During the Holy Fifty days we celebrate the Glorious Feast of Resurrection, and in the Divine Liturgy of the Feast of Resurrection, we do what we call the “Enactment of the Resurrection.” During the Enactment, we close the curtain of the sanctuary, and we turn off the lights; two deacons stand outside and the priest stands inside. A dialogue begins between the deacons outside and the priest inside.
The deacons start saying Ekhristos Anesti, which means “Christ is risen” three times and the priest inside responds and says, Alithos Anesti or “Truly He is risen.”
After this the deacons outside say “Open your doors o you kings and be lifted up, you everlasting doors! And the King of glory shall come in.” The priest then asks, “Who is the King of Glory?” The deacons outside responds saying “The Lord, mighty in war, He is the King of Glory!” Then we open the curtain and the resurrection procession starts.
Questions to ask yourself
My first question to you is, do we understand what is going on here?
- What do the deacons outside represent?
- What does the priest inside represent?
- What is the meaning of this dialogue?
- Why do we turn the lights off then back on?
- Why do we close the curtain of the altar?
We all love the Enactment of Resurrection and every year in the Divine Liturgy we come early to attend the Enactment of Resurrection, but do we understand what is going on? What is the meaning of this Enactment?
Symbolism of the Enactment of the Resurrection
The enactment of the Resurrection contains many areas of symbolism:
- The deacons outside: They represent the angels that were ministering to the Lord Jesus Christ during His ministry on earth.
- The priest inside: He represents the Cherubim in Paradise. After the fall of Adam and Eve, God appointed Cherubim to guard the way to the Tree of Life. So the priest here represents the Cherubim who is guarding the Tree of Life.
- The Tree of Life: We have with us on the altar the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ
- The altar: It represents Paradise. After the fall of Adam and Eve the doors and the gates of Paradise were shut, and that is why the worship in the Old Testament was towards the West, which represented the enmity between God and humans. After the crucifixion of our Lord Jesus Christ His soul descended into the Hades, as we say in the Divine Liturgy, “He descended into Hades through the cross.” So His soul descended into Hades and He took Adam and all His children who passed away in the hope of resurrection and took them back to the Paradise; He opened the doors of Paradise and the Lord, the King of Glory, entered with all the people who departed in the hope of resurrection
- The icon of resurrection: The icon of the Resurrection should be outside during the Enactment of Resurrection because the Lord didn’t yet enter into the Paradise; thus, the icon of resurrection should remain outside.
- Then the angel says, “Christ is Risen.” The angel starts to preach the Good News of the resurrection. Inside, the Cherubim says, “Truly He is Risen,” and the Lord Jesus Christ is approaching the Paradise with all the spirits of the departed.
- The King of Glory. Then the deacons start to say, from Psalm 24, “Lift up your heads, Oh you gates! And be lifted up, you everlasting doors! And the king of glory shall come in.” The angel here is speaking about the gates of Paradise that were opened after the crucifixion and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Now “The Lord,” as we say, “reigned on the wood of the Cross” [see Psalm 96], and that’s why we call Him the King of Glory. Before the crucifixion Satan was the ruler of this world, but after the crucifixion and resurrection our Lord Jesus Christ became our King. That is why we say, “Our Lord, our God, and our Savior, the King of us all.” During the Holy 50 days we chant and say, “Alleluia, Alleluia, Jesus Christ, the King of Glory.” And we start to call Him the King of Glory because He reigned on the wood of the Cross. So they are saying, “Lift up your heads, Oh you gates! And be lifted up, you everlasting doors! And the King of Glory shall come in.” Then the Cherubim asks, “Who is the King of Glory?” (Note that Psalm 24 is also said during the Feast of Ascension and has the same meaning when the Lord ascended into the Heaven of the Heavens. That’s why in the Feast of Ascension we chant the same Psalm. “Lift up your heads, Oh you gates! And be lifted up, you everlasting doors! And the king of glory shall come in.”)
- Who is the King of Glory?: This question is not a question of ignorance because He doesn’t know who the King of Glory, is. No, but rather, he asks this question in order for it to be declared to the whole world that Jesus Christ is the King of Glory: Jesus Christ, who defeated the Devil; Jesus Christ, who trampled death by His death. He became our King. That is why the response is, “The Lord, strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle” is the King of Glory.
- Opening the curtain. After this we open the curtain, symbolizing that the doors of Paradise were opened.
- Turning the lights on. We turn the lights on because before the resurrection, as mentioned in the Book of Isaiah and the Gospel of St. Matthew, and also as we say it in the Divine Liturgy, “We were sitting in darkness and the shadow of death.” But now after the resurrection we moved from darkness into light, and that is why we turn the light on and we open the curtain of the altar.
Symbolism of the Resurrection Procession
The icon of the resurrection with the deacons enter into the sanctuary, representing that the Lord Jesus Christ, with all the departed that passed away in the hope of resurrection, entered into Paradise. Then the procession starts inside the altar symbolizing the entry of our victorious Lord Jesus Christ with all the souls of the departed into the paradise.
Then the procession goes from the sanctuary into the church. The sanctuary represents Paradise, and the church here represents the earth. As you know, the Lord Jesus Christ appeared several times during the 40 days before His ascension. The icon of resurrection in the church represents the appearances of our Lord Jesus Christ during the Holy 40 days until His ascension and that’s why after the Feast of Ascension we only do the procession around the sanctuary.
The deacons also participate in the procession because in the Gospel of St. Matthew it is mentioned that many of the departed rose from the dead at the time of His resurrection and entered the holy city Jerusalem and appeared to many to proclaim and preach the good news of the resurrection. The deacons here symbolize the resurrection of many people, through the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ and how they entered the holy city Jerusalem and preached the good news of the resurrection. The procession ends in the Altar because these people died again and they are waiting in Paradise until the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ; also the icon of resurrection ends in the altar because the Lord Jesus Christ, after the 40 days, ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father.
Biblical support for Christ’s descent into Hades
Many people ask if we have any Biblical references or evidence that the Lord Jesus Christ descended into Hades?
- Peter mentioned in 1 Peter 3:19, “by whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison”; prison here is another name for Hades.
- Also, there is a prophecy in the Psalms about the Lord descending into Hades and St. Peter quoted this prophecy in his sermon on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2:25: “For David says concerning him: ‘I foresaw the Lord always before my face, for He is at my right hand, that I may not be shaken. Therefore my heart rejoiced, and my tongue was glad; Moreover my flesh also will rest in hope. For You will not leave my soul in Hades, nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption. You have made known to me the ways of life; You will make me full of joy in Your presence.’” “You will not leave my soul in Hades” means his soul went to Hades but it was not left there: you will not leave my soul in Hades. Then St. Peter says, “Men and brethren, let me speak freely to you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Therefore, being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that of the fruit of his body, according to the flesh, He would raise up the Christ to sit on his throne, he, foreseeing this, spoke concerning the resurrection of the Christ, that His soul was not be left in Hades, nor did His flesh see corruption” (Acts 2:29–31). St. Peter interpreted this prophecy and said that David spoke concerning the resurrection of Christ and said that His soul was not left in Hades nor did His flesh see corruption—this is a second reference in the Holy Scripture.
- The third reference is when St. Paul in the Book of Ephesians 4:7 says ,“But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore He says, ‘When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive and gave gifts to men.’ (Now this, “He ascended”—what does it mean but that He also first descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is also the One who ascended above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.)’” The lower parts of earth is another name for Hades. So now you have three references about the Lord descending into Hades through the Cross.
Who entered the Paradise with the Lord Jesus Christ? The righteous, those who overcame sin in their life. When we celebrate the Feast of Resurrection we speak about our victory in the Lord Jesus Christ.
The real resurrection and the real celebration of the Feast of Resurrection is to have victory in your life, to be victorious through the resurrected Christ.
Glory be to God forever. Amen
Sources and where to go to learn more:
- Text taken from His Grace Bishop Youssef