An Easter icon, not a painting

The cover of the April 21 Easter issue was described in these words: “Christ pulls Adam out of ‘limbo’ while surrounded by other biblical figures in a late 13th-century painting (artist unknown).” Actually, this is not a “painting” but rather an icon. The “artist” is meant to be unknown: iconographers traditionally do not sign their work, thus rendering total homage to the biblical scene depicted.

The name of this icon is “The Descent into Hades,” not “limbo.” Christ is shown descending into the realms of the dead, bearing in his left hand the life-giving cross, the symbol of the victory over death achieved by his death. Beneath his feet are instruments of imprisonment — keys and nails.

Christ grasps the wrist of Adam and raises him up from the tomb: this subtle detail of the way Christ holds Adam’s wrist indicates that it is Christ’s work of redemption that raises Adam and the whole of fallen humanity into the new life of the resurrection. Behind Adam is Eve, and on either side of Christ stand kings and prophets of the Old Testament whose vocation it was to prepare the way for the coming of the Savior.

— Rt. Rev. Alexei Smith, pastor, Saint Andrew Russian Greek Catholic Church, El Segundo

Start your day with Always Forward!

A daily email newsletter to help you better understand the Church and the world.