The descent into the bleak kingdom of death

15 April 2023

Today the Lord has descended into the vaults of Hades. Saint Peter says that he did so to preach to the spirits in prison [1 Peter 3, 19]. He descended into the cheerless, somber realms of death, where there is never a smile, in order to seek out the whole of humanity, from Adam and Eve to those who had died at that hour.

He descended into Hell and illumined it; through his presence, hell became paradise and the sleeping spirits of the righteous, weary of waiting in expectation and longing for him, desiring redemption, life and light and joy, leapt and exulted.

As much as the devil and his kingdom were embittered by the presence among them of the Victor of Life, so much did the sprits of the sleeping saints and righteous people rejoice, exulted and were made glad, in their haste to welcome the life-giving embrace of him who descended into hell to save us all. And after the Resurrection of Christ, the bodies of many of those sleeping rose and entered the holy city of Jerusalem, appearing to many. This means that God permitted a partial resurrection, not of everyone, but of some of those who had died recently. In other words, people who had not been dead long, a few years and who would have been remembered and recognized. They may have died 20 years earlier, but there would still have been plenty of people who remembered that Isaiah, that Jacob, that Zachariah, that Esther who’d been next-door neighbors, friends, grand-parents, uncles, mothers and fathers and elder siblings. It was easy to recognize them and God allowed this great miracle so that there wouldn’t be the slightest room for doubt, ever, that not only had he himself risen, but that the resurrection of all the dead was general…

What Jesus cares about is that, if we don’t believe, we’re lost, we’re outside the vineyard. We’re withered vines who will be consumed by the ever-burning fires of hell. This is what concerns him: that we shouldn’t be lost. In any case, whether we believe or don’t believe, it’s not as though we’re adding glory to him, subtracting grace or doing anything else. But we must believe in his Resurrection and the expected resurrection of all of us on the day of Judgement at which the archangel’s trumpet will sound and call us. Then the earth will give back what it has received: the ground will release the body, fire what it has consumed, the sea what it has swallowed and animals what they have mutilated. The bodies will be returned, reunited with the souls and will be raised. Because ‘once the soul is born, it does not die’. The ‘death’ of the soul is something different.

The soul never loses its sense of being, that it exists, but it has two options. It can sense its existence as well-being or ill-being. Saint Gregory Palamas says that everyone sees God. Everyone sees the uncreated light of the Divinity, but half will rejoice, exult, be glad and celebrate. They’ll say: ‘How wonderful, how beautiful, how pleasant, what joy’. The others will lament, be burned, will suffer and will grieve…

Here we are, at the respite of Great Saturday. ‘Life is slumbering’ and this evening the bells will call us together to celebrate the Lord’s Resurrection from the dead. Let us pray that the Lord will prepare our own resurrection: not to judgement and condemnation but to eternal life and a reign with him, with the Holy Trinity, Our Most Holy Lady the Mother of God and all the saints… May we know the blissful joy of the kingdom and hear ‘the pure sound of those celebrating and ceaselessly crying: “Lord, glory to you’”.