April 12, 2014

Saint Lazarus the Friend of Christ as a Model for our Lives

St. Lazarus, who was four days dead (Feast Day - Saturday of Lazarus)

By Protopresbyter Fr. George Papavarnavas

Saint Lazarus came from Bethany. He became heavily ill, and by the time his friend Christ came to Bethany from the city in which He was to be found teaching, he died and his body had been in the tomb four days. When Christ came to Bethany He met the sisters of Lazarus, Martha and Mary, and after comforting them He told them that their brother would rise. He asked to be led to the tomb, which was a cave sealed with a heavy stone. Christ asked that the stone be moved, despite the objections of the sisters of Lazarus and the bystanders due to the odor, since he was in the tomb four days. Then He called for Lazarus by name and resurrected him. He asked that he be untied, because they had tied him up, and to allow him to go back to his house. Later He attended dinner with him, hosted by his sisters in honor of Christ.

Saint Epiphanios, Bishop of Constance in Cyprus, says that Saint Lazarus was thirty years old then and he lived another thirty years after his resurrection. Wanting to flee the hatred of the scribes and pharisees, who sought a reason to kill him, he fled to Kition in Cyprus (today's Larnaca) in 33 A.D. The Apostles Paul and Barnabas met him when they came from Salamis in Paphos, and they ordained him Bishop of Kition, which he had founded. He pastored his flock with love and wisdom for eighteen consecutive years, until he reposed in 63 A.D. The faithful of his Diocese placed his body in a sarcophagus made of marble, on which they wrote in the Hebrew language: "Lazarus of the four days and friend of Christ". Over the tomb was built a beauteous church, which was renovated in 1750. The translation and the transfer of the relics of Saint Lazarus from Cyprus to Constantinople took place on October 17, 890 by order of Emperor Leo VI the Wise, who also composed the idiomela hymns of Vespers in honor of the Saint.

According to tradition, which is still alive until today, Saint Lazarus, because he saw the pain of the souls in Hades, never laughed, except one time when he saw someone stealing a clay pot. Then he smiled and said: "One earth steals another earth".

His life and deeds give us the opportunity to highlight the following:

Christ came into the world to abolish the work of the devil, to judge sin "in His flesh" and to conquer death. Thus, by His Incarnation, Passion, Crucifixion and Resurrection, He redeemed man from the dominion of the devil, sin and death, and He gave us the opportunity to conquer and overcome death in the limits of our personal life, and to experience eternity in this present life. Further, by Christ raising Lazarus who was "in the tomb for four days", He showed that He rules over death, and that what He says and teaches He puts into practice. For example, He spoke of the common resurrection of the dead at His Second Coming and He verified this by the resurrection of Lazarus. "Giving us before Thy Passion an assurance of the general resurrection, Thou hast raised Lazarus from the dead, O Christ our God." He further did this with the other two resurrections He did - the daughter of Jairus and the son of the widow of Nain.

After the resurrection of Christ death ceased to be fearful for man and man became fearful to death, since now death is mocked by even infants. If one strolls along the bloody streets of the martyrologies they will encounter small children, such as Saint Tarcisius, or infants in the embrace of their mothers, such as Saint Kyrikos, and even revered elders over a hundred years old, such as Saint Haralambos (113 years old), who confessed with courage and boldness their faith in Christ, and they walked fearlessly towards their martyrdom as if they were going to a festival. They endured torture calmly and peacefully, praying in their hearts for their tormentors and the entire world. This is why the death of a Saint is not an occasion for mourning and tears, but of celebration.

Basil the Great says that the faithful in the Church do not weep over the death of the saints, as was done in the Old Testament, where the death of the saints was honored with the beating of the breast and tears. "Joseph wept bitterly for Jacob when he died. The Jews mourned much over the death of Moses, and with many tears they honored Samuel. Now we dance at the death of the saints, because after the cross of the Lord the sad nature of things has been changed. The deaths of the saints are not followed by lamentations, but with divine dances we dance around their graves. This is because the death of the righteous is sleep. Better yet, it is a journey towards a better life."

After death people meet their loved ones, as long as they are alike in their way of life. Basil the Great says this in his comforting letter to his friend whose child died prematurely: "It is beneficial for us to venerate the philanthropy of God for all things.... You are not deprived of a child, but you gave him to the Provider; his life did not disappear, but it was changed for the better; the earth did not hide our loved one, but he was received in the heavens. Let us wait a little while and we will meet again with the one we yearn for... Only, let us hope we are alike in virtue to his purity, so that with a clear ethos we will achieve the same rest as the infants in Christ."

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "Ἅγιος καί δίκαιος Λάζαρος ὁ φίλος τοῦ Χριστοῦ", March 2014. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.