“From His resurrection life reigned over mortals, and we have truly stripped off the old order by His death”

The resurrection of the Son is a new creation to the whole world,
and the world is new on account of it and hence it is beyond sufferings.
From His resurrection life reigned over mortals,
and we have truly stripped off the old order by His death.
The Mighty One rose up and He made us, those who were thrown down, rise up with Him.
He descended alone, but with many He ascended from the tomb.
The day before yesterday Scribes were mocking at Him, “Save Yourself,”
and today the watchers are kissing His tomb which He has left and gone out.
Yesterday the Dead One was lying concealed and silent in the habitation of Sheol
but today He is alive and gives life to the dead and raises all to life.
The day before yesterday, lance, gall and vinegar and crucifixion,
but today glory and clamour of the watchers with praise.
The day before yesterday the Only-Begotten placed His soul in the hands of His Father
but today He assumed it for He has authority as He commands all.
Yesterday He had mounted the wood of crucifixion,
but today there is strength, resurrection of the dead and power.
The day before yesterday Simon repeatedly renounced that he does not know Him
but today he runs to see His tomb because He was raised up.
The Friday of the sufferings prepared ambushes for the apostolic group;
but on Sunday, a new vision and cheerfulness.
Yesterday the King was held in sleep in Sheol,
but today He woke up and stood like a man who has shaken off his wine.
The other day there were sufferings and sorrow for the women disciples
but today exultation because they were seeing Him as the Gardener.
On the sorrowful Sabbath that Free-Born was among the dead,
but on Sunday He was escorted about by the companies of watchers.
Friday scattered the apostolic group in desolation,
but today has given joy to, and gathered together the company of the disciples.
Yesterday the apostles were lying in concealment,
but today they went out to see the resurrection with wonder.
The other day they had to flee, to be scattered, and to hide themselves,
but today to run, to be gathered together and to bring the tidings.

St Jacob of Sarug

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“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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The Reproaches

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“Ah, Holy Jesus”

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“Adam Pined on Earth, and Wept Bitterly, and was Heartsick for God”

Adam, father of all mankind, in paradise knew the sweetness of the love of God;
and so when for his sin he was driven forth from the garden of Eden,
and was widowed of the love of God,
he suffered grievously and lamented with a great moan.

And the whole desert rang with his lamentations,
for his soul was racked as he thought,
‘I have distressed my beloved God’.

He sorrowed less after paradise and the beauty thereof;
for he sorrowed that he was bereft of the love of God,
which insatiably, at every instant, draws the soul to Him.

In the same way the soul which has known God through the Holy Spirit,
but has afterwards lost grace experiences the torment that Adam suffered.

There is an aching and a deep regret in the soul that has grieved the beloved Lord.

Adam pined on earth, and wept bitterly, and the earth was not pleasing to him.
He was heartsick for God, and this was his cry:

My soul wearies for the Lord, and I seek Him in tears.
How should I not seek Him?
When I was with Him my soul was glad and at rest,
and the enemy could not come nigh me;

But now the spirit of evil has gained power over me,
harassing and oppressing my soul,

So that I weary for the Lord even unto death,
And my spirit strains to God,
and there is naught on earth can make me glad,

Nor can my soul take comfort in any thing,
but longs once more to see the Lord,
that her hunger may be appeased.

I cannot forget Him for a single moment, and my soul languishes after Him,
and from the multitude of my afflictions I lift up my voice and cry:

‘Have mercy upon me, O God. Have mercy on Thy fallen creature.’

Thus did Adam lament, and the tears steamed down his face on to his beard, on to the ground beneath his feet, and the whole desert heard the sound of his moaning.

The beasts and the birds were hushed in grief;
while Adam wept
because peace and love were lost to all men on account of his sin.

St Silouan the Athonite

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“Man will never have full knowledge of the mystery of Christ if he, too, has not been through hell”

In a short talk such as this it is not possible to examine all the words of St. Silouan, which are offered as words of God for our generation. It is enough for us to hold on to one word only, and try to go to its very depths. This word then, may become, by God’s grace, a lens through which we can gaze fixed at the endless horizons of the “great mystery of godliness” (1 Tim. 3:16), which has been revealed to us. So, today the word under consideration is the word of Christ to Silouan: “Keep thy mind in hell, and despair not”, which came as God’s answer to his prayer, “Lord, teach me what I must do that my soul may become humble.” We shall speak about this word, “Keep thy mind in hell, and despair not“, because it is central to the teaching of St. Silouan, and also to the understanding of the Way of Christ, that way which first descends and afterwards ascends, and which gives birth to all the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Chronologically, our generation is nearer to the Second Coming of Christ than ever before. That is logical. Moreover, the words of Christ, “Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8), imply that our generation finds itself in greater want and tribulation, and has need of salvation than ever before. What are the tribulations which emphatically constitute the command and distinctive mark of our generation? We can name a few, which according to our poor opinion are the chief ones: pride, the darkening of the mind and its captivity by the spirit of wickedness, despair and the multitude of involuntary afflictions which accompany it, and finally, despondency—the manifest lack of concern for the salvation which God offers every day to the world. This revealing word from Christ Himself: “Keep thy mind in hell, and despair notoffered by St Silouan to his contemporaries who are of like passions, provides the answer to these and many other symptoms. …

But what is the mystery of God which is enclosed in these words: “Keep thy mind in hell, and despair not“? It is evident that knowledge of this mystery brought Silouan victory over the power of the enemy, and a perfect likeness to his master, our Lord Jesus Christ. This is what Silouan witnesses to in another part of his writings.

He who has humbled himself, has conquered the enemy. No enemy can come near the man who in his heart esteems himself deserving of eternal fire. No earthly thoughts find place in his soul—heart and mind he lives entirely in God. And the man who has come to know the Holy Spirit, and learned humility of Him, has become like to his Teacher, Jesus Christ, Son of God, and resembles Him.

Why did this word of the Lord free Silouan from the struggle with the enemy, and add to his stature such strength of Spirit and stability of life? This happened because God’s word placed Silouan on the very Way of the Lord Himself. By following the Way of the Lord, one’s heart is “enlarged,” and man becomes unapproachable to his enemies. …

Therefore, the Way of the Lord stretches out through death on the Cross to the infernal regions of hell. It is like descending into the waters of baptism. Baptism is an imitation of the Lord’s Way. We meet Christ and put Him on (Gal. 3:27), and ascend reborn “in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4), since He first descended into the waters and blessed them. By first going down into the waters, in obedience to His commandment, we come up renewed. “Going down” signifies His death, and this is a real death, because we die to sin, and “coming up” signifies our rebirth “in newness of life”. In baptism, we have the tracing of the Way of the Lord, and so it is also when we are commanded to descend into hell: not that we may perish, but so that we may explore even there the wondrous mystery of the divine and humble love which reaches down even into those dreadful region. This is so that, before the greatness of this love, we may humble ourselves unto the end and, in our turn, respond with gratitude to Christ, so perfectly and so powerfully that nothing, no place, not even hell, can separate us from God the Saviour (cf. Rom. 8:35-39). Man will never have full knowledge of the mystery of Christ if he, too, has not been through hell. …

This word, “Keep thy mind in hell, and despair not“, is a commandment of the Lord with the intention that we might imitate Him in His descent, whilst at the same time, trusting in His mercy and the eternal salvation which He obtained for us by His ascent. The mere disposition in us to receive this word and fulfil it in our life attracts the grace of God. Aside: The disposition to receive the word of the Lord always attracts grace in us. End of aside. Being a divine Light, this grace discloses and confirms this truth: hell is where man finds himself separated from the God of love. It also discloses sin, injustice, and spiritual poverty. This knowledge brings contrition to the soul. Contrition is a precious gift from God to man; it is the beginning of humility and prepares a “dwelling-place” for God in us. As a property of grace, this contrition gives birth to spiritual courage. … This contrition is spiritual courage, since it is the only state in which man, inspired by the grace of God, dares to stare at his spiritual poverty without despairing, whilst hoping that He who revealed to him the depths of his desolation is also able to carry him across, unharmed, to the other bank where God is. He achieves this through self-condemnation, and the following prophetic attitude: he attributes every justice to God, whereas his own face is covered with shame (cf. Dan. 9:7 LXX). It is for this reason that St. John of the Ladder says that spiritual courage is victory. It is victory because without the courage born of contrition it is impossible for us to behold clearly our spiritual poverty. Then spiritual poverty becomes a gift which lays the foundation for our spiritual ascent: “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:3). St Symeon the New Theologian wonders, “What is more glorious than spiritual poverty, which is the means of obtaining the kingdom of heaven?” …

In the conditions of today’s world the experience of hell is a reality for many people. They often come face to face with titanic impulses and confusion of intellect. The human mind falters, and remains in this pitiful state. It is held captive by the pain of the reality which surrounds it, and easily seeks to break away from it, so as to find comfort in the substitutes which the passions of a world alienated from God offer. This tendency, often encountered in our day, leads to a continually increasing estrangement and diffusion. Aside: That is to say, man does not want to face the hell in which he finds himself, and seeks to escape from it through substitutes, only to find himself more entangled in it than before. End of aside.

The stress on the verb “keep”, stay your mind in hell, in the first part of the commandment, shows that if one voluntarily and persistently keeps in one’s mind a vision of the general hell of this present life, one is on the way to salvation and healing. This vision should inspire repentance and prayer for the salvation of all those who are in a similar state of suffering. The negative energy which comes from this experience of hell is transformed by this prophetic attitude of self-condemnation into energy for converse with God, which conquers the passions, bringing our life to the ontological level. …

St Silouan’s word truly expresses a great spiritual science, the only one which can effectively oppose the all-destroying corruption and devastation, apocalyptically being perpetrated in these last times by the spirit of wickedness. Through the greater pain of voluntary self-condemnation to hell, and by virtue of the Lord’s commandment, the believer can triumph over every other pain and temptation, and prove the love of Christ to be stronger than death, as is He who “conquered death by death”. Whatever is done willingly and in fulfilment of a commandment of God is inspired by divine wisdom, and leads to eternal victory. This victory renders man above this world, like unto Christ, who, by His extreme humility, overcame the world (cf. John 16:33).

Archimandrite Zacharias

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