Perhaps it seems early to be talking about smashing the gates of hell (isn’t that something to be left until Pascha?), but the Church engages us as “gate smashers” much earlier in the Lenten season than just Pascha itself. The memorial Saturdays (“Soul Saturdays”) that we observe in which we pray for the departed (it’s nearly every Saturday in Lent) are small reminders that the Pascha of our Lord has smashed the gates, and we are thus able to pray freely for the departed.
The statement in Scripture (Matt. 16:18) when Christ says that the “gates of hell will not prevail against the Church,” are frequently interpreted to mean that the Church will be preserved from the attacks of the enemy. That is one way of translating the passage. The passage literally says, “gates of Hades” rather than “gates of Hell,” which to me signifies less an issue with the enemy and more an issue with the power of death and all the nothingness that comprises hell.
This morning as we prayed yet again for the departed I realized that this was not just a “memorial event” in which we were indulging our grief and praying for our departed loved ones. This was essential a Paschal act, proclaiming the good news, by our prayers, that Christ has trampled down death by death.
We pray for them – and they pray for us. The Church is One – on earth and in Heaven. Saturday by Saturday we are praying our way to Pascha. And this cycle of “Soul Saturdays” will not be complete until the last one which is offered on the weekend of Pentecost. And at the “Kneeling Vespers” on Pentecost Sunday, we will pray for all those in “Hell” from the beginning of the world. It’s bold, but that’s the prayer as it stands written.
In prayer – we soldier on.