Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh

Descent into Hell

9 May 1982
Theme: Confession   Place: London Parish   Period: 1981-1985   Genre: Sermon

One of the icons of the Resurrection shows us what is called ‘the Harrowing of hell’; deep under the surface of the earth, away from all those who were close to them, outside of the world of human love and companionship we see those who have died, prisoners of estrangement, – mutual estrangement and estrangement from God. And yet, in their midst – the Lord Jesus Christ, raising Adam and Eve, and in their person raising all mankind out of estrangement, out of loneliness, out of this darkness into light, into the Kingdom of eternal Love, into the Kingdom won for us by Christ on the Cross.

And in a sense, this is a wonderful and tragic image of what happens in Confession; the priest, who stands in God’s own name, and is called to descend together with the penitent into the deepest recess of pain, darkness, sin, descends into a hell, similar to that which the icon depicts; but at the same time he sees something wonderful and miraculous: into this darkness descends more than a ray of light, or a ray of hope; into this darkness descends the Lord Jesus Christ, healing, saving, bringing consolation, bringing new vigour, bringing the joy of salvation… What a wonderful thing it is to be able to stand before the living God, as all those who were dead met the Lord Jesus Christ to face Him, and from death to return to life… How wonderful that this is given us!

Lazarus died; Lazarus passed through the narrow gate of death, his body fell into corruption, his soul sintered into the realm of the divine judgement; and of a sudden, a voice repacked him, the voice of the Creative Word of God, the One without Whom nothing that exists came into existence: Lazarus – c o m e forth! Come out of death, come out of corruption, come out of the grave, come back into this transitory life of the earth as a witness of a resurrection more essential, more important than even the resurrection of the body, the resurrection of a soul that had entered into the darkness of death.

We all, at different moments, stand before the judgement of God; we all, and it should be so often, perceive that there is no eternal life in us, that we live within a transitory, ephemeral condition, that the only way in which we could be alive is by the life of God Himself poured into us, and gushing out of us. And this resurrec­tion is p o s s i b l e; if we only turn to God, if we only open to Him these frightening depths of hell which are within us, the recesses of darkness, then God Himself comes and life enters into death, and we become alive with a new life, the life of the risen Christ, who has conquered death that we may live.

Let us be earnest about our lives! So often we shut our eyes to everything that is dark and ugly and unseemly; if only we had the courage to open up this darkness, to expose all this ugliness to the eyes of God and say, Lord! Come! Harrow this hell – hell itself would become a place of light, repentance would become joy, brokenheartedness would unite us to God… May God give us courage, and a sense of honour, a sense of our own greatness, and a sense of the greatness and of holiness of God in which we are called to partake. Amen.

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