The Crucifixion of Hell

The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is praised in Orthodox hymns as the death of death and the destruction of the Hell/Hades, the place which held Death’s captives.  The Orthodox hymns of the Paschal season often anthropomorphize Death, Hell and Sin, treating them as personal enemies of God which are defeated by Christ through His death and resurrection.   Consider two hymns from Matins Canticle 7, Sunday of the Myrrhbearing Women:

Take courage, earthborn, for hell is dead!
Christ has hung it upon the Cross!
He has cast down the armor of hell,
He has captured it and stripped it bare.                                       Hell lies lifeless and dead.

The hymn above has Christ performing a miraculous switch with Hell – for in a complete “substitutionary” death, Christ in His own crucifixion actually nails Hell to the cross and crucifies it!  Hell was envisioned with armor – protected from any attack since no one was known to escape its grip.  Christ captures Hell which held Death’s captives, and then slays Hell.  Thus the place of the dead is defeated.   [St. Ephrem the Syrian in his poetry calls Christ the “hunter” of Satan.  (see EPHREM THE SYRIAN SELECT POEMS, p 51).   Satan in his turn recognizes that Christ is hunting him down and so hunts the Hunter (the slaughter of the Holy Innocents by Herod after Christ’s birth is Satan’s first stab at slaying his pursuer).  Of course, little does Satan understand that in achieving his murderous goal – the death of Christ – he is assuring his own destruction.  Death is Satan’s tool and friend, Christ is going to use Death’s insatiable appetite to destroy Death and simultaneously to defeat Satan.]

The Lord is risen, capturing the enemy.
He has freed the prisoners.
Leading the first formed Adam out, together with all mankind,
He restores him as the merciful God and Lover of mankind!

Hell, personified is God’s enemy.  Christ, God’s chosen and suffering servant, through His death on the cross goes to Hell but is not captured and captivated by it.  Instead Christ takes the Jailor Death prisoner and frees all of Hell’s captives.   As in many Orthodox hymns and Patristic writers, Christ’s descent into Hell is a triumphal victory over it, and all th0se who have died including the original sinner Adam are liberated from death’s prison.   The salvation of Christ is not limited to the righteous who had died, but is universal and extends to all who died becoming prisoners of Death.

[Interestingly, many Western Patristic writers believed Christ saved from Hades only the righteous saints of the Old Testament, but not all the dead. They seem to hold to some version of a “predestined” idea that justice demands that sinners remain in Hades.   On the other hand, the 2nd Century heresiarch Marcion held a particular interpretation of 1 Peter 3:18-20 in which only the sinners of the Old Testament were saved by Christ’s descent into Hades – the Old Testament saints continued to rely on their own keeping the law/works righteousness and thus rejected Christ’s offer.  For Marcion pictures Cain and other sinners flocking to Christ gleeful for the liberation from the hellish prison, while Noah and the Old Testament righteous preferred to wait in Hades until their righteousness was recognized by God – they assumed Christ’s offer was some kind of trick to draw them away from Torah (See Robert Grant’s IRENAEUS OF LYONS, Chapter 2).]

Christ is risen!      Indeed He is risen!

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