"The Man leaps up boldly from the pit. Defiant, powerful, He stands upon the gates which, shattered by the force of His exit, have failed to contain Him. With a swift and decisive movement, He reaches back into the darkness from which he has emerged. Grasping the wrists of a woman and her husband who are too weak to escape, He draws them up easily, their frayed clothes streaming behind them. The Man's face is both stern and serene, as though mindful of, yet untroubled by, the horror in the pit. His eyes, gazing into the distance upon something which only He can see, ignore the hideous form yet thrashing in the black hole below Him".
This is how one writer describes the icon of the Resurrection with which we are all familiar.
The victorious Man is our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. The broken gates were the gates of hell that failed to keep Him imprisoned when He subjected Himself to death on the Cross. The man and woman whom He pulls out of the pit with Him, are our foreparents, Adam and Eve, and with them is represented all of humanity. Lastly (not visible in this particular icon but depicted in others), the hideous form bound and thrashing in the pit is the devil - furious at losing his treasure horde of human souls.
This icon is absolutely mind boggling! The real events it portrays are overwhelming! Yet, few people, I think, take the time to really let its message sink in.
Imagine you were Adam, or Eve, or some other Old Testament saint. Imagine your soul imprisoned in a limbo-like compartment of Hades for hundreds or even thousands of years. Sure, you're luckier than those poor unbelievers, whom you can see from across the chasm, suffering in the fires of hell (c.f. Luke 16:19-31); but, you're still in a prison - possibly doomed to remain there forever and ever.
But, you have a hope: you remember God's Word about the promised deliverer (c.f. Genesis 3:14 -15) - a Saviour who "will save His people from their sins" (Matt 1:21). Thus, you wait patiently for this Messiah - century after century, after century. But, after all, in limbo waiting is about all anyone can do.
Then, one day, the soul of one recently deceased enters Hades. He is unlike anyone else you've ever met. He is not intimidated by this gloomy place. There's fire in His eyes and boldness in His movements. He looks compassionately on all those poor unfortunate souls, and glares with mounting anger at the locked gates of Hades.
Then He turns to you and the others, and speaks. The Good News He proclaims to you is the fulfilment of all your hopes and dreams (c.f. 1 Peter 3:19; 4:6). God's plans are revealed to you; the Mystery of the Cross is explained. His words are like an endless stream of cool, running water; and they quench, (oh, how they quench!) your age-long thirst.
Suddenly, He stops speaking; and all of Hades is silent in anticipation. Then, with stunning force He strikes the impenetrable gates of hell - and they shatter!
Oh, how you all cry out with joy! The prison gates are torn down, your way to freedom is now clear... but wait! A figure appears, terrible and fearful to behold. The devil, furious that his stronghold has been despoiled, lashes out at your deliverer. But He, grasping the devil, quickly and effortlessly overpowers and binds him (c.f. Mark 3:27).
Then, like a King leading a victorious army, your Deliverer leads you all through the ruined gate, and out of the pit of hell, and to freedom!
"In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye" (c.f. 1 Cor. 15:32), you suddenly find yourselves in another world - in the Kingdom of Heaven. There, in God's Heavenly City, you finally find the fulfilment of all your hopes and aspirations. Indeed, they are more than fulfilled. Nothing could have prepared you for the joys that you will be experiencing. From the jewel-decked city and gold-paved streets to the crystal clear river of life, that waters the trees of life - everything is there for your joy and healing.
"And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying; and there shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away" (Rev 21:4).
These are some thoughts I've had about our Saviour's Resurrection. I don't think we will ever comprehend the full scope of what Jesus Christ has done for us. Today, when believing Christians die, their souls go straight to God's presence in Heaven. Hades and Death have no longer power over them.
I pray, that as you attend church this Pascha (Easter), you take special notice of the words of the service (you can buy service books in English). Absorb them; take in what they say. Open up your heart to God. You will realise things you never knew before.
Finally, if you have put off committing your life to Christ, don't wait any longer. Do it today, tomorrow may be too late.
"Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation" (2 Cor. 6:26).
from Voice in the Wilderness,
April-May 1996, v. 4(2)
published by Greek Orthodox Church of Saint George, Brisbane QLD