Athanasios Moustakis

We shall try here to point out the main features of the Orthodox icon which is entitled “The Descent into Hell”. The first thing to note is that it is entirely different from the Western-style depiction, which shows Christ emerging triumphantly from the tomb, holding a little flag. The astonished guards have fallen to the ground.

The Western-style icon presents a scene that no-one ever saw. The moment of the Resurrection is a concealed secret. The Orthodox approach is entirely different. It depicts the results of the event of the Resurrection for people and for the world.

Christ, in the centre, is wearing shining white garments and is within a mandorla. He is holding the hands of Adam and Eve and raising them from death, into which they were brought by their erroneous choice in Paradise. With this action, which is dynamic (we might almost say explosive) our attention immediately focuses on the central meaning of the scene: “and raising Adam up with Himself”, the Salvation of humankind. It is significant that both are emerging from tombs.

Christ is standing firmly on two pieces of wood lying in such a way as to form a cross. These are the gates of Hell, which Christ demolished through the grace of His cross. With death, they closed, but were not powerful enough to hold Him in thrall. All around, there are broken and now useless bits of locks and chains which, until then had sealed off any escape route from Hell. Below all this there this the blackness of Hell, which, until the Resurrection was the end of the road for humankind.

To the left and right of Christ stand people who had lived on earth before Him. All turn to Him in expectation of their salvation. Among them there is, first, Saint John the Baptist, and also the prophets and the righteous of the Old Testament, such as the Prophet King David.

At the rear of the composition there are hills, which, in some depictions feature representations of prophets (e.g. David and Jonas), who had foretold the mighty event of the Resurrection. They are holding scrolls with their prophecies written upon them.

In conclusion, we would mention the white raiment worn by Christ, which symbolizes the joy of the Resurrection and prefigures our own Resurrection, which will follow.



Pemptousia Partnership

Pemptousia and OCN have entered a strategic partnership to bring Orthodoxy Worldwide. Greek philosophers from Ionia considered held that there were four elements or essences (ousies) in nature: earth, water, fire and air. Aristotle added ether to this foursome, which would make it the fifth (pempto) essence, pemptousia, or quintessence. The incarnation of God the Word found fertile ground in man’s proclivity to beauty, to goodness, to truth and to the eternal. Orthodoxy has not functioned as some religion or sect. It was not the movement of the human spirit towards God but the revelation of the true God, Jesus Christ, to man. A basic precept of Orthodoxy is that of the person ­– the personhood of God and of man. Orthodoxy is not a religious philosophy or way of thinking but revelation and life standing on the foundations of divine experience; it is the transcendence of the created and the intimacy of the Uncreated. Orthodox theology is drawn to genuine beauty; it is the theology of the One “fairer than the sons of men”. So in "Pemptousia", we just want to declare this "fifth essence", the divine beaut in our life. Please note, not all Pemptousia articles have bylines. If the author is known, he or she is listed in the article above.


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