St Epiphanius – On the Lord’s Descent into Hades
Christ’s descent into Hades, although only mentioned briefly in the New Testament, is confirmed as a mystery of cosmic significance by the hymnology and iconography of the early Church. This event is narrated most magnificently by Saint Epiphanius of Salamis in his famous Holy Saturday homily: “Whither does He go? What is the means, what is the intent of His descent into Hades?”
St Epiphanius explains that Christ goes to Hades with the intention of seeking out and liberating his lost sheep Adam and Eve. He then continues: “But hurry, let us descend with Him, let us dance with Him and rejoice with Him, for He who is by nature Friend of man goes with great gallantry to lead forth them that have been held captive from ages past.”
The descent of Christ’s soul into Hades is understood as a real event, which took place while the body of Jesus slept in the tomb. St Epiphanius goes on to portray the legions of the heavenly hosts arrayed for battle before the dread gates of Hades. The devil falls powerless before the invincible might of the God-man, and the angelic hosts, led by the archangels Michael and Gabriel, tear down the battlements and rout the forces of the enemy as their Master advances before them. The climax of the victory is the Lord’s arrival at the deepest subterranean dungeon, where his ancestor according to the flesh lies captive.
Adam recognises the sound of his Creator’s footsteps approaching, and as Christ bursts into the prison bearing the Cross as His weapon of victory, Adam cries out with joy to his fellow captives: “My Lord be with you all!” Full of tenderness, Christ replies to him, “And with your spirit,” before grasping the hand of His beloved child, leading him up from death into everlasting life, together with all the righteous souls who believe in His glorious Resurrection.
Source: Lychnos April – May 2019