November 17, 2015

Saint Lazarus the Painter: An Iconographer During the Iconoclast Period

St. Lazarus the Iconographer (Feast Day - November 17)


Lazarus does not paint you now O Word,
But sees you alive without capturing you in the colors of paints.

Saint Lazarus the Zographos (which is translated as "the Painter", but is often known as "the Iconographer") became a monk at a young age and learned the art of painting. And together with discipline and self-control, he was also renowned for his almsgiving, so that he was chosen to receive the grace of the Priesthood. Having become a Priest, he battled against all the heresies. He endured so many afflictions, not only by the Nestorians and Eutychites and Dioscorites, but also by the Iconoclasts, that words cannot describe.

Brought before the Emperor Theophilos (829-842), and with the threat of the death penalty hanging over him, Lazarus staunchly refused to destroy any of the holy images he had painted. For this he was imprisoned.

After his release from prison, Lazarus continued to paint icons and so was again arrested and this time tortured by having red-hot horseshoes applied to his hands, burning the flesh to the bone. Lazarus was rescued from any further tortures and death by Theodora, Emperor Theophilos' wife and a secret venerator of icons (iconodule), and was secluded in the Saint John the Forerunner Monastery in Phoberos by the banks of the Bosporus.

Upon the Restoration of Icons in 843, Lazarus was once again free to venerate icons, and even continued to paint them despite his previous injuries which were miraculously healed: in gratitude to Empress Theodora he painted an icon of Saint John the Forerunner and then repainted the famous Christ Chalkites over the Chalke Gate of the Imperial Palace in 843.

In 856, Lazarus, being a staunch defender of Orthodoxy, was sent by Emperor Michael III as an emissary to visit Pope Benedict III to discuss the possibility of reconciliation between Rome and Constantinople – who at this point had very strained relations. He made a second mission to Rome in 867 but died in Galata during the journey and was buried in the Monastery of Evanderes, near Constantinople.

Saint Nikodemos the Hagiorite notes that in the minutes of the Seventh Ecumenical Synod it is recorded that one of his frescoes of the Holy Unmercenaries worked the following miracle: A certain woman had a twisting of her bowels, and after scraping paint from this image, she put the scrapes in water and drank it. After doing this, she was healed.