Sunday, April 22, 2012

Byzantine Psalmody: The Ten Basic Neumes (Part 1)

In Western musical notation, the length and relative timing of notes are shown on a staff, where the vertical position of a note (in notation) on the staff represents which note (on the scale) is to be sung or played.  The mentality of Byzantine psalmody notation is vastly different.  In Byzantine psalmody notation, there is no staff, only a single row of markings.  Each note (in notation) shows which note (on the scale) is to be sung relative to the note that was just sung.  Byzantine psalmody notation thus shows the intervals between notes, rather than which note (on the scale) each note (in notation) represents.  In addition, there are markings in Byzantine psalmody notation for representing the length of notes and other characteristics (such as tying notes together, changing the force of a sung note, increasing volume, etc.)

In Byzantine psalmody, the notes in notation which represent these intervals are called neumes.  There are ten basic neumes for the most common intervals which are then combined to create larger intervals.  These neumes form the basis of the Byzantine psalmody notation.  Below are neutral neueme and the four always ascending neumes.

1. Ison

The ison is a unique neume.  While all the other basic neumes indicate either ascent or descent in notes, the ison indicates a repetition of the same note.  For instance, if the note before an ison was Πα, the note sung on the ison is also Πα.

2. Oligon

The oligon is the basic neume of ascent.  It indicates an ascent of one note from the note previously sung.  For instance, if the note before an oligon was Πα, the note sung on the oligon is Βου.

3. Kentimata

The kentimata is another neume of ascent.  Like the oligon, it indicates an ascent of one note from the note previously sung: the kentimata is used, though, when the same syllable is repeated as the previous note.  For instance, if "O" is sung on Πα and the next note is the same "O" being sung on Βου, then a kentimata is used; if the next note is a "Lo" sung on Βου, though, an oligon would be used.

4. Petaste

The petaste is another neume of ascent, and it also represents an ascent of one note.  The uniqueness of the petaste is not when it is used, as the kentimata is separated from the oligon, but in how it is sung: the pesaste involves a quiver of the voice, "a rise of the sound, a little higher from the natural pitch of the tone at hand" (GMT I.II.IV.139).  In other words, there is a quick rising of the voice to the next note higher and then back down.  The following example depicts this, first in Byzantine psalmody notation, then in Western notation (only matching intervals, not the notes themselves).

5. Hypsile

The hypsile is an interesting neume of ascent.  While it is counted among the basic neumes, it never appears on its own: it only appears in combination neumes, where it indicates an ascent of either four or five notes.  It will be explained in greater detail when discussing combined neumes, where it is actually used.

To finish this post, here is an example of ascending the scale using these neumes (without the hypsile, of course), in both Byzantine psalmody notation and Western notation.


St. Ephraim the Syrian, pray for us!


The Rosary and the Komboskini

Each Wednesday during the school year, I pray a Rosary with a spiritual brotherhood I am a member of, a Rosary that is often prayed during a procession led by an icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa.  This past week, as I prayed with my rosary in my right hand and my komboskini around my left wrist, I thought of the sublime combination of traditions.

On one hand, we were praying the Rosary, the traditional Marian prayer revealed to St. Dominic.  With this prayer, we fervently beseeched the intercession of Our Lady, the Mother of God, as we meditated upon the mysteries of the life of Our Lord.  On the other hand (quite literally), my komboskini wrapped around my wrist reminded me to constantly remember Jesus Christ and to pray unceasingly the Jesus Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.  The Rosary is a traditional devotion of the Western Church, and the Jesus Prayer prayed on a komboskini is a traditional devotion of the Eastern Church.  To lead these prayers, an icon from Poland was processed, and, as my girlfriend's father remarked, Poland can be seen as a geographical point of connection between the Western and Eastern Churches (he mentioned this in connection to the devotion to Divine Mercy of St. Faustina Kowalska, which he sees as being a great tool for the reuniting of the two lungs of the Church).

Thus, in this one time of prayer, traditions from both lungs of the Church were used to lead me deeper into prayer.  I see a brilliant complementarity between the rosary in one hand and the komboskini in the other: with the one, we ask the intercession of the Theotokos as we meditate on the mysteries of the life of Our Lord, and, with the other, we unceasingly keep the name of Jesus Christ in our hearts, minds, and souls, as we continually ask Him for mercy.  With the one we beseech the Mother, and with the other we beseech the Son.  The use of komboskini also helps me see the Christocentrism present in the Rosary, for I often have a difficulty with Marian prayers being too about Mary with little connection to the Lord.  With the komboskini unceasingly reminding me of Jesus Christ, though, I am able to pray the Rosary with greater fervor and devotion.

This personal example just shows one more way how the use of both lungs of the Church can lead us deeper into devotion to the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Praise the Lord for His great gift of the two lungs of the Church!

St. Dominic, pray for us!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Byzantine Psalmody: A Quick History and the Notes

Χριστος ανεστι!  Byzantine psalmody has its oldest roots in ancient Greek music, the music of modes such as Dorian, Ionian, Lydian, Phrygian, Mixolydian, etc.  (Not being versed in ancient Greek music, I cannot say any more than that.)  The main Christian roots are traditionally linked with St. Ephraim the Syrian (306-373), Doctor of the Church: some claim that he originally created Christian chant and that even Gregorian chant had its roots in his work.  No real method of Byzantine psalmody begins to be expounded in writing until St. John of Damascus (676-749), the great defender of icons.  Byzantine notation, the unique style of writing music used by Byzantine psalmody (very different from Western styles, both modern "European" notation and Gregorian chant notation), began to be written (from what we know) with the work of this great saint.  Though his system was complex, it was usable.  Over time, though, Byzantine notation became so convoluted that it was illegible: even music teachers learned and taught by ear, without even being able to understand the written music.  To counteract this mess, the "Revolution of 1814" occurred: three teachers of music, led by Chrysanthos of Madytos, overhauled and simplified Byzantine notation and psalmody to create what is called "the New Method."  By simplifying the ludicrously complex system they received, and by incorporating certain aspects of Western music, the Three Teachers (as they are called) created a system that can be fairly easily learned and taught and a notation that can even be printed on a printing press (an unfathomable notion with the previously obfuscated notation).  Since the Revolution of 1814, there have been some changes and alterations (as in almost everything), but the substance of Byzantine notation and the method of Byzantine psalmody has remained the same.

After that short history lesson (which I do not blame you if you skipped), let us begin with the notes of Byzantine psalmody.  (While there is differing terminology for these, as in most things in Byzantine psalmody, due to its original creation using the Greek language, I will utilize the term notes in this series.) 

For anyone with even minimal musical training in the Western tradition (or for anyone who's seen The Sound of Music), the solfège system should be familiar:

Do Re Mi Fa So La Ti Do'

(This is the version I have often heard, the one used in the aforementioned musical.  Other versions use "sol" for "so" and "si" for "ti."  Also, the apostrophe just represents a repeated note one octave above the first note.)

These syllables correspond to the notes used in the scale of C major:

C D E F G A B C'

Chrysanthos of Madytos, the leader of the Three Teachers, was an admirer of this aspect of the Western musical tradition.  In the Byzantine tradition, there were long, polysyllabic names for each note.  As part of the process of simplification, the following series of syllables, each incorporation successive letters of the Greek alphabet, was created:

Πα Βου Γα Δι Κε Ζω Νη Πα'

Transliterated into English, the syllables are:

Pa Bou Ga Di Ke Zō Nē Pa'

The only hiccup in the system is that the Greek system starts on the equivalent of the Western Re/D, not Do/C.  The following table compares the three systems:

 (Click on the above table for a larger image.)

Understanding the basic seven-note system of Byzantine psalmody and the syllables used to refer to them is key to further study of Byzantine psalmody.

I hope this post has been useful to you.  If you have any questions or comments, please, don't hesitate to contact me.  Thank you for reading, and God Bless.

Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life.

St. John of Damascus, pray for us!

Nota Bene: This is part of my Byzantine Psalmody series.

Byzantine Psalmody Index

This is the base page for my series/project on Byzantine psalmody.  Below are links to posts in the series, other posts on sacred music, a list of abbreviations for works I use throughout the series, and links to other Church documents on sacred music.

  1. Why Should I Care About Byzantine Psalmody? (4/12/12)
  2. A Quick History and the Notes (4/12/12) 
  3. The Ten Basic Neumes (Part 1) (4/22/12)


BM = Byzantine Music in Theory and in Practice by Prof. Savas I. Savas, trans. Nicholas Dufault, Boston: Hercules Press, 1965.
BP = Byzantine Prosomia: The Chanter's Companion by Holy Transfiguration Monastery (2005).
DMS = De musica sacra et sacra liturgia, Instruction by the Sacred Congregation for Rites (9/3/1958)
GMEOC = A Guide to the Music of the Eastern Orthodox Church by N. Lungu, G. Costea, and I. Croitoru, trans. Nicholas K. Apostola, Brookline: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 1984.
GTM = Great Theory of Music by Chrysanthos of Madytos, trans. Katy G. Romanou (1973).
MSe = Musicae Sacrae, Encyclical by Ven. Pope Pius XII (12/25/1955)
MSm = Musicam Sacram, Instruction by the Sacred Congregation for Rites (3/5/1967)
SC = Sacrosanctum Concilium, Constitution by the Second Vatican Council (Vatican II) (12/4/1963)
TlS = Tra le Sollecitudini, Motu Proprio by Pope St. Pius X (11/22/1903)

Other related documents:

Divini Cultus, Apostolic Constitution by Pope Pius XI (12/20/1929)
Jubilate Deo by the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship (4/14/1974)
Mediator Dei, Encyclical by Ven. Pope Pius XII (11/20/1947)
Voluntatis Obsequens, Letter by the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship (4/14/1974)

For more documents on the liturgy, see my links to Church documents on the sacraments.

Pope St. Gregory the Great, pray for us!

St. Ephraim, Harp of the Holy Spirit, pray for us!

Why Should I Care About Byzantine Psalmody?

Χριστος ανεστι!  It is well-known that the Second Vatican Council declared that Gregorian chant is "specially suited to the Roman liturgy: therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical services" (SC 116).  This does not mean that other types of music are completely banned from the liturgy (as some, including myself at times, try to claim), but it does mean that there is no place for completely doing away with Gregorian chant.

Why is Gregorian chant so suited to the liturgy?  For one, it was specifically created for the liturgy.  Its original purpose is for the glorification of God through the divine rites.  It is a music set apart.  Second, it keeps the liturgical texts prominent.  The chant involves simple music which serves to highlight the text rather than hiding it in auditory flourishes.  This is keeping with Pope St. Pius X's description of sacred music: "Since its principal office is to clothe with suitable melody the liturgical text proposed for the understanding of the faithful, its proper aim is to add greater efficacy to the text" (TlS 1).  Third, it involves melodies which can be easily passed on and learned by many, even those without extensive musical training.

The one catch about Gregorian chant having pride of place is that it has it only in the Roman liturgy.  Then what holds pride of place in the liturgies of the other rites?  Their own liturgical chants.  One such chant is Byzantine psalmody.

This sacred, liturgical music has many names: psalmody, psaltic music, Byzantine chant, ecclesiastical music.  In order to show its Eastern origin and a common name for it, I have decided to use the term Byzantine psalmody to describe this music.

Why should one study this Eastern music rather than solely Gregorian chant?  My answer is simple: so the Church may become more bipulmonary, breathing more and more with both lungs of the Church, the East and the West (according to the image of Pope Bl. John Paul II).  Not only that, but Ven. Pope Pius XII specifically endorsed the chants of the Eastern Church.  "Among the oldest and most outstanding monuments of sacred music," the Holy Father wrote, "the liturgical chants of the different eastern rites hold a highly important place" (MSe 52).  These chants of the Eastern Church are part of the great treasures held by Oriental Christianity, treasures "which must be guarded and defended to prevent not only their complete disappearance, but also any partial loss or distortion" (MSe 51).

Byzantine psalmody also shares the reasons Gregorian chant has for its being suitable for the liturgy.  First, it is a sacred music, set apart for the liturgy from its origins.  Second, it is dedicated to enhancing the liturgical texts.  As Rev. Fr. Nicholas K. Apostola wrote in the introduction to a text on Byzantine psalmody, "The music is there to serve the words; the words do not serve the music...The words of the hymn are the means by which we contemplate God, pray to God, and learn about God.  The music is but a 'skin,' if you will, surrounding the words of the hymn" (GMEOC xiii).  Third, many of the melodies of Byzantine psalmody are easy to teach many and to picked up on by even the untrained in music.

The one caveat with this third characteristic, for both Gregorian chant and Byzantine psalmody, is that, in addition to many simple melodies the untrained can easily grasp, there are more complex chants that are part of the tradition which involve more extensive training for singers to grasp.  That is the main reason for this series of posts which I will be embarking on: to give some training in Byzantine psalmody so that the more difficult chants to not disappear from the tradition or remain unknown in the West.  I do not claim to be an expert in any respect on Byzantine psalmody: I have merely studied a number of books on the subject and attempted to distill some of the main aspects of the notation and method.  If I make any mistakes during this endeavour, please let me know.

In conclusion, my goal of this series is this: to open up to more Christians of the Western Church the sublime treasures of Byzantine psalmody.  If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions, do not hesitate to contact me.  Thank you for reading, and God Bless.

Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life.

St. Ephraim, Harp of the Holy Spirit, pray for us!

Pope St. Gregory the Great, pray for us!

Nota Bene: The three reasons for Gregorian chant's suitability to the liturgy are derived by me from Church documents, though an explicit listing of three reasons is not found in any of them, to my knowledge: that set of criteria was compiled by me, and I take responsibility for any failing in these criteria.  The abbreviations, along with other information, can be found at the base page for this series.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

On the Conspicuousness of Christians

I was recently instructed that, as a catechist, I should blend myself into my students, to make myself one of them, in order to make them accept me.  If I was too "different" or too blatant in my Catholicism, I would not be accepted.  Instead, I should work from within them, almost in an undercover way.  The thing is, it is difficult to be undercover when your students know you are teaching them the faith.  I can understand my professor's point: the members of the Church should integrate themselves into society so they can change it from within.  It is not an outside force that will bring change, but a force hidden within, such as hidden yeast leavens dough.  We are to be Trojan horses: we must sneak under their radar and then slowly purify their drinking water with the nectar of the faith.  The problem is this: I do not see this as an effective method.

I apologize if I am being proud: I am just giving my opinion on an issue that directly affects how I should live and teach.  If you have any ideas in this area, please tell me: perhaps your reasons will be more convincing to me than my professor's.

The main issue is that I find conspicuous Christians more the norm among the saints than yeast Christians.  I see more saints acting as armored knights than as wooden horses.  Think of the model of all Christians: Jesus Christ, the Son of God, risen from the dead.  He did not hide His faith: He drove the money-changers from the Temple, He performed miracles with countless witnesses, He preached day after day in the synagogues and the Temple (though His enemies were too cowardly to arrest Him then).  Some might say, "But He was God.  Surely God cannot hide Himself.  But we are only men!"  Have not men done the same, though?  Did not St. Paul rejoice over the countless sufferings he bore for preaching the Gospel openly?  He was even stoned to death in Derbe, yet He continued to preach.  Listen to the list of his troubles:

"Five times I have received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one.  Three time I have been beaten with rods; once I was stoned.  Three times I have been shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brethren; in toil and hardship, through  many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure" (2 Cor 11:24-27).

 Icon of St. Paul by Andrei Rublev

If he had merely kept his conversion secret and continued to act as the zealous Pharisee and pupil of Rabban Gamaliel that he was, or if he had remained an inconspicuous believer, would he have been put through so much suffering?  No!  But with all his suffering came conversions, countless, countless conversions.  If he were not so blatant in his faith, would he have converted so many?  I cannot say for sure, but I would assume not.

Think of the rest of the apostles as well: all except John the Theologian were martyred for their faith, even the thrice-denying one, Pope St. Peter.  "But they were apostles, personal friends of Christ!" some may respond.  Then recall all the countless martyrs of the early Church, such as the ones remembered in the Roman Canon:

"Ignatius, Alexander, Marcellinus, Peter, Felicity, Perpetua, Agatha, Lucy, Agnes, Cecilia, Anastasia."

Yet some might say, "those were still in the early Church.  Times changed, and so did our way of living the faith."  Does a change in culture mean we hide our faith?  By no means!  In extreme circumstances, some may be called to live underground in order to retain the faith from oppressive governments, but in general, we must not hide our faith: we should rather boast in the Lord!  The Church's record of conspicuous martyrs also does not end with the end of the Apostolic Age: martyrs have continued for centuries and centuries, and not only martyrs to the death, but martyrs to reputation, comfort, and fame.  Even in the past century, we have had Servant of God Óscar Romero, Bl. Jerzy Popiełuszko, Bl. Miguel Pro, and St. Maria Goretti.

 Servant of God Óscar Romero; Blessed Jerzy Popiełuszko

What about those who were not martyrs, but still lived their faith in the sight of all?  There are many: the mendicant orders of St. Dominic and St. Francis, pontiffs such as Leo XIII, Pope St. Pius X, and Servant of God Pope Paul VI (called a "white martyr" for the vicious response to his defense of sexual morality, Humanae Vitae), and workers with the poor such as Servant of God Dorothy Day and Bl. Mother Teresa of Calcutta.  Among the Russians, there is even a group called the yurodivuie, "fools for Christ's sake," such as St. Francis of Assisi, St. Benedict Joseph Labré, and St. Simeon the Holy Fool (St. Simeon Salos).  If the saints are any indication, Christians have never been known for their inconspicuousness.

That leads us back to the practical question: should we lived as conspicuous Christians or not?  In this way we would live not only in imitation of our Saviour Jesus Christ and His holy apostles, but in imitation of countless saints through the millennia.  Though our actions may seem foolish to the world, they are glorious to Christ, such as St. Isidore of Pelusium (St. Isidore Pelousiotes) wrote,

"Imitate the simple garments of Christ.  For if the roughness in apparel here on earth is foolishness, wearing the garment of light in heaven is certainly not" (Epistle 74).

We should not be afraid even if we must suffer for our conspicuousness.  As St. Gregory the Theologian exhorts,

"Teach in the temple, drive out the traders in divine things, be stoned if it is necessary you suffer this" (Oration 38.18).

St. Gregory the Theologian

Some may say that in doing this, in acting conspicuous, we are driving away those who would be converted by us.  We are showing the "radical" side of Christianity, which only a few are called to.  It is true that only some are called to the extent of martyrdom, but all are called to preach with their lives, if not also with their words.  Origen even says that it is better to preach with words we don't fully believe than to hide the faith in our hearts (vid. Exhortation to Martyrdom V).

In the end, is our faith one of private devotion, to be gently shared among others as a slowly creeping moss?  No!  Though some are called mainly to work, with direct preaching being rare, all are called to live openly and boldly for Christ.  As the axiom often mis-attributed to St. Francis of Assisi states, "Preach the Gospel at all times; when necessary, use words."  I believe I am called to be a catechist, though: I am called to be an example of the faith lived out for students to see.  When they see me, should they see a man who is only Christian in his intellect?  Should they not be able to tell if I'm a Buddhist well-trained in Catholic doctrine or a practicing Catholic?  Should they see me as no more than a neutral, politically correct textbook in human form?  By no means!

I will not hide my faith under a bushel basket.  When I teach, and even in general when I live, I will wear my faith on my sleeve (literally, in a sense, with my komboskini).  I will not hide my faith and water down my Christian life in order to appeal to the masses.  Should I dilute my Catholicism in order to convert others?  Then what am I converting them to but a crippled version of the faith, a version crippled by my "politically correct" witness?  Like the saints, who converted millions in their Christian zeal, I, too, will strive to live my faith as openly and zealously as possible in the hopes of converting my students.  The fight for conversion is a war, a war "not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places" (Eph 6:12).  It is a war of the City of God against the City of Man, as in St. Augustine's De Civitate Dei, a war of the culture of life against the culture of death, as in Pope Bl. John Paul II's Evangelium Vitae.  Some may be called to hide themselves amongst the enemy troops in hopes of gaining conversions, but I will be a warrior against the enemy, as the countless saints before me have been.  I will be a conspicuous Christian.  And if I suffer for my convictions, for my true living of the faith, then praise God!  (How I hope I can keep that sentiment when the day of suffering comes!)  Then I just fulfill the dictum of St. John Climacus:

"War against us is proof we are making war" (Ladder, Step IV).

I am sorry for my rampant pride through this post.  I merely wish to express my convictions on this matter.  Please listen to my message, though it may be clothed in the words of pride.  May each of those moments of pride merely reinforce the fact that I am a sinner in need of mercy.  God Bless.

 St. Simeon Salos, pray for us!

Nota Bene: Information from this post comes from Wikipedia (Text and rubrics of the Roman Canon, Foolishness for Christ, and above-sourced articles).  Sergius Bolshakoff's Russian Mystics also gave me information on yurodivuie.  The quote from St. Isidore Pelousiotes is from Nicodemus the Hagiorite's A Handbook of Spiritual Counsel, Chapter VIII, translated by Peter A. Chambers.  The quote from St. Gregory the Theologian comes from Sr. Nonna Verna Harrison's translation of his Festal Orations.  The quote from St. John Climacus comes from his Ladder of Divine Ascent, translated by Colm Luibheid and Norman Russell.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Atonement of Our True High Priest

Χριστος ανεστι!  Christ is risen!  Indeed, Christ our High Priest has died so we may die to sin and risen that we may rise to eternal life.  He has redeemed us: He has atoned for our sins.  Under the Old Covenant, the Jewish High Priest prayed his hardest and tried all that he could to atone for the sins of himself, his house, and his people, Israel, yet he still had to try to make atonement year after year on Yom Kippur.  The true High Priest, Jesus Christ, had only to suffer once for our atonement, and He has attained all.

In reading the accounts of the Jewish High Priest's preparations for atonement, one can possibly see a type of our true atonement through the Son of God.  As it says in the Mishnah,

"He sanctified his hands and his feet and stripped off his clothes...He went down and immersed himself, came up and dried himself.  They brought him white garments; he put them on and sanctified his hands and his feet" (Yoma 3:6).

Do we not see a resemblance to the actions of Christ?  Though the old High Priest had to immerse himself five times and sanctify his limbs ten times, our Lord had only to do so once (vid. Yoma 3:3).  Let us see how our Lord fulfilled the High Priestly atonement:

"When the soldiers had crucified Jesus they took his garments" (Jn 19:23).  Thus the Scriptures proclaim His Crucifixion, when the nails for driven into His blessed hands and feet, prior to the mention of His stripped garments.  The Mishnah also recalls that Rabbi Meir says the stripping of garments comes prior to the Crucifixion, as is remembered in the Stations of the Cross (vid. Yoma 3:6).  Jesus Christ then immersed Himself in death, descending "into the lower parts of the earth,"
 that is, Hades, or Sheol (Eph 4:9).  Yet He did not stay immersed, but instead rose again, just as we do in Baptism, for "we were buried therefore with Him in baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we so might walk in newness of life" (Rom 6:4).  Upon His most glorious Resurrection, Christ's glorified body was full of splendor as it was at the Transfiguration, when "His face shone like the sun, and His garments became white as light" (Mt 17:2).  When He came to His disciples, it was His sanctified hands and feet that proclaimed to them His bodily nature: "See my hands and feet, that it is I myself; handle me, and see; for a spirit has not flesh and bones as you see that I have" (Lk 24:39).  Not only that, but He sanctifies the Church, who is His one body, that is, His hands and feet (cf. 1 Cor 12:12; Eph 4:15-16).

We can see, then, that Christ is our true High Priest, for He fulfilled our need for atonement.  What the High Priest of the Old Covenant could not achieve through his five-fold actions every year, the true High Priest achieved in one moment on the Cross: He atoned us, once and for all.

"Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession...For Christ has entered, not into a sanctuary made with hands, a copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf.  Nor was it to offer Himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the Holy Place yearly with blood not his own; for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world.  But as it is, He has appeared once for all at the end of the age to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself....We have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all" (Heb 4:14; 9:24-26; 10:10).

Let us therefore follow the command of St. Ephraim:

"Ye mortals, exalt and praise Him Who by His death emptied the dominion of death and promised all the mortal race life and resurrection."

Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life.

Lord Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, have mercy on us!

Novgorod School; dated 15th century; Church of the Dormition at Volotovo Pole, Russia

Nota Bene: This interpretation is my own: if it is in any way incorrect, I am the one to blame.  All Scripture quotations are from the NRSV-CE.  The quote from the Mishnah is from the translation by Herbert Danby, D.D., published by Oxford University Press.  The quote by St. Ephraim is from Psalm 150 of A Spiritual Psalter, or Reflections on God, excerpted by Bishop Theophan the Recluse, translated by Antonina Janda.

Iconic Icons: 'Η Αναστασις (The Resurrection)

Anastasis icon dated 1315 from the Church of the Holy Saviour in Chora in Istanbul, Turkey
  Χριστος ανεστι!  Christ is risen!  (And you, of course, are responding, "Αλειθος ανεστι!  Truly He is risen!")  Today (for those following the calendar of the Catholic Church) is Pascha (Easter, for most English speakers), the most holy day of days, the feast of feasts, the day of the Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ.  Today is the true Passover, when Christ passed over from death to life, and because of this it truly bears the name Pascha ("Passover" in Greek).  To celebrate this miracle of miracles, the Eastern Church has a festal icon of Christ's Resurrection, just as they have icons for various other feasts.

The icon of Pascha is 'Η Αναστασις, The Resurrection.  (Etymologically, anastasis literally means "standing again," combining ana (again) and stasis (standing).)  Though there are multiple Paschal icons, this is the most prominent, showing what is known in the West as the "Harrowing of Hell" (the technical name of this icon is "Christ's Descent Into Hades").  It represents the line of the Creed that states "He descended into hell," where He rescued the just who came before Him.  (An interesting side note: there are two Greek words often viewed as interchangeable by English speakers: Hades and Gehenna.  Both are commonly held to mean "Hell."  Truly, though, Hades is similar to the Jewish notion of Sheol, a place of the dead with neither pleasure nor pain, more of a resting place before judgment.  Gehenna, on the other hand, is what we usually mean by "Hell": the state of eternal punishment for those who reject Christ.) 

The icon shows Christ lifting Adam and Eve from their graves and bringing them into everlasting life.  Behind Him on the left often stand many patriarchs and prophets, among them John the Forerunner (St. John the Baptist), David, Solomon, Moses, and Abel, and on the right stand contemporaries of Christ.  Beneath Christ's feet are the gates of Hades, crushed by His divine power, and strewn about are the remnants of the locks and keys that kept them closed (these details actually seem to reflect the apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus).  Christ Himself bears the marks of His Passion, the marks of the nails in His hands and feet, and around Him is a mandorla, a special iconographic type of nimbus/halo that signifies the glorified body of Christ.  The mandorla is also seen in other icons, such as the Transfiguration and the Ascension; it is usually blue or white and almond-shaped (the word mandorla means "almond" in Italian).  Sometimes the icon also contains Satan or other evil spirits being trampled by Christ or being restrained by angels.

In summary, the Anastasis shows Christ's power over Hades through His Resurrection and how God did not leave those faithful to Him in the past to be left there forever: He even rescued those who first sinned against Him.  Let us praise God for His great mercy in the Resurrection!

Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life.

Lord Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, have mercy on us!

Nota Bene: Information for this post comes from OrthodoxWiki (Resurrection, Mandorla), Mennonite Life, and Image and Likeness Iconography.