"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Go to Dark Gethsemane, Ghenna, and Beyond!

In the hymnody for these great and terrible days of the Bridegroom, we move inexorably towards the death and descent of Christ into hell before shattering its gates in the resurrection:

Behold, the Bridegroom comes at midnight,

and blessed is the servant whom He shall find watching;

and again, unworthy is the servant whom He shall find heedless.

Beware, therefore, O my soul, do not be weighted down with sleep,

lest you be given up to death,

...and lest you be shut out of the Kingdom!

But rouse yourself, crying: “Holy, holy, holy, are You, O our God!”

Through the Theotokos have mercy on us!

One recent book helps us to understand more deeply this great mystery of salvation. Written by Met. Hilarion Alfeyev, one of the most influential young theologians (and talented musicians) in the Russian Church today, and author of previous works on St. Symeon the New Theologian, St. Isaac the Syrian, Orthodox faith and witness, and the structure of the Orthodox Church: Hilarion Alfeyev, Christ the Conqueror of Hell: The Descent into Hades from an Orthodox Perspective (SVS Press, 2009), 232pp.

About this book, the publisher tells us:

This in-depth study on the realm of death presents a message of hope held by the first generation of Christians and the early church. Using Scripture, patristic tradition, early Christian poetry, and liturgical texts, Archbishop Hilarion explores the mysterious and enigmatic event of Christ s descent into Hades and its consequences for the human race. Insisting that Christ entered Sheol as Conqueror and not as victim, the author depicts the Lord's descent as an event of cosmic significance opening the path to universal salvation. He also reveals Hades as a place of divine presence, a place where the spiritual fate of a person may still change. Reminding readers that self-will remains the only hindrance to life in Christ, he presents the gospel message anew, even in the shadow of death.

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