He Burst the Yawning Gates of Hell


Whom have we, Lord, like you –

The Great One who became small, the Wakeful who slept,

The Pure One who was baptized, the Living One who died,

The King who abased himself to ensure honor for all.

Blessed is your honor!

St. Ephrem the Syrian

For the West, today is Holy Saturday. Thus I offer these words for that great and awesome day.

I cannot fathom the smallness of God. Things in my life loom so large and every instinct says to overcome the size of a threat by meeting it with a larger threat. But the weakness of God, stronger than death, meets our human life/death by becoming a child – the smallest of us all – man at his weakest – utterly dependent. The weakness of God meets our voracious appetite for life (which we wrongly pervert into an appetite for death) by His death on the Cross.

And His teaching will never turn away from that reality for a moment. Our greeting of His mission among us is marked by misunderstanding, betrayal, denial and murder. But He greets us with forgiveness, love, and the sacrifice of self.

This way of His is more than a rescue mission mounted to straighten out what we had made crooked. His coming among us is not only action  but also revelation. He does not become unlike Himself in order to make us like Him. The weakness, the smallness, the forgiveness – all that we see in His incarnation – is a revelation of the Truth of God. He became the image of Himself, that we might become the image we were created to be.

It seems strange to speak of God as humble, and yet this is what is revealed in Scripture. Cultural references to God are full of power and mankind’s own claim to wisdom that somehow the all-powerful God has not straightened things out yet. On this basis some will even come to reject the very existence of God. The power of God is nothing like our power. Though He created all that is, He did so out of nothing. This bears no resemblance to anything we think of when we “create.” And He who created is also He who sustains, and yet in His humility we cannot directly see His sustenance, unless He has given us eyes to see.

The all-powerful reveals Himself in His weakness, and not, I suspect, because it was a “backdoor” plan. Rather I believe the all-powerful revealed Himself most fully, most completely on the Cross because this is indeed what the power of God looks like. I do not know how to fathom the reality that the power that can only be seen in the Cross of Christ, is the same power that created the universe, but I believe it is so.

We never know fullness, until we empty ourselves into His emptiness. We never know love until we are drowned in the waters of His mercy that do not kill but make alive. We cannot see the great until we see Him very small. He who enters the womb of a Virgin will also enter the waters of Jordan, and will also enter infinitessimally small spaces of hades’ yawning gape. And there we shall see greatness indeed, He who is everywhere present and fillest all things.

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a retired Archpriest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Storey Universe, and Face to Face: Knowing God Beyond Our Shame, as well as the Glory to God podcast series on Ancient Faith Radio.



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9 responses to “He Burst the Yawning Gates of Hell”

  1. Wes Avatar

    “We never know fullness, until we empty ourselves into His emptiness.”

    Great stuff! Thank you for sharing these words.

  2. Elizabeth in Alaska Avatar

    Father, thank you for this wonderful post.

  3. hughvic Avatar

    Yes, indeed, Father. Thank you for a real keeper. Lovely. You’ve just illuminated a patch of Patchen that’s eluded me all these years, that poet’s reference to “an enormous littleness.”

    Like another poet, “I ha’ seen him eat o’ the honeycomb sin’ they nailed him to tha’ tree”!

  4. November In My Soul Avatar

    “Our greeting of His mission among us is marked by misunderstanding, betrayal, denial and murder. But He greets us with forgiveness, love, and the sacrifice of self.”

    We cannot fathom the abundance of such love.

  5. hughvic Avatar

    Perhaps that love is replenished with use, but in any event we can share in its abundance and share it abundantly with others.

  6. Timothy Avatar

    Amen! Triune God is not any different toward Humanity and His creation than He is in Himself as the One Triune God! Jesus is not Plan B (“backdoor”), but Plan A and the Very Revelation of the Fullness of Triune God in Flesh!!! Beautiful and encouraging! Insightful and helpful post!

    Peace, Love and Blessings!

  7. Peter Avatar

    Talk about God who is “inconceivable, incomprehensible, always existing and ever the same…” I have always wanted the sound and light show described in Exodus, but I always seem to come to the Lord’s “small still voice.” I cannot get my mind to understand why God entered time and space in a remote corner of the world way before the era of mass communication, it’s almost as if He wanted to make His appearance as quietly (not exactly secretly) as possible. And yet I am Orthodox because He did become like us “in all things”; and so I work on becoming like Him.

  8. hughvic Avatar


  9. elizabeth Avatar

    thank you Father for your posts. i continue to read and learn.

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