This Orthodox Easter icon represents the Anastasis (Greek for ‘Resurrection’). In English it is known as ‘The Harrowing of Hell’ or ‘The Descent into Hell’ (Ephesians 4:8-10, 1 Peter 3:18-20, Psalm 24:9 and The Apostle’s Creed). It emphasises Christ’s triumph over death.
The Orthodox icon also draws on the apocryphal 4th century Gospel of Nicodemus where John the Baptist tells the prophets and patriarchs that Christ is about to arrive to conquer Hades, freeing the souls of those who had lived righteously before his coming.
Our icon is ‘written’ (that is, painted) in Bulgaria by two sisters known as AngelFineArts. It is on MDF, which is an engineered wood product that is less likely to warp and crack the paint. The wood is coated with gesso (rabbit glue mixed with chalk on linen). The icon is painted with tempera and varnished. Instead of the traditional gold leaf, the sisters have used Schminke gold dust.
Icons are less products of the artists’ imagination than inspired copies of accepted models: in this case a 16th century icon by Theopholos the Cretan in Stavronikita Monastery, Mt Athos, which in turn was inspired by a 15th century Byzantine icon in the Hermitage Museum.
The image shows Jesus freeing the captives from Hades. Christ holds a scroll in his left hand (signifying that he is the Word of God) and is surrounded by a rocky cave. Below him is Hades, the gates and sarcophagi broken open. A man and woman below his feet represent the souls awaiting resurrection. Jesus is handing up Adam. Around him, representing the general resurrection of humanity, are various Old Testament figures. Those in front include Eve and John the Baptist. Behind him are King David and King Solomon. At the top of the image is the Greek title Η ΑΝΑΣΤΑΣΙΣ (He Anastasis ‘The Resurrection’) along with the standard IC XC abbreviation for Iesous Khristos (‘Jesus Christ’).
The artists made one adjustment to the model at our request, replacing the two male figures below Christ with a male and female couple.
The icon is given AMDG by Margaret and Ward Saylor and Beryl Gowty in memory of their parents, Bill and Joyce Trivett and Alice Saylor, whose ashes rest in the Columbarium.
The icon normally resides in the Columbarium, but is displayed in the Church for funerals and in celebration of the Easter season.