The icon of the Descent into Hades

Icon by Athanasios Clark, used with permission from the Department of Religious Education, Greek Orthodox Church of America

The icon of the day is called “The Descent into Hades”or the “Harrowing of Hell”. Some basic facts about it:

  • Our Lord is victoriously descending into Hades, and this is depicted by His forceful movement and His glorious robes. He is also surrounded by a mandorla, a luminous almond shape, which symbolizes the uncreated eternal light of God.
  • The bars Christ is stepping on are the gates of Hades, which have been broken by Him. They are in the shape of a cross, to signify the instrument of our salvation. There are keys and locks strewn in the abyss below, symbolizing that Christ has released us from our bondage of death. A chained skeletal figure may also be shown lying under the broken doors. That is Death, Satan or a personified Hades, bound and defeated by our Lord.
  • Christ is pulling two figures out from their graves, holding one in each hand; they are Adam and Eve, shown in old age, as they have been waiting for our Lord to come and rescue them in the underworld for a very long time. This signifies that Christ’s victory redeems all mankind from the very beginning.
  • Surrounding the victorious Christ are John the Baptist and the Old Testament Righteous. Just like Adam and Eve, they have all been waiting for the Messiah to free them from the underworld, so they can join God and the angels in Heaven.