In its worship the Orthodox Church uses what is called the eight tones. These tones guide the singing of the various hymns relating to Christ’s resurrection, the Virgin Mary, and the theme of the day. Tone two for the Resurrectional apolytikia describes quite nicely and very succinctly Christ’s resurrection.
When you descended unto death, O life immortal, You destroyed Hades with the splendor of Your divinity. And when You raised the dead from the depths of darkness, all the heavenly powers shouted: O Giver of life, Christ our God, glory to You.
Here is the link to the choir of St. Anne Orthodox Church (Corvallis, Oregon) singing this particular hymn. Source
Christ the Firstborn of the Dead
In Colossians 1:18 the Apostle Paul describes Jesus Christ as the firstborn of the dead. It seems that Paul has inserted an ancient Christological hymn into his letter to the Colossians.
15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or [f]powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. 17 And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. 18 And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence. [NKJV; emphasis added]
In this ancient hymn we find an allusion to Genesis in which Christ creates the Earth and our first parents, Adam and Eve, and an allusion to the new heaven and the new earth that would be described in Revelation 21.
The Greek word for “firstborn” is “πρωτότοκος” (prototokos). While the word can be understood as first in time, it is better understood as first in hierarchical ordering. Thus, “firstborn” can also be understood to mean “first in rank,” “preeminent,” or “unique supremacy.” (See Kittel Theological Dictionary of the New Testament Vol. VI pp. 876-881)
In the case of Christ’s resurrection, he was indeed the first Man to rise from the dead. We see in the Resurrection Icon the Second Adam descending to Hades and rescuing the first Adam. Unlike Lazarus whose resurrection in John 11 was a temporary one, Christ’s resurrection is a permanent triumph over Death. The liberation of Adam and Eve from the power of Death is a promise that we too will be sharers in Christ’s Resurrection.
What is striking about Colossians 1 is the dominance of the Christus Victor paradigm. Our salvation is described in terms of our being delivered from the power of darkness and our transfer into the kingdom of the Son (1:13). Christ’s preeminence over thrones, dominions, principalities, and powers (1:16) likewise reflects the Christus Victor paradigm. While elements of the penal or forensic paradigm can be inferred from “we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins” (1:14) and “peace through the blood of His cross” (1:20), these verses can also be understood from the standpoint of a cosmic war. Christ comes to rescue those held hostage by the Devil. The long war between Christ and Satan is concluded by Christ’s sacrificial death on the Cross and his triumphal Resurrection. Now that we have been rescued from the Devil and from Death, we can like the Prodigal Son return home and be reconciled with the Loving Father who awaits our return.
Christ’s Resurrection entitles him to supremacy over the new heaven and new earth. This is the basis for the Great Commission passage found in Matthew 28:18-20 in which Christ commands his Church to go and evangelize all the nations. We are commanded to let the world know that mankind’s great enemy Death has been defeated and that the gift of Life is available through the Risen Christ. Along with the command to evangelize is the command to baptize. This is because through the sacrament of baptism we are joined to Christ’s death and to his resurrection (Romans 6:3-4). Baptism is more than a symbolic gesture, it contains a spiritual power that joins the believer to their Lord on a profound level resulting in new life. Previously, there was darkness and corruption in the core of our being but thanks to the sacrament of baptism we have been engrafted into Jesus Christ the New Vine.
Hope Under the Shadow of COVID-19
For over a year we have been living under the shadow of the global COVID-19 pandemic. See my Easter posting from last year: “Being Faithful in Dark Times.” Our generation is not the first to struggle with the terror of widespread illnesses and unexpected deaths of friends and loved ones, and the sense of isolation and desolation caused by social distancing. The history of mankind has been shadowed by other plagues and pestilence as well. It is not certain when we will exit the current health crisis, but it will pass as did many prior pandemics. COVID-19 is a reminder that our enemy Death is not far away. Easter Sunday is a reminder that Jesus Christ has dealt Death a decisive blow. This is the basis for Good News of the Christian religion. Christians can dare to hope in the face of death, sickness, and suffering.
I would encourage readers to visit the website for the Resurrection Icon illustration above. There you will see a much larger version of the Resurrection icon shown here. If you look closely at the faces of the three central figures: Christ, Adam, and Eve, you will see expressions of joy, hope, and courage–the three things so desperately needed in these COVID-19 times.
Christ is Risen! Truly He is Risen!