The mystery is the aura of our faith that we live in. And the greatest Mystery God in Christ His Son is the Incarnation and Resurrection to Life for they are the crown and gems, and the key and dogma of our Christian faith and what we believe.
In St. Paul’s first Letter to the Corinthians he writes: "Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed." 15: 51-53.
Also in his first letter to the Thessalonians, he tells us that
We believe that Jesus died and rose again; and so, we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have died believing in him. Those who have died believing in Christ will rise to life first; then we who are living at that time will all be gathered up along with them. (4: 13-18)
In the Nicene Creed we say every Sunday, our Faith proclaims that the Great Pascha - Soorp Harootiun; echoes again these words … And He [Christ] will come again with the glory of the Father to judge the living and the dead.
Not only does this message come to us, in word, but also in music, our Sharagans, and also it is preserved in the sacred art of the Armenian Church. The Promise of Eternal Life remains as the Sacred Rhythm of Life we as Christians live in Faith Hope and in the Love of Christ.
We have heard the words, we have sung the songs of the Resurrection but now let's take a look at this story in the iconography of our illuminated manuscripts. The powerful account of Jesus according to the tradition of our Church has been written in images by numerous painters and in some cases with varying in composition but unwaveringly showing the details of the Easter story.
The particular icon-illumination shown here and one frequently used in the Armenian Orthodox as well as other Orthodox traditions art tradition is the image known as Christ's Descent into Hades / The Harrowing of Hell. Portrayed is The Lord's Great victory over death as He descends into Hades to free from death all humanity kept there in captivity.
Did Jesus really go to Hell? As the Universal Epistle of St. Peter describes, He did and sometime between His Crucifixion and Resurrection …After being made alive [His Resurrection], he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits in prison [Sheol/Hades]— …and, 20 to those who were disobedient long ago …(1 Peter 3: 19-20)
We see in this icon-illumination how the theology of the Resurrection, - the bringing of salvation to fallen humanity in Adam and Eve and the righteous waiting Hades, - is beautifully described The twelfth century holy monk, St. Gregory of Narek's in a prayer from the Divine Liturgy (Word 33) describes what is portrayed here. He prays the loving-kindness of the Father was proclaimed through the Son, who brought the prodigal son back to the paternal inheritance and led the harlots into the heavenly kingdom, the blessed realm of the righteous.
Like St. Gregory the Vardapet / Supreme Doctor of the Armenian Church, Armenian monks who were artists, also painted the Resurrection account specifically showing Jesus' descent into Hades granting the possibility of the Resurrection for all who accept His Divinity.
In this sacred image, we immediately encounter Christ standing upon the doors of hell, - trampling them and breaking the bonds of captivity as the words of the rhythmic entrance hymn sung in our churches on Easter proclaim "mahvamp uzmah gokhyatz yev Harootiamp'n yiurov, mez uzgyanus barkevyats…" trampling down death by death and by his Resurrection granting life to us.
Now take a closer look at the victorious Lord descending into hell; that lowest possible point, or condition in life for any human soul. As depicted here, we see the place where Adam and Eve and all the righteous believers were held as prisoners of Satan.
Then suddenly and unexpectedly Jesus appears surprising the Devil, stomping upon the gates of damnation with his feet. He breaks through those doors of captivity, holding His victorious Cross and with it shattering the doors. While ultimately confounding and devastating Satan, Jesus the King of Glory shows His power and His Light in the darkest of dark places.
But then there is something else to observe; the dark background - the abyss of Hades-the grave clearly outlining all those souls the Lord has come to free and bring to that blessed realm of the righteous St. Gregory describes. The rhythm is mutual as Jesus reaches toward them and they approach Him. He extends His right hand to Adam and Eve giving them hope and assurance, pulling them all with them out of the grave and upward to the heights of His Glory.
A distinct echo of words written by King David the Psalmist is heard "… Out of the depths have I cried unto the, O Lord; Lord hear my voice" (Psalm 130).
Jesus the Christ hears, and is merciful, and they rise, and the tombs are emptied.
Christ attired in robes of glory is the conqueror, not a captive … the master of life itself, not a slave, but. Holding the Cross in his left hand, and showing it to be -no longer an instrument of death, but now the sign and image of hope, resurrection and eternal life with God.
Beneath the broken doors in another variation of this icon, in a darkened zone that is the lowest point of hell, there appear implements of suffering, torture, and chains of persecution.
Jesus as true God of true God devastates and annihilates the pain and sting of death, assuring those souls and assuring us of his promise: “Today you will be with me in Paradise” and that we will rise on the last day.
Every day of our lives on this planet earth, we may find ourselves in a hell-like condition. But remember Easter is for every day of our existence. Christ and His Promise give us that eternal Hope undiminished … to be with Him in Paradise.
We shall not all sleep, but we shall be changed- in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet ... the mortal body has put on immortality (1 Cor. 15 ff.)
This sacred image, the Harrowing of Hell, pictures the Victory of Christ par excellence and becomes our joy and Hope of Resurrection not only on Easter but also for all the days of our lives.
Haryav Krisdos Zartyav Krisdos. Christ is Risen. Christ is awakened in us. And, with him, the rhythm of our lives moves onward and upward to the Kingdom Eternal and that blessed realm of the righteous.
Tzez yev mez Medz Avedis. Krisdos Haryav ee Merelotz
Christ is Risen from the Dead. Blessed is the Resurrection of Christ