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Christ’s Descent Into Hell – Holy Saturday

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Something strange is happening—there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear.

He has gone to search for our first parent, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve, he who is both God and the son of Eve. The Lord approached them bearing the cross, the weapon that had won him the victory. At the sight of him Adam, the first man he had created, struck his breast in terror and cried out to everyone: “My Lord be with you all.” Christ answered him: “And with your spirit.” He took him by the hand and raised him up, saying: “Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”

I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. Out of love for you and for your descendants I now by my own authority command all who are held in bondage to come forth, all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise. I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be held a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead. Rise up, work of my hands, you who were created in my image. Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in me and I am in you; together we form only one person and we cannot be separated.

For your sake I, your God, became your son; I, the Lord, took the form of a slave; I, whose home is above the heavens, descended to the earth and beneath the earth. For your sake, for the sake of man, I became like a man without help, free among the dead. For the sake of you, who left a garden, I was betrayed to the Jews in a garden, and I was crucified in a garden.

See on my face the spittle I received in order to restore to you the life I once breathed into you. See there the marks of the blows I received in order to refashion your warped nature in my image. On my back see the marks of the scourging I endured to remove the burden of sin that weighs upon your back. See my hands, nailed firmly to a tree, for you who once wickedly stretched out your hand to a tree.

I slept on the cross and a sword pierced my side for you who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side has healed the pain in yours. My sleep will rouse you from your sleep in hell. The sword that pierced me has sheathed the sword that was turned against you.

Rise, let us leave this place. The enemy led you out of the earthly paradise. I will not restore you to that paradise, but I will enthrone you in heaven. I forbade you the tree that was only a symbol of life, but see, I who am life itself am now one with you. I appointed cherubim to guard you as slaves are guarded, but now I make them worship you as God. The throne formed by cherubim awaits you, its bearers swift and eager. The bridal chamber is adorned, the banquet is ready, the eternal dwelling places are prepared, the treasure houses of all good things lie open. The kingdom of heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity.

From an ancient sermon on Holy Saturday

Who Can Speak Of Jesus But Himself? – Spurgeon

My Brothers and Sisters, who can speak of Jesus but Himself? He masters all our eloquence. His perfection exceeds our understanding! The light of His excellence is too bright for us, it blinds our eyes! Our Beloved must be His own mirror. None but Jesus can reveal Jesus!

He sets Himself forth by many choice metaphors and instructive emblems by which He would make us know some little of that love which passes knowledge. With His own hands, He fills a golden cup out of the river of His own infinity and hands it to us that we may drink and be refreshed.

The Lord Jesus fills out every type, figure, and character—and when the vessel is filled, there is an overflow. Emblems to set Him forth may be multiplied as the drops of the morning, but the whole multitude will fail to reflect all His brightness!

Creation is too small a frame in which to hang His likeness. Human thought is too contracted, human speech too feeble to set Him forth to the fullest. When all the emblems in earth and Heaven shall have described Him to their utmost, there will remain something not yet described. You may square the circle before you can set forth Christ in the language of mortal men! He is inconceivably above our conceptions, unutterably above our utterances!

Charles Spurgeon – Our Own Dear Shepherd, Sermon #1877

How Can We Repay God? – Basil of Caesarea

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What words can adequately describe God’s gifts? They are so many that they cannot be numbered. They are so great that any one of them demands our total gratitude in response.

Yet even though we cannot speak of it worthily, there is one gift which no thoughtful man can pass over in silence. God fashioned man in his own image and likeness; he gave him knowledge of himself; he endowed him with the ability to think which raised him above all living creatures; he permitted him to delight in the unimaginable beauties of paradise, and gave him dominion over everything upon earth.

Then, when man was deceived by the serpent and fell into sin, which led to death and to all the sufferings associated with death, God still did not forsake him. He first gave man the law to help him; he set angels over him to guard him; he sent the prophets to denounce vice and to teach virtue; he restrained man’s evil impulses by warnings and roused his desire for virtue by promises. Frequently, by way of warning, God showed him the respective ends of virtue and of vice in the lives of other men. Moreover, when man continued in disobedience even after he had done all this, God did not desert him.

No, we were not abandoned by the goodness of the Lord. Even the insult we offered to our Benefactor by despising his gifts did not destroy his love for us. On the contrary, although we were dead, our Lord Jesus Christ restored us to life again, and in a way even more amazing than the fact itself, “for his state was divine, yet he did not cling to his equality with God, but emptied himself to assume the condition of a slave.

He bore our infirmities and endured our sorrows. He was wounded for our sake so that by his wounds we might be healed. He redeemed us from the curse by becoming a curse for our sake”, and he submitted to the most ignominious death in order to exalt us to the life of glory. Nor was he content merely to summon us back from death to life; he also bestowed on us the dignity of his own divine nature and prepared for us a place of eternal rest where there will be joy so intense as to surpass all human imagination.

How, then, shall we repay the Lord for all his goodness to us? He is so good that he asks no recompense except our love: that is the only payment he desires. To confess my personal feelings, when I reflect on all these blessings I am overcome by a kind of dread and numbness at the very possibility of ceasing to love God and of bringing shame upon Christ because of my lack of recollection and my preoccupation with trivialities.

St Basil The Great – Rule for Monastic Life

St Basil, born 330 AD, placed new emphasis in monasticism on the centrality of community and love.  He became bishop of Caesaria in 370 AD and later took up an ascetic life, in time establishing several monasteries, hospitals and hostels. His monasteries became schools for holy teaching and he was in the habit of visiting nearby towns to preach.

St Basil was also responsible for giving precise terms for the Trinity which he defined as – one substance and three persons.  (Source: http://www.thereformation.info/)

The Binding Power Of Love – Clement of Rome

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Who can express the binding power of divine love? Who can find words for the splendour of its beauty? Beyond all description are the heights to which it lifts us.

Love unites us to God; it cancels innumerable sins, has no limits to its endurance, bears everything patiently. Love is neither servile nor arrogant. It does not provoke schisms or form cliques, but always acts in harmony with others. By it all God’s chosen ones have been sanctified; without it, it is impossible to please him. Out of love the Lord took us to himself; because he loved us and it was God’s will, our Lord Jesus Christ gave his life’s blood for us – he gave his body for our body, his soul for our soul.

See then, beloved, what a great and wonderful things love is, and how inexpressible its perfection. Who are worthy to possess it unless God makes them so?

To him therefore we must turn, begging of his mercy that there may be found in us a love free from human partiality and beyond reproach. Every generation from Adam’s time to ours has passed away; but those who by God’s grace were made perfect in love have a dwelling now among the saints, and when at last the kingdom of Christ appears, they will be revealed. “Take shelter in your rooms for a little while”, says Scripture, “until my wrath subsides. Then I will remember the good days, and will raise you from your graves.”

Happy are we, beloved, if love enables us to live in harmony and in the observance of God’s commandments, for then it will also gain for us the remission of our sins. Scripture pronounces “happy those whose transgressions are pardoned, whose sins are forgiven. Happy the man, it says, to whom the Lord imputes no fault, on whose lips there is no guile.”  This is the blessing given those whom God has chosen through Jesus Christ our Lord. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

Clement of Rome – Epistle to The Corinthians

Clement was Bishop of Rome at the end of the 1st Century (92-99AD) – He is believed to be of Jewish descent and a freeman of Rome. He worked as a tanner during the early part of his life, and may have been a companion of the Apostle Paul after his conversion.

Manage Your Passions, Manage Your Life

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All the feelings and passions that lead us into sin were really made to serve righteousness, says Gregory of Nyssa:

I advise that love’s passion be placed in the soul’s purest shrine, chosen as the first fruits of all our gifts, and devoted completely to God. And once this is done, I should be kept untouched and unstained by any secular impurity.

Then indignation and anger and hatred must be like watchdogs, to be roused only against sins that are attacking. They must follow their natural impulse only against the thief and enemy who creeps in to plunder the divine treasury, and who comes only to steal, mangle, and destroy.

Courage and confidence should be weapons in our hands to fend off any sudden surprise attack by the wicked who advance.

Hope and patience should be staffs to lean on whenever we are weary of the trials of the world.

As for sorrow, we must have a stock of it ready to apply, if we should happen to need it, when we repent our sins—believing at the same time that it is never useful for any other purpose.

Righteousness will be our rule of straightforwardness, keeping us from stumbling in word or deed, and guiding us in using our soul’s abilities, as well as in giving proper consideration to everyone we meet.

The love of gain—which is a large, incalculably large element in every soul—will be applied to the desire for God, and then it will bless the man who has it, for he will be forceful when it is right to be forceful.

Wisdom and prudence will advise us about our best interests. They will order our lives so that we never need to suffer from any thoughtless foolishness.

St. Gregory of Nyssa, On Virginity, 18

From, A Year With The Church Fathers, Mike Aqualina, Day 277

Unity Through Love – Ignatius of Antioch

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Ignatius was Bishop of Antioch from 67 to 107 AD.  On his way to martyrdom in Rome he wrote a letter to the church at Ephesus urging them to unity. In practical terms this comes from spending time together with other Christians, a natural consequence of faith seeking love.  He writes:

Try to gather together more frequently to give thanks to God and to praise him. For when you come together frequently, Satan’s powers are undermined, and the destruction that he threatens is done away with in the unanimity of your faith. Nothing is better than peace, in which all warfare between heaven and earth is brought to an end.

None of this will escape you if you have perfect faith and love toward Jesus Christ. These are the beginning and the end of life: faith the beginning, love the end. When these two are found together, there is God, and everything else concerning right living follows from them. No one professing faith sins: no one possessing love hates. A tree is known by its fruit. So those who profess to belong to Christ will be known by what they do. For the work we are about is not a matter of words here and now, but depends on the power of faith and on being found faithful to the end.

My spirit is given over to the humble service of the cross which is a stumbling block to unbelievers but to us salvation and eternal life.

The Baptism of Jesus – Gregory Nazianzus

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Christ is bathed in light; let us also be bathed in light. Christ is baptized; let us also go down with him, and rise with him.

John is baptising when Jesus draws near. Perhaps he comes to sanctify his baptiser; certainly he comes to bury sinful humanity in the waters. He comes to sanctify the Jordan for our sake and in readiness for us; he who is spirit and flesh comes to begin a new creation through the Spirit and water.

The Baptist protests; Jesus insists. Then John says: I ought to be baptized by you. He is the lamp in the presence of the sun, the voice in the presence of the Word, the friend in the presence of the Bridegroom, the greatest of all born of woman in the presence of the first-born of all creation, the one who leapt in his mother’s womb in the presence of him who was adored in the womb, the forerunner and future forerunner in the presence of him who has already come and is to come again. I ought to be baptised by you: we should also add, “and for you,” for John is to be baptised in blood, washed clean like Peter, not only by the washing of his feet.

Jesus rises from the waters; the world rises with him. The heavens like Paradise with its flaming sword, closed by Adam for himself and his descendants, are rent open. The Spirit comes to him as to an equal, bearing witness to his Godhead. A voice bears witness to him from heaven, his place of origin. The Spirit descends in bodily form like the dove that so long ago announced the ending of the flood and so gives honour to the body that is one with God.

Today let us do honor to Christ’s baptism and celebrate this feast in holiness. Be cleansed entirely and continue to be cleansed. Nothing gives such pleasure to God as the conversion and salvation of men, for whom his every word and every revelation exist. He wants you to become a living force for all mankind, lights shining in the world. You are to be radiant lights as you stand beside Christ, the great light, bathed in the glory of him who is the light of heaven. You are to enjoy more and more the pure and dazzling light of the Trinity, as now you have received – though not in its fullness – a ray of its splendour, proceeding from the one God, in Christ Jesus our Lord, to whom be glory and power for ever and ever. Amen.

Why Should We Confess Our Sins To God? – Chrysostom

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Even if you do not confess, God is not ignorant of the deed, since He knew it before it was committed. Why then do you not speak of it? Does the transgression become heavier by the confession? No, it become lighter and less troublesome.

And this is why He wants you to confess: not that you should be punished, but that you should be forgiven; not that He may learn your sin -how could that be, since He has seen it? – but that you may learn what favor he bestows. He wishes you to learn the greatness of His grace, so that you may praise Him perfectly, that you may be slower to sin, that you may be quicker to virtue.

And if you do not confess the greatness of the need, you will not understand the enormous magnitude of His grace….Therefore He has place within us a conscience more faithful than a father. For a father having warned his son once, or twice, or three times, or perhaps ten times, when he sees him remaining uncorrected, publicly renounces him and dismisses him from the house , and severs the tie of relationship.

But conscience does not act that way. For if once, or twice, or three times, or a thousand times it speaks, and you do not obey, it will speak again, and will not cease until the last breath; and both in the house and in the street, at table and in he market, and on the road, often even in dreams, it places before us the image and appearance of our sins.

John Chrysostom – Four Discourses 4.4

John Chrysostom was Bishop of Constantinople at the turn of the fifth Century.  He is one of the Doctors of the Church, that is a great Christian writer who has benefited the whole Church.  He was born in Antioch around 347AD and is generally considered to be the greatest preacher ever heard in a Christian pulpit, hence his nickname, “Chrysostom”, which means “Golden-Mouthed”.

The Son Became Man To Give Us The Holy Spirit – Cyril Of Alexandria

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In a plan of surpassing beauty, the Creator of the universe decreed the renewal of all things in Christ. In his design for restoring human nature to its original condition, he gave a promise that he would pour out on it the Holy Spirit along with his other gifts, for otherwise our nature could not enter once more into the peaceful and secure possession of those gifts.

He therefore appointed a time for the Holy Spirit to come upon us: this was the time of Christ’s coming. He gave this promise when he said: In those days, that is, the days of the Savior, I will pour out a share of my Spirit on all mankind.

When the time came for this great act of unforced generosity, which revealed in our midst the only-begotten Son, clothed with flesh on this earth, a man born of woman, in accordance with Holy Scripture, God the Father gave the Spirit once again. Christ, as the first-fruits of our restored nature, was the first to receive the Spirit. John the Baptist bore witness to this when he said: I saw the Spirit coming down from heaven, and it rested on him.

Christ “received the Spirit” in so far as he was man, and in so far as man could receive the Spirit. He did so in such a way that, though he is the Son of God the Father, begotten of his substance, even before the incarnation, indeed before all ages, yet he was not offended at hearing the Father say to him after he had become man: You are my son; today I have begotten you.

The Father says of Christ, who was God, begotten of him before the ages, that he has been “begotten today,” for the Father is to accept us in Christ as his adopted children. The whole of our nature is present in Christ, in so far as he is man. So the Father can be said to give the Spirit again to the Son, though the Son possesses the Spirit as his own, in order that we may receive the Spirit in Christ. The Son therefore took to himself the seed of Abraham, as Scripture says, and became like his brothers in all things.

The only-begotten Son receives the Spirit, but not for his own advantage, for the Spirit is his, and is given in him and through him, as we have already said. He receives it to renew our nature in its entirety and to make it whole again, for in becoming man he took our entire nature to himself. If we reason correctly, and use also the testimony of Scripture, we can see that Christ did not receive the Spirit for himself, but rather for us in him, for it is also through Christ that all gifts come down to us.

Saint Cyril Of Alexandria – Commentary on John’s Gospel

Confession – Ambrose

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Let us not be ashamed to confess our sins to the Lord.  It’s true, we do feel shame when each one of us makes his sin known. But that shame ploughs his land, so to speak: it takes out the brambles that keep sprouting up, prunes the thorns, and gives life to the fruits we thought were dead.

Follow the man who, by diligently ploughing his field, worked for eternal fruit: “When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we try to conciliate; we have become, and are now, as the refuse of the world, the offscouring of all things” (1 Corinthians 4:12-13). If you plough this way, you will sow spiritual seed. Plough to uproot sin and grow fruit.

[The Apostle Paul] ploughed to destroy the last tendency to persecution in himself. What more could Christ give to lead us on to pursue perfection, than to convert and then give us as a teacher someone who had been a persecutor?

St. Ambrose, Two Books on Repentance, 2.5

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