In iconography, according to the Byzantine iconographic type, the Resurrection — as early as the eighth century — is portrayed primarily by the Descent of the Saviour into Hades. Our Lord is depicted pulling up Adam and Eve out of their sepulchers while trampling upon the gates of Hades (death). In the background stand the Old Testament patriarchs, prophets, and other figures, including John the Forerunner, who announced Jesus' advent.
“This iconographic type represents the Lord in Hades surrounded by a radiant glory; He is trampling upon the demolished gates of Hell and bears in His left hand the Cross of the Resurrection, while with His right hand He raises from a sarcophagus Adam, who represents the human race.”It is very striking that St. John of Damascus (676-749) knows of an Icon of the Resurrection, which he considers consonant in every respect with the ecclesiastical tradition up to his time, and which he describes:“We have received Her [the Holy Church of God] from the Holy Fathers thus adorned, as the Divine Scriptures also teach us: to wit, with the Incarnate OEconomy of Christ,... the Annunciation of Gabriel to the Virgin, etc., the Nativity, etc....; and likewise, the Crucifixion, etc... ; the Resurrection, which is the joy of the world—how Christ tramples on Hades and raises up Adam.”
One authoritative contemporary theologian, Metropolitan Hierotheos (Vlachos) of Nafpaktos states that:
“The Church decided to regard the Descent into Hades as a true Icon of the Resurrection.... The quintessential Icon of the Resurrection of Christ is considered to be His Descent into Hades... To be sure, there are also Icons of the Resurrection which depict Christ’s appearance to the Myrrh-bearing women and the Disciples, but the Icon of the Resurrection par excellence is the shattering of death, which took place at the Descent of Christ into Hades, when His soul, together with His Divinity, went down into Hades and freed the souls of the Righteous ones of the Old Testament, who were awaiting Him as their Redeemer.”
By contrast, the Latin-style iconographic depiction of the Resurrection differs significantly. This type was created in the eleventh century in the West and became familiar through Giotto (Giotto di Bondone, 1266-1337), although its different forms, especially in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, vary quite widely:
“The Lord is represented holding a banner of victory as He is raised in the air as if by a vigorous jump from a sarcophagus tomb, whose slate covering is raised by an angel, obviously to permit Him to exit, while the guards are shown fallen upon the ground’;
‘[T]he Western type showing Christ jumping out of the grave was imposed upon Orthodox iconography during the Turkish domination (especially from the 17th century) through the influence of the West. It became practically the prevalent Icon of the Resurrection, when in essence it is a type not only untraditional but unorthodox.”
Orthodox theology regards the Latin/Western type, vis-à-vis the representation of the Resurrection, “as unhistorical, simply impressionistic, and essentially unorthodox,” and characterizes its adoption as “a compromise to the detriment of the Orthodox Tradition of worship and doctrine,” which “[is] in no way permissible,” since it leads “to artistic syncretism.”
The Orthodox Icon of the Resurrection is a dogmatic Icon, that is, it expresses a dogmatic truth, the real meaning of the event and, as such, transcends the historical place and the temporal moment at which it occurred. “The quality of theological tradition is reflected in the Icon of the Resurrection, which requires a purely mystical interpretation of this event.” This dogmatic Icon of the Resurrection highlights, with truly exceptional emphasis, not an individual historical event (the bodily Resurrection of the Saviour), nor an historical moment (the Saviour’s egress from the Tomb), but, rather, the dogma of the abolition of Hades and death as well as the Resurrection of humanity. “The Resurrection of Christ is simultaneously also the Resurrection of humanity; the Resurrection is not only the Resurrection of Christ,” but a majestic universal event, a “cosmic event”; “Christ does not come out of the tomb but out from ‘among the dead,’ ek nekron, ‘coming up out of devastated Hades as from a nuptial palace.’”
The Resurrection, according to the Western type, “portrays a historical moment,” that is, it essentially “starts from Christ’s egress from the tomb,” Whereas according to the Orthodox type, “it reveals, that is, makes manifest the victory of the Cross; the Descent into Hades is already a Resurrection; the great triduum mortis constitutes the mystical days in which the Resurrection is accomplished.”
The Holy Resurrection of Our Savior, as a mystery, was invisible and outside the laws and processes of other resurrections, since through the Resurrection and in the Resurrection we do not have a simple resuscitation of the Master’s Body and its egress from the sepulchre, as, for example, in the case of St. Lazarus (a miracle perceptible to all, and the [eventual] return of his body to corruption), but its transition, as being henceforth “one with God” [ὁμόθεος] and, in an ineffable mystery, to uncreated reality; that is, we have an ontological transformation. A lucid commentary on this Patristic viewpoint is provided by Leonid Ouspensky, who writes:
“The unfathomable character of this event for the human mind, and the consequent impossibility of depicting it, is the reason for the absence, in traditional Orthodox iconography, [of any depiction] of the actual moment of the Resurrection.”
The so-called Byzantine type then, as the authentically Orthodox dogmatic Icon of the Resurrection renders perceptible the Resurrectional Apolytikion:
"Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life."
MY NOTE - FR DAVID
First a quotation in an excellent Orthodox blog, "Again and Again" from a report of the Russian Orthodox "Holy Synod in Resistance". Typical of much Orthodox writing, it exhibits a wonderful grasp of profound truth when interpreting its own tradition and an irrational xenophobia about the Latin West at the same time. Here it is:
Now that we celebrating this great feast my curiosity is tingling once again. This time, however, I was able to locate an interesting report issued by the Chancery of the Holy Synod in Resistance titled, “The Holy Icon of the Resurrection.”
The report begins aptly with a definition of what an icon is, or, what the purpose of the icon is which represents:
“depictional theology….[that is, it] does not confine the meaning of the events to their historical place or the temporal instant at which they occurred, but transcends these factors in order to teach us a dogmatic truth, to wit, their real meaning.Thus, with regard, for example, to the architecture in an Icon, the building (or the landscape: the cave in the Icon of the Nativity… and also in the Icon of the Resurrection) indicates the place in which the event occurs, but never encloses the scene; it only acts as a background, so that the event does not occur in the building, but in front of it.”
The report then makes note of the period of “theological decadence” in the Orthodox East which resulted in a gradual loss of the true understanding of the language of the icon and, simultaneously, the influence of Western forms of thought and art.
“An immediate consequence of this loss was the prevalence of (at times unbridled) imagination and an effort to adhere to the historical place or the temporal moment of the events in question, which were henceforth presented in a completely naturalistic manner (and moreover, inside buildings or within landscapes), entirely stripped of their deeper theological essence – their iconographic meaning.”
This “Latin type” ultimately effected even the depiction of the Resurrection icon. Namely, the Latin type was “created in the eleventh century in the West and became familiar through Giotto (see here)….”. Although it can vary, the icon shows:
“The Lord … presented holding a banner of victory as He is raised in the air as if by a vigorous jump from a sarcophagus tomb, whose slate covering is raised by an angel, obviously to permit Him to exit, while the guards are shown fallen upon the ground; The Western type showing Christ jumping out of the grave was imposed upon Orthodox iconography during the Turkish domination…through the influence of the West. It became practically the prevalent Icon of the Resurrection, when in essence it is a type not only untraditional but unorthodox."
The words written in black are those of Father Milovan Katanic, the author of the blog. Those in yellow are from the Holy Synod. The profound truth they give us is the practice and meaning of the traditional Resurrection icon and their intention to keep that tradition pure. The xenophobia is found in the language they use to express this and their prejudice that anything that differs from Byzantine tradition is heterodox and wrong. In other words, Western tradition is only correct in so far as it is identical to Byzantine Tradition. We are not entitled to our own western Christian artistic tradition.
A few words to restore the balance damaged by xenophobia. Firstly, at the time of theological decadence, the Orthodox Church was no less Orthodox than it is today. As one good and holy Orthodox priest told me, the Holy Spirit is always with the Church, not more one generation than another. The Church is ALWAYS one, holy, catholic and apostolic. Hence, the lack of a grasp of the true
Departures from the classical Orthodox tradition of icons, while being sad and calling for correction and improvement, is not so central as to accuse those who are deviating of being unOrthodox. Who are we to judge? If that is true of Orthodox, it is also true of Catholics: whatever the reason for accusing Catholics of heresy, this can't be one of them. In fact, popular taste among Orthodox often favours sentimentality over doctrinal rigour, just like Catholics.
The language also shows xenophobia. The report writes, "The Western type showing Christ jumping out of the grave was imposed upon Orthodox iconography during the Turkish domination…through the influence of the West."
Who imposed it? The Turks who were from Islam? Was there a secret deal between the Vatican and the Turks by which western patterns of art were imposed especially to corrupt Orthodoxy? These suggestions are entirely fanciful, and I am sure the Report did not mean that. Was it not a fact that western patterns of sacred art were adopted in the East because there were Orthodox people who actually liked them and found them helpful? That being the case, why talk of "imposition"?
Moreover, St Seraphim of Sarov clearly preferred to pray before a Western type Madonna rather than a Byzantine one; but no one has suggested that he is any less Orthodox for that!!
The problem often is that Orthodox who go Catholic bashing compare an abstractly correct theological vision of Orthodoxy with Catholicism as it is or was in concrete practice. If they were to compare the way Catholics actually live their Catholic lives with how Orthodox actually live their lives, a different picture would emerge! If they did, they might actually get to like us, and that would never do!!
Nevertheless, the Report has a valid point. There is a marvellous Byzantine tradition of icons with close ties to the Liturgy and is a valid expression of Catholic/Orthodox Tradition. It is of great importance that this tradition of icons should be transmitted without contamination and that it should continue to flourish; and every effort should be made to ensure that this happens. This is important, not only for the Orthodox East, but also it ia a service to the Catholic West because, although it is an eastern tradition and not a western one, we in the West find nothing in it foreign to our faith, and the use of icons is spreading in the West, to our greater enrichment. This website is only a tiny example, and, as we shall see in the post on "Western Icons", icons can hold us together, even before we are ready to share in the same Eucharist.
A COMMENTARY ON
my source: Orthodox - Reformed Bridge
We do not so much look at an icon as we read an icon, that is, we discern the meanings behind the symbolism. Icons have been referred to as sermons in color. The best way to read an icon is to start at the center, at the person depicted, then to look outward.
The first thing we see is Christ all dressed in white which symbolizes the divine light or the heavenly realm. We also see the mandorla or orb of glory around him. These indicate Christ’s divinity and brings to mind the line in the Nicene Creed: “Light from Light, true God from true God.”
Next looking down we see Christ standing on top of the broken gates of hell. The doors are laid on top each other in the shape of the cross. Over the shattered doors we see in some icons Death defeated and in other icons we see a black abyss filled with the instruments of torture.
When reading an icon, we look at the subject’s hands. Looking to the right and left of the resurrection icon we see Christ grabbing hold of our ancestral parents Adam and Eve pulling them out of the tombs. If one looks closely we that it is Christ grabbing hold of them; we do not see them grabbing hold of Christ. This shows our salvation being dependent on Christ’s power, not on our strength. In the background we see a crowd of people, some having halos around their heads and others without a halo. The halos signify their being saints, that is, the perfection of their salvation. A hymn in the Great Friday Vespers has this stanza:
When You, the Redeemer of all, were placed in a new Tomb for us all, Hades, the respecter of none, crouched when he saw You. The bars were broken, the gates were shattered, the graves were opened, and the dead arose. Then Adam, gratefully rejoicing, cried out to You: “Glory to Your condescension, O Merciful God.”