The rising of Lazarus from the death is celebrated in the Orthodox Church the day before Palm Sunday. From the Holy Gospels we learn that Lazarus was the brother of Martha and Mary and lived in Bethany. Bethany is known to the Arab world as “al-Azariyya” and it is an old city situated in the Holy Land south-east of Mount Olives.
In the days that preceded our Lord’ Passion, Jesus was traveling in the far desert to a place named Perea. Here, He got the news that Lazarus was seriously ill and Jesus was expected to heal him. The Gospels do not mention Lazarus illness, however this was undoubtedly a disease with no cure leading to death. Jesus did not go to see Lazarus until two days after hearing the news. He got to Bethany along with His disciples, only on the fourth day of Lazarus’s death.
Upon entering the village He is greeted by Martha with these words: “Lord, if you were here earlier, my brother had not died”. But Jesus replied: “I am the resurrection and the life!“, meaning He is the One who brought us all from nothingness into existence and the One who has power to overcome death.
At His question “Where did you buried him?” they answered: “Lord, come and see”.
In the Triodiom, it is said: “As a mortal man you had asked oh Lord, but as God, You rose from the death.”
According to the Holy Gospels, Christ would cry in front of Lazarus tomb. In this, He shed tears for all fallen humanity, not only for Lazarus.
Before entering the tomb, He prayed to the Father than He called Lazarus out.
Lazarus came out of the grave as he had been buried: clothed in shroud and with his face covered in veil.
Lazarus is a general symbol
“According to an ancient tradition, it is said that Lazarus was thirty years old when the Lord raised him; then he lived another thirty years on Cyprus and there reposed in the Lord. It is furthermore related that after he was raised from the dead, he never laughed till the end of his life, but that once only, when he saw someone stealing a clay vessel, he smiled and said, “Clay stealing clay.” His grave is situated in the city of Kition, having the inscription: “Lazarus the four days dead and friend of Christ.” In 890 his sacred relics were transferred to Constantinople by Emperor Leo the Wise, at which time undoubtedly the Emperor composed his stichera for Vespers, “Wishing to behold the tomb of Lazarus . . .” (from the Synaxarium)
The crying of Christ calling Lazarus from the grave, is seen as a symbol of calling all of us from death before standing the final judgement. It should be noted that Lazarus’ victory over death was not final, been only a reification of his body. Only through Christ, death was to be fully defeated.
Lazarus – Bishop of Cyprus
After the martyrdom of Archdeacon Stephen, Lazarus and his sisters went to the island of Cyprus because he was also in danger to be killed. Later, when Paul and Barnabas, on their first missionary journey arrived in Cyprus, they had met Lazarus and consecrated him as the Bishop of Cyprus. The Holy tradition tell us that after Christ resurrection, Lazarus lived for 30 more years, then he died.
He was buried in the town of Larnaka, Cyprus. Over his tomb a church was built. Around 890, Emperor Leo the Wise move Lazarus relics to Constantinople. In exchange for the holy relics, the emperor offered money and craftsmen to build the church in Larnaka, dedicated to St. Lazarus, which had survived until today.
In 1204, when the Crusaders conquered Constantinople, the relics were moved initially to Marseille, than to many other places until they become lost for many years. But in 1972, during the restoration of the church of Saint Lazarus from Larnaka, underneath the altar a small marble coffin was discovered carrying a piece of the precious relics of St Lazarus and the inscription: “Lazarus risen on the fourth day, and friend of Christ”.
We are called to identify ourselves with Lazarus
The last week of Lent invites us to become witnesses of what happened with Lazarus back then and to identify ourselves with him.
We ought to detach ourselves during this time of lent from everything related to the flesh… to become like Lazarus – friends of Christ, in order to rise with Him. With our soul sicken, as Lazarus was in his mortal body, we find ourselves laying in the tomb of sloth and indifference, covered by the stone of despair:
“Roll oh Saviour, the stone of sloth from my soul and rise me from the indifference of my grave so I may glorify You”.
The Tomb of Lazarus from Bethany
Bethany is known to the Arab world as “al-Azariyya” been situated in the Holy Land in a rocky area South-East of Mount of Olives, Jerusalem. Its population consists of Christian and Muslim inhabitants.
Bethany is the town where Lazarus, Mary and Martha had lived, and the place where several events from the New Testament took place. Our Lord himself had passed several times through Bethany.
Near the tomb where Lazarus were erected on the 4th day from death, a Franciscan church was built over the ruins of some ancient settlements.
Bethany has been certified historically since the Roman civilization. In the immediate vicinity, traces of a much older settlement were found, dated to the Iron Age. It is believed that this was the biblical city “Ananias” thus in the New Testament it is mentioned as “Bethany” – (Beth Ananias = Bethany).
The first mentioning of this biblical city is found in the Book of Nehemiah and II book of Esdras (OT)
Before the IVth century, no traces of any church in Bethany could be found, although the history of Eusebius and Bordeaux Pilgrim (333) mentions that the tomb of Lazarus was placed in a vault or crypt.
Around 490, Blessed Jerome writes about a place mentioned in Egeria’ diary, which is in fact the guest house of Mary and Martha, sisters of Lazarus. According to Jerome, it is believed that during that period, pilgrims went to the house of Lazarus, not to his grave..
That structure known as “Lazarium” was destroyed by an earthquake at the time, being replaced by the Church of St. Lazarus in the VI-th century. This church is mentioned by Theodosius before the year 518 and by Arculf around 680. The church had survived until the Crusades.
In 1143, during the Crusades, King Fulk and Queen Melisande had received the town of Bethany from the Patriarch of the „Holy Sepulcher”, in trade for an area near Hebron.
Queen Melisande had an important role in the development of this historic place, been preoccupied much with prayer. She built a Benedictine monastery dedicated to Mary and Martha, repaired and extended the Old Church of St. Lazarus, which she dedicated to the sisters of Lazarus – Mary and Martha. The Monastery of the Holy Mary and Martha became soon one of the richest monasteries in Jerusalem. The Queen’ sister, Jovetta, was elected abbess of this monastery at the age of only 24.
With the collapse of Crusader’ Kingdom, in 1187, nuns went into exile. The new church of St Lazarus built above the tomb was destroyed, and only the tomb remained
It is also believed that the town was deserted by inhabitants. But starting with 1347, a pilgrim confirmed the presence of few Greek monks in the tomb chapel – the vault left over the tomb of Lazarus.
In 1384, this place was transformed into a mosque, and for a time, the entry of Christians inside the tomb of Lazarus was made very difficult.
Between 1952-1955 a modern Franciscan church dedicated to St. Lazarus was built over the top of the Byzantine church and the church dedicated to Mary and Martha. In 1965 a Greek church was also built near the tomb St. Lazarus.
After several negotiations, the Franciscans were finally permitted to dig a new entrance to the tomb, on its northern side. Once completed the new entrance, the tomb’s original entrance was blocked from the mosque.
Originally, the grave of St Lazarus was dug directly into the rock, but no one knows exactly its initial shape. The original entrance to Lazarus’ tomb can be seen in the western wall of the tomb’s antechamber.
Above, the hill a modern Greek Church is laying over one of the walls of the Crusader church standing high above the tomb. The ruins found near this church are under the care of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate. They were identified with the house of Simon the leper or the House of Lazarus.
St Lazarus church from Cyprus – tradition and history
Saint Lazarus Church in Larnaka – Cyprus was built in the ninth century over the tomb of St. Lazarus – who Christ resurrected from the dead (on the 4th day) in the town of Bethany. Rebuilt in the eighteenth century, the church in Larnaka is one of the most important and impressive building of the city.
According to the orthodox tradition, after Lazarus was raised from the dead, he came to Cyprus, where, later, he was to be elected bishop of Kition by St. Paul and Barnabas. Lazarus had lived in Larnaka for 30 more years, then he died and was buried inside this church
The tomb of Lazarus in Larnaka is different from the tomb in Bethany where Christ came to work the miracle. The tomb from Bethany was almost forgotten during the Arab attacks. His holy relics were rediscovered in 890 and transported to Constantinople by Emperor Leo the VI th , in 901.
The church of Saint Lazarus in Larnaka – Cyprus was built, as mentioned above, in the ninth century, above the tomb of Bishop Lazar. His tomb was located in a network of catacombs; other sarcophagi were also found in these catacombs.
The ninth century church was fully renovated in the XVII-th century, when the iconostasis was also changed, becoming a wonderful example of the Baroque art. But the impressive iconostasis, belonging to the eighteenth century, was badly damaged by fire in 1970.
Saturday of Lazarus – the great procession in Larnaka
The church had preserved two very beautiful icons of the Saint Lazarus: one dating from 1659 made in silver depicting his rising from the death, and another icon also of the risen Lazarus where those participating in the event had to cover their nose, due to heavy stink coming from Lazarus’ tomb before his rising.
This last icon is carried out in procession in the presence of the Bishop of Kition, eight days before Easter. On this day, the streets of Larnaka are full of believers.
The church’crypt (underneath the church), also preserves the marbles sarcophagus of Saint Lazarus
Through the prayers of St. Lazarus, Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on us sinners, Amin!