Does Hades exist?


In ancient Greek mythology, Hades was the god of the underworld. When people died, mourners would place a coin under the tongue of the deceased to pay Charon, to take them across the river into the underworld. There they were assigned to one of the different areas of the underworld, ranging from the pitch darkness of Tartarus, where the souls were being punished for their sins, to the Fortunate Isles, where the souls lived in eternal bliss. Hades, as the ruler of the underworld, would maintain a relative balance, and ensure that no one escaped or was kidnapped into the upper world. Living people would dread Hades’ name or anything about him, out of fear that they would be punished after their death.

The name ‘Hades’ appears in Scripture as well, although in a completely different context. For example, the Greek translation of the Old Testament (the Septuagint), translates the Hebrew word ‘Sheol’ into the word ‘Hades’ (e.g. Isaiah 38:18). Both words refer to the abode of the dead. They are not synonymous with the state of torment, or hell/Gehenna.

In the book of Psalms, we read, “For You will not leave my soul in Sheol, nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption” (Psalms 16:10). This verse is quoted twice in the Acts of the Apostles, once by St Peter (Acts 2:25-31) and once by St Paul (Acts 13:35-37). In both cases, the Apostles stated that the Holy One mentioned by David was a prophetic reference to Jesus Christ, who indeed, tasted death but did not taste corruption – He escaped corruption, by resurrecting from the dead and thus defeating Death/Hades/Sheol.

Jesus Himself also refers to Hades. On one occasion, to Peter, He says, “and I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (Matt 16:18). In other words, it is not just Christ who defeats death and escapes corruption, but all living members of the Church, by being in living communion with the victor Christ.

Orthodox Christians believe that death is the natural consequence of sin. No mortal human can escape death. This absoluteness of death is personified in the figure of Hades. Jesus was the one who defeated Hades through His crucifixion and resurrection, thus shattering death for all of us.

All this is encapsulated in the Orthodox icon of the Resurrection. In the centre of the icon is the triumphant Christ. He is standing on the shattered doors of Hades. The keys and chains of the door of Hades are flying everywhere. The person of Hades is bound and gagged, beneath the shattered doors. Jesus is lifting two people out of graves – those two people are Adam and Eve, which represent all of us.

In the Paschal Homily of St John Chrysostom, the victory of Jesus over Hades is articulated so eloquently that no further comment is required:

Hades is angered because it has been mocked, it is angered because it has been destroyed… It seized a body, and, lo! it encountered heaven; it seized the visible, and was overcome by the invisible. O death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory? Christ is risen and you are abolished. Christ is risen and the demons are cast down… Christ is risen and the tomb is emptied of the dead: for Christ, being risen from the dead, has become the Leader and Reviver of those who had fallen asleep. To Him be glory and power for ever and ever. Amen.


Fr G.L.

Source: Lychnos February/March 2018