The Apostle's Creed slips those words in so quickly, that we can easily skirt over them. Speaking of Jesus, after "He was crucified, dead and buried," we read, "He descended into Hell." What in the world?!
About five or six years ago I took a sojourn into studying Eastern Orthodoxy, and my life has been richer for the journey. I've enjoyed so much reading, The Orthodox Way, by Bishop Kallistos Ware, writers by Alexander Mann and other Eastern theologians. But nothing was more rich for me than moving beyond the shallow Christian history upon which much of my theology is based. It seemed that before studying at an orthodox bookstore and church, I had rarely learned from anyone that was born before the 1600's.
I want to share a portion of a homily (that's "sermon"--just in case you--never mind) that was given by St. John Chrysostom. This message was shared in an Easter (Pascha) service more than seventeen hundred years ago. Pay particular attention to his references (many!) to Christ's confrontation with hell. Notice the power of Christ's resurrection according to this saint of the church.
Let no one grieve at his poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed. Let no one mourn that he has fallen again and again; for forgiveness has risen from the grave. Let no one fear death, for the Death of our Savior has set us free.
He has destroyed it by enduring it.
He destroyed Hades when He descended into it. He put it into an uproar even as it tasted of His flesh. Isaiah foretold this when he said, "You, O Hell, have been troubled by encountering Him below."
Hell was in an uproar because it was done away with. It was in an uproar because it is mocked. It was in an uproar, for it is destroyed. It is in an uproar, for it is annihilated. It is in an uproar, for it is now made captive. Hell took a body, and discovered God. It took earth, and encountered Heaven. It took what it saw, and was overcome by what it did not see.
O death, where is thy sting? O Hades, where is thy victory?
Christ is Risen, and you, O death, are annihilated! Christ is Risen, and the demons are cast down! Christ is Risen, and the angels rejoice! Christ is Risen, and life is liberated! Christ is Risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead; for Christ having risen from the dead, is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.
To Him be Glory and Power forever and ever. Amen!
Now take a deep breath and ask yourself: "Do I underrate the cataclysmic impact the resurrection has on evil? Do I worry to much about accomplishing something that Christ has already done?"
Well, the tomb is still dark and filled with death as I write this on Holy Saturday evening. What do you suppose the Mighty One has been up--oops--I mean down to?
I'll end this post with an orthodox prayer to the Holy Spirit. It is written here in old style language, but most of us can translate this fairly easily, I think.
Oh Heavenly King. Comforter. Spirit of Truth who art everywhere present, and fillest all things. Treasury of good things, and giver of life. Come and dwell in us, and cleanse us of all impurity and save our souls, Oh, Good One.