The traditional type of Orthodox Pascha Icon

Why not the more-familiar (to non-Orthodox eyes) Jesus bursting out of the tomb, radiating Light, soldiers lying on the ground “like dead men,” angels at His sides, flag flapping in the breeze(?), etc.?

Because Orthodox icons are theological, and the Lord is not a showoff! The Resurrection was not a neat trick to prove He’s Someone special (which of course He is!). It was, as the Paschal Troparion (hymn) says, to “trample down death by death* and bestow life on those in the tombs,” exactly as depicted here. (*–Note His feet, and legs bent at the knees, actively “trampling down” the gates of Hades [fallen in the shape of the Cross] – their hinges, locks, and keys scattered in the darkness.) He is always for US, not for Himself. His Resurrection is about US.

Under Catholic/Protestant influence, you may see other kinds of icons among the Orthodox – the Lord actually rising from His own tomb (not mentioned in the Gospels) – some very appealing to this pair of Irish eyes – or the arrival of the Myrrhbearing Women, etc. But the one above is in the style most traditional to Orthodoxy. He grasps the hand/arm of Adam to raise him from his coffin/Hades, Eve praying, St. John the Forerunner (messy hair) and other righteous of the Old Testament looking on.

(OPINION ALERT!)– I’m even reminded of the idea raised by scholars of the Gospel and Epistles of St. John the Theologian, that ‘between the lines’ in those Scriptures is a concept of resurrection that the Lord raises us with Him in His own Resurrection, like Vine and branches (cf. John 15) – suggested here with the “branch” Adam, and in other versions of this icon where the Lord grasps both Adam’s and Eve’s hands. IOW, that there is One Resurrection, His, in which we may participate if we become part of His (Rising) Body. In fact, the icon’s usual Greek label He Anastasis need not translate the He, “the,” and it doesn’t say “of Christ”… just “Resurrection,” like, ‘This is all there is, become part of it.’ Of course, everyone will be raised, some to Life and possibly others to Suffering, in the Glory/Light/Uncreated Energies of God. But the righteous of the OT are being raised to Life, as indicated by the halos on (i.e., Uncreated Energy radiating from) some of them – as we all may be.

Christ is Risen! Indeed, He is Risen!

  1. Karen

    Christ is risen!!!

    I love the traditional resurrection icon, with Christ bringing Adam and Eve out of their tombs. He opened the gates of Hades and freed the captives. Christ’s incarnation, passion, death, and resurrection was a rescue mission.

    My favorite saying: “Hell: once full of captives, now staffed by volunteers.”

  2. me

    Indeed, He is Risen, Karen!

    I actually laughed out loud when I read that saying! Strangely, I never encountered it before.

    But I hope you won’t take it personally if I introduce some Orthodox clarification that might take the fun out of it(!). For those who are familiar, Hades is more like old Jewish Sheol, the “abode of the dead,” than Milton’s fire and brimstone. In my reading it sounded like a dull, boring place where nothing much ever happened. Some scholars say pre-Maccabean Judaism at best struggled with an idea of an afterlife (even though Orthodox Christians realize they were dealing with the vision of God’s Glory throughout their history), so maybe Sheol was the beginnings of that conceptualization for the ones they’re thinking of. From the post-Resurrection perspective, Hades was the place where the righteous of the Old Testament awaited liberation by Christ. In connection with the icon above, I’ve read that the gates of Hades were, on their other side, also the gates to Heaven: think like adjacent rooms… even the “waiting room” vs. the destination.

    And Hades may still be the place or state where we are said to wait between our own repose and the general resurrection at the end of time… where we experience a small foretaste of our eternity, the Glory of God, whether we’ll experience it as the glorious Light of Tabor, or painful fire.

    Just to remind us that for Orthodox, Hades isn’t Hell… although sometimes prayers are translated that way into English imprecisely. Nor is it Latin Purgatory: there’s no “purgation” available – or at least none that will ever end, for those who’ve earned the fire-experience – just a foretaste of your future before God.

    (And remember that “Heaven” is merely a Second-Temple Jewish/New Testament euphemism for “God,” ie, no clouds or harps, just the “Kingdom of Heaven,” ie, the Reign or Rule of God, ie, His Energies.)

    Leo Peter

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