And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty.
– St Paul the Apostle
At the centre of the Christian faith is Jesus Christ and His Resurrection from the dead. As such, the Icon of the Resurrection is the most celebrated, the most common, the most cherished, the most instructive.
It is all of these things because the Orthodox Icon of the Resurrection is not content with simply showing us the Risen Christ, or the empty tomb; the Victory shown in the Icon of the Resurrection is complete.
Christ is risen from the dead,
Trampling down death by death,
And upon those in the tombs bestowing life!
-Paschal (Easter) Hymn
Jesus Christ was not content with laying in the tomb for three days after His crucifixion. Instead, while His body was entombed, Christ’s soul descended into Hades, or Hell. Christ descended there not to suffer, but to fight, and free the souls trapped there. Just as bringing a light into darkness causes the darkness to disappear, the Source of all Life descending into the abode of the dead resulted in Jesus’ victory over death, and not death’s victory over Jesus. This is the full reality of what Christ’s death and resurrection accomplished.
In the Icon, Jesus Christ stands victoriously in the centre. Robed in Heavenly white, He is surrounded by a mandorla of star-studded light, representing the Glory of God. Christ is shown dramatically pulling Adam, the first man, from the tomb. Eve is to Christ’s left, hands held out in supplication, also waiting for Jesus to act. This humble surrender to Jesus is all Adam and Eve need to do, and all they are able to do. Christ does the rest, which is why He is pulling Adam from the tomb by the wrist, and not the hand.
Surrounding the victorious Christ are John the Baptist and the Old Testament Righteous (Abel is shown as the young shepherd-boy). Those who predeceased Christ’s crucifixion descended to Hades, where they patiently waited the coming of their Messiah. Now they are freed from this underworld, and mingle freely with Christ and His angels.
And what of this underworld, Hades? It is shown in the aftershock of Christ’s descent into its heart – in utter chaos.
This event, known as the Harrowing of Hades, was taught from the very beginning of the Church. St. Melito of Sardis (died ca 180) in Homily on the Passion; Tertullian in A Treatise on the Soul, 55, Hippolytus in Treatise on Christ and Anti-Christ , Origen in Against Celsus, 2:43, and, later, St. Ambrose (died 397) all wrote of the Harrowing of Hell.
“Harrow” comes from the Old English word used to describe the ploughing of a field with a cultivator which is dragged roughly over the ground, churning it up. In the icon, Christ is shown with the instrument of His death plunged deep into Hades. Beneath Christ’s feet – which still carry the marks of His crucifixion – lay the gates of Hades, smashed wide open. Often they are shown laying in the shape of the Cross. Therefore, just as the hymns proclaim, so too does the Icon: Christ has trampled death by death.
Within the dark underworld are scattered broken chains and locks; and at the very bottom is the personified Hades, prostrate and bound. Hades is not destroyed – it is still there – but its power to bind people is gone. There are no chains, no locked doors. If only we raise our hands in supplication and longing for Jesus Christ, He is there to lift us from the grave.
Thou didst descend into the tomb, O Immortal,
Thou didst destroy the power of death!
In victory didst Thou arise, O Christ God,
…bestowing resurrection to the fallen.
Would love to know where this icon of the resurrection is located and when it was created. I can only assume it is in an English speaking congregation and is fairly recent, but please provide details if possible.
The icon is a modern fresco from the walls of the Holy Trinity Church in Butte, Montana; I have only seen pictures, but the other frescoes appear excellent too:
Pingback: The Busy Servants of Moloch « The Anchoress
Pingback: The Resurrection Icon of Victory A Reader s Guide to Orthodox » Images Search
Pingback: Boundless Christ | Resurrection Icon with Extra Scenes | A Reader's Guide to Orthodox Icons
Reblogged this on The Ruminations of a Orthodox Catechumen.
Pingback: » Blog Archive » The Center of The Christian Faith
Pingback: That Holy Ache | communicating.across.boundaries
Pingback: Christ IS Risen! | NC Links
Hello! I am currently an editor for a new prayer book for youth here in Norway, and we are portraying different icons in this book, as one way of praying. Right now Im looking for a high resolution version of the “ressurection icon”. Can anyone help me out? I would be most delighted and grateful.
Pingback: The Icon of the Resurrection | Homologeo
Pingback: The Place of the Theotokos in Icons of the Resurrection | A Reader's Guide to Orthodox Icons
Beautifully written piece on the Resurrection icon and the Harrowing of Hell. I learned a few things I didn’t know before. I was honoured to be Baptized into the Church on Holy Saturday a few years ago, so I am, of course, especially fond of this icon. Thank you!
Wonderful blog, very informative. Please continue working on it! I really enjoy reading all the descriptions.
I enjoy all of your post. They are both informative & inspirational. Thank you for the time and effort you put in to describe these beautiful icons.
Beautiful. Question: Who are the people in red above Jesus?
They are angels but I do not know what they are doing.
Pingback: Ways to Celebrate the Resurrection (For More Than Just a Day!) - Orthodox Motherhood
Pingback: Contemporary icons of the Baptism of Christ – Art & Theology
Pingback: Kristus ir augšāmcēlies! « Krustpils draudze
I am wondering if you can tell me why most icons of Christ (other than those depicting the Taking Down from the Cross or the Touching by St. Thomas) do not show the marks of the wounds in His hands and feet. It seems from the account about St. Thomas that His resurrected body did have the wounds (although He could also appear in “another form” to the disciples on the road to Emmaus). I see that some icons of the Descent into Hades show the wounds, but others do not. One the Fathers even speaks of the ascended Christ showing his wounds to the Father as badges of honor, yet I have not seen any icons of the Ascension that show these. Moreover, I don’t recall ever seeing an icon in a church dome or iconostasis that showed the wounds. I would very much appreciate any insight into this.