Let us return once more to the night of Holy Saturday. In the Creed we say about Christ’s journey that he “descended into hell.” What happened then? Since we have no knowledge of the world of death, we can only imagine his triumph over death with the help of images which remain very inadequate. Yet, inadequate as they are, they can help us to understand something of the mystery. The liturgy applies to Jesus’ descent into the night of death the words of Psalm 23: “Lift up your heads, O gates; be lifted up, O ancient doors!” The gates of death are closed, no one can return from there. There is no key for those iron doors. But Christ has the key. His Cross opens wide the gates of death, the stern doors. They are barred no longer. His Cross, his radical love, is the key that opens them. The love of the One who, though God, became man in order to die – this love has the power to open those doors. This love is stronger than death. The Easter icons of the Oriental Church show how Christ enters the world of the dead. He is clothed with light, for God is light. “The night is bright as the day, the darkness is as light” (cf. Ps 13812). (HH Pope Benedict XVI, Holy Saturday, 2007)
VON BALTHASAR'S TEACHING ON THE DESCENT INTO HELL by Aidan Nichols O.P.source: Excerpt from "Balthasar, His Christology and the Mystery of Easter" by Fr Aidan Nichols O.P.
The importance of the concept of contemplation for Balthasar's approach to Christ can be seen by comparing his view of perceiving God in Christ with the notion of looking at a painting and seeing what the artist has been doing in it. In Christian faith, the captivating force (the 'subjective evidence') of the artwork which is Christ takes hold of our imaginative powers; we enter into the 'painterly world' which this discloses and, entranced by what we see, come to contemplate the glory of sovereign love of God in Christ (the 'objective evidence') as manifested in the concrete events of his life, death and resurrection. So entering his glory, we become absorbed by it, but this very absorption sends us out into the world in sacrificial love like that of Jesus.
This is the foundation of Balthasar's Christology, but its content is a series of meditations on the mysteries of the life of Jesus. His Christology is highly concrete and has been compared, suggestively, to the iconography of Andrei Rublev and Georges Roualt. Balthasar is not especially concerned with the ontological make-up of Christ, with the hypostatic union and its implications, except insofar as these are directly involved in an account of the mysteries of the life. In each major moment ('mystery') of the life, we see some aspect of the total Gestalt Christi, and through this the Gestalt Gottes itself. Although Balthasar stresses the narrative unity of these episodes, which is founded on the obedience that takes the divine Son from incarnation to passion, an obedience which translates his inner-Trinitarian being as the Logos, filial responsiveness to the Father, his principal interest — nowhere more eloquently expressed than in the present work — is located very firmly in an unusual place. This place is the mystery of Christ's Descent into Hell, which Balthasar explicitly calls the centre of all Christology. Because the Descent is the final point reached by the Kenosis, and the Kenosis is the supreme expression of the inner-Trinitarian love, the Christ of Holy Saturday is the consummate icon of what God is like. While not relegating the Crucifixion to a mere prelude — far from it! — Balthasar sees the One who was raised at Easter as not primarily the Crucified, but rather the One who for us went down into Hell. The 'active' Passion of Good Friday is not, at any rate, complete without the 'passive' Passion of Holy Saturday which was its sequel.
Balthasar's account of the Descent is indebted to the visionary experiences of Adrienne von Speyr, and is a world away from the concept of a triumphant preaching to the just which nearly all traditional accounts of the going down to Hell come under. Balthasar stresses Christ's solidarity with the dead, his passivity, his finding himself in a situation of total self-estrangement and alienation from the Father. For Balthasar, the Descent 'solves' the problem of theodicy, by showing us the conditions on which God accepted our foreknown abuse of freedom: namely, his own plan to take to himself our self-damnation in Hell. It also demonstrates the costliness of our redemption: the divine Son underwent the experience of Godlessness. Finally, it shows that the God revealed by the Redeemer is a Trinity. Only if the Spirit, as vinculum amoris between the Father and the Son, can re-relate Father and Son in their estrangement in the Descent, can the unity of the Revealed and Revealer be maintained. In this final humiliation of the forma servi, the glorious forma Deishines forth via its lowest pitch of self-giving love.
Mysterium Paschale could not, however, be an account of the paschal mystery, the mystery of Easter, unless it moved on, following the fate of the Crucified himself, to the Father's acceptance of his sacrifice, which we call the Resurrection. Whilst not over-playing the role of the empty tomb — which is, after all, a sign, with the limitations which that word implies, Balthasar insists, in a fashion highly pertinent to a recurrent debate in England, as well as in Continental Europe, that the Father in raising the Son does not go back on the Incarnation: that is, he raises the Son into visibility, rather than returns him to the pre-incarnate condition of the invisible Word. The Resurrection appearances are not visionary experiences but personal encounters, even though the Resurrection itself cannot be adequately thought by means of any concept, any comparison.
HOLY SATURDAY FOR THE ORTHODOX
On Great and Holy Saturday the Church contemplates the mystery of the Lord's descent into Hades, the place of the dead. Death, our ultimate enemy, is defeated from within.
"He (Christ) gave Himself as a ransom to death in which we were held captive, sold under sin. Descending into Hades through the Cross ... He loosed the bonds of death" (Liturgy of St. Basil).
On Great Saturday our focus is on the Tomb of Christ. This is no ordinary grave. It is not a place of corruption, decay and defeat. It is life-giving, a source of power, victory and liberation.
Great Saturday is the day between Jesus' death and His resurrection. It is the day of watchful expectation, in which mourning is being transformed into joy. The day embodies in the fullest possible sense the meaning of xarmolipi - joyful-sadness, which has dominated the celebrations of Great Week. The hymnographer of the Church has penetrated the profound mystery, and helps us to understand it through the following poetic dialogue that he has devised between Jesus and His Mother:
"Weep not for me, O Mother, beholding in the sepulcher the Son whom thou hast conceived without seed in thy womb. For I shall rise and shall be glorified, and as God I shall exalt in everlasting glory those who magnify thee with faith and love."
"O Son without beginning, in ways surpassing nature was I blessed at Thy strange birth, for I was spared all travail. But now beholding Thee, my God, a lifeless corpse, I am pierced by the sword of bitter sorrow. But arise, that I may be magnified."
"By mine own will the earth covers me, O Mother, but the gatekeepers of hell tremble as they see me, clothed in the bloodstained garment of vengeance: for on the Cross as God have I struck down mine enemies, and I shall rise again and magnify thee."
"Let the creation rejoice exceedingly, let all those born on earth be glad: for hell, the enemy, has been despoiled. Ye women, come to meet me with sweet spices: for I am delivering Adam and Eve with all their offspring, and on the third day I shall rise again." (9th Ode of the Canon)
Great Saturday is the day of the pre-eminent rest. Christ observes a Sabbath rest in the tomb. His rest, however, is not inactivity but the fulfillment of the divine will and plan for the salvation of humankind and the cosmos. He who brought all things into being, makes all things new. The re-creation of the world has been accomplished once and for all. Through His incarnation, life and death Christ has filled all things with Himself He has opened a path for all flesh to the resurrection from the dead, since it was not possible that the author of life would be dominated by corruption.
Saint Paul tells us that:
"God was in Jesus Christ reconciling the world to Himself" (2 Corinthians 5:19). Hence, eternal life - real and self-generating - penetrated the depths of Hades. Christ who is the life of all destroyed death by His death. That is why the Church sings joyously
"Things now are filled with light, the heaven and the earth and all that is beneath the earth" (Canon of Pascha).
The Church knows herself to be "the place, the eternal reality, where the presence of Christ vanquishes Satan, hell and death itself.
The solemn observance of Great Saturday help us to recall and celebrate the great truth that "despite the daily vicissitudes and contradictions of history and the abiding presence of hell within the human heart and human society," life has been liberated! Christ has broken the power of death.
It is not without significance that the icon of the Resurrection in our Church is the Descent of Christ into Hades, the place of the dead. This icon depicts a victorious Christ, reigned in glory, trampling upon death, and seizing Adam and Eve in His hands, plucking them from the abyss of hell. This icon expresses vividly the truths resulting from Christ's defeat of death by His death and Resurrection
St Isaac the Syrian on Christian Love
What is a merciful heart? It is a heart on fire for the whole of creation, for humanity, for the birds, for the animals, for demons, and for all that exists. By the recollection of them the eyes of a merciful person pour forth tears in abundance. By the strong and vehement mercy that grips such a person's heart, and by such great compassion, the heart is humbled and one cannot bear to hear or to see any injury or slight sorrow in any in creation. For this reason, such a person offers up tearful prayer continually even for irrational beasts, for the enemies of the truth, and for those who harm her or him, that they be protected and receive mercy. And in like manner such a person prays for the family of reptiles because of the great compassion that burns with without measure in a heart that is in the likeness of God.
Paradise is the love of God, wherein is the enjoyment of all blessedness.
The person who lives in love reaps the fruit of life from God, and while yet in this world, even now breathes the air of the resurrection.In love did God bring the world into existence; in love is God going to bring it to that wondrous transformed state, and in love will the world be swallowed up in the great mystery of the One who has performed all these things; in love will the whole course of the governance of creation be finally comprised.
.As for me I say that those who are tormented in hell are tormented by the invasion of love. What is there more bitter and violent than the pains of love? Those who feel they have sinned against love bear in themselves a damnation much heavier than the most dreaded punishments. The suffering with which sinning against love afflicts the heart is more keenly felt than any other torment.
It is absurd to assume that the sinners in hell are deprived of God's love. Love is offered impartially. But by its very power it acts in two ways. It torments sinners, as happens here on earth when we are tormented by the presence of a friend to whom we have been unfaithful. And it gives joy to those who have been faithful. That is what the torment of hell is in my opinion: remorse. But love inebriates the souls of the sons and daughters of heaven by its delectability.FOR THOSE WHO CELEBRATE THE ANNUNCIATION OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN ON APRIL 7TH AND WILL BE CELEBRATING EASTER NEXT WEEK, A HAPPY FEAST DAY