April 23, 2016

Holy New Martyr Lazarus the Shepherd of Bulgaria (+ 1802)

St. Lazarus the Shepherd (Feast Day - April 23)

Lazarus was from Gabrovo, Bulgaria and he was born to parents who were pious and God-loving people in the year 1774. At a young age he departed Gabrovo and came to Soma in Asia Minor, near Pergamon, where he became a shepherd.

One day while tending his sheep in the fields, he sat down and fell asleep. During this time a Muslim lady went by who was attacked by the sheep dog. Awakened by the dog's barking, Lazarus rushed to the lady's rescue. Fortunately the dog calmed down and the lady only suffered a torn dress. However, this infuriated the lady, who immediately went home and told her husband that she was attacked by an Orthodox Christian shepherd who attempted to rape her. This infuriated the husband, who went out in search of Lazarus, but not knowing him he mistook another man for Lazarus, whom he almost beat to death. To cover up his mistake, the husband had his wife's relatives go before the Turkish judge to charge Lazarus with attempted rape.

Although Lazarus found out about the intention of the lady's husband, he did not go into hiding, thinking that since he was innocent, to take flight would only make him look guilty. He therefore appeared in court, but was charged and imprisoned. This happened on April 7th.

In the meantime, the lady's relatives insisted Lazarus either convert to Islam or be executed for the dishonor inflicted upon their relative. They offered the aga a thousand grosia if he would succeed in converting Lazarus, otherwise he was to sentence him to death.

In prison Lazarus was beaten to induce his conversion continuously until April 22. Orthodox Christians came and visited Lazarus to lend him their support and encouragement, but he asked for them to leave because they were endangering themselves. Meanwhile the aga was becoming angrier by the hour because Lazarus refused to convert, and the one thousand grosia were slipping through his fingers. Because Lazarus remained steadfast in the face of torture and flatteries, the aga had the forty sheep of Lazarus confiscated.

On the Tuesday of Saint Thomas, April 22, the aga ordered more fierce torments for Lazarus. After the tormentors got drunk, they began to apply red-hot irons on Lazarus' body. Then they put heavy stones over his chest, but Lazarus still refused to submit. Rather, Lazarus sought help from the Lord and asked for the assistance of Saint George (Apr. 23).

Then the torturers stretched out Lazarus' tongue and applied a hot iron to it, burning the front half and drying the remaining part. Because Lazarus was now unable to speak, they told him to use sign language when he was ready to convert. They also placed a heated iron ring around his head, causing Lazarus excruciating pain.

At sunset a merchant named John from Zagora, who was also a medical doctor, went to see the aga whom he knew and because also he was the doctor of the aga's household. Doctor John went to the window of the prison and was able to see Lazarus sitting on the floor, and not only did he look well but he was able to speak normally. The good doctor, who was an Orthodox Christian, encouraged Lazarus to stay the course to the end and endure for the love of Christ. He spoke to Lazarus in Turkish, their common language, since he did not know Bulgarian and Lazarus did not know Greek. Lazarus assured the good doctor that he would not relent, but rather expressed the fear that the Muslims would tire of torturing him and quit instead of putting him to death.

When the aga found out Lazarus could talk, he became enraged with the torturers who lied to him. Yet when he saw the marks of torture on Lazarus' body, he was convinced the torturers did their job. After once again flattering Lazarus to convert, and Lazarus refused to accept any gifts in exchange for his faith, the aga ordered that he be hanged.

On his way to execution many Muslims made fun of Lazarus for being so foolish as to give his life for Jesus Christ. When they arrived at the place of execution, under a plane tree, John voluntarily placed the rope around his neck, stood on the basket, then the executioner kicked it from under his feet. Thus the Holy Neomartyr Lazarus was hanged to death on April 23, 1802.

A Divine Service was composed in honor of Saint Lazarus by Saint Nikephoros of Chios. Portions of his relics can be venerated in Leimonos Monastery in Lesvos and in the Chapel of Saint Xenia the Russian in Mandra of Attica.

Kontakion in the Fourth Tone
In the morning you shined, as a radiant morning star, and the noetic gleaming of your struggles shined, illuminating those who greet you, crying out, champion Lazarus.

Singing hymns for your revered struggles, we all praise you divine champion Lazarus, and your sacred relics we venerate, and the image of your form we embrace.