The Icon of the Resurrection

The Icon of the Resurrection

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Peter said, “Brethren, I may say to you confidently of the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants upon his throne,  he foresaw and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that He was not abandoned to Hades, nor did His flesh see corruption.  This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses.  Acts 2: 29-32  Bright Monday-Feast of St. George

 

Good morning Prayer Team!

Christ is Risen!

For the next forty days, the icon of the Resurrection will be displayed in our churches.  The icon of the Resurrection depicts not what happened on Easter Sunday.  It actually reflects what happened on Holy Saturday.  It does not show Christ coming out of the tomb, like a superhero, carrying a banner that says “I cheated death.”  It shows our most Merciful Lord, descending into Hades, and raising all those who had fallen through death.

The icon depicts Christ wearing all white garments, because He is the Light of the world.  The wounds in His hands and feet are visible.  Christ is often shown carrying His cross, because only through the cross is the Resurrection possible. Sometimes instead of showing a Cross, the icon depicts Christ holding a scroll.  In either case, the cross or the scroll, both represent the message that Christ preached to the captives He found in hell when He descended there.  Christ is standing on two doors, which are the brass gates of Hades, now broken down because of the Resurrection.  They are in the shape of a cross.  Scattered near the gates are the locks and keys that bound humanity to Hades.

The most prominent figures in the icon, after the Lord, are Adam and Eve, the first human beings that God had fashioned, the symbols of a human race created in God’s image and likeness, who distorted that image through sin.  Adam and Eve are now given a new chance and a restored image.  For Christ, who in many places is called “the Second Adam,” has come to earth and done what the first Adam could not.  He showed that it is possible to live a life in unity with God, demonstrating faith and love, and avoiding temptation.  The reward for this life is eternal life, Resurrection from the dead.

The icon depicts many of the righteous figures who had preceded Christ.  A young man is often depicted in the icon.  This is Abel, the first person to die, killed by the hand of his brother Cain, the first person to suffer death as a result of the Fall.  (Genesis 4)  Moses, the one whom God spoke through to give the people the Law is shown. It was Moses who instituted the first Passover.  It is very appropriate that he is present for the “new Passover,” the Resurrection. David and Solomon, both kings, both ancestors of Christ, are depicted in the icon.  John the Baptist, the forerunner and last of the prophets is also usually depicted.

Christ is shown grabbing the wrists of Adam and Eve.  This is an important part of the icon.  When people great one another and shake hands, this denotes a position of equality, you might even say that symbolically it means meeting one another half-way.  The depiction of Christ grabbing the wrist of Adam tells us that we are not equal with God.  We cannot even meet God half-way.  But if we reach out to God, He is ready to grasp us by the wrist to take us with Him to Paradise.  This is the most hopeful part of the icon.  It reminds us that we have to reach out to God in faith, and let Him take care of the rest.

In some icons of the Resurrection, Eve is depicted behind Christ, waiting her turn for her Resurrection.  In some depictions her wrists are covered.  In the icons where Christ is grabbing only the hand of Adam, with the other hand, Adam is gesturing towards Eve, as if asking Christ to take care of his helpmate and to save her as well.

The Resurrection was made possible only because of the crucifixion.  An earthly death was required in order for the Resurrection to occur.  In our lives, an earthly death is required in order to inherit eternal life and enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.  The depiction in the icon assures us that those who fall through death will be raised to eternal life because of the Resurrection of the Lord.  The righteous figures of the Old Testament died with faith that something greater was coming.  They did not immediately go to heaven, because Jesus had not yet come and died for them, as He did for us.  Through the Resurrection, when we fall through death, we are raised to Paradise by the power and the mercy of Christ.

Jesus did not “cheat” death—He destroyed the power of death.  We will not cheat death either.  Each of us will eventually die an earthly death.  But because the Resurrection destroyed the power of death over us, when we die on this earth, we will be resurrected with Christ, the power “death” has over us will indeed be destroyed.

The service celebrated Holy Saturday morning is affectionately known as the “proti-Anastasis”, the First Resurrrection.  This is not a correct sentiment.  There was only one Resurrection, and it occurred after the Sabbath passed.  The event of Holy Saturday morning is the “First Announcement of the Resurrection,” which came to those in hell.  And what an announcement it must have been!  A hymn from the Matins (Orthros) of each Sunday (also chanted on Good Friday) says:

The assembly of the Angels was amazed beholding You numbered among the dead, O Savior, destroying the power of Death; with Yourself You raised up Adam, and freed everyone form Hades.  (Evlogetaria of Sunday Orthros, and of the Orthros of Holy Saturday, Trans. by Fr. George Papadeas)

May we be so fortunate to hear this announcement when we pass away from our earthly life.

Today Hades cried out groaning: “My power has been trampled on; the Shepherd has been crucified, and Adam He raised up.  I have been deprived of those, over whom I ruled; and all those, I had the power to swallow, I have disgorged. He, who was crucified has cleared the tombs.  The dominion of death is no more.”  Glory O Lord, to Your Cross and Resurrection. (From the Vesperal Liturgy on Holy Saturday Morning, Trans. by Fr. George Papadeas)

May we one day be raised from the dead by the Lord!

 

+Fr. Stavros

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About author
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Fr. Stavros Akrotirianakis

Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015, has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany”: “https://amzn.to/2t1rXwh and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.” https://amzn.to/2WAcfG0