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The Descent Into Hades

"Christ is Risen!" is the Gospel proclamation. All four Gospels are silent on the manner of Christ's Resurrection. Nowhere in Scripture is there a factual account of the event. Byzantine art is faithful to the Gospel and never presents this event, but rather it expresses what occurred before or after the Resurrection.

The Icon of The Resurrection is either the "Descent Into Hades" or the "Myrrh-bearing Women." The Icon of the Descent in Hades shows Christ as the Life-giver. In it, Christ is seen trampling the gates of Hades, taking Adam and Eve by the hands and drawing them to life. This image is a reflection of the Resurrection Matins: "You have descended into the realm of Death, O Christ, and have broken the ancient bonds which held the captives; and, like Jonah from the whale, on the third day You rose from the tomb." (Sixth Ode)

Our Lord's entrance into Hades, into the depths of the earth, trans forms it. Through death He entered the realm of Hades which in the icon is shown by the black gaping abyss. His presence in Hades showed that He took upon Himself every humility and degradation of mankind. His appear ance in Hades is not as its captive, but as its conqueror. He is shown with a radiant halo, the symbol of glory. His garments are no longer those in which He was seen on earth, but they are brilliant and they illumine the darkness of Hades. He fills the darkness with the light of His divine pre sence. He stands upon the broken gate of the kingdom of Death, thus indi cating His victory over Death by His own death and resurrection. Through His humiliation and death He raised all creation to participate in Divine Life. Bolts, broken chains, and keys are scattered about to signify the freeing of those held captive and the breaking of Death's hold over men. By Christ's descent, Hades is destroyed and its gates trampled.

Having broken the bonds of Death's power, Christ is seen raising Adam and Eve from the grave. In freeing our first parents, Christ also frees those who put their faith in His coming. This truth is seen in the presence of Kings, David and Solomon, vested in royal robes and crowns. They stand together with John the Baptist at Christ's right. Moses and the Prophets of the Old Covenant stand at His left. With them, all of humanity is raised.The gift is not like the offense. For if by the offense of the one man all died, much more did the grace of God and the gracious gift of the one man, Jesus Christ, abound for all....lf death began its reign through one man because of his offense, much more shall those who receive the overflowing grace and gift of justice live and reign through the one man, Jesus Christ.            (Rom. 5: 15-17)

The Icon makes this event present for us. Through it, our minds are lifted to the spiritual effects that Christ's Resurrection bestows upon us. We experience and know that we are freed from sin and death and have been given New Life. The Resurrection Troparion is the perfect commen tary on this.

TROPARION — Christ is Risen from the dead. By death He conquered Death, and to those in the graves, He granted life.