Death is Destroyed!

In the Western Christianity religious art tradition, Resurrection pictures have a very similar theme: Jesus steps out of the tomb (or sometimes even flies out of the tomb!), His body radiant with glory. He is usually holding a standard of some type (more on what a standard is here) and everything is just… glorious.

On the Eastern Christianity, the Resurrection pictures are very different.

Very different.

For one, Christ is not seen stepping out of the tomb in glory, usually. Mind you! In the more modern icons, you can see images of Christ stepping victoriously out of the tomb. But, that’s only because of the Western influence on religious art.

And why do they typically do not portray this event?

One small reason is this: because in the Eastern tradition, there is an underlying belief that you really can’t depict the exact moment of the Resurrection of Our Lord because it’s just too glorious. Too glorious even to depict as artwork! We can’t even imagine how glorious it is. And so, whereas Western artists would use the Transfiguration as inspiration so as to depict the Resurrected Jesus, the Eastern artists wouldn’t even try.

But that is a small reason, considering. The bigger reason is this: the glory of Jesus does not simply end with Him stepping out of the tomb. It is far greater than that! In fact, you can argue that the Western perspective of the Resurrection pictures is fairly individualistic — that it, it focuses only on Jesus Christ coming out of the tomb, typically. But, that is not the only thing that happens, for Jesus has come to save all the people and destroy death entirely.

And that is the scene which is the focus for Eastern Christianity.

And so, their Resurrection icons look like this icon:

Anastasis Icon, c. 15th century, Byzantine. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, New York, United States. Via IllustratedPrayer.com
Anastasis Icon, c. 15th century, Byzantine. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, New York, United States.

It is an icon depicting the Anastasis, in which Jesus rescues those who are in Hell in an event which Western Christianity would usually call “the Harrowing of Hell.” However, the word for “Anastasis” does not mean the “Harrowing of Hell.” It is a Greek word that means “Resurrection.” In fact, most Eastern depictions of the Resurrection look like this. The Harrowing of Hell title is only really important in Western art in which the depictions of “The Harrowing of Hell” and “The Resurrection” are quite different!

In this icon, the wood panels that Jesus stands on are the doors of Hades, which have been broken now that Christ has destroyed death. Now, the floor that the doors of Hades is really hard to see, but if you squint, you can see strange things that curiously like hardware — and indeed, they are supposed to be hardware. Why is there hardware scattered everywhere? Because they are supposed to be locks and gears that once kept people dead. But with the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, death has now been destroyed forever.

Jesus bends over and helps two people out of a tomb. The two people? Adam and Eve. And thus, all of humanity is not doomed to death! Even the first two people — Adam and Eve — are saved from death.

To Christ’s right are various people now in glory — the patriarchs, prophets, and other saints that Christ has saved. Even St. John the Baptist, who is the closest to Christ — gets an appearance. Then, to Christ’s left are those who are waiting to be saved.

Above this scene is Heaven. The angels all gather around on a golden background where the symbols, “IC XC” are clearly visible. What does “IC XC” mean? It is the name of Christ, to which every knee must bow.

And then, below, just in case you wanted even more scenes reminding us of the Resurrection, are various scenes from the Resurrection as told in the gospel: the women visiting the tomb. The soldiers fainted away. The angel visiting the women telling them that Christ is not there.

It is a marvelous scene that should give us hope, for Christ has come to save and deliver us from death. And, indeed, He has been victorious!

May you all have a blessed Easter!

Karina Tabone

Karina Tabone is a wife, mother of three, author, blogger, and lover of Christian artwork. She's the author of the Illustrated Rosary series, which pairs every prayer of the Rosary with beautiful religious artwork. She likes also milkshakes, sunshine, and mystery novels. Follow her on Twitter at @illustr_prayer

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