The Raising of Lazarus (2018)

Every year we Orthodox take the spiritual sojourn through Holy Week – back to the beginning of Christianity, back to the Resurrection of Christ.  Great Lent brings us to Pascha night  when we proclaim the Gospel: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1).  

To get to that beginning, we join our Lord Jesus Christ in His last week on earth – we walk with our Lord each day of Holy Week.  We think about the things Christ did and said – for us and for our salvation – during His final days before His crucifixion.  He did and said these things “to keep us from falling away” (John 16:1), that we would have His joy in us to the full (John 15:11), and that we might believe (John 14:29).   And these three expressed goals of Jesus are already found in the events we now commemorate on Lazarus Saturday.   Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead; and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” (John 11:14)

St. Basil the Great reminds us that in Christ raising His friend, Lazarus, from the dead, he was giving each of us faith and hope in the resurrection.  As much pain and grief as the death of a loved one causes us, Christ in dealing with the death of His friend tells us “don’t be without hope, for I have overcome death.”

“But as for the Lord weeping over Lazarus and the city, we say this: He also ate and drank, not because he needed to, but in proportion and limit, that you might renounce the natural sensations of the soul. He also wept, that those who are disposed to immoderate sorrow might regulate their lamentation and tears. For if our tears are to be in reasonable moderation, it is necessary to assess the circumstances: who, how, when, and in what manner they are fitting. Thus the Lord wept without excessive passion as an example for us, adding these words, Our friend Lazarus, has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him. Who among us bewails a sleeping friend, one he believes will shortly awaken? Lazarus, come out! And the dead man came to life, and the bound one walked forth. Wonder of wonders! The feet were bound with cloth wraps and yet unhindered from coming forward. The power was greater than the constriction.” (On Fasting and Feasts, p. 102)

With the dead being raised, we are on the road to the beginning of creation.

Lazarus Saturday (2017)

26459992532_fa78fda5db_nHoly Week is designed to be a spiritual sojourn, a chance to reflect not only on Christ’s last week on earth leading to His crucifixion and resurrection, but also on our own relationship to Him and to His Church.   Great Lent officially ends on a Friday in the Church’s liturgical calendar.  The first thing we do at the end of Lent is to commemorate Christ raising His friend Lazarus from the dead on Saturday.  The next day, Sunday, celebrates Christ’s Entry into Jerusalem which is also one of the Twelve Major Feasts of the liturgical year.  This Feast marks the transition to Holy Week.  Lazarus Saturday and Palm Sunday both pre-figure the events of Christ’s resurrection and entry into the Heavenly Temple.   Think about them as you make your spiritual journey toward  Pascha.   The Cross and the tomb will both be empty, and yet they are  full signs of the divinity of Christ.

Lazarus Saturday: Jesus Wept John 11:1-45

“‘Jesus wept.’ The perfect joy of His divine nature did not exclude tears from His human nature. The evangelist adds other touches to his reference to the Savior’s tears. Near Lazarus’ tomb the Saviour “groaned…troubled Himself.” How are we to understand this emotion of Christ, because in the end Jesus knows that He is going to raise Lazarus? Perhaps we must see in the Saviour’s sorrow something more than compassion for a friend who has died, but who will soon rise again. Jesus weeps over the universal destiny of men, over death which afflicts this human nature of ours which the Father had made so beautiful. Jesus weeps over all of man’s suffering, the consequences of sin. The God-Man takes this suffering on Himself. His sorrow is His share in the world’s sorrow.”  (A Monk of the Eastern Church, Jesus: A Dialogue with the Savior, pp. 71-72)


The sins of the world cause the Son of God to weep. How should I feel about my own sins?  What about the sins of others?    In Ezekiel 18:23 and 33:11 God says He had no desire for the death of anyone, even of sinners.   Yet death reigned on earth – at least until the coming of Christ (see Romans 5).  It is my sins that lead to the death of Christ on the cross. If I confessed my sins, how do I now live the remaining time of my life in repentance?

Christ’s Voice of the Bridegroom

And He said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” So I answered, “O Lord GOD, You know.”Again He said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them, ‘O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD!’ Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: “Surely I will cause breath to enter into you, and you shall live. I will put sinews on you and bring flesh upon you, cover you with skin and put breath in you; and you shall live. Then you shall know that I am the LORD.” (Ezekiel 37:3-6)

Ezekiel saw what God prophesied, that the dead will be resurrected to life.  In John 11, Christ speaks the word – He calls His friend Adam to return to life and to leave his tomb, and Lazarus, the dead man, rises and comes forth from the tomb.

Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. And even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, he who is coming into the world.”  (John 11:21-26)


Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with bandages, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”  (John 11:43-44)

We believe that Christ has the power over life and death, over the living and the dead.  Christ calls Lazarus by name, and the dead man obeys and comes forth from the tomb.  Jesus calls Lazarus from the dead, and Death obeys and releases Lazarus back to the living.

Your voice destroyed the kingdom of hell, O Lord.  Your powerful word raised from the tomb the one who was four days dead.  Lazarus became the saving first-fruits of the world’s regeneration.  All things are possible for You, O Lord and King of all.  Grant Your servants cleansing and great mercy!  (Vespers hymn of Lazarus Saturday)

Standing by the tomb of Lazarus, O Savior, You called to Your friend, who was dead.  He heard Your voice, and awoke as from sleep.  Mortality was shaken by immortality.  By Your word the bound was unbound.  All is possible!  All things serve and submit to You, O loving Lord.  O our Savior, glory to You! (Vespers hymn of Lazarus Saturday)

The raising of Lazrus fulfills in a most unexpected way the prophecy of Jeremiah.  While death silenced many voices, they will be heard again.  Cities depopulated by death will again be filled with the voices of mirth as sickness, sorrow and sighing flee away:

“Thus says the LORD: In this place of which you say, ‘It is a waste without man or beast,’ in the cities of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem that are desolate, without man or inhabitant or beast, there shall be heard again the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the voices of those who sing, as they bring thank offerings to the house of the LORD: ‘Give thanks to the LORD of hosts, for the LORD is good, for his steadfast love endures for ever!’ For I will restore the fortunes of the land as at first, says the LORD. “Thus says the LORD of hosts: In this place which is waste, without man or beast, and in all of its cities, there shall again be habitations of shepherds resting their flocks.  (Jeremiah 33:10-12)

Lazarus Saturday (2016)

Archimandrite Job Getcha in his book on the typicon shows us that the celebration of Lazarus Saturday is quite ancient in the Church’s liturgical history.

Lazarus Saturday is a very ancient celebration, tracing its origin to the ancient liturgy of Jerusalem.  Egeria (4th Century) speaks of it in chapter 29 of her TRAVELS, specifying that everyone went on that day to the Lazarium.  … ‘

“Lazarus Saturday”… is not originally the commemoration of the resurrection of Lazarus, but of the coming of Christ to Bethany “six days before the Passover” (Jn 12:1).   It functions, through this reminder, as an announcement of the Feast of Pascha.  To this remembrance of this first event, as can be seen from the reading of Jn 11 in the Church, has been added the encounter of Jesus with the sister of Lazarus, ‘five hundred steps from the tomb of the latter.’ …  the gospel reading does not recount the story of the raising of Lazarus (Jn 11:1-46), but announces the closeness of Pascha: ‘The Passover of the Jews being close...’ (Jn 11:55-12:11).'”  (THE TYPIKON DECODED, pp 207-208)

Christ’s raising of Lazarus from the dead, like all of the miracles in John’s Gospel, is a sign pointing to Christ and pointing out who He is.  The focus of the Gospel lesson is not on Lazarus but on Christ and showing Him to have the power of God.  The raising of Lazarus is pointing us to the resurrection of Christ – it looks beyond Lazarus to the one who raises Lazarus.

As Great Lent comes to a close, in the Church, liturgically, we move into the commemoration of our Lord Jesus Christ’s final week on earth.  The last 8 days of Christ’s life, don’t simply remember events of 2000 years ago, but also become for us Christians a sojourn to the Kingdom of God, to Pascha and the Resurrection. On the road to Pascha, the first event we experience is the death of Christ’s friend, Lazarus, and the miracle of Christ calling Lazarus back to life.  In this event we encounter the clear evidence of Jesus possessing the power of God.  St. Gregory Palamas compares the raising of Lazarus to the creation of the first human being in Genesis 1.

“…that the Lord lifted up His eyes at that time and said, ‘Father, I thank you that you have heard me’, … ‘I knew that you hear me always: but because of the people which stand by I said, that they may believe that you have sent me’ (John 11:41-42).

So that they might know He was God and came from the Father, and also that He did not work miracles in opposition to God, but in accordance with God’s purpose, He lifted up His eyes to God in front of everybody and spoke to Him in words which make is clear that He who speaking on earth was equal to the heavenly Father on high. In the beginning when man was to be formed, there was a Counsel beforehand. So now also, in the case of Lazarus, when a man was to be formed new, there was a Counsel first.

When man was to be created the Father said to the Son, ‘Let us make man’ (Gen. 1:26), the Son listened to the Father, and man was brought into being. Now, by contrast, the Father listened to the Son speaking, and Lazarus was brought to life. […]

Then He cried with a loud voice. He raised him in this manner so that by means of their sight (for they saw Him standing at the grace), their sense of smell (for they were aware of the stench of the man four days dead), their sense of touch (for they used their own hands to take away the stone beforehand from the grave, and afterwards to loose the grave clothes from his body and the napkin from his face), and their hearing (for the Lord’s voice reached the ears of all), they all might understand and believe that it was He who called everything from non-being into being, who upheld all things by the word of His power, and who in the beginning by His word alone made everything that exists out of nothing.” (Homilies, pp 110-111)

Next: Palm Sunday 2016

Lazarus Saturday (2015)

When we come to the end of Great Lent, we enter into another special season in the church – from Lazarus Saturday to Holy Saturday.   In this time we are especially thinking about death and resurrection – not only of our Lord Jesus Christ, but of our own. The raising of Lazarus is celebrated in Orthodoxy as prefiguring the universal resurrection at the end of time. Additionally, this liturgical season is and was especially devoted to a time for baptism, uniting new believers to the Savior. Liturgically, we personally experience and enter into the death and resurrection of Christ as we are buried with Him in baptism and then raised up from that watery grave to a new life. We participate in Christ’s death on earth and in being raised with him in baptism we anticipate what is awaiting us in the life of the world to come.

Baptism is also about faith, and we encounter faith in the first event commemorated during this special 8 day week in Christ’s raising his friend Lazarus. Lazarus has died, but does he have faith that Jesus is the Christ who can resurrect him from death?

“Then there is the death of Lazarus. Four days had passed. His dead body was already decomposing. How could one who had been dead for so many days believe and himself ask for the Deliverer? He could not possibly do so, but his sisters provided the faith for him. When they met the Lord, one sister fell down at his feet. He asked, ‘Where have you laid him?’ The other sister said, ‘Lord, by this time there will be a bad smell.’ Then the Lord said, ‘If you believe you will see the glory of God.’ As if to say, ‘As regards faith, you must take the place of the dead man.’ And the faith of the sisters succeeded in calling Lazarus back from the hereafter. [John 11:1-44]

So if these two women by believing in place of the other were able to secure his resurrection, how much more certainly will you be able to secure it for yourself by your own faith?

Perhaps your own faith is feeble. Nevertheless, the Lord who is love will stoop down to you, provided only you are penitent and can say sincerely from the depths of your soul: ‘Lord, I believe. Help thou mine unbelief.’ (Mark 9:23]” (St. Cyril of Jerusalem – d. 386AD, DRINKING FROM THE HIDDEN FOUNTAIN, pp 152-153)

The community of faith believes in Christ, believes he does raise the dead. This is why we in faith bring others to Christ to be baptized. When we become a member of the Body of Christ in baptism, we join in believing with all other Christians that Jesus is Lord.

In the Baptism Liturgy the candidates prepared for baptism are given chance to bear witness to what they believe:

Priest: Have you united yourself to Christ?

Candidate: I have united myself to Christ.

Priest: Do you believe in Him?

Candidate: I believe in Him as King and God.

It is Christ’s kingship and kingdom we then celebrate on Palm Sunday as we commemorate Christ’s entry into Jerusalem, God’s holy city.

Lazarus: Loosed from Sin

Great Lent comes to a beautiful end by celebrating Christ’s raising of His friend Lazarus from the dead.  Now we see where the Lenten sojourn was headed – to overcoming the things of this world – and death belongs to this world but not to the world to come.  Our resurrection from the dead also comes with the forgiveness of our sins.  This too was part of the Lenten effort – to leave behind sin which also belongs only to this world but not to the world to come.

St. Augustine of Hippo (d. 430AD) says of the Gospel lesson (John 11) of the raising of Lazarus:

“The remission of sins is their unbinding. What good would it have done Lazarus when he came out of the tomb, if it had not been said, ‘Unbind him and let him go’? He came forth bound; not on his own feet, therefore, but by some power leading him. Let this be in the heart of the penitent: when you hear a man confessing his sins, he has already come to life again; when you hear a man lay his bare conscious in confessing, he has already come forth from the sepulcher; but he is not yet unbound. When is he unbound? By whom is he unbound? ‘Whatever you loose on earth,’ he says, ‘shall be loosed in heaven.’ Rightly is the loosing of sins able to be given by the Church, but the dead man cannot be raised to life again except by the Lord’s calling him interiorly; for this latter is done by God in a more interior way.”   (CONFESSION, Paul N. Harrilchak, pg. 115)

The Lazarus story is a model of our own story – even while we were sinners Christ called us.  He calls us out of the world of those dead in sin.  And he forgives us our sins, releasing us from the bonds of sin and death.  Liberating us so that we can follow Him on the road to the Kingdom.

He raised Lazarus shortly before He Himself was put to death on the cross.   He raises Lazarus and unbinds him allowing Lazarus to come to the cross on which the Lord of Glory dies.  We too are forgiven our sins so that we can follow Christ to His cross and become witnesses of God’s humility and love.  On the cross we see God as love.  On the cross we see God’s judgment and power.   And we are humbled in amazement.  For God’s judgment is that we might be saved from sin and death.  God does not abandon fallen and sinful humanity but rather unites Himself to us in order to heal us, forgive us, die for us and raise us from the dead.   So with thankfulness, joy and love, we walk this week on the road to the Cross which we will place before ourselves on Great and Holy Friday.


Your voice, O Lord, destroyed the kingdom of hell.

Your powerful word raised from the tomb one who had been dead four days.

Lazarus became the saving first-fruits of the world’s regeneration.

All things are possible for You, O Lord and King of All!

Grant Your servants, cleansing and great mercy.

(Vespers Hymn for Lazarus Saturday)

Preparing to Raise Lazarus

A number of the Triodion Hymns during this last week of Great Lent (“the Week of Palms”) focus on Christ raising His friend Lazarus from the dead.  The hymns are very consistent with other Orthodox hymns in how they conflate eternity with time, leading us to approach the event as if it is happening before our very eyes, while simultaneously reminding us that we know how these events play out, and they have an eternal or timeless meaning.    We approach the event in the hymns as if we are seeing it as it occurs (which is the liturgical way in which we “remember”events) but not as if we don’t know its outcome.  Our “remembering” allows us to know the conclusion of the event from its onset.  We are not pretending to re-enact the events as if we don’t know the outcome.  We are entering into the events to experience them for the full revelation which God has made through them.  So as we liturgically “remember” theological events we are always fully cognizant of their ultimate significance while they are unfolding.  This is part of liturgical anticipation: we know and experience the eschaton now in the theological events we celebrate liturgically.

We will consider three hymns from this “Week of Palms.”  The first hymn from Wednesday Matins doesn’t so much take us back in time as it does to bring the event forward into our time.   Today Lazarus is buried says the hymn.  This is not a past tense event.  We are remembering the event and putting it into our lives today as well as acknowledging its eternal significance.








We are not like the actual characters who lived this event.  We are given a different perspective in which the full truth is known to us though it was not clear at that time to those who experienced it.  We have a better perspective than the actual eyewitnesses!  We have the mind of Christ!   We understand as the narrative enters into our life as Christian community that Christ knows what He is going to do:  He is going to raise Lazarus from the dead.  And we know that Christ is the Creator who created Lazarus and called him into being.  This was not yet fully known or understood by the disciples or by Jesus’ friends.  They were in the process of learning who Jesus is.  We already know, but we are able to experience these events with the eyes of faith.  And, in anticipation of what we will celebrate on Lazarus Saturday we can already rejoice today.

The next hymn from Thursday Matins continues laying before us the events as they unfolded.  Lazarus has been dead for a couple of days and his sisters are in grief.








Martha and Mary still do not know what is about to happen, be we who are remembering these events have full awareness.  We see Jesus, not merely as the human friend of Lazarus, but as The Creator.  Jesus Christ is the incarnate God.   Christ has come not just to grieve for the loss of his friend, He comes as God to save His creature.  Christ is here to destroy death and give life again to His creature who has died.  The hymns, like icons, do not try to give us a photograph of the events showing us what anyone would have seen that day.  Rather the hymns and icons are portraying to us the hidden spiritual dimensions of what is happening.  This is God appearing on earth, with His creatures whom He loves.  God incarnate is present to save humans from death and to raise them from the place of the dead.  Mary and Martha stand “gazing at the stone before Lazarus’ tomb.”  The stone blocks them from seeing any more.  They can’t see what is going to happen.  But we already know what Christ is going to do because we have the mind of Christ.  That stone does not block our vision – we know Christ raises Lazarus from the dead.

The last hymn follows a particularly Orthodox way of interpreting scriptural events.  It takes the events and applies them to our lives – to teach us how we might live this Gospel narrative today in our own lives.  We are called to follow the example of Martha and Mary, but how can we do that since we aren’t there and live in such a different time?










The hymn tells us that what we can learn from the Gospel of the raising of Lazarus is that when we perform charitable deeds or do other righteous acts, we are making an offering to God and He will bless us as He blessed Martha, Mary and Lazarus who were His friends and who lived godly lives.  But the dead to be raised is not just a friend, but is our own spiritual understanding within us.  When we fail to practice our faith, when we fail to imitate Christ, when we neglect our spiritual lives, our hearts and minds die spiritually.   The hymn turns the raising of Lazarus from a miracle of long ago to be remembered, concerning one man, into something we all can live and experience today.  Christ especially loved Martha, Mary and Lazarus, no doubt because they lived the commandments of love which He was teaching.  The hymn tells us to imitate them, so that we too will be friends of Christ and that He will want to raise us up from the dead on that last day.

In this hymn the miracle of the raising of Lazarus is not something limited to that one man 2000 years ago.  We each can experience a resurrection – of our own spiritual lives.  The raising of Lazarus is to help us believe in Christ and to live the Gospel.  It is not only a past historical event that we can marvel at, it is something which can revive our own hearts and souls and resurrect us from spiritual death.

The Raising of Lazarus

Orthodox biblical scholar Fr. Paul Nadim Tarazi comments on the Gospel Lesson of the raising of Lazarus (John 11:1-45):

“Lazarus’ tomb represents the Jerusalem temple. In order to be resurrected by Christ the Jews must ‘come out’ of the temple figuratively by rejecting it and the Judaism it represents and giving their allegiance to the Lord instead. John offers a clear hint that he has the temple in mind by calling the tomb a ‘cave’ (spelaion) in verse 38. This noun in the singular occurs in the New Testament only in Mark 11:17 and its parallels (Mt. 21:13,Lk. 19:46), in a quotation from Jeremiah criticizing the Jerusalemites for making out of the temple a ‘cave’ of robbers (Jer. 7:11 translated ‘den’ in the RSV). Thus, when the dead Jew ‘comes out’ of his cave, he symbolically ‘comes out’ of Judaism (Jn. 11:43-44). Nevertheless, the salvation of the Jews is part and parcel of the salvation of all, and so the periscope about Lazurus’ resurrection is linked directly to the one about Jesus’ own crucifixion and ultimately his resurrection.”

(The New Testament Introduction: Johannine Writings, pg. 203)

The Raising of Lazarus

As a human being

you wept for Lazarus;

as God you raised him up.

You asked,

‘Where have you laid him,

dead four days?’

And so, good Lord,

you gave proof of your incarnation.

By your word in the beginning,

O Word of God,

you breathed life into the clay

and joined dust to spirit.

Now by your word

you have raised up

your friend

from death’s corruption

and the depths of the earth.

      (Compline Hymn)

The Raising of Lazarus, the Man Whom Jesus Loved

“Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, ‘Take away the stone.’  Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, ‘Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.’  Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?’ So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, ‘Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.’ When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘“Unbind him, and let him go.'”   (John 11:38-44)

St. John Chrysostom commenting on the Gospel lesson of the raising of Lazarus, wrote:

“What was Christ’s command?  ‘Lazarus, come forth!’  When Christ prayed, the dead man did not arise.  He arose when Christ said, ‘Lazarus, come forth!’  O the tyranny of death!  O the tyranny of the power which took possession of that soul!  My prayers was uttered, O Hell, and do you still refuse to let his soul go?  ‘I do refuse,’ Hell says.  But why?  ‘Because I was not commanded to do so.  I am a prison guard here and I have in my possession one who is subject to me.  If I am not commanded to do so, I will not set him free.  The prayer was not made on my account but for the unbelievers who are nearby.  If I am not commanded to do so, I will not set free one who is in my keeping.  I am waiting for the word of command to free his soul.’

‘Lazarus, come out here!’  The dead man heard the command of his master and immediately he broke the laws of death.  … Surely, Christ’s word has proved that the prayer was not uttered to raise the dead man but because of the weakness of the unbelievers who were, at the moment, nearby.  ‘Lazarus, come forth!’  Why did he call the dead man by name?  Why?  If he were to have given a general command to all the dead, he would have raised all those in the tomb back to life.  But he did not wish to raise them all…. By raising one dead man to life, I may prove my power over those who are going to die.  For I, who have raised one man, will raise up the whole world.  For I am the resurrection and the life.

‘Lazarus, come forth!’  And the dead man came forth bound with bandages.   What marvelous and unexpected things Christ did!  He loosed the soul from the bonds of death.  He burst open the portals of hell.  He shattered to bits the gates of bronze and bolts of iron.  He set free the soul of Lazarus from the bonds of death.”   (St. John Chrysostom, ON THE INCOMPREHENSIBLE NATURE OF GOD, pp 241-242)