On this day, the Saturday before Palm Sunday, we celebrate the raising of the four-day dead in the tomb of the holy and righteous Lazarus, the friend of Christ.
Lazarus was a Hebrew, of the sect of Pharisees. It is said that he was the son of Simon the Pharisee of the Judaean village of Bethany. Since our Lord visited and spoke with Simon continually, Lazarus – as well as his two sisters, Martha and Mary – was pleased with His genuine teaching. His Hellenized name of Lazarus was Eleazar in Hebrew, which means “God hath helped.”
According to an ancient tradition, Lazarus reposed at the age of thirty. His resurrection from the dead roused many of the Hebrews either to belief in Jesus or to malice toward Jesus. As to the latter, the high priests wished to put him to death. Lazarus took flight to Cyprus where he sojourned another thirty years, until his repose. After Pentecost, he was consecrated by the holy apostles to the bishopric of Cyprus with his seat in Kitium or Larnaka. The Theotokos sewed his omophorion and cuffs, presenting them to him after departing Mount Athos. It is told that Lazarus, after his experience in Hades, never laughed. However, only once he was seen to smile when he observed someone stealing a clay vessel. He remarked, “Clay stealing clay!” Now he never disclosed what befell him in Hades. Either he was not given leave to speak of it or he was not permitted to see anything there.
In the year 890, Emperor Leo VI, known as “the Wise” or “the Philosopher,” was vouchsafed a divine vision. He had the relics of Saint Lazarus transferred from the Larnaka tomb to Constantinople where he had erected a church to the friend of Christ’s honor. The relics were deposited with much ceremony to the right of the church’s entrance toward the front wall of the bema. An ineffable fragrance exhaled from his relics. The holy Church commemorated this translation of the relics on the 17th of October. Read more about this account in The Great Synaxaristes, as well as other information found on the day of the recovery of his relics with those of Saint Mary Magdalene, that is, on the 4th of May, as well as the feast of his sisters, Saints Mary and Martha, on the 4th of June.
The placement of this feast by the holy fathers at this point also marks the commencement of the mania of the envious Jews to put Christ to death. The feast is also a resting spot before the upcoming rigors of Holy Week. The evening Vespers for the Saturday of the Righteous Lazarus marks the end of the forty days.
It is to be observed that only the Evangelist John records the raising of Lazarus. The other evangelists, who wrote much earlier, have omitted the episode, possibly because Lazarus was still among the living and still could be seen and persecuted. Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow also explained that the righteous Lazarus had been relentlessly burdened by inquiries concerning what his soul experienced when it separated from his body.
Metropolitan Anthony Khrapovitsky notes that “the tradition of the Church that the evangelists did not record the Lord’s raising of Lazarus before his second death renders quite plausible the theory that all of Chapter 11, or perhaps only the first forty-five verses of it, as well as the second half of the first verse and verses 9 through 11, and 18 of Chapter 12, were written by the evangelist after he had completed the Gospel, that is, when Lazarus reposed a second time. We are led to such a conclusion by the inspired narrator’s second return to the day of the raising of Lazarus and to the solemn evening meal which took place that day at his home: ‘Then Jesus, six days before the Passover, came to Bethany, where Lazarus was who had died, whom He raised from the dead. So they made a supper for Him there, and Martha was serving; but Lazarus was one of those reclining at table with Him. Then Mary, having taken a pound of very precious perfumed ointment of pure spikenard, anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped His feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the odor of the perfumed ointment [Jn. 12:1-3].’ Previously, in Chapter 11, we are also told how Mary poured ointment on the Savior’s feet: ‘Now there was a certain sick man, Lazarus of Bethany, of the village of Mary and her sister Martha. And it was that Mary who anointed the Lord with perfumed ointment and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick [Jn. 11:1, 2].’ Saint John mentions the event here in Chapter 11 as that of an event already known to the reader, but which occurrence is not to be confused with those from the first two Gospels, for there the pouring of ointment on the head of the Lord took place in the house of Simon the Leper. Thus, it is very likely that the Gospel according to Saint John was written during Lazarus’ lifetime, and that the narrative of his resurrection was added by the evangelist after Lazarus’ second death.
Since Lazarus’ resurrection confirmed the universal resurrection, it is said that every man is said to be a “Lazarus,” and that the burial garment is called a “Lazaroma,” thus hinting at our own resurrection from the dead at the last trumpet.
By the intercessions of Thy friend, Lazarus, O Christ God, have mercy on us. Amen.