April 23, 2011

The Lord In Hades

By Right Reverend Theognostus, Archbishop of Novgorod

Our Lord Jesus Christ descended into Hades with His soul united with the Divinity, at this same time when He, after His removal from the cross, reposed with His body in the tomb. In Hades all the souls of the people who died suffered affliction up to the time of the death of Jesus Christ on the cross. No ray of the heavenly light ever penetrated to them, they were alien to every joy; their destiny was continuous sorrow. The devil fully ruled over them and as a relentless tyrant tormented them with the various means peculiar to him. But here Hades suddenly shines with a wonderful light, the Pantocrator of heaven and earth and the infernal regions, our reigning King, Lord and Savior appeared in it. Before His Divinity the devil falls down into the ashes, his power fails, any authority he had over the souls imprisoned in Hades is taken away from him. All those who have accepted Jesus Christ as the Savior of the world are released from Hadean captivity. The seal of condemnation and renunciation gravitating over them is removed from them; they fall with their chains of eternal darkness and they follow with gladness on foot after the Savior and proceed from Hades into the region of light and blessedness, into the kingdom of heaven. The souls of the people confined in it are led out of Hades. The Lord Jesus Christ at the same time has given full opportunity for the future time, till the end of time, for dead souls to be released from captivity and Hadean tyranny. Up to the time of the death of the Savior on the cross the souls of all who died were led down into Hades. Even the Old Testament righteous men, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and David, did not escape this part. But after this, as the Savior went down into Hades and broke the power of the devil, the souls who died in the faith and grace of Christians no longer go to Hades but are lifted up by Angels directly into heaven into the blessed mansion of the Heavenly Father. Having defeated the devil by His descent into Hades, the Savior has taken away from him his former authority even over the people living on the earth. Up to the death of the Savior on the cross the devil had full authority over people, sowed them like wheat, threw them from one pernicious way to another, all people, so to say, have been tied hand and foot by him and had no way to be released from his awful authority. Demon-possessed, represented in the Gospel, may serve as an example of how terribly the devil has tormented people. After, the victorious descent of Jesus Christ into Hades and His glorious resurrection from the dead weakened the influence of the devil over the people and already it became far from being what it was during Old Testament times. To tell the truth, even now the devil has authority to tempt people, i.e. through various clever actions he is able to lead them to iniquity and sin; but the devil has another action to use to take one in captivity, that is, so to say, in his jaws, and another action to test his sting, or to be exposed to temptation from him. During the time of the Old Covenant, people were perfect captives of the devil, now he can only wound us by his sinful stings or to tempt us. But also the opportunity is given to protect us from the stinging of the devil. "Resist the devil and he will flee from you", the Holy Apostle James appeals to Christians (Jas. 4:7). So, the Christian needs only to stand firmly under the sign of the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, it is only necessary to oppose the devil mightily and with sincerity through faith in the crucified and risen Lord, and the devil will abandon him. "In my name they will cast out demons." (Mk. 16:17), is just such a promise preached by the Lord Jesus Christ concerning those who believe in Him. The sweetest name of Jesus Christ, with firm and sincere faith and with the sign of the cross uttered by us, serves as strong armor against the devil. It frightens him and causes his forces to flee from us.

Source: Novgorodskiia Eparkhialniia Vedomosti [Novgorodian Diocesan Messenger], 1894, 9