race of men, it was not destined to be forever. For when placed in the grave He, the Almighty One, the very Element of Life, demolished the locks of death with the palm of His hand, proclaiming a true salvation to all those who had been sitting in darkness throughout the ages.

2. It underscores the reality of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Thereby He indeed became the first-born of the dead. Ode Seven The Seventh Ode begins with a marvelling exclamation, for it is indeed an ineffable wonder that He who delivered the holy children from the fiery furnace in Babylon has now, as a lifeless body, Himself been placed in the grave for our deliverance and salvation.

Blessed art thou! The third troparion states that the tomb, in receiving within itself the Creator, the Treasure of life, is happy and has become divine. For the Godhead of Christ remained ever one, and was without separation, whether in Hades, in the tomb, or in Eden. Ode Eight The Eighth Ode opens with yet another paradox.

He who dwells in the highest heaven has been counted among the dead and been a guest in an humble tomb. The text calls upon the earth to quake and upon the heavens to be amazed. And all ye youths bless Him! Let people now exalt Him unto all ages! But, in rising, He raised up with Him the fallen tabernacle, Adam. Indeed, this second Adam who dwelt in the highest heaven had been obliged to descend to the depths of Hades to save the first Adam.

Let nations now exalt Him, unto the ages of ages! And all ye priests praise Him!

3 Reasons Why Christ’s Descent into Hell Is Good News - Anglican Pastor

Let nations now exalt him unto all ages! For He who dwells in the highest heaven has been sealed up under the earth by His own will. On the Third Day He Rose from the Dead "We bring you the good news that what God promised to the fathers, this day he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus. Dying, he conquered death; To the dead, he has given life. In about A. Paul could already write to the Corinthians: "I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve Acts ] The empty tomb "Why do you seek the living among the dead?

He is not here, but has risen. In itself it is not a direct proof of Resurrection; the absence of Christ's body from the tomb could be explained otherwise. Jn ; Mt ] Nonetheless the empty tomb was still an essential sign for all. Its discovery by the disciples was the first step toward recognizing the very fact of the Resurrection. This was the case, first with the holy women, and then with Peter.

Lk , 12, ] The disciple "whom Jesus loved" affirmed that when he entered the empty tomb and discovered "the linen cloths lying there", "he saw and believed". Jn ; ] [ ] The appearances of the Risen One Mary Magdalene and the holy women who came to finish anointing the body of Jesus, which had been buried in haste because the Sabbath began on the evening of Good Friday, were the first to encounter the Risen One. Peter had been called to strengthen the faith of his brothers, [Cf 1 Cor ; Lk ] and so sees the Risen One before them; it is on the basis of his testimony that the community exclaims: "The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!

As witnesses of the Risen One, they remain the foundation stones of his Church. The faith of the first community of believers is based on the witness of concrete men known to the Christians and for the most part still living among them. Peter and the Twelve are the primary "witnesses to his Resurrection", but they are not the only ones - Paul speaks clearly of more than five hundred persons to whom Jesus appeared on a single occasion and also of James and of all the apostles.

Acts ] [ , , ] Given all these testimonies, Christ's Resurrection cannot be interpreted as something outside the physical order, and it is impossible not to acknowledge it as an historical fact. It is clear from the facts that the disciples' faith was drastically put to the test by their master's Passion and death on the cross, which he had foretold.

The Passion - Part 2

Lk ] The shock provoked by the Passion was so great that at least some of the disciples did not at once believe in the news of the Resurrection. Far from showing us a community seized by a mystical exaltation, the Gospels present us with disciples demoralized "looking sad" [Lk ; cf. Jn ] and frightened. For they had not believed the holy women returning from the tomb and had regarded their words as an "idle tale".

Mk , 13] When Jesus reveals himself to the Eleven on Easter evening, "he upbraided them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen. Matthew relates that during the risen Lord's last appearance in Galilee "some doubted. On the contrary their faith in the Resurrection was born, under the action of divine grace, from their direct experience of the reality of the risen Jesus. The condition of Christ's risen humanity By means of touch and the sharing of a meal, the risen Jesus establishes direct contact with his disciples.

He invites them in this way to recognize that he is not a ghost and above all to verify that the risen body in which he appears to them is the same body that had been tortured and crucified, for it still bears the traces of his Passion. Lk ,, ; Jn , 27; ,] Yet at the same time this authentic, real body possesses the new properties of a glorious body: not limited by space and time but able to be present how and when he wills; for Christ's humanity can no longer be confined to earth, and belongs henceforth only to the Father's divine realm. Mt , ; Lk , 36; Jn , 17, 19, 26; ] For this reason too the risen Jesus enjoys the sovereign freedom of appearing as he wishes: in the guise of a gardener or in other forms familiar to his disciples, precisely to awaken their faith.

Mk ; Jn ; , 7] [ ] Christ's Resurrection was not a return to earthly life, as was the case with the raisings from the dead that he had performed before Easter: Jairus' daughter, the young man of Naim, Lazarus. These actions were miraculous events, but the persons miraculously raised returned by Jesus' power to ordinary earthly life.

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At some particular moment they would die again. Christ's Resurrection is essentially different. In his risen body he passes from the state of death to another life beyond time and space. At Jesus' Resurrection his body is filled with the power of the Holy Spirit: he shares the divine life in his glorious state, so that St. Paul can say that Christ is "the man of heaven".

No one can say how it came about physically. Still less was its innermost essence, his passing over to another life, perceptible to the senses. Although the Resurrection was an historical event that could be verified by the sign of the empty tomb and by the reality of the apostles' encounters with the risen Christ, still it remains at the very heart of the mystery of faith as something that transcends and surpasses history.

This is why the risen Christ does not reveal himself to the world, but to his disciples, "to those who came up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are now his witnesses to the people. Jn ] [ ] II.

Harrowing of Hell

In it the three divine persons act together as one, and manifest their own proper characteristics. The Father's power "raised up" Christ his Son and by doing so perfectly introduced his Son's humanity, including his body, into the Trinity. Jesus is conclusively revealed as "Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his Resurrection from the dead".

Acts ] St. Paul insists on the manifestation of God's power [Cf. Rom ; 2 Cor ; Phil ; Eph ; Heb ] through the working of the Spirit who gave life to Jesus' dead humanity and called it to the glorious state of Lordship. Jesus announces that the Son of man will have to suffer much, die, and then rise. Mk ; ; ] Elsewhere he affirms explicitly: "I lay down my life, that I may take it again I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again.

“He descended into Hell” Resurrecting Holy Saturday, Easters Missing Link “He descended into Hell” Resurrecting Holy Saturday, Easters Missing Link
“He descended into Hell” Resurrecting Holy Saturday, Easters Missing Link “He descended into Hell” Resurrecting Holy Saturday, Easters Missing Link
“He descended into Hell” Resurrecting Holy Saturday, Easters Missing Link “He descended into Hell” Resurrecting Holy Saturday, Easters Missing Link
“He descended into Hell” Resurrecting Holy Saturday, Easters Missing Link “He descended into Hell” Resurrecting Holy Saturday, Easters Missing Link
“He descended into Hell” Resurrecting Holy Saturday, Easters Missing Link “He descended into Hell” Resurrecting Holy Saturday, Easters Missing Link
“He descended into Hell” Resurrecting Holy Saturday, Easters Missing Link “He descended into Hell” Resurrecting Holy Saturday, Easters Missing Link
“He descended into Hell” Resurrecting Holy Saturday, Easters Missing Link “He descended into Hell” Resurrecting Holy Saturday, Easters Missing Link
“He descended into Hell” Resurrecting Holy Saturday, Easters Missing Link “He descended into Hell” Resurrecting Holy Saturday, Easters Missing Link
“He descended into Hell” Resurrecting Holy Saturday, Easters Missing Link

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