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Christ the Conqueror of Hell: The Descent into Hades from an Orthodox Perspective Paperback – Dec 2009
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
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.
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?
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."