Some metaphors are just that: metaphors. Images that are useful for thinking or working our way through something. They are a roadmap – not the road but the map. The image of Christ’s Descent into Hades, though it provides a metaphor, is more than a metaphor. Christ truly died, truly descended into Hades, truly trampled down death by death, and truly rose again from the dead. I have to say that lest anyone think that referring to the Descent into Hades is merely a metaphor.
But as metaphor, it is also descriptive of Christ in our lives – or Pascha as we live it day by day.
Christ descended into Hades without an invitation from those in Hades.
Christ smashed the gates of Hades without asking permission.
Christ “bound the strongman” (Matt. 12:19) and “spoiled his house.”
Christ made a way for all in His resurrection from the dead.
If I take just these few observations then I can draw as well some conclusions about Christ in my daily life. For it is also true that my daily life (metaphorically speaking) is very much like Hades, at least in certain aspects of my sinfulness.
In my sinfulness I find myself in prison, in the dark, in torment, with no sense of how to get out. (If your experience of sinfulness is different than mine, I hope it’s better).
But looking at Christ’s descent into Hades I can conclude that though I find myself in prison, there is Another who has entered my prison even though I may not have invited Him.
Whatever gates there may have been that “trapped” me in that prison have been smashed even without my permission.
Whatever “strongman” has kept me bound in my sinfulness, he has been bound.
And best of all, there is a way out by Christ’s resurrection.
Putting all of that together says that my experience of a personally created Hades is but a delusion. The gates are smashed, the strongman bound, and the way out exists. It is left for me to follow Christ into the joy of His resurrection.
As a metaphor this is very useful. It makes it quite clear that God’s action in saving us is initiated by Him and not us. for “Christ first loved us.” He is for us and not against us. I even have some sense that I can say (pray) “Drag me out of here,” and He will hear me.
Drag on, Lord Jesus. Drag me home!
Thank you for your blog, and the thoughts you share here. I look forward to reading it every day, and it doesn’t disappoint.
Fr. Gregory Hogg
Didn’t C.S. Lewis (St. Clive?) say “hell is locked from the inside”?
The “key” that initially got me thinking in this direction was Lewis’ The Great Divorce.
Add to that “The River of Fire” by Kalomiros and, well, some rethinking had to occur on my part.
But be careful with this line of thinking and theology. If you don’t guard yourself against it, you may just discover a God Whom you can love and adore as well as “fear.”
You have been warned. My hands are clean!
Note that Adam and Eve are also dragged out of their tombs in the Resurrection icon, “The Harrowing of Hades.” Works for me!
Yes, it was them that I had in mind as part of the metaphor.
Thank you, Fr. Stephen, for encouraging me to believe that Christ will drag me on out — and for your continuing encouragement to pray!
Dear Father Stephen,
Just a note of thanks. I’ve been ‘lurking’ gratefully at your blog for a month or so and you have gifted me with good food. I’ve been particularly blessed by the ref. to Bp. Hilarions article (wonderful name for a bishop!)on the Descent into Hades. FYI it appears to have been taken off it’s site?
I just went to it, using the link on my previous article. It’s there and works fine. Try it again. I will copy the article and keep it in my files and send it to you if you can’t find it.
I also just noticed that his article on the Descent into Hades was given in 2002 at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Minneapolis where I spoke earlier this year. I feel more and more blessed! St. Mary’s is a wonderful place and Fr. Andrew, the Dean, is one of my favorite people in the OCA.
Charles Wesley wrote of just such an experience:
Long my imprisoned spirit lay
fast bound in sin and nature’s night
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light
My chains fell off
My heart was free
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.
Thanks for the implications of Christ’s descent into Hades. It really helped me to think about Christ having descended into my own prison and already bound whatever I think it is that binds me. This was really helpful to me at this point in my life.
Pity about Charles Wesley – had he been Orthodox – he could have been a new St. Romanus!
The Wesleys came quite close in some ways, though far in others.
I tell Methodists that St Cosmas the Aetolian was the John Wesley of the Balkans, and they say “Who?”
I think it’s that “best-kept secret” thing again!
Yes, the Wesleys were steeped in the Greek fathers, and it comes through in their theology. My Methodist upbringing prepared me well for my journey through Anglo-Catholicism to Orthodoxy.
These days, unfortunately, most Methodists are probably no more familiar with John Wesley than they are with St. Cosmas the Aetolian . . .