"...the Sun of righteousness descended into Hell, illumined it and made it Heaven. For where Christ is, there also is Heaven." - St. John Chrysostom
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
The transfiguring and deifying mystery of Pascha cannot be separated from the power of the cross and therefore from the power of our Lord's saving humility and self-emptying. "And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross." (Phil. 2:8) It is the cross, the very antithesis to all that is associated with worldly power and triumph, which the Savior ascends and uses as his only weapon to release us from our captivity to sin and death. The cross is also the throne of the humiliated Christ and becomes the throne of the New Jerusalem from where the King of Glory summons all of humanity to himself. "Now is the judgment of this world, now shall the ruler of this world be cast out, and I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself." (Jn. 12:31-32)
Through the cross Christ also descends into Hell, which, though defeated, continues to be transformed. No longer the realm of alienation, darkness and death, Hell is being made into paradise where life reigns forever. "Descending into Hell through the cross, Christ fills all things with himself..." (Lit. of St. Basil) Because of this incomprehensible descent, the inherently gloomy and frightening aspects surrounding death and the grave are being overcome by the light and joy emanating from Christ's empty tomb.
Our celebration of Pascha affirms that by ascending the cross and by descending into Hell, the Savior is raising us, here and now, into the very bosom of deified life. Yet, this reality is expressed in the simple and mighty words, "Christ is Risen! Indeed He is Risen!" must never be taken for granted. The evangelical and missionary thrust of these words depends on whether we can stand beautifully in the arena of life where Hell's tyranny often seems to remain secure. We stand beautifully when we become the abode of the humiliated and crucified Christ whose life creating and life saving death is refashioning us into heaven.