April 4, 2015

Why Did Jesus Weep at the Tomb of Lazarus?

By His Eminence Metropolitan Seraphim of Kastoria

When interpreting the sacred texts of our Church, the God-bearing Fathers use the method of allegory. This method does not abolish the historical event, but it brings it to another level.

The Fathers use such reasoning without denying the historicity of the events, rather they are expressing their own experiences after reaching purification and illumination by the grace of the Holy Spirit. Hence they were able to infallibly interpret Holy Scripture and present the truths of our faith, which if we live them with our purified hearts then we will be given the ability to also experience them, thus giving us experiential participation in the Passion of Christ.

Saint Amphilochios, Bishop of Iconium, a close friend of Basil the Great and the Cappadocian Fathers of the Church, interprets the event of the resurrection of Lazarus by beginning with the following words: "Bring before us once again John the Evangelist. It is good to examine the first-fruits of the resurrection." Continuing his interpretation, he stands before an event which John the Evangelist specifically presents, and that is the tears of Jesus.

And Saint Amphilochios asks: "Why the need for tears, if You are about to raise him?"

Why then did Jesus weep?

A. "Jesus wept because He designed all things with wisdom."

Jesus wept before the tomb to reveal the thoughts of all those who followed Him, that is, how great of a suspicion they had towards Him.

"See how much He loved him? He who raised the dead and gave sight to the blind, could He not prevent this death, if in fact He loved him so?"

To the speculations and thoughts of the people who arrived at Bethany to comfort Martha and Mary because of the death of their brother, the response of Christ through the mouth of the Spirit-bearing Father of the Church is witty: "I allowed death to devour him so that you may precisely know that I have the authority over life and death."

This is a response of Christ for us today, to the unbelief that dominates us, due to the denial which devours our flesh like beasts daily, and in countless ways lead us to atheism and unbelief.

The plan of Christ was to present a few days prior to His own voluntary Passion the message of His own resurrection.

B. Jesus Wept

Another interpreter, Theophanes Kerameus, brings forward his own spiritual offering regarding the tears of Christ at the tomb of Lazarus. "He did not cry, but simply shed a few tears. Tears are usually accompanied by sobs. He wept...because He did not deny His similarity with humans, but the human nature is mixed with the divine. In this way He shows that He shares the same essence with us."

He is perfect God and perfect man. He finds Himself before the all-devouring beast of death and the shivers it causes humanity. According to the expression of Saint John of Damascus: "He is complete God, became complete mortal, the entire divinity mixed with humanity."

Saint Andrew, Bishop of Crete, adds his own experience in his famous Canon chanted on the eve of the feast of Saint Lazarus (who knows about and who chants this Canon which is full of theological meanings?):

"Lord, You wept for Lazarus to show that You were incarnate."

"He shed tears for His friend by economy to show the flesh He received from us."

"You wept as a man and raised Lazarus as God."

"He weeps for the fall of humanity from Paradise, which we suffered because of sin."

He also weeps, according to Theophanes Kerameus, because he foresees the spiritual blindness of the Jews, who after seeing this strange miracle "will not become better but more hard-hearted, since envy has ignited within them."

Christ also weeps for another purpose. Because he is returning Lazarus from actual life. For Lazarus "managed to gloriously enter the stage of actual life as one who is just, pious and a friend of Christ. And for this reason he was able to find rest and be honored by his death. Having found refuge in the harbor of Paradise, He calls him to return to the storms of life. He who struggled and was crowned with the crown of victory, He urges to return to the struggles of life."

Truly how much wisdom is hidden in the sacred texts of our Church? How much spiritual content is revealed to us through the experiences of the God-bearing Fathers of our Church? This is why their words are always timely and timeless and their teachings are a light in the darkness of our times in which we live.

They are wise according to the Spirit, we are unwise.

They are containers of the Holy Spirit, we are full of passions and sins.

Their nous, namely the eye of their soul, is a place where they can meet God, while ours is blind and full of darkness.

C. Jesus Wept

He gave us the example and appointed at the same time "what is the measure, that is, how much we should give in to grief and weep for the dead." Nobody stands indifferent before the fearsome mystery of death.

Everyone is shocked by it, even those who claim to not believe, and they are left speechless and confess with Saint John of Damascus: "Indeed most fearsome is the mystery of death."

The Church does not forbid tears before our reposed brethren and it does not condemn such sadness. The wise Sirach writes:

"Weep for the dead, for they have lost the light; weep more for the fool, for they lack understanding. Make little weeping for the dead, for they are at rest; but the life of the fool is worse than death." (22:11)

"My child, let your tears flow for the dead; as one who is suffering terribly, give voice to your sorrow. Lay out their bodies in accordance with their wishes, and don't neglect their burial. Let your crying be bitter and express your sorrow fervently, and make your mourning worthy of them. Mourn for one day or two so that there can be no criticism, and then be comforted from your grief. Too much grief can lead to death, and grief in one's heart will sap one's strength." (38:16-18)

And the golden nightingale of the Church, the divine Chrysostom, adds: "Let us not become ferocious, or relentless... Besides, this is what Christ showed us, when He wept for Lazarus... This do also: weep but calmly, with comeliness and the fear of God."

"Weep as if you are saying goodbye to someone who is going off to a distant land" (Nikolaos P. Vassiliadis, The Mystery of Death, p. 255).

If Christ wept at the tomb of the one who was four days dead, how much will He weep today for our apostasy and the presence of death and sin which dominates our souls?

How many of us will have the opportunity to meet Him on the night of the Resurrection? How many of us will have the wedding garments to sit at the "set table"? How many of us will worthily taste of His Body and His Blood for the remission of our sins and eternal life?

This is why we must supplicate these days of the voluntary Passion of Christ the Savior, to grant us a wellspring of tears that we may wash our dirtied souls, so that we can see the light of His face.

"O God, grant me tears, and like the sinful woman make me worthy to moisten Your feet... that I may hear Your desirable voice: 'Your faith has saved you, go in peace'" (Doxastikon of Great Compline).

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.