Today He who hung the earth upon the waters is hung upon the Tree. He who is King of the angels is arrayed in a crown of thorns. He who wraps the heaven in clouds is wrapped in the purple of mockery. He who in the Jordan set Adam free receives blows upon His face. The Bridegroom of the Church is transfixed with nails. The Son of the Virgin is pierced with a spear.1 Today a tomb holds Him who holds the creation in the hollow of His hand; a stone covers Him who covers the heavens with glory.2 [Today] Our Lord [rode] to the underworld, invaded death’s fortress, broke open its strong room and scattered all its treasures.3 Today is salvation for men upon the earth, and for those who from ages past are beneath the earth. Ye that sit in darkness and the shadow of death, receive the great Light!
Wherefore, let us hasten in mind and journey to Hades so as there to see how He masterfully mastered the tyrannical master . . . and how by the lightning flash of His brilliance, He, without hands, captured in His hand the whole soldiery of the ranks of those deathless orders. He took away the doorless doors, nay, Christ the Door shattered those woodless gates by the wood of the Cross; by the bonds of His Divine hands He dissolved like wax the indissoluble bonds; and by the spear [thrust] in His Divine side, He transfixed the heart of the tyrant. “There did He break the power of the bow,” (Ps 75:3) when upon the Cross He stretched out the sinews of His Divine arms like a bowman. Therefore, if thou followest Christ silently, thou shalt presently see where He bound the tyrant; where He hung the latter’s head; how He exhumed the dungeon; whither He led the prisoners; how He trampled upon the serpent; where He suspended its skull; and how He liberated Adam; how He raised up Eve; how He broke down the middle wall; how He punished the bitter Dragon; how He made perdition to perish; and where He restored man to his ancient dignity.
Yesterday, by way of economy, He refused to summon the numerous legions of angels (cf., Matt 26:53). But today, in a manner befitting God, a warrior and a sovereign, through death He tramples down the tyrant of Hades and death.
As soon as the glistering, divinely-accompanied presence of the Master reached Hades windowless, sunless, nocturnal dungeons, hovels, lairs, and caves . . . the hostile powers . . . heard thunder-like voices . . . commanding, “Lift up your gates, O ye princes!” (Ps 23:7) And as soon as the hosts cried these things, straightway the gates were raised up, straightway the bonds were loosed, straightway the hostile powers were turned to flight, one pushing the other, one impeding the other, one exclaiming to the other, “Flee!”
For there, Christ “cut asunder the heads of the princes with amazement,” (Hab 3:14) there “they trembled” at Him, there they “burst their bridles,” saying “Who is the King of Glory?” (Ps 23:10)
As these things, therefore, and more than these were coming to pass . . . and all things were in an uproar, and the Master’s presence was about to reach the very bottommost realm of the nethermost regions, then Adam, the first of men to be created . . . who lay in the innermost recesses bound with great security, heard the sound of the Master’s feet as He came to the imprisoned, and he recognized His voice which sounded in the prison as He walked. And Christ . . . grasping his hand, said, “Stand up, ‘Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall shine on thee’ (Eph 5:14). I am thy God, who for thy sake became thy Son, for thy sake and for thy descendants’ sake, and now I say, and with authority command the shackled, Come forth! and those in darkness, Be enlightened! and those asleep, Arise! Thee I enjoin, Awake, O sleeper! for I did not fashion thee to be held in Hades as a captive. Arise from the dead, for I am the Life of the dead! Arise, My creation, arise, Mine image, who wast also made in My likeness! ‘Arise, let us go hence!’” (Jn 14:31)
Arise, let us go hence, from affliction into joy, from slavery into freedom, from prison into the Jerusalem on high, from bonds into repose, from detention into the delight of Paradise! Arise, let us go hence! For My Heavenly Father waits for the sheep that was lost.
When the Master said this and more besides, Adam, being united to Him inwardly, rose up, and Eve arose as well, and the bodies of many others, who in faith had fallen asleep from ages past, arose also (cf. Matt 27:52). The same, O men of faith, let us now joyously welcome, let us behold it and embrace it, as we form one chorus with the angels, and with the bodiless celebrate and glorify Christ Who raised us up from corruption and gave us life, to Whom be glory and dominion with His Father, Who is without beginning, and His all-holy, good and life-creating Spirit, both now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.4
1Lenten Triodion, Stichera of Good Friday
2Triodion, Stichera of Holy Saturday
3Saint Ephrem, Homily on the Death of Christ
4Saint Epiphanius, Homily on Holy Saturday)