Troparion — Tone 2
The Noble Joseph, / when he had taken down Your most pure Body from the tree, / wrapped it in fine linen, / and anointed it with spices, / and placed it in a new tomb.
Troparion — Tone 2
When You descended to death, O Life Immortal, / You slayed hell with the splendor of Your Godhead, / and when from the depths You raised the dead, / all the Powers of Heaven cried out, / O Giver of Life, Christ our God, glory to You!
Troparion — Tone 2
The Angel came to the myrrh-bearing women at the tomb and said: / “Myrrh is fitting for the dead, / but Christ has shown Himself a stranger to corruption.”
Reading from the Book of Isaiah 61:1-9
“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, because the Lord has anointed Me to preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn, to console those who mourn in Zion, to give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they may be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.” And they shall rebuild the old ruins, they shall raise up the former desolations, and they shall repair the ruined cities, the desolations of many generations. Strangers shall stand and feed your flocks, and the sons of the foreigner shall be your plowmen and your vinedressers. But you shall be named the priests of the Lord, they shall call you the servants of our God. You shall eat the riches of the Gentiles, and in their glory you shall boast. Instead of your shame you shall have double honor, and instead of confusion they shall rejoice in their portion. Therefore in their land they shall possess double; everlasting joy shall be theirs. “For I, the Lord, love justice; I hate robbery for burnt offering; I will direct their work in truth, and will make with them an everlasting covenant. Their descendants shall be known among the Gentiles, and their offspring among the people. All who see them shall acknowledge them, that they are the posterity whom the Lord has blessed.”
He descended into hell;
This is my single favorite writing on this commemoration of this day of Holy Week.
Something strange is happening – there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and Hell trembles with fear.
He has gone to search for our first parent, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow the captives of Adam and Eve, he who is both God and the son of Eve. The Lord approached them bearing the cross, the weapon that had won him victory. At the sight of him, Adam, the first man he had created, struck his breast in terror and cried out to everyone: “My Lord be with you all.” Christ answered him: “And with your spirit.” He took him by the hand and raised him up, saying:
“Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.
“I am your God, who for your sake has become your son. Out of love for you and for your descendants I now by my own authority command all who are held in bondage to come forth, all who are in darkness to be enlightened, and all who are sleeping to arise.
“I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be held a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead. Rise up, work of my hands, you who were created in my image. Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in me and I am in you; together we form only one person and we cannot be separated. For your sake I, your God, became your son; I, the Lord, took the form of a slave; I, whose home is above the heavens, descended to the earth and beneath the earth.
“For your sake, for the sake of man, I became like a man without help, free among the dead. For the sake of you, who left a garden, I was betrayed to the Jews in a garden, and I was crucified in a garden.
“See on my face the spittle I received in order to restore to you the life I once breathed into you. See there the marks of the blows I received in order to refashion your warped nature in my image. On my back see the marks of the scourging I endured to remove the burden of sin that weighs upon your back. See my hands, nailed firmly to a tree, for you who once wickedly stretched out your hand to a tree.
“I slept on the cross and a sword pierced my side for you who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side has healed the pain in yours. My sleep will rouse you from your sleep in hell. The sword that pierced me has sheathed the sword that was turned against you.
“Rise, let us leave this place. The enemy led you out of the earthly paradise. I will not restore you to that paradise, but I will enthrone you in heaven. I forbade you the tree that was only a symbol of life, but see, I who am life itself am now one with you. I appointed cherubim to guard you as slaves are guarded, but now I make them worship you as God.
“The throne formed by cherubim awaits you, its bearers swift and eager. The bridal chamber is adorned, the banquet is ready, the eternal dwelling places are prepared, and the treasure houses of all good things lie open. The kingdom of heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity.”
The Harrowing of Hell is an event alluded to in The ancient Apostle’s Creed; an event in which the light of Our Master and Illuminator, as the Sun of Righteousness set ere the evening of the Sabbath and rose for the first time in Hell, the place of shadows and the dead, to preach to and free the righteous who passed into Eternity prior to His earthly manifestation.
That passage from the Apostle’s Creed – “He descended into Hell” describes a mystical event whose spiritual theme is illustrated regularly throughout the Holy Scriptures and the writings of the Church Fathers – through baptism, confession, and repentance, and through the acceptance of the message of the Way and the gifts of the All-Holy Spirit, which leads off from the grave of spiritual death into the light of renewed life. May we, by the grace of the Father of Lights, through the agency of Our Savior, Jesus Christ, and the power of the All-Holy Spirit, in whose triune name we pray, shower us with the strength and gifts we require to uplift ourselves and others towards Him, in our personal upright spiritual growth and in our compassionate behavior towards our brothers and sister in this life. AMEN.