Anastasis in Chora

Anastasis, Parekklesion of Chora Monastery

Click on the photo for a larger image. This is widely agreed to be the most striking exemplar of the traditional Byzantine Anastasis icon. It is the fresco in the apse of the arekklesion or funerary chapel, of the Monastery of Chora at Istanbul. A brilliant mandorla surrounds the anything-but-dead Christ, in Hell rescuing the inhabitants from Death, who lies bound amidst the shattered gates of Hell and the broken locks and useless keys thereof. The All-Powerful Christ, in midstride, brooking no nonsense lifts the helpless Adam and Eve by the wrist like children, this being witnessed by the older King David and younger King Solomon on the left, with St John the Forerunner behind them. On the right, the Protomartyr (and Prototype of Christ!) Abel watches with his shepherd’s crook, and others of the Old Testament Prophets watch with him.

This is a fine exemplar of the traditional Orthodox Christian composition of the Anastasis, the Resurrection of Christ. This victory over death, the proclamation to and release of the prisoners (1Pt 3.19), is the reason for His Resurrection. We have in this icon a theology lesson rather than a history lesson. Instead of Orthodox Resurrection icons depicting a conflation of events surrounding the Resurrection of Christ as depicted in the Gospels (as in many such Western Christian depictions: the tomb, the winding sheet, the Myrrh-Bearing Women, the sleeping guards, the bright-shining angel), the Resurrection icon presents us with the love of God for mankind, His personal sacrifice, and His personal rescue of humanity from eternal death!

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