In one of the Lenten hymns from the 4th week of Great Lent, there is an interesting exchange in which the nailing of Christ to the cross and piercing His side with the spear is actually bringing about the death of Death. In the hymn, Hell/Death is personified and is at first puzzled by what it is experiencing during Christ’s crucifixion. The confusion turns to panic as Death realizes its own effort to kill the Christ has resulted in its own destruction.
Pilate set up three crosses in the place of the Skull, two for the
thieves, and one for the Giver of Life. Seeing Him, Hell cried to
those below: My ministers and powers! Who is this that has fixed a
nail in my heart?
A wooden spear has pierced me suddenly, and I am
torn apart! I suffer inwardly; anguish has seized my belly and my
senses. My spirit trembles and I am forced to cast out Adam and his
posterity! A tree brought them to my realm, but now the Tree of the
Cross cries out to them: Enter again into Paradise!
The hymn is perhaps an Orthodox version of the “substitutionary” theory of atonement. In the Orthodox hymn, however, the emphasis is not on the innocent Christ dying on the cross in the place of sinful humanity. Rather, Christ’s torment, suffering and death is actually crucifying Death. Christ’s own death turns out to be the annihilation of death.