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Guest Viewpoints

“Trampling Down Death by Death”

April 28, 2022
By Rev. Dr. Emmanuel Clapsis

Christ’s Resurrection liberates Humanity from death. “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and to those in the tombs, He has granted life.”

While we celebrate the trampling of death through Christ’s death and Resurrection, Humanity still experiences physical death, the separation of the soul from the body. If we continue to experience physical death, does this mean that Christ did not trample death?

To understand how Christ liberates Humanity from death, let us briefly reflect on what it means to be a human and the purpose of God when he created Humanity (Adam and Eve).

As created beings, humans are changeable; they have a beginning, subject to growth, aging, and ultimately death. But God created Humanity to live. The fullness of life is experienced only in unity with God, the source, and the cause of life.

Humanity, however, turned to itself instead of developing and deepening its relationship with God; it became egocentric, and under the influence of the devil, it glorified itself. The separation of Humanity from God made death the inevitable end of existence. In Orthodoxy, death is understood not as the physical separation of the soul from the body but primarily as the separation of humans from God, the source of life.

As created beings having a beginning and an end, humans have the potential to transcend the limitations of their created nature, death, only as they relate to God and live in unity with Him. The incarnation of God’s Word is the event that unites Humanity and creation with God. Being fully divine and fully human, Christ connects all Creation with God through his Humanity. The incarnate Word of God, Jesus Christ, participated voluntarily in our sinful human condition, although He was sinless. He participated and experienced every aspect of human life to liberate us from the consequences of our fallible nature. If God did not intervene to save the world and deliver Humanity from death, then we could argue that God’s plans for the world have been disrupted by rebellious Humanity, who had chosen death instead of life. Furthermore, one could say that God’s love for the world is conditional, and that He abandoned His creation once humans rebelled against Him.

However, God, the source of life, has never abandoned His beloved creation and continuously provides opportunities for Humanity to establish a life-giving relationship with Him. Through Christ’s suffering and crucifixion, God communicates His boundless love and compassion for all creation. By His death, Christ conquered death and abolished the devil, who had the power of death until then. In the words of the author of the epistle to the Hebrews: “that through death he (Christ) might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; And deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage” (Hebrews 2: 14-15). The crucified and risen Christ defeats death.

St. Paul clarifies that the Resurrection of Christ ensures the Resurrection of the dead. “For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep” (Heb.4,14). To illustrate his point, he uses two theological motifs. First, the Adam–Christ: “for since by a man came death, by a man also came the Resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive” 15:21-22). The second motif he uses is a the comparison of this life’s natural, earthy body and the heavenly body after death. He describes how the new body will replace the old one at the Resurrection of the dead: “So also is the Resurrection of the dead. It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body” (15:42-44).

Thus, while human beings continue to experience physical death, the separation of the soul from the body, Christians believe that this is not their death, the end of their existence, but a temporary experience of ‘falling asleep’ until the ‘Deftera Parousia – Second Coming.’ Through Christ’s death and Resurrection, Humanity has been granted the privilege to live eternally in God’s kingdom. The Resurrection of Christ is ‘The Feast of Feasts’ and ‘The Festival of Festivals.’ It is the most decisive act of the liberation of Humanity from death and the devil’s power.

Rev. Dr. Emmanuel Clapsis is the former Archbishop Iakovos Professor of Theology at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology.

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