Christos Anesti! Christ is Risen! The Fifth Monday of Pascha: The Descent of Jesus into Hades (Part V)
By Father Thomas Hopko
And we do not ever want to imagine the dead as disincarnate souls. Some of the great teachers of Christianity do that, even Metropolitan of Nafpaktos, Hierotheos, he does that. I must say honestly say I do not agree with him when he does that. The dead are simply completely and totally dead. And then when you are alive, you are completely and totally alive. And I believe that when Christ rose from the dead in His glorified body, He gave the glorified body to all those in the tombs immediately, that they enter into eternal life with Him. That is why when we glorify the saints we glorify them as completely and totally alive. When they appear to people they do not appear as disincarnate souls, they appear as people in their glorified bodies, with their risen bodies. They are clothed with the raised body of Jesus Christ. The relic of their physical body might still be in the tombs, and they are in the tombs until the last day when all the tombs will be empty and there will be no more cemeteries and no more death anymore at all. But the dead in Christ are already entering into that splendid glory of the age to come. That is how we relate to them and venerate them within the Orthodox Church.
But in any case, that topic may be for another time, but what we want to know for now is that Jesus did not suffer any agonies of hell when He died. In fact, He did not suffer separation from God. He was forsaken and abandoned by God into death, into the hands of evil, but God was always with Him, and He was always with God. He commended His life into the hands of God when He died, He said, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit,” and He gave up His spirit and He died. And as the Paschal Troparion, the hymn says during the canon, it says, “In the grave with the body, in Sheol with the soul, in as much as Thou art God in Paradise with the thief, on the throne with the Father and the Holy Spirit was Thou, boundless Christ, filling all things Thyself, uncircumscribed, uncontainable, infinite.”
So there is this mystery of the infinite, glorious God being circumscribed by flesh, and dying in the flesh, and God dies in the flesh, He really dies, and experiences death, but that experience of death is the destruction of death. It is the bringing of the power of God into Sheol to destroy death. God is with Him, raising the dead through His dead body. It is through Christ that the dead are raised, so I think that it is accurate to say, first of all, it is certainly accurate to say that Jesus did not go into hell. He went into Sheol, He went into Hades. That is not hell, that is not Gehenna. He never tasted of Gehenna. He never tasted of hell at all, and He brought heaven, He brought Paradise, to the righteous dead who were held in Sheol, in Hades, to captives. In other words, to those who were dead, to those who were, literally, dead.
~Thomas Hopko, The Descent of Jesus into Hades, http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/hopko/the_descent_of_jesus_into_hades.