Pascha (Easter) comes with a great note of joy in the Christian world. Christ is risen from the dead and our hearts rejoice. That joy begins to wane as the days pass. Our lives settle back down to the mundane tasks at hand. After 40 days, the Church marks the Feast of the Ascension, often attended by only a handful of the faithful (Rome has more-or-less moved the Ascension to a Sunday to make it easier). Some excitement returns with the Feast of Pentecost, 50 days after Pascha, which conveniently falls on a Sunday making its observance easier in a too-busy-to-notice world. Lost in all of this, however, is a subtext (perhaps it is the main text).
It is a liturgical practice that in Orthodoxy begins some weeks before Great Lent. It is a frontal assault on Hades.
The traditional name for these celebrations is “Soul Saturdays.” They are celebrations of the Divine Liturgy on Saturday mornings offered for the souls of the departed. Most of the Saturdays in Great Lent have them. They make a fitting prelude for Holy Week and Pascha. At Pascha, Christ Himself “tramples down death by death and upon those in the tombs bestows life.” This is the Great and Holy Sabbath – the true and Great Soul Saturday. This is the great theme of Pascha itself. Christ’s Resurrection is, strangely, not so much about Christ as it is about Christ’s action. Many modern Christians treat Pascha (Easter) as though it were a celebration of Jesus’ personal return after a tragic death. Orthodoxy views Christ’s Holy Week, Crucifixion, Descent into Hades and Resurrection as one unending, uninterrupted assault on Hades. This is the great mystery of Pascha – the destruction of death and Hades. Death is the “last enemy.” Those who forget this are like soldiers who have forgotten the purpose of the war in which they fight.
The cycle of prayers assaulting Hades reaches a climax on the day of Pentecost. On the evening of that Sunday, the faithful gather for Vespers. During that service, they kneel for the first time since Pascha. And in that kneeling, the Church teaches them the boldness of prayer, the cry of human hearts for God’s solace and relief. Three lengthy prayers are offered, the third of which completes and fulfills the prayers that began so many weeks before in the Soul Saturdays:
Priest: O Christ our God, the ever-flowing Spring, life-giving, illuminating, creative Power, coeternal with the Father, Who hast most excellently fulfilled the whole dispensation of the salvation of mankind, and didst tear apart the indestructible bonds of death, break asunder the bolts of Hades, and tread down the multitude of evil spirits, offering Thyself as a blameless Sacrifice and offering us Thy pure, spotless and sinless body, Who, by this fearsome, inscrutable divine service didst grant us life everlasting; O Thou Who didst descend into Hades, and demolish the eternal bars, revealing an ascent to those who were in the lower abode; Who with the lure of divine wisdom didst entice the dragon, the head of subtle evil, and with Thy boundless power bound him in abysmal hell, in inextinguishable fire, and extreme darkness. O Wisdom of the Father, Thou great of Name Who dost manifest Thyself a great Helper to those who are in distress; a luminous Light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death; Thou art the Lord of everlasting glory, the beloved Son of the Most High Father, eternal Light from eternal Light, Thou Sun of justice! … Who also, on this all-perfect and saving feast, dost deign to receive oblations and supplications for those bound in Hades, and grantest unto us the great hope that rest and comfort will be sent down from Thee to the departed from the grief that binds them. (edited for length)
I can recall the first time in my priesthood that I offered this prayer. I had a copy in front of me, but had not read it before the service, nor had I ever heard it. I trembled as I offered the words above…astounded by their boldness. I had never heard such boldness before the Throne of God within the walls of the Church itself. It is also a reminder of the weakness and infirmity of the legal imagery of salvation. The legal view requires of God that He be the enforcer of Hades. To such a prayer He could only reply: “I cannot grant such things because of my Justice!”
The Descent of Christ into Hades itself demonstrates God’s willingness towards our salvation. And the prayer’s imagery here reveals God’s strength:
Who didst descend into Hades, and demolish the eternal bars, revealing an ascent to those who were in the lower abode; Who with the lure of divine wisdom didst entice the dragon, the head of subtle evil, and with Thy boundless power bound him in abysmal hell, in inextinguishable fire, and extreme darkness.
On the Saturday before Pentecost, some 49 days after Pascha, the Church offers the last in the cycle of Soul Saturdays. And on Pentecost itself, and now on bended knee, it boldly goes where only Christ has gone before in victory. As was proclaimed in the Paschal homily of St. John Chrysostom:
Christ is risen! And not one of the dead is left in the grave, for Christ having risen from the dead, is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.
A beloved friend from my youth who has sustained a boldness in Christ through many trials has said that he doesn’t like to pray “safe” prayers. On this holy day, we leave the safety of our fear and dare to walk where Christ has gone before.
Blessed Pentecost Father.
We are welcomed to stand boldly before the Throne, in full trust in the One who brought us there. This article, and that verse from Soul Saturday, is awesome. A fearfully wonderful reminder of Christ’s triumph over death. Thank you.
You mention “safe prayers”. I am wondering what a “safe prayer” sounds like. The only thing I can think of is a kind of wishy-washy unsureness or doubt that I ask amiss. So the times when have these thoughts I preface “if it is Your will”. Still sounds wishy-washy though.
Your thoughts Father…
I know what you mean, Paula AZ! Somehow it can feel like I’m giving God an “out” if He doesn’t answer my prayer. Guess it wasn’t His will…
What I am coming to learn is that I need to cultivate a complete trust in God. Complete and total. To the point that I do not will anything outside of His most perfect will. These two ways of being go hand-in-hand. As St. Porphyrios wrote: “It is a priceless thing to be led by God and to have no will of your own.”
Prayers of complete trust in God’s will are not “safe” prayers because God’s response (and He always responds) may go against my understanding, wishes and comfort. To completely trust Him means that any suffering I encounter I trust is for my good or the good of others – not because suffering is good but, in Christ, all suffering is united to His outpouring of love and redemption. And He will give me whatever I need to get through it if I ask and trust.
Ultimately, it is the safest way to live but it doesn’t feel at all safe to our human sensibilities. Two saints of the Catholic tradition illustrate this profoundly: St. Thérèse of Lisieux and St. Faustina. I’m sure there are many more from both of our traditions but I have encountered these two deeply – both died of tuberculosis at young ages, united with Christ. By their lives they have brought thousands to salvation.
I do not know how to trust so completely. But, if I ask God, I trust that He will teach me. 🙂
I think you speak wisdom when you say: ‘I need to cultivate a complete trust in God. Complete and total. To the point that I do not will anything outside of His most perfect will.’ It is also most true that it’s only during our intense suffering that we ever grasp how we fall short of the Son of Man’s trust in God, to the point of uttering, “not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42)
The overwhelming majority of us are great in theory, in words, but when it comes to practice, things are usually not as great as we thought…
You mentioned Saint Faustina, whose increased mystical union with Christ has been portrayed as almost a ‘repercussion’ of the increase in intensity of her suffering as she approached death (the entry into what a Christian considers true life).
The plainest definition of Heaven is ‘being with God’. And when we consider that one of the definitions of the desperate darkness of Hell is simply: ‘myself without God’ (and there undeniably exist certain sufferings, which easily urge us towards the dread panic of the experience of utter abandonment from God, while needing His light the most), cultivating beforehand the trust that, even in such a situation, “He will give me whatever I need to get through”, and if something is not given I can do without it, is a wisdom that we modern people struggle very much to attain.
But given the inevitability of certain times of extreme desperation in everyone’s life, is it not better to rather try to acquire (while the ‘sun is still shining’) such wise trust, rather than dig our heals in rebellious objections at God, objections-for-those-times-when-the-‘sun-will-seem-utterly-hidden’ ?
Thank you for this Fr. Stephen! Pentecost Divine Liturgy and kneeling vespers were the first services I attended in the Orthodox Christian Church 14 years ago and I simply was awestruck with the prayers. I was grateful then and very grateful each year to have these prayers said in our church community and throughout the world! Our Lord is truly the Lover of mankind!
Thankyou for this helpful information! This year was my first in the Orthodox Church for Pentecost and I enjoyed the added prayers/kneeling very much. I printed the portion of prayers you have in your article, but wondered if there is a booklet with these 3 important Pentecostal prayers so one could follow in another language? For me, I am referring to English. God bless!
Maria, there is a booklet from the OCA with the whole service in English.
Peace…..Thankyou so much Photini! I will certainly look into it…..God bless!
For these Pentecost prayers and the cycle of Feasts to be more popularly understood, we must study the Orthodox tradition’s less comfortable aspects and firmly face death. I have yet to read the Orthodox book I have on eschatology mostly because it intimidates me. But that holds me back from more fully celebrating Pascha, Pentecost, and so on.
Death (especially of loved ones) is a major way to learn about God and salvation. It shows that the world falls short of Heaven, that there is more to life than our present experience and situation. Death is a great teacher of patience in waiting for Resurrection, love towards the departed, and depth of perspective. It’s mystical just to participate in an Orthodox funeral as I did last week. The way we are victorious over death as Christians involves a wonderful attachment – we try to visit graves of those we miss regularly, at least annually, and give them a Last Kiss at the end our our funerals. I think this attachment feeds our soul and encourages faith in a mostly hidden, unseen God.
I first took the issue of eternal life and “destiny” seriously in high school, when a dear classmate died. I quickly studied popular Western philosophy in my school’s library and found that it fell short of the glory of God, leading me to grapple theologically with how a good God could allow tragic death. This painful question and longing for reunion brings many people to the Orthodox Church, which is a powerful but difficult attraction to have. However, Eschatology can be fun and sweet to study and do. It doesn’t have to be too stressful – rather, grief and doubt make death into a stressful problem. Surely human suffering can be alleviated through education on death and salvation. This post is a great start.
All I could think of when the priest was reading the kneeling prayers was awe and gratitude. The prayers put words to the muttering that goes on in my heart and head. I was so relieved by them, for they momentarily released me from my own Hades and allowed me to sit with my soul in repentance and humility.
I believe. Help my unbelief.
I am afraid. Help me not be afraid.
Saying that scares me beyond words. What will God give me? It always seems much more than I can bear.
I don’t trust. God forgive me & have mercy on me as I weep in shame.
It’s all a great mystery! I don’t think I ever heard a sermon on what Jesus did in Hades–and yet it would seem to be a culmination of his passion that began on Holy Thursday. In the Nicene creed it is complete left out–“For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate, he suffered death and was buried, and rose again on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures”. It is only in the Apostle’s creed that his descent into Hell is mentioned. And yet, in our earthly time, he was in Hell longer than his passion lasted on earth. Of course I don’t know that time exists beyond death or how it could be measured since it existed in a dimension beyond time and space. It could be that he lead all of us out of Hades from the beginning of time to however long the future lasts—although it doesn’t seem to mesh with stories I have heard about people who are brought back from the dead–the stories of tunnels of light and being met by friends and family—dream-like and wonderful. But maybe they were only sleeping, hence the dream. Jesus said the little girl who he revived from death was sleeping. Perhaps true death comes after the Day of Judgement and in his mercy, he comes and leads us out of Hades.
Good morning Photini! I checked for the booklet on OCA (America & Canada) and couldn’t locate it – do you have a title by chance? I emailed a priest to see if he had a title, however haven’t heard yet. Tks again!
I’ve long puzzled about the no mention of the Descent into Hades in the Nicene Creed. The Apostles’ Creed, which is not used in any Orthodox services, is an example of an ancient Baptismal Creed, probably Rome’s. If we read St. Irenaeus’ “On the Apostolic Preaching,” we see an Apostolic Creed in careful exposition. Its absence in the Nicene Creed is not significant – it was a part of the universal faith of the Church. Its absence is merely curious.
My thoughts, particularly in writing the article, are not to speculate on what happens or not – rather it is to “lean into” prayer, and to unite ourselves with God without reservation.
When I suggest we should not be “safe” in our prayers – I do not mean to suggest that we fight God or oppose God – but that our communion with Him be with everything we have. Christ says, “Not my will, but Thine be done,” but He had also just prayed boldly for the “Cup” of suffering to be taken away.
Prayer is love – plain and simple. We pray because it is what love does – love longs for communion with the Beloved. Love without reservation. Love without fear.
God is not a tyrant. His love for each of us is inconceivably greater than our own preoccupation with ourself is.
All those who have beheld Him testify to this incontestable truth. Even though we, ourselves, are our own greatest enemy, – we ourselves are our own hell, the inventors of the absence of the One Who is everywhere present-, His love and power is unthinkably more capable than this darkness of ours.
When (and if) terrors befall us, He invariably provides the Grace needed and the way out (1 Cor. 10:13)
I’ve been thinking a great deal about how all ascesis and most especially prayer becomes rightly orientated (it leads to the eternal well being of the Kingdom rather than to the non-being of Hades) to the measure that it is motivated by:
If one does a “search” for The Kneeling Prayers of Pentecost, they can be found and printed. I did this today and will save it for next year! Something I find very helpful too when/if I am unable to attend Church during the week, is to pray the Akathists from books available to us. Beautiful, meaningful prayers for all to use and be in touch with favorite Saints and special days of Jesus & Theotokos. God bless!
My question on this subject concerns the Rich Man and Lazarus parable, when, at the end, the rich man is in hades and Christ says “And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’
In the book by Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev “Christ, the Conqueror of Hell” (in a section under ‘church doctrine and personal opinion’) , Metropolitan Hilarion says that it isn’t church doctrine, but there is an idea that since the rich man repented (while in hades) – this shows the possibility that souls in Hades can repent and therefore change and be released from hades. That would be wonderful. However, unfortunately Metropolitan Hilarion doesn’t address Christ’s comment that “those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’
Can anyone explain how a soul can be released from Hades, considering Christ’s words?
Thank you for posting these prayers. We had to flee kneeling vespers during the second prayer on account of some melting (or exploding) children. It’s good to read the third prayer.
I am with you, Athanasia, approaching God with fear and trembling.
I’m grateful for your response to Lisa. Your inclusion of the facets (fearlessness) of love for the Beloved and communion expressed in prayer are edifying.
I might add fearlessness of revealing one’s truth, that which we might hide from others, and that which we might hide even from ourselves. Love of God can be ‘unsafe’ because it bears the truth of one’s heart in complete honesty. And of course that also requires the ‘unsafe’ place of humility and openness to the will of God.
I believe that such conditions are ‘unsafe’ because in real honest love, there is vulnerability and non-complacency—and last, a submission to God’s transformation of our souls.
“When I suggest we should not be “safe” in our prayers – I do not mean to suggest that we fight God or oppose God – but that our communion with Him be with everything we have . Christ says, “Not my will, but Thine be done,” but He had also just prayed boldly for the “Cup” of suffering to be taken away.”
Thanks for that, Father.
As much as I can, with all that is within me, if I understand correctly, that is how I approach God. I can not give Him what I don’t have. Not saying that I have it down pat, but even when when I search and stumble for words, I am very much “standing naked” in front of Him. I put on no airs. When it is too hard to express, either because of being unlearned or because of pure shame, I stand silent. Maybe with sighs…groans…tears. There has never been a time when I am not heard. I know that for sure. Thus, I come boldly.
I trust Him, like a child who knows so little. Presumptuous in His love and mercy. In that respect I do not fear God, as in being afraid. If I did, it wouldn’t make sense to say I approach Him in full trust. I probably wouldn’t approach Him much at all if there was that kind of fear.
I have no doubt of your openness to God. It is easy to sense in the words you write and in the love you convey. God bless you!
Dee, you are a dear sister. Your kind words pierce my soul.
And to you as well, the fullness of God’s blessings!
A few Bible verses that come to mind….
“Perfect/complete love casts out fear.” IJohn4:18
John here is speaking of fear of punishment.
Another is: “Let us then with confidence/boldness draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Heb.4:16
I can only pray with boldness because of the love I know Christ has for me. It can only exist in a Father/ child filial relationship. Jesus often expresses the love the Father has for us. Recall His saying that if a child asks his earthly father for an egg, he won’t give him a stone. Then He adds, “How much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts (the Holy Spirit in Luke) to those who ask Him.” Mt.7:11
My mind often returns to these verses if I ever begin to doubt the love of God. This of course does not mean sufferings will never befall us. Yet Christ’s presence with us, His love for us will never diminish or falter. And, Jesus is never ashamed to even call us brother/sister…again in Hebrews.
Father Stephen uses the words ” to lean into prayer.” I think this is helpful.
While I agree with “approaching the Lord with fear and trembling” – I consider this to be because of His Divine Power and fathomless depth of love and mercy. For these reasons, I would always be seeking God in Communion because of my weakness and being in need of healing and wholeness through His grace.
Sometimes we can get confused thinking we need to be fearful and trembling when we approach, because of punishment and shame, and while there is some of that, it is humility which draws us forth in our contrite hearts.
These are concepts in Orthodoxy that I believe you are pointing to that I’m afraid many of us (born into a ‘protestant culture’) are not so familiar:
(1) That Pascha is an eschatological inauguration the Kingdom of God, and thus marks the ending of death and Hades.
(2) Resurrection is about Christ’s action upon the very fabric of the cosmos itself, rather than only about about Christ’s bodily triumphal return from death (that is, rather than ‘fulfilling the prison time’, the ‘sentence laid upon us’). The latter (Christ’s bodily triumphal return from death) actually is the visible/tangible indicator of the inauguration of the transformation of creation.
(3) As the just-baptized (and Chrismated) walks in the victorious procession around the baptismal font, they too have risen from death and proclaim they have ‘put on Christ’, the veritable armor against death and the adversary. The white robe they wear as a tangible indicator and revelation of the new life they have entered.
(4) The relationship between the Pentacostal ignition of the Holy Spirit into the hearts of the Apostles, and into the hearts of the baptized during Chrismation. The Holy Spirit is “sealed” into their hearts and souls. This seems to me to be a holy mystery of of ‘soul marriage’.
(5) The procession brings the newly baptized and Chrismated into the Kingdom (and into the Body of the Church), and in receiving the Cup, they are consummated into the life of Christ. ‘Living as one’. (I hope my imagery doesn’t scandalize)
Still these words seem insufficient. Because all of this is not just some psychological state (a tacit interpretation in our culture). It is both physical and spiritual. And the ‘physical’ penetrates down deep, even into the very ‘space’ between atoms–‘The Holy Spirit who is in all places and in all things’ has come into us. Let us rejoice!
Thank you for your edifying reflections. As you indicate, the gift of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, is such a gift indeed, Who not only ‘allows’ but invites such boldness.
As I reflect on the idea of “Soul Saturdays” and an assault on Hades, it seems to me that we no longer believe in real wars that we all fight. We can watch superheroes duke it out but surely, nothing like that happens to us! This is modern times! We’ve evolved past that now! We can declare war on our eating habits or even a drug cartel, but the first is just a cute name for a diet and the second is being managed by institutions and professionals.
The second problem we have is that Hades is so…out there. It’s in the mind. It’s not real. We don’t see it stop traffic or hold people hostage. And when people come up with examples of how it does, we say that the speaker is giving their own fanciful view. Our thoughts are things we can control/create/delete at will. The priest’s role quoted above is nice and all, but just a part in a play. As far as we know none of that really happens.
I’m attempting here to puppet the thought processes of most Western thinkers. In some ways we have such a tenuous grasp on reality because we no longer believe in it – thus we begin to be blind and deaf to it.
Being a “western thinker” and recently Orthodox, I would like to comment that there have been times in my life when I knew there was a Hell even if I created it myself by my own actions and deeds. Sometimes rooted in self while other times was more like an attack on me. At that point, I knew in my heart there was a Hell and it could be a lot worse than this which would be terrible. Knowing sin and our sinful state is what makes Hell real and for those who shut sin our of their mind not wanting to face it, then there is no Hell. Obviously one would not believe there is a Satan who has his own minions and kingdom. Excorisms can reveal the truth about Hell and its existence also! I think on our journey to Heaven we are tempted and lured all along the way by these minions and why? So we won’t get to Heaven, but instead may go to Hell. Jesus came to show us the way out for a purpose – because of the reality of Hell and better yet, Heaven. God bless!
Dean… I am thankful for your reflections as well. The verse about coming to the Throne with confidence is one of those that has stuck with me.
I especially like your emphasis, on 1Jn: 4:18, that perfect love casts out the “fear of punishment”. This hits home for many of us who have been trained up with such punishment. Honestly, some parents (like mine) did not know better. That is how they were raised. And on down the line, we take on the very same behavior. But I can say, when I finally turned my face to God, to this day I have never been punished, shamed, blamed…none of that. That kind of behavior is what a soul in need of healing does. Not our Father. Certainly not His Son. So, you know…we are to forgive.
Marie, I agree with your explanation of proper “fear and trembling”. We take the power of God, in our weaknesses, with utmost seriousness!
Dee…at 2:09 pm, well said! Christ’s Paschal “eschatological inauguration of the Kingdom…marks the ending of death and Hades” now! as opposed to some 1000 year millennial age. That, with the penal-substituting ‘fulfilling the prison time’ , is incompatible with “becoming” the person that will be fully realized when we see Him. In other words, there is no need for going higher and deeper, no need for the sacraments, rites, rituals. No thought of the blessedness and transformation of creation, since all this will supposedly happen at some later date.
Your description of consummation I do not think is scandalous. It is the theme of the Song of Songs, and the celebration of the Marriage Supper! It is the true beauty of life in Christ.
Lastly, though words are ultimately insufficient when it comes to speaking of the things of God (how much to this day has been written!). words are powerful and most meaningful when one has beforehand experienced the supreme love, and awesome presence of God…personally and inseparably from His Body (the Church). Contrary to Protestant teachings, there is no end to these experiences, as our existence is eternal in God.
Surely, let us rejoice!
The parable certainly stands as written. However, the parable is a parable that can be taken as complete in its own context without extending as a matter of dogmatic exposition. In point of fact, Christ crosses the chasm, and sets those who are held prisoner free. One possible reading is that, whereas this was true prior to Christ’s death and resurrection (when the parable was taught), it has now been superceded in that Christ has trampled down death by death. Just a couple of thoughts…
For Ailene – Interesting comment about trampling death by death – and in knowing Jesus’ ministry while on earth, he was trampling death the whole time – in His teaching, preaching, healing, exorcisms, miracles – he was constantly trampling death until the culminating moment on the Cross – when He conquered. Our lives are the same in how we die and rise each day – to sin and death – until we resurrect also to be with Him !
Thanks to all for the focus of this thread – I have learned so much from it (as always). I was wondering why the Gospel reading for the Sunday liturgy on Pentecost included the story of the woman taken in adultery. I think you have given me the answer, Father and friends.
My own teacher had written on this, demonstrating that in the simple lesson Christ teaches, those who would have stoned her (death) were shamed into leaving in silence, the elder ones first and then the others, so they all become lovable in doing so. It’s maybe a hint of what the Spirit has to teach us to be and do, that comes out of His being mentioned in a previous verse. And it’s very much in tune with the obligation we have to humbly request compassion on behalf of others as well as ourselves.
Thanks also for Paula’s question and Father’s explanation of “safe” prayers. I was rather worrying that the prayer to the Holy Spirit which we haven’t used during the Easter stretch might be considered a ‘safe’ one. It’s my favorite, so I’m glad we may rise up in joyfulness of soul, still and again!
“Many modern Christians treat Pascha (Easter) as though it were a celebration of Jesus’ personal return after a tragic death. Orthodoxy views Christ’s Holy Week, Crucifixion, Descent into Hades and Resurrection as one unending, uninterrupted assault on Hades. This is the great mystery of Pascha – the destruction of death and Hades.”
I have never heard this before, but it is beautiful! I’m going to share it with my church – thank you
I read this sermon last night, that I felt fit in so beautifully with this post. I just wanted to share.
While I agree with “approaching the Lord with fear and trembling” – I consider this to be because of His Divine Power and fathomless depth of love and mercy. For these reasons, I would always be seeking God in Communion because of my weakness and being in need of healing and wholeness through His grace.
To which I say, Amen!
Amen & God Bless, David Waite!
In the Pentecoste vespers, after the 3 kneeling prayers we chant this longer version of Trisagion, which is perhaps not prayed often, but is the most condensed statement of faith: (http://files.oca.org/service-texts/2019-0617-texts-tt.doc)
Come, O people,
let us worship the Godhead in three persons:
the Son in the Father, with the Holy Spirit.
For the Father timelessly begot the Son, co-eternal and co-enthroned with
and the Holy Spirit was in the Father and is glorified with the Son.
We worship one Power, one Essence, one Godhead,
and we say: “Holy God,
Who hast created all things through Thy Son
with the cooperation of the Holy Spirit;
through Whom we know the Father;
and through Whom the Holy Spirit came to dwell in the world;
Who proceedest from the Father and restest in the Son.
O Holy Trinity, glory to Thee!”
Your, Fr Stephen Freeman’s, title: “Entering Hell on Pentecost – With Prayer” is first degree Blasphemy!! You are clearly stating here that Pentecost (the Holy Spirit) is satan (hell)! READ IT. It is very deceiving. The Holy Spirit enters our inner self (temple: our body); we do NOT enter hell on Pentecost., but we enter the heavenly realm of the Holy Trinity. Can you see? My mind cannot see this in any other way than how you wrote This.. PLEASE RE-NAME this blasphemous title if you fear Christ the Conqueror and Kingful Judge. Thankyou; in 🐠🐣 Christ~ 🥀Natalya☦️
I cannot possibly see how you make this title mean anything blasphemous. Christ enters hell at Pascha and tramples down death by death. That we boldly follow Him and continue to trample down death by death is not blasphemous in the least. Is English your first language?
I think your suggestion on how to interpret the chasm is spot on. I had his question as well and the more I read through the passages about Hades in the Holy Week Thurs- Sun services, it seems almost certain that Christ indeed has destroyed the chasm. Nothing else makes any sense to me.
But Jesus used the concept to make a point about the general leveling or reversal that occurs at his coming in the flesh. The parable is in Lk and it is reminiscent of the Magnificat, also in Lk. Brad Jersak makes this point in his “Her Gates Will Never Be Shut.”
I will support Natalya in this, Father, with respect, that I too was stunned to read your heading. I would not go as far as she has, but I’m also not sure that Christ asks us to enter hell. Of course, many do feel they are there at times, and the prayers for those departed do as you say reach a climax on Holy Saturday evening, but still I understand why she was upset enough to post as she did. For her, as for me, He is the only one who has done this voluntarily, and while we may agree that the message for all is to follow Him, we are not God who can do this.
I am sorry to be saying this because I did not want to oppose your post, as I understand its thrust as well. But Pentecost, as I tried to say in my message, is hard to envisage as a time of entering hell, when it is the time of embracing the visitation of the Holy Spirit, Who is gentle and represented by the dove. I always think of the Rublev icon of the Trinity, which you have recently illuminated here also.
I don’t think Natalya means to be unkind. And I know you often try hard to jolt us out of our complacency. She just doesn’t see how we who are needing to apologize to Christ for not being as perfect as He is could ever do what He did once and for all on Easter night. It is her humility that is her soul’s message here.
Thanks, Nikolaos. The prayer I mentioned is in that link:
Heavenly King, Comforter, Spirit of Truth
Who art everywhere present
And fillest all things.
Treasury of Blessings, and Giver of Life
Come and abide in us
Cleanse us of every impurity
And save our souls, O Good One!
[Sorry, should be a comma or semicolon after “all things.”]
I must say I am at a loss to see Natalya and Juliania’s perspective concerning the title of this post.
But Pentecost, as I tried to say in my message, is hard to envisage as a time of entering hell, when it is the time of embracing the visitation of the Holy Spirit, Who is gentle and represented by the dove.
I think, and this is only my thoughts on this, that the Holy Spirit’s visitation upon humanity is to bring us to the point where we can follow Christ even as He commanded “…take up your cross and follow Me”. Father has regularly stated that the path we tread leads to crucifixion and thence into Hell. We tread the path of Christ. But He has broken the gates of Hell and we are no longer caught there; instead we may leave. This is not of our own power; we follow Him who went before and broke the gates for our freedom. The gentle power of the Spirit guides us and brings us forth on our journey. We do all this, as we do all things: in prayerful thanksgiving to God.
I too am baffled. Here’s the reality: Christ has actually commanded the Church to enter hell, as, in His very own words, “…My Church…the gates of hell shall not stand against it.”
It ought to go without saying that Christ meant for the Church to follow him in trampling the gates of hell WITH the Holy Spirit (as opposed to WITHOUT it).
Thus, Pentecost is the very moment when Christ sends the Holy Spirit to enable the Church to follow Him in fulfillment of His promise/commandment for His Church to join Him in trampling the gates of hell.
I must admit, if I had to answer Natalya, I would be at a loss for words. I did not understand how the title and message of this post could be blasphemous. My mind simply did not go there. Juliania, your response helped me understand what Natalya may be reacting to, although, like the others who responded, I do not agree. The gentleness of the Holy Spirit does not prevent those in Christ from standing at the edge of the abyss, or even falling into it. It would seem that if this was prevented we would have a distorted view the purpose of the life, death and resurrection and ascension of Christ. I think of Abraham as well, but a moment later, when he intercedes to the pre-incarnate Christ (!) for the righteous of Sodom. Did not righteous Abraham have to enter into hell (with Him) to pray like this? Or, the obvious, Job. He met hell face to face. But his Redeemer lives. And so does Job.
Upon reading this thread I thought of the awesome words we say during the Anaphora, “Thine own of Thine own we offer unto Thee on behalf of all and for all” . We, in Christ, offer to Christ His body and blood, which at the same time, being in Him, we offer our own body and blood…we are one with Him, for the life of the world. Does this push the envelope too far for you? Yes, He gave Himself up, died and entered Hades, for the life of the world. And amazingly enough, invites us to join Him as heirs, and follow Him in what He does and where He goes.
Yet, we will not recognize what hell is (broken union with God) until we recognize the very hell we enter into in our own sins. What else can save but our prayers (through the Spirit), in faith of Christ’s Pascha ?
In the article itself it is made clear i think that the verb ‘entering’ in the title is to be understood as ‘plundering’.
OK. We ought to be careful with our choice of words, undeniblee, but not to such an extent that “we become more concerned with not breaking the eggshells we are walking on than
our walking itself…. “
I’ve always thought of the Easter season as us dying and rising with Christ. In fact we die and rise each day in our trials and what we need to shed off in order to become more spiritual. If we have the Resurrection and Ascension into Heaven in this order, then do we really need to descend into hell with Jesus at Pentecost? We do that between His death and Resurrection. Pentecost is a time when the Holy Spirit comes to the Apostles (and us) to begin or continue the mission of Christ’s Church each using their own charism and gift given by the Holy Spirit.
Having said that, it is interesting that 40 days after our death, Orthodox Christians have prayers for the deceased so their spirit will be lifted up to Heaven. I assumed the spirit may be lingering around, and then taken up to Heaven – although I am sure some could be taken right away. Orthodox don’t believe in Purgatory for purification, so why would they believe in going to hell “after” the Death, Resurrection and Ascension of Christ?
I personally didn’t see anything wrong with the title but now that we are picking it apart perhaps there could have been a better choice of wording?? All in all, good article and comments were stirred up!
Thanks for reassuring that the meaning of the title is clear to most, if not to all. I should say a few words more. The Elder Sophrony said, “Christ has entered into the very depths of hell and He is waiting for His friends to meet Him there.” The title of the article was meant to be a little startling – though it only states what is, in fact, the case.
The Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost does not descend like a gentle dove but as tongues of fire with the sound of a rushing mighty wind. The behavior of the disciples afterwards is so startling that people thought they were drunk and accused them of it. The result that day was that 3,000 souls were added to their number.
The disciples went from hiding behind locked doors to boldly preaching in the streets. They were eventually locked up, stoned, tortured, ordered to be quiet, etc. What was unleashed on Pentecost has never ceased. As Justin noted, the promise of Christ is that the very gates of hell would not be able to withstand the onslaught of the Church. That saying is often perverted and twisted into a meaning that hell will not be able to hurt the Church. It is a verse that rather describes our actions against hell.
It would seem to me that everyone should understand that Christ and His Pascha are the pattern for every Christian life. The deepest character of that life includes smashing the gates of hell and setting the prisoners free. If, on the day of Pentecost, we do not physically enter hell (obviously), we metaphysically enter hell in our prayers as we pray boldly for those who are held there. That is the thrust of the kneeling prayers. It is also precisely what is said in the title of the article – entering hell through prayer.
I am sorry if someone is offended or misunderstands. But, this is simply the gospel of Jesus Christ, the teaching of the Church, made plain.
Fr Stephen – thankyou for this explanation. For me it made everything much more clear although I wasn’t having a problem with the title. God bless!
As Justin noted, the promise of Christ is that the very gates of hell would not be able to withstand the onslaught of the Church. That saying is often perverted and twisted into a meaning that hell will not be able to hurt the Church. It is a verse that rather describes our actions against hell.
This. I did not realize how this had been taught in my Protestant days until Justin pointed this out! It is a wonderful completion of the thoughts expressed here, for me at least.
“The Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost does not descend like a gentle dove but as tongues of fire with the sound of a rushing mighty wind”
Something about the usage of the word fire, Father….it is an intense word.
An apt metaphor for the intensity of purging and cleansing; torment in painful separation.
Most significantly it describes the woeful Divine presence of the Almighty. A great many verses portray the fierceness of His power. We almost instinctively bow to it.
Metaphorically speaking, yet I think a great picture of what Christ has done/is doing and where we stand…
“His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on his head were many crowns; and he had a name written, that no man knew, but he himself.
And he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood: and his name is called The Word of God.
And the armies which were in heaven followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean.
And out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron: and he treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God.
And he hath on his vesture and on his thigh a name written, King Of Kings, And Lord Of Lords.”
Rev 19: 12-16
Your question about Lazarus and the rich man sometimes vexes me as well. This last lent, however, as I was singing through all the hymns of the Church about Christ’s descent into hades (especially Holy Thurs-Pascha), it seems to me that the answer has to be that Christ obliterated that chasm. His parable worked at the time because he had not yet (chronologically) defeated death and descended to hades.
If your priest lets you borrow some service books from Holy Week, read through them and ask yourself, is it at all possible that this chasm still exists?
A friend just suggested to me to read on youtube – Orthodox Faith and the 20 Toll Houses – interesting. St Basil comes to the rescue for souls passing through by his prayers for them…..God bless!
I am wondering why there is no mention of Christ descending into hell in the Nicene Creed? God bless!
I don’t know. However, it was frequently mentioned in earlier Baptismal Creeds (such as the Apostles’ Creed used in the West) and is clearly taught throughout the Fathers, as well as in Scripture.
Is it possible the Nicene Creed touches on it in the words, “I look for the Resurrection of the Dead….” ??
What about the Toll houses? Some of what I’ve read dome of the most frightful things.
That should be ‘some’
At best, the Toll House are images for thinking about what is known as the “Particular Judgment.” At worst, they are a terrible distraction from the gospel. Some people at present are treating them as though they are a touchstone to prove just how Orthodox you are. That is utter nonsense and unhelpful. I do not personally find them helpful when thinking about the Particular Judgment.
I thought about saying anything but the writings of Fr. Seraphim Rose played a crucial part in my journey to the Orthodox Church. I agree completely with Fr. Stephen on the Toll Houses. Worse I think the controversy over them has tended to conceal the deeper witness of Fr. Seraphim. He faced and struggled with many of the key aspects of our culture in the United States as an American born man. The smile on his face as he lay in repose suggests to me that he was victorious by the grace of God. Whatever his failures in this life.
His last book “God’s Revelation to the Human Heart” is indicative of how far he personally traveled in his own journey and the possibilities for us.
As with all such things what is of God will be revealed and the rest will pass away.
All I know about what happens when someone dies I learned when my late wife reposed. My son and I where there and we each saw independently her Guardian Angel come for her. Whatever the reality of the Toll Houses, God’s mercy is greater.
That is also what I received from Fr Seraphim of blessed memory as I have read his works over the years and contemplated his life.
May his memory be eternal.
Michael Bauman: Peace…..thankyou for your lovely and inspiring comment! God bless…..
Fr. Seraphim essentially says what I have said – they can be useful images, but should not be taken literally. Something that I have learned in the past decade or so is that much of Fr. Seraphim’s work was published posthumously, and not always with the same discernment that he himself would have brought. Thus the Fr. Seraphim that many know is actually not quite the real Fr. Seraphim – or there are some serious questions. He was a holy monk, no doubt.
You say “we metaphysically enter hell in our prayers as we pray boldly for those who are held there”. Given that the order of the Orthodox Church is to not kneel on Sundays and the period between Pascha and Pentecost ( around 100 days in the year ), could it be that the kneeling prayers in a way symbolise this descend to hell ?
Thank you all for your comments. And to Father for the following all-encompassing message of June 22nd, when we celebrate the feast of all saints. I haven’t read comments there, but I will say here what led my to my comment above.
To me, there is a sequence beginning perhaps at the reading on Easter night of Saint John Chrystostom’s Paschal sermon, and on through the incredibly uplifting Easter hymns and remembrance of various icons of the faith that does last for the entire Easter season until Pentecost. And the hymn says:
“Yesterday I was buried with You, O Christ
Today I rise with You in Your glorious Resurrection…”
The evening psalms we take into ourselves also say
“I am counted with those who go down into the pit…”
So, yes, many words for that place of darkness and what has happened to us, happens to us, when we are there. And we are there. Often.
I was only expressing my ongoing feeling that Pentecost wasn’t a time such as that in our earthly celebrations. Yesterday…today…tomorrow. It’s the coming of the Comforter promised by Our Lord. He moves above the waters of Creation. We are in time, looking towards eternity and touched by it indeed in the ways you have all expressed. But the feast, the glorious feast – our little church times past would fill itself with all the upsurgings of the earth – and no, not hell when we kneel but that earth we must all, even Ivan, love in order to be strengthened by Our Lord’s remarkable journey, and His bestowal of the Spirit upon us.
I’m expressing it very poorly; I am sorry. I hope there’s a place here for me, and for Natalya as well.