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Christ the Conqueror of Hell: The Descent into Hades from an Orthodox Perspective Paperback – Dec 2009

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 231 pages
  • Publisher: St Vladimirs Seminary Pr (December 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0881410616
  • ISBN-13: 978-0881410617
  • Product Dimensions: 1.9 x 14 x 21 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 295 g
  • Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #568,515 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) HASH(0xa15df408) out of 5 stars 11 reviews
56 of 57 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa08a59cc) out of 5 stars "O death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?" July 7 2010
By Leslie Courtney - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I purchased this book because it was the only book dedicated to the topic of what is commonly known as "The Harrowing of Hell", the belief that when Christ died on the Cross, His soul descended into Sheol, until His Resurrection.

This book was phenomenal for several reasons.

1. It deals with a subject matter that is often overlooked or ignored by the modern Church.

2. It traces the doctrine throughout the centuries, starting with the New Testament, the Apostolic Fathers, onward through the Church Fathers.

3. It points out the need for this doctrine, by showing us how Christ conquered Hades and death, and that now believers really don't need to fear death, because Christ has truly conquered it.

The Archbishop puts forward three possible theories as to who Christ saved from Hades (Sheol) when he descended.

1. The Old Testament Saints, which is the belief that the Western Church has commonly held (myself included).

2. That by His preaching, it gave those spirits listening the opportunity to repent and be saved (a view that I'm open to.).

3. That Christ saved everyone in Hades, and now it lies broken and empty, with only the devil and the demons as it's inhabitants. (I'm not too keen on this view for several reasons).

The book is fascinating, and really makes you think about the emplications of the Son of God entering Hades, and its consequences for the human race. I recomend this book to any serious student of the Scriptures and Church History. I was struck by just how many of the Fathers were united on this belief, and how prevalent it has been down through the ages.
22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa0b8e1d4) out of 5 stars This is a "must read" for anyone interested in furthering their understanding of the Christian faith. May 12 2011
By Michael R Schlaack - Published on
Format: Paperback
Archbishop Hilarion Alfeyev takes on an extremely complex and often misunderstood topic of the central point of the Christian faith-- Christ's decent and conquering of Hades-- and breaks it down in a way that makes the subject easy to follow, even for the casual student of religion. By returning to the early centuries of the Church, Archbishop Hilarian lays the foundation for his topic using the writings of the ancient Church Fathers. Those who are not of the Orthodox Christian tradition may find it tedious reading through the extensive references to ancient Christian poetry and hymnography; but those who do make the effort will be rewarded with a deeper appreciation of the early Church's understanding of pivotal events that transpired between Christ's crucifixion and His resurrection, and the impact they have on our salvation. Archbishop Hilarian also makes an effort throughout the book to contrast the Eastern traditions against the Western understanding of various aspects of Christ's decent into Hades. He is also careful to point out which statements are part of Orthodox Church doctrine, which are a matter of accepted tradition and which are pious opinions. The final chapters of the book provide a concise summation of the topics covered in the previous chapters and should not be skipped. This book should be recommended reading for Christians of all faith traditions, as well as for anyone interested in learning more about the foundations of Christianity.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa0fc8978) out of 5 stars Just dive in an read this book! Aug. 15 2012
By Stephen Lee Morgan - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Recently, I completed the Antiochian Orthodox Church's St Stephen's Program (a three-year theology course) designed to 'prepare' people for the diaconate. Having been raised as a Protestant, the concept of 'Christ entering Hell' was rather foreign and novel to me, and I wanted to know more. I bought the book, and upon first receiving it, put it aside for a while, somewhat intimidated by it. Once I finally made the decision to get into it, however, I found that, not only does the author speak in an authoritative voice on the subject, but the text is actually a rather 'easy' and enjoyable experience to read. Having 'been thru' the diaconate training course, I was more than familiar with the overarching themes of Orthodox theology, and so I was really looking for material which would specifically discuss that which is known as 'the harrowing of Hell,' and so forth. This book does that, in depth, and does contain a very good number of references and 'academic'-style supporting material. Nevertheless, the text itself if quite 'user-friendly,' and quite illuminating, discussing the Biblical and extra-biblical bases for Christ's journey thru Hell, its purpose -- and the book does not shy away from discussing the 'outcome' of this, if that is the proper term for it. I highly recommend the book, and offer this: Don't be afraid, it's a better reading experience than you might think at first; you can handle it! It will particularly expand the mind of converts to Orthodoxy, and aid the non-Orthodox in understanding the essence of Orthodox theology, and how we view the 'role of Christ,' if I can put it that way.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa0f2b698) out of 5 stars What's To Fear? April 15 2013
By Patrick R. Novak - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
In most Protestant hymnals and books of worship, the Nicene Creed has parentheses around "he descended into Hell". Most people in the pews have no idea of what that means, and not one in one hundred have ever heard a sermon on the subject. From the outset, Bishop Alfeyev lays out the biblical background for this doctrine. Many Protestants would be surprised at the amount of biblical teaching there is on the subject. For example, how many would know what Matthew has to say about Jesus entering into hell and setting the righteous free - so free, the Gospeler tells us, the dead rose and walked around Jerusalem? Now that must have been a sight indeed! The wise bishop goes on to demonstrate how worship and art helped shape this doctrine. Lest we become too concerned about this argument, we must recall that when most of the bishops of the church were Arians [some out of conviction, some out of fear of the emperor], it was the church at worship that held onto and insisted upon a Nicene christology. The Christ the early Christians met in Scripture and worship was not the the christ of the Arian bishops.

The other reviews on this book do an adequate job of discussing the strengths of this work. I would take a bit of a different slant on this work. Not only did Christ break down the "gates of Hades" once and for all, thus disarming the evil one, but also, as St. Ephrem said, when the Roman lance pierced the side of Jesus and the water and blood flowed from Christ's side, the angel with the flaming sword sent to guard the gates of Paradise was recalled, because the eternal living water flowed forth from the Savior. Hell was destroyed and Paradise reopened! In the eternal present in which Christians now dwell in Christ, we need have no fear of the evil one, or as a certain country singer called him, "sneaky snake." In my work of planting churches among Muslim and animist populated areas of Africa and India, I am strengthened by the reality that the evil one is done; the Kingdom of God is near; we are bid to go out and plant the flag of Christ and call people to the light. Because the Second Adam has conquered death and reversed the course set by the First Adam, we can, in the name and might of the First Adam, command the demons to flee, sickness to depart, blindness to become sight, and the poor to rejoice. What need we fear? Rise up O Church, have done with lesser things! Let the reign of Christ be made apparent wherever your foot treads.

Bishop Alfeyev has written not only a little gem of theology, he has performed a wonderful pastoral task. What more could we ask of a bishop?
13 of 18 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa0b8eb94) out of 5 stars Does Love really win? Nov. 15 2011
By Michael G. Huber - Published on
Format: Paperback
" . . . yet thyself, O Savior, destroying the power of death, and with thee raising up Adam and releasing ALL men from hell." So sing the faithful in the Evlogetaria just before the resurrection gospel is read in every Sunday Matins service in the Orthodox Church--a perpetual celebration of Easter. Then, at the end of Matins on the Sundays of tones 5-8 this troparia is sung: " . . . O Lord, redeeming ALL men from the snares of the enemy."
What do these shocking words from these hymns mean? How literaly, or not literally, are we to understand them? What is the grand, full, historical context of these words? How do we avoid that dreaded doctrine known as "universal salvation"? Or should we indeed avoid it? Is there hope for the rich man (Lk. 16:20-31, the parable of the rich man and Lazarus)?
It is to this topic that Orthodox rising star Archbishop [Metropolitan] Hilarion Alfeyev addresses with full vigor and incredibly detailed research into the voluminous works of Orthodox liturgical theology throughout the centuries. Indeed, it is Alfeyev's unequivocal mission to "bring justice" to the authoritative place of liturgical theology noting that "Christians celebrated liturgical services long before the appearance of the New Testament . . ." (p. 210) Preceding this there are thorough sections looking at the New Testament, apocryphal literature and patristic writings as well. But the main star of this book is the liturgical theology. Tragically, the bulk of Protestantism has cut itself off from the depth of the wonders and riches of these invaluable sources of spiritual and theological understanding.
Until . . . along came Mars Hill evangelical pastor Rob Hill and his recent book, Love Wins, which set off a flury of controversey within evangelicalism regarding the existence of hell and the final destination of all people. This was prominently displayed for all on the front cover of the April 14, 2011 issue of Time Magazine. Bell writes, "something new is in the air," but ironcially implies that something OLD is in the air when he says, "At the center of the Christian tradition since the first church, have been a number who insist that history is not tragic, hell is not forever, and love, in the end, wins and all will be reconciled to God." Did, in fact, Bell actually read the opening, signature quotation in Alfeyev's book taken from The Vespers of Orthodox Holy Saturday?: "Hell reigns, but not forever, over the race of mortals."
Indeed, Alfeyev lists the Orthodox fathers (pp. 163-4) who were prominent in these teachings in addition to a wonderful look at St. Gregory of Nyssa, the most prominent Orthodox theologian regarding this subject. In addition St. Isaac the Syrian isn't overlooked. One can't help but the refer back to Alfeyev's previous book, The Spiritual World of St. Isaac the Syrian, where immensely popular Bishop [Met.] Kallistos writes in the Forward "the only interpretation of judgement and hell that makes any sense." (p. 10)
In his impressive statistical analysis of the vast array of liturgical texts Alfeyev cites an impressive 75% of these texts as all inclusive of the human race being the object of Christ's work in hell. Indeed, "The teaching that Christ trampled on death by death, abolished the power of the devil, and DESTROYED HELL--is general church doctrine." (p.209) Having said this, Alfeyev, in no uncertain terms, vigorously upholds that other pillar of Christian belief--freedom of the will--with a fascinating psychological twist on the effects of love on contrasting groups of people. He also concludes that "there are no easy, simple answers." (p. 193)
This is an incredible read, but likely only for those who are truly open to the extensive and historical authority of the Orthodox Church. Out of kindness and love Abp. Hilarion greatly understates the power (and narrowness) of Protestant (especially conservative, evangelical) thought regarding this subject. As one of my favorite evangelical authors, John Piper, wrote, "Farewell Rob Bell."