One of the more well-known sermons of St. John Chrysostom is the Paschal sermon that is read in Orthodox Churches during the Paschal Matins service. The sermon is short, which proves the point that one does not need to preach for an hour to make a point, and it encapsulates the entire message of Easter.
At the Agape Vespers service yesterday, I focused on one line towards the end of the sermon. In the translation that I use it says the following referring to Christ’s decent into Hades after His Crucifixion;
He despoiled Hades as He descended into it; it was angered when it tasted His flesh.
Other translations use the word “embittered” but I do not think it has the same punch as making Hades angry.
St. John goes on to tell us why Hades was angry.
“It was angered because it was abolished.” By Christ’s death Hades has been abolished. The gates of paradise have been opened once again for humanity and the rift has been repaired. The image in the Resurrection Icon of Jesus lifting Adam and Eve out of their Tombs completes this image of Hades being abolished.
“It was angered because it was mocked.” Christ descended to Hades and broke the chains of those chained there. He set the captives free and there was nothing that Hades could do. He proved that he is truly the Lord of not only the living but of the dead. He broke the grip that Hades had on those there and redeemed them by His very own blood.
“It took earth and came face to face with heaven. It took what it saw and fell by what it could not see.”
What this says to me is that Hades did not win, Christ won and will continue to win. Hades tries to regain its foothold on the earth and each time we sing “Christ is Risen” we mock Hades just like Christ did in person. Each time we turn from sin and turn towards Christ and His Holy Church we anger Hades.
That is the message of Pascha. That is the message of the spiritual life.
“The Master is gracious: He accepts the last even as the first; He gives rest to those of the eleventh as well as to those who have labored from the first…”