Archbishop Hilarion Alfeyev writes:
“St. Ephrem also deals with the theme of the descent into Hades in his ‘Homily on Our Lord,’ written in metrical prose. Here the author juxtaposes the events of the incarnation of God and his exodus from Sheol:
‘The Only Begotten proceeded from the Being (of the Father) and dwelled in the Virgin, so that through his bodily birth the Only Begotten became a brother of many. And he went forth out of Sheol and settled in the Kingdom so that he could tread a path from Sheol, which deceives everyone, to the Kingdom that rewards everyone. For our Lord made his Resurrection a pledge to the mortal ones, that he could liberate them from Sheol that receives the dead without discernment, (and to lead them) to Kingdom receiving the invited with discernment (between the sinners and the righteous).’
Clearly the Old Testament notion of Sheol as a place where all the dead go regardless of their moral state (‘without discernment’) remained in the Syriac tradition for much longer than in the Greek. Moreover, it is considered to be a peculiarity of the Syriac tradition to parallel (and sometimes to equate) the descent of Christ into Sheol with his descent into the waters of the Jordan at his baptism by John the Forerunner.
‘The Father begat him and through him created the whole Creation. Flesh begat him and through him mortified passions. Baptisms begat him to wash away the stains (of our sin). Sheol begat him so that through him her treasures would be plundered.’”
You can find links to all the blogs I have or will post during this year’s Christmas season at 2012 Nativity Blogs.