“Then John saw the victorious Son of God coming with royal majesty to hell”

The man John
spoke to the inhabitants of hell, rejoicing explained
boldly to the crowd about his kinsman’s coming:
‘Our Saviour promised me,
when he chose to send me on this journey,
that he would seek me again after six months,
Lord of all people. Now that time is passed;
I full expect and believe
that today the Lord will come in search of us,
the victorious Son of God.’

Then the Lord of mankind hastened to his journey.
The shield of the heavens wanted to destroy and demolish
the walls of hell, to carry off the people of the city,
most righteous of all kings.
In that battle he gave no thought for helmeted warriors
nor would he bring mail-clad soldiers
to the gates of that fortress; but the locks fell apart,
the barriers from the city, and the king rode in.
The Lord of all people pressed onward,
the host’s glory-gift. The exiles thronged together
each wanting to see the victorious Son:
Adam and Abraham, Isaac and Jacob,
many brave men, Moses and David,
Isaiah and Zachariah,
many patriarchs and a great gathering of heroes,
a host of prophets, a throng of women,
many virgins, countless numbers of people.

Then John saw the victorious Son of God
coming with royal majesty to hell,
the mourning man perceived the journey of God himself.
He saw the doors of hell brightly gleaming
which had long ago been locked,
shrouded in darkness. The thegn was full of joy.

Then the leader of the stronghold’s inhabitants boldly called out,
courageous before the crowd, and spoke to his kinsman
and welcomed him with words:
‘Thanks be to you, our Lord,
for you chose to seek us out,
now we are languishing in these bonds.
Though the enemy ensnares many brotherless exiles
— he is everywhere hostile —
there is no one so closely kept in cruel fetters
or bitterly bound in painful chains
that he may not easily find courage
if he trusts in his lord’s loyalty,
that he will release him from his bonds.
So we all trust in you alone,
my Lord so dear.

Now I, deep in tribulations,
implore our Saviour: you are the Lord Christ,
have mercy upon us, Maker of mankind!
You for the love of mankind sought
your mother’s womb, victorious Lord God,
not for your own need, Ruler of nations,
but for the mercies which you to mankind
have so often shown, when they were in need of grace.
You can embrace the habitations of all peoples,
and you, mighty Lord, can count
the sands of the sea, best of all Kings.
And so I implore you, our Saviour,
by your infancy, best of Kings,
and by the wounds, Lord of hosts,
your rising, joy of princes
and by Jordan in Judaea
— we two bathed in that stream together —
sprinkle with water, Lord of hosts,
all dwellers in the stronghold, with a joyful spirit,
as you and John in the Jordan
with your baptism inspired with joy
all this earth. Thanks be to the Lord for this forever!’

The Descent into Hell

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4 Responses to “Then John saw the victorious Son of God coming with royal majesty to hell”

  1. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    In case anyone has missed the one obvious detail (and it’s easy for us to miss it, I think), that’s St John the Baptist in the icon preaching to the inhabitants of Hades.

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  2. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    The entire poem may be found at the Anglo-Saxon Poetry Project.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Wonderful! Thank you for ikon, Clerk link, and Project link!

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