Icon of the Resurrection

Icon of the Resurrection
Pskov, Later Sixteenth century

In the wording of the Creeds, Jesus was “crucified, died, and was buried. On the third day, he rose again...” This icon illustrates some of the early traditions about what the Spirit of Jesus was doing in that interval, while his body laid in the tomb. Also called: “The Harrowing of Hell,” this icon of the Resurrection is part of the collection of the Andrei Rublev Museum in Moscow, dedicated to preserving early Russian art, and named after one of history’s greatest iconographers. It is located in a former monastery, where Saint Andrei Rublev once lived and worked.

The area around Pskov and Novgorod was known for a relatively egalitarian social system, in terms of gender relations. This is reflected in the center of the icon, where Jesus has the hands of both Adam and Eve, pictured as regular human beings, minus the haloes of saints. He pulls them up from Hades, along with many figures from the Hebrew Bible, who had died before the time of Jesus. The company includes Moses, King David, King Solomon, Rebecca, Rachel, Sarah, and Miriam, positioned to echo the positions of Mary and Martha in Russian icons of the raising of Lazarus. Also included, behind Eve, is John the Baptist, the Forerunner of Christ in birth as well as death.

Two angels subdue the forces of Evil at the bottom of the Pit of Hell, as the dead are raised to new life. Two other angels hover over the scene, bearing the instruments of the Passion. The Old Church Slavonic lettering reads: “The Resurrection of the Savior.”

Jesus stands with his feet on the crossed and broken doors to the tomb, symbolizing the gates of hell. Combined with his outstretched arms and the cross that appears in his halo, the composition becomes in itself an embodiment of an Orthodox Cross.

Early Russian icons of the Resurrection illustrate the words to the chant, sung over and over again during the Orthodox Great Liturgy of Pascha – the “Passion” – a word derived from Pesach, or “Passover” in Hebrew. In English translation, the words to the chant are:

Christ is risen from the dead!
Trampling down death by death,
and upon those in the tombs, bestowing Life.

Written by St. Matthew’s Parish Iconographer, Lisa Bellan-Boyer
One Spirit Interfaith Seminary Class of 2011


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