9. THE RESURRECTION
The drama on Golgotha hill, as presented by hymn-writers and the scripture readings of Great Friday and as summarized in the icon of the Crucifixion, also had its epilogue. " Having taken down the body from the cross, Joseph enveloped it in a clean sheet, and placed it in his own, newly-made grave which he had carved into the rock, and after pushing a great stone over its entrance, he departed ." (Matthew, 27, 59-60)
For the Scribes and the Pharisees, Jesus' star had finally set. They had destroyed the shepherd and disbanded His flock of twelve sheep: His disciples. They had also quelled their last fear, which was the possibility of resurrection of " that deceiver ", because " they had secured the tomb, by sealing it with a rock and with a garrison of soldiers ." (Matthew, 27, 66)
However, Jesus' triumph had only just begun, from exactly that point where his enemies believed it had ended. The first victorious paeans resound during the divine service for the Resurrection, with the hymn: " You descended into the furthermost depths of the earth, and demolished the centuries-old shackles that held all those in bondage, Christ, and after three days, just like another Jonah from the whale, You came forth from within the grave. " Meaning: You descended, Christ, to the deepest parts of the earth (Hades-the underworld), and smashed the eternal bonds of death that held people in bondage, and after three days, You came out of the grave resurrected, just as Jonah came out alive from the belly of the whale.
We have no Scriptural information on the Lord's sojourn in Hades. However, four characteristic verses speak very succinctly: Psalms 15, 9-10, Acts 2, 31, Peter A 3, 18-19, 4,6. The Fathers' witness is also unanimous, as is evident in their writings as well as in the decisions of the synods. For instance, the 7 th Ecumenical Synod says: " we confess that He ( Christ ) ....... Who plundered Hades and set free those who for centuries were in bonds " (Minutes of the Synod). We should add to the above the benedictions and the hymns of our Divine Worship, and also the Apocrypha texts by Nicodemus. From the latter, four excerpts will assist us in comprehending the icon of the Resurrection, which is usually titled "THE DESCENT INTO HADES".
" We (said the dead) were in Hades, together with all the other deceased throughout all time. Near the hour of midnight , everything in that place of darkness lit up like a sun rising, shedding light on all of us, so that we were able to see each other. Straight away, our father Abraham along with the other patriarchs and prophets, equally overjoyed, were saying amongst themselves: This radiance has come from a major source of light...... .."
" Then someone else came into their midst, another ascetic from the desert, and the patriarchs said to him: 'Who are you?' He replied 'I am John, the last of the prophets, who straightened the paths for the Son of God, and preached repentance to the world, and the forgiveness of sins ...."
" While Hades was discoursing with Satan, the King of Glory extended His right arm, took hold of the forefather Adam and lifted him up. Then, turning towards the others, He said: 'Come with me, all of you that underwent death on account of the wood ( tree ) that this man ( Adam ) touched; behold, I shall raise all of you again, through the wood of the cross ......'"
" Then the king of glory grabbed the head rogue -Satan- from his crest, and delivered him to the angels, commanding them: 'With bonds of iron, bind his arms and legs, his neck and his mouth'. He then handed him over to Hades, commanding: 'Take him, and hold him securely, until my second Coming'" (II,1 VI,2)
According to the teachings of the Church, the sermon of salvation was addressed to all of the deceased, not just the righteous of the Old Testament. Naturally, not all of them were saved. Those saved were the ones who at the time (of Christ's descent) believed in Him, and who had also led a life in accordance with God's natural laws.
Nicodemus' apocrypha narration, the Apostle Paul's reassurance that the Lord " preached also to the imprisoned ( by death ) souls ", and everything else that the Resurrectional hymns of our Church contain, all provide the necessary material for the orthodox hagiographer to compose the holy icon of the Resurrection.
The Resurrection icon of the Orthodox Church has two forms: One is the portrayal of Christ's descent into Hades, which we spoke of just now. The other pictorial form is the one that portrays either Peter or John at the empty Tomb, or an angel who " seated on the stone ( of the tomb's entrance ) " appeared to the Myrrh-bearing women (pic.12). Later on, this type of portrayal was enriched with scenes of Christ appearing before Maria the Magdalene (at the moment of " do not touch me ") and His appearing before the two Marias ( the Greeting of the Myrrh-Bearers ). Leonid Ouspensky writes: " These two compositions are the ones used in the Orthodox Church as icons representative of the Resurrection. In traditional orthodox hagiography, the actual moment of the Resurrection of Christ was never depicted. Both the Scriptures and the Tradition of the Church reserve a silence for this moment and they do not describe how Christ rose from the dead - which is something they did not do in the case of Lazarus' resurrection. Naturally, therefore, the icon does not depict it either. This silence evidences the difference between the two events: While Lazarus' resurrection was a miracle that everyone could comprehend, the Resurrection of Christ Himself is unfathomable by any perception whatsoever......... Because this event is literally inconceivable by the human mind, it is subsequently impossible to depict, which is the reason for the absence of icons of the actual Resurrection itself. This is why Orthodox hagiography has two depictions that portray the significance of the event, where the one depiction supplements the other. One is a symbolic representation. It portrays the moment just prior to the descent of Christ's divine-incarnate body into Hades; the other one portrays the moment that followed the resurrection of the Body of Christ, which was the visit of the Myrrh-bearing women to Christ's Tomb ."
All of the above concur with the Resurrectional hymns of our Church, stressing the untraceable mystery of the Resurrection and comparing it to the Birth of the Lord by the Virgin and His appearance before His disciples after the Resurrection.
" You proceeded forth from the grave, in the way that You were born of the Virgin ".
" Just as You egressed from the sealed tomb, thus did You enter through the closed doors to Your disciples ."
Apart from the two above types of the Resurrection, we also encounter another type of depiction in our temples: the one that portrays Christ wearing nothing but a mantle thrown over His body, rising up from inside the grave while holding aloft a red banner. This is not an orthodox icon; it is a western form of depiction. It flourished in the East, at the time when orthodox hagiography was severed from its roots - the Byzantine tradition - on account of the predominance of Renaissance art. Some said that " the noted preference for the western-style representation of the Resurrection is attributed -among other reasons- to the Holy Land pilgrims; apparently, above the entrance to the Holy Sepulcher there was a similar depiction of the Resurrection, which, after being copied onto various souvenirs that were destined for pilgrims, eventually became a model for many painters. We can therefore say, that the specific pictorial form was propagated by both western art as well as the Holy Land ." (Icons of Cretan Art.... P.357)
We shall present and analyze the icon of the Resurrection -also called the DESCENT INTO HADES, because " it is a genuine portrayal of the Resurrection, as delivered to us by older hagiographers, in accordance with the hymns of our Church. It also expresses pictorially every divine and symbolic meaning, especially the all-familiar and all-sung hymn: 'Christ has risen from the dead; With His death, He trod over Death, bestowing Life to the grave-ridden. " (Fotis Kontoglou)
1. Description of the icon. At the bottom of the icon, between the steep rocks, a dark abyss opens up. We can see the marble tombstones, the gates of hell unhinged; their locks, nails and keys scattered, as well as the forms of Satan and Hades with their terrified look and their glazed eyes. This is the portrayal of the " lowest depths of the earth "; they are " Hades' chambers ", into which the Lord descended, to herald the news of salvation to " those asleep there, throughout the ages ."
Above the abyss, at the center of the icon, Christ, the victor of death stands prominently. The halo around His head, His radiant red-and-gold garments and the triumph discerned in His countenance, are in absolute harmony with a verse of the Easter Service:
" From His solitary descent to battle Hades,
He came back, bringing with Him many spoils of victory "
Christ returns, a trophy-bearer from His battle with Hades, bearing the first spoils of His victory: it is Adam, whom Christ holds by the hand, while he, in a kneeling position looks upon Christ in gratitude. Behind him is Eve, in a vivid red garment and near her are the righteous ones, who faithfully await the arrival of the Redeemer. Among them is Abel, who first partook of death. On the left are portrayed the kings and prophets of the Old Testament: David, Solomon, Moses, the Baptist and others. All of them recognized the Redeemer when He descended into Hades; they had been preparing for His sermon in that place, so that it would find reciprocation in the souls of the dead.
In certain icons, the portrayal of the trophy-bearing Lord is more expressive, because in them, the Lord is holding in His hand the life-giving Cross, the "invincible trophy" of piety, through which the power and the authority of death was abolished.
Elsewhere, we see at the top of the icon two angels holding in their hands the symbols of His Passions, and inside the cave, death in the form of an old man in chains; he has been chained by these angels, with the same fetters to which he had chained the race of mankind.
The picture is made whole, by the two grey rocks with the flat, protruding surfaces and the symbolic inscription: THE RESURRECTION - JESUS CHRIST
It has been aptly observed that: " the composition of this icon has been carefully studied, even in its minutest detail. Everything, from the shape of the rocks at the second level to the proportions of the colours used, has a profound significance and an obedience to the general design. The pictorial representation of a mystical text acquires a symbolic character. At the same time, however, its relativity to the specific episode described in that text is not lost ." (Icons of Cretan art..... p.327)
The symbolic meaning of the icon . We find the symbolic meaning of our icon in the Resurrectional hymns of our Church. In them, the release from the shackles of Hades is related to the freedom of all mankind, as for instance is mentioned in the following hymn: " Lord, when You were lifted onto the Cross, You erased the sin of our forefather; and when You descended into Hades, You freed all those in shackles through the ages, bestowing incorruptibility on the human race; therefore we glorify with hymns Your life-giving and salvatory Resurrection " . (from a Vespers hymn). Christ's Resurrection transferred those who believed in Christ, from death into life. As Saint John the Damascene tells us in his catechist homily: " Christ is risen from the dead, therefore the dead are no longer in a grave. Christ, having risen from among the dead thus became the firstborn of the deceased ."