The Paschal Comedy
Long before the medieval theories of soteriology, Christian art and hymnography described our Lord's descent into hell as a sort of "surprise attack" on the realm of death. According to this imagery, the soul of Christ descended into the netherworld even as his body was placed in the tomb. Neither place, however, was able to hold him.
According to the prophet David, Christ was victorious over death both in the grave and in the netherworld: "For you will not leave my soul in hell, / Nor will you allow your Holy One to see corruption" (Psalm 16:10). The Apostle Peter commented on this text: "His soul was not left in Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses" (Acts 2:31–32).
There was no way for the realm of death to prepare for the dramatic appearance of Jesus, whom it was unable to hold. Death had swallowed what it could not digest. St. John Chrysostom said it best:
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Patrick Henry Reardon is pastor emeritus of All Saints Antiochian Orthodox Church in Chicago, Illinois, and the author of numerous books, including, most recently, Out of Step with God: Orthodox Christian Reflections on the Book of Numbers (Ancient Faith Publishing, 2019).
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