Katabasis & Anabasis: How Jesus Christ Resurrects the Pattern of Life.

The universal language of the human story can be summarized in this idiom:

“Life is full of ups and downs.”

From sunrise to sunset, morning to night, awake and asleep, work and rest, growing up and hunching back, life and death. This dual cycle of life can be illustrated with an inverted “U”… and inverted it is.

Naturally following and operating along the trajectory of the sun has its clear unavoidable necessities as it’s the light filling the dark void of the earth which was created on the first day [Genesis 1:3]. However, we’ve also let its rigid pattern of anabasis (ascent) and katabasis (descent) control the very foundational symbolic pattern of our life. In this respect, what differentiates us from the ancient pagans across the world who not only worshipped but lived according to the principles in creation sustaining life on Earth? On the contrary, the incarnation of the highest Principle teaches us that the sun reflects the Divine Logos who proclaims:

“I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.” (John 8:12)

Although every living creature participates in the light of the sun, it’s only the source of that principle providing the light of life — He Who Is the Light of creation itself. Similarly, the principles in creation all receive their existence by their participation in Being Himself, who is beyond all beings, rendering it possible for things to participate in these principles.

“You are the light of the world. A town that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.” (Matthew 5:14–15)

Therefore, it’s only through following the Light of lights that we can participate in the light of life, by embodying His symbolic pattern — but what is this pattern?

Icon of the Annunciation of the Logos being declared by Archangel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary which marks His incarnation.

His incarnation reveals the katabasis. The highest Principle Who is atemporal and aspatial became flesh to dwell among the temporal and spatial. St. Athanasius of Alexandria (c. 296–373) writing on this inconceivable mystery emphasizes to not misunderstand the incarnation as an un-omnipresence:

“… for he was not bound to the body, but rather was himself wielding it, so that he was both in it and in everything, and was outside everything, and at rest in the Father alone.” (On the Incarnation, pg. 67)

In other words, His katabasis is understood in light of kenosis — “self-emptying” beginning with assuming all the human faculties in His incarnation, passion, and death on the cross. Paul the Apostle beautifully encapsulates this kenosis in his epistle to the Philippians:

“Who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men.” (2:6–7)

Moreover, Hades was the destination of all the dead where the “literal” katabasis of the Logos took place— His descent into the underworld. It’s here the Light of lights shines His light in the darkness which is the light of life for all of creation [John 1:4] by proclaiming the Gospel [1 Peter 3:19–20]. Many historians often discredit this story as some form of plagiarism due to the katabasis narrative being a reoccurring pattern across several pagan works of literature and mythologies from Ancient Egypt, Greece, Scandinavia, and the Far East. In these stories, somebody from the world descends to the underworld to encounter (Odysseus) or even rescue (Heracles) people. However, what is completely disregarded is what happens to the pattern in the story of Jesus Christ. He fulfills it by destroying its very essence — death. If there was anything inevitable in the katabasis narratives, it was death, but if death is destroyed how can the pattern reoccur again? The Logos transforms and flips the story on its head. It’s only by death, that death is destroyed and is here the anabasis — resurrection, and life begin.

Icon of the descent into Hades — marking the turning point of the katabasis to anabasis.

The resurrection marks the culmination of humanity because it’s the final salvific embodied event re-directing our fate. It’s important to keep in mind that everything done by the incarnate Logos healed all the human faculties assumed by Him. His death atoned for the sins of humanity and his resurrection opened the gateway for the recapitulation in the light of life.

“… that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth — in Him.” (Ephesians 1:10)

It’s in this manner the symbolic pattern of life (katabasis & anabasis) relates to us. Our katabasis begins in kenosis, embodying the virtues which the Logos archetypes in His incarnation. St. John Climacus (c. 579–649) perfectly encapsulates this in his ascetical treatise, “The Ladder of Divine Ascent”: 3 steps (renunciation, detachment, and exile) marking our abrupt descent by giving up the worldly life, and 4 steps (obedience, penitence, remembrance of death and sorrow) which are the humble virtues of the “active life” (praxis). He teaches us that only such lowly states bear the fruits of higher virtues of the “active life”: 3 steps of simplicity, humility, and discernment, which precedes the “contemplative life” (theoria) — the vision of the true Light [John 1:9]. As we’ve already seen, it’s death that brings the light of life.

“And He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.’” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

Although the katabasis represents a descent, it shouldn’t be interpreted as descent away from God since every step in the direction of this symbolic pattern of life, is ultimately an ascent (anabasis) towards the light of life.

Icon of the “Ladder of Divine Ascent”.

Katabasis & anabasis isn’t only the symbolic pattern regulated to human experience, but the entire cosmos. All in creation proceeds (katabasis) through the Logos, as He proceeded by the power of the Holy Spirit in His incarnation (understood in the context of katabasis since the Logos isn’t created), so all have their skopos (purpose) in the Logos who is the center of all the logoi (pl. for logos). Without delving too deep into the complex theology of St. Maximus the Confessor (c. 580–662), the logoi are the divine acts of will that are eternally conceived by the Logos according to which the cosmos proceeds (katabasis), and according to which it returns (anabasis) to the Logos, an “expansion and contraction”. Therefore, the logoi of all created beings point to the principle — essential meaning, reason, and finality by virtue of their tropos (mode of living) in relation to the Logos. What is our tropos? Aligned with our logos revealed to us in the Divine Logos. Katabasis & anabasis, not anabasis & katabasis.

“Inspired by the Father, each procession of the Light spreads itself generously towards up, and its power to unify, it stirs us by lifting us up. It returns back to the oneness and deifying simplicity of the Father who gathers us in.” (Pseudo-Dionysius, The Celestial Hierarchy, 1.1)

Yonathan ‘Ālem

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