As Iron Sharpens Iron

An ongoing and online discussion between: an Orthodox informed Ecumaniac without a denominational home, an ordained Baptist youth pastor with an open mind, a Calvinist worship leader/seminarian with a staggering vocabulary and ability to make a point, and a cradle Catholic with a love/hate relationship to Rome.

Monday, April 09, 2007

The Harrowing of Hell

The typical Eastern Orthodox icon of the Resurrection of Jesus shows Jesus standing on the broken and flattened gates of Hell (also called the Doors of Death, which have fallen to form the pattern of a cross), holding the hands of Adam and Eve and pulling them up out of Hell, and surrounded by various righteous figures from the Old Testament (Abraham, David, etc.); the bottom of the icon shows Hell as a place of darkness and death, often with various bones strewn about, and one figure still tied up in chains who is generally identified as Death or the Devil.

John Chrysostom's homily also addresses the Harrowing of Hell, and is typically read as the chief homily at Pascha, the Eastern Orthodox celebration of Easter. In the Orthodox liturgical practice, the chief "liturgical color" goes from purple on Good Friday to white on Holy Saturday in celebration of the harrowing of Hell then taking place, and in anticipation of Christ's imminent resurrection.

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2 Comments:

Blogger Gordon said...

It is good to see this essential teaching of The Church being preserved and posted for all to see.

When one jumps from Good Friday to Pascha without considering the impact of the work of Christ on Holy Saturday, then an understanding of The Law and Grace is next to impossible to comprehend.

For the "work" of Christ in harrowing hell was not a rational result of the repose of a man.

The mystery of the harrowing of hell can only be understood in the context of the statement of the divine Christ Jesus, "...Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill..." Matthew 5:17 (NKJV)

Under the law, everyone was to rest on The Sabbath.

But the law lead to death, and grace gives life.

So the perfect Sabbath would be a continual resting in God, not just for one day of the week, but for every moment.

That is why the law brought death, for to claim perfection through the law was to deny the grace of God, who provided the law not as a contractual obligation but as an "allowance" for the distortion of our sinful nature.

Thus, only Christ could apprehend a perfect Sabbath rest, thus fulfilling the law.

In so doing, The Lord of The Sabbath revealed his new Sabbath:

By establishing the first day of the week as His Sabbath through His resurrection, Christ revealed a sabbath of Grace.

For previously we labored for six days and rested on the seventh.

In the new order of Grace, we rest in the accomplishment of the perfect rest of Christ--validated by and through His resurrection--remembered on the first day of the week, or, more mystically, on the EIGHTH day of the week.

Thus, through Grace, resting in Christ renews our strength, inspiring and enabling us to go forth and do good works because He has rested for us; not so that we can somehow attain our own rest through obedience to the law.

2:41 PM  
Blogger The Poor Blogger said...

I wasn't raised with this stuff. Icons would have been considered borderline idolatry when I was a kid. We weren't even kosher with crucifixes. Certainly, the theology is new to me. I was raised to believe Christ paid the penalty to appease the wrath of the Father.

So, the idea that He killed death with His death, the prayers associated with it, the breaking of the gates of Hell ... it was all like an answer to an unprayed prayer. There's a reason that liberals rage and rail against Western concepts of Christ and His work. It's so askew as to be almost false. So, while I felt something was wrong, I didn't want to reject the faith.

This was the answer. It's like the religious equivalent of the "Theory of Everything." It marries justice, mercy, love, paradise, hell, sanctification, justification, glorification ... everything ... into one remarkably simple package. All we must do is love and obey and God takes care of the rest. Heck, we don't even have to understand. Just have faith, obey in love, and trust in Him. The end.

2:13 PM  

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