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I have an Icon in my office, Anastasis, also known as the Resurrection Icon or the “Harrowing of Hell” Icon. You are not likely to find this Icon in any Latin Rite Catholic Church. It is often found in many Byzantine or Eastern Rite churches. I came across it a few years ago when I visited the Blessed Bishop Vasyl Valychkovsky National Martyr’s Shrine located at St. Joseph’s Ukrainian Catholic Church in Winnipeg.
This Icon depicts Jesus’s Descent into Hell as is stated in one of the articles of the Creed. Entering into this mystery between Christ’s death on the cross and His resurrection on the third day, we can sometimes wonder what Jesus was doing during that time. There was a great silence and stillness on the earth on Holy Saturday.
What did Jesus do when He descended into Sheol? He went in search of our first parents, Adam and Eve. Jesus lifted them out of their graves in order to bring them to heaven. Up until Jesus’ death on the cross the gates of heaven were closed to the human race. No one, none of the righteous, were able to enter into heaven because of Original Sin. Jesus’ descent into this darkness was not done quietly. He came and smashed the gates of hell and bound Satan. The Light of Christ dispelled the darkness and set the captives free. Jesus is standing on the gates of hell as they are depicted in the shape of a cross, which is the sign of His victory over death. Jesus emptied this place of darkness and He brought them to heaven with its gates wide open.
What a great image of hope. For me, personally, I have lost many loved ones in the last few years. Most recently my 99 year old uncle on this past Good Friday. Many of my loved ones lived long and full lives while many others did not. I only know that whenever my last day on this earth comes that I will have lived my life as a faithful disciple of Christ and that despite my numerous failings and weaknesses that Jesus will also remember me when He comes into His Kingdom. Many years ago I made a choice: God or nothing. I never stop praying for all of the ones that have gone before, because hope never disappoints. I also pray for the conversion of all people that they may also be filled with hope and also become faithful disciples of Jesus Christ.
I know that this is too hard for many. I confess that sometimes it is too hard for me. But I look at the Cross and I look at this Icon and I am brought back to myself. All I can do is put one foot in front of the other and let God do the rest. Because hope never disappoints.
CHRIST IS RISEN ! INDEED HE IS RISEN !