The descent into hades of Our Lord and Saviour

by N. P. Vassiliadis

The joyous event of the glorious Resurrection is expressed in Orthodox Iconography with the Icon of the ‘Descent into Hades’. Although there are various versions of this Icon, in essence, they all depict the rescuing of the righteous souls from Hades by our Lord during His entombment on Great and Holy Saturday. The Icon described in detail below is that of the fresco my Manuel Panselinos (circa 1300 AD) and found in the Protaton Church at Karyes, Mt Athos, Greece. The Icon shown above is a slightly different version.

‘In this Icon, the Lord is depicted with bright garments within a transparent and interrupted circular ‘glory’ that follows the contour of the cross-engraven crown of light around His head. The ‘glory’ is faintly noticeable above His head. The Lord, having descended into Hades with Authority, is seen with a firm footing and a powerful stance upon the gates of Hades, which have fallen in the shape of a cross beneath His feet. In His left hand, Christ is holding a huge Cross, the symbol of victory.

With His right hand ( the mark of the nails is clearly visible here as well as on His feet) Christ is raising out of the depths of Hades our forefather Adam, who symbolises the human race, with a vigorous and unilateral motion. As a result of this movement, the garment of the triumphant Christ is shown as being blown upwards by the wind. Together with Adam, Eve also stretches forth her arms in a beseeching manner.

Behind them and a little higher is St John the Baptist and Forerunner of Christ, who is pointing to and indicating the Lord. Behind St John is the righteous Abel, (the son of Adam, who was murdered by his brother) shown as a young, beardless man with a long shepherd’s staff and an ecstatic expression. In the dark cave of Hades can be seen the ‘locks of death’, the age-old bars and chains that kept the dead captive, smashed by the Power of the Resurrection.

At the top of the Icon two angels are bending over the craggy peaks and are sharing in the triumph of the cosmic and eschatological victory of the God-Man Jesus Christ.

from The mystery of death
The Orthodox Brotherhood of Theologians (The Saviour),
Athens, Greece

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