The Harrowing of Hades or (The Victory of the Resurrection)


“And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty.” -St. Paul the Apostle

Fr. Stephen remarked in his sermon this morning at St. Anne’s Orthodox Church about Christ is a God that is not polite. He spoke of our shame and our guilt, and how as humans we are polite and we don’t go into other people’s shame, but leave it alone. I don’t want to get into the depths of his sermon too much, but I want to get to the depth a fragment of it.

Fr. Stephen at one point was speaking of how God comes to us in our shame and seeks to heal us of it and to restore us for He is merciful and loves mankind. He remarked, “What do you think we mean when we say Christ descended into Hades?” He pointed to the icon of the Resurrection on the wall of the parish. He said, “That is my hand is pulling up out of Hades! It is my Hades that Christ came to.”

This was said with a joyous tear from Fr. Stephen, which also brought a tear to my eye and struck me profoundly! I have never thought of Christ’s descendant into Hades as a descendant into my own personal Hades, my own personal Hell!

The chains of Hades have been broken! The overwhelming darkness has had the Light of the Divine shone into it! My soul was doomed to this death! But Christ, with His Eternal Light, descended to Hades and broke down the doors that held us all there! With His death He trampled down death and has won the victory!

One blogger wrote about the Harrowing of Hades, “‘Harrow’ comes from the Old English word used to describe the ploughing of a field with a cultivator which is dragged roughly over the ground, churning it up. In the icon, Christ is shown with the instrument of His death plunged deep into Hades. Beneath Christ’s feet – which still carry the marks of His crucifixion – lay the gates of Hades, smashed wide open. Often they are shown laying in the shape of the Cross.”

Hades has yet to be destroyed, but it’s power to hold me, to hold you, to hold us is gone. Christ harrowed Hades to save the souls of sinners like you, to forgive us our sin, to free us captives from our chains, and to heal us of our disease! The darkness no longer blinds us! The chains no longer entangle us! Death no longer claims us! And sin no longer reigns over us!

This is why in the Paschal hymn we proclaim, “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life!”

It is in His death that we find life! In His coming to my Hades, He has offered me His nailed scarred hand to lift me from the pit of death and to bestow upon me the Crown of Life!

He is a good God! A merciful God! A loving God! A gracious God! He loves mankind and seeks all to come to repentance and to find their way out of Hades into the blessedness of everlasting Light! As light defeats dark as it enters, so the Source of Light defeated death and sin to restore us. It is the beauty of the Resurrection that makes me a Christian. It is my hope! It is my life! I have experienced Resurrection, am experiencing Resurrection, and shall experience the final Resurrection!

I am free from the underworld of chaos found in Hades. I am thankful for Christ’s descent into the chaotic and for His death trampling down my death thus bestowing life upon me! This is not figurative for me, but reality! This is life! This is peace! This is Resurrection!

Thou didst descend into the tomb, O Immortal,
Thou didst destroy the power of death!
In victory didst Thou arise, O Christ God,
…bestowing resurrection to the fallen.
-Paschal Kontakion


About Joel

Joel is a 32 year old currently residing in the southeastern United States. His interests lay in philosophy and theology. He is a writer for The Christian Watershed.

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