6. THE RESURRECTION OF LAZARUS
The last Saturday of Lent is called the Saturday of the holy and just Lazarus, because on this day, our Church celebrates the resurrection of the Lord's beloved friend, Lazarus.
We are informed of this miracle by John the Evangelist (11, 1-45), who gives us an extensive description of the illness and the death of Lazarus, as well as how the Lord went to Bethany , where Lazarus lived with his sisters Maria and Martha, in order to resurrect him.
It is impressive, firstly, how the Lord prepares this miracle. He comes to Bethany four days after the death of His friend, even though He had been notified by Lazarus' family about the illness. This did not worry Him, because ' the issue was not about death, but about the glory of God; it was so that the Son of God would be glorified through it ". Two days later, He announces to His disciples that His friend " has gone to sleep, and that He was going to him, to awaken him ".
Secondly, in contrast to other miracles that Christ forbids being publicized, (see for instance the miracle of the resurrection of Jaerus' daughter, Luke 8, 41-56), He performs this miracle publicly, for the exact purpose of making this event known, so that people would believe in His divinity.
In order to appreciate the orthodox hagiographer's attempt to depict this miracle in the relative icon according to the evangelic narration, it is necessary to refer to several excerpts from the Bible reading of that feast-day.
" And He (Jesus) said: 'Where did you place him?' And they said to Him: 'Master, come and see.' And Jesus shed a tear................. while struggling to control his deeper emotions, He approached the grave; it was inside a cave, and a rock had been placed at its entrance. Jesus said: 'pull away the rock'. Martha, the sister of the deceased, said: 'Master, he has already become putrid; he has been dead for four days'. They pulled away the rock where the body of the deceased was laid....... Then Jesus cried out in a loud voice: 'Lazarus, come out!'. And the dead man came out, his feet and his hands tied with white shroud bands, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Christ said to them: 'untie him and let him go' ".
From the above excerpt, we can see that by resurrecting Lazarus, the Lord showed his two natures: the human and the divine. The human nature is indicated by His question "Where did you place him?"; also, by the emotion He displayed and the tears that came to His eyes. Along with His human nature, His divine nature also becomes obvious. We see it, when He foretells the death of Lazarus, and also when He resurrects Lazarus with His almighty command "Lazarus, come out!". As Athanasios the Great says: " He questioned in human manner where Lazarus lay, but He raised him in a Godly manner " (Greek Fathers, 33 169).
Of the many hymns that underline the divine-human nature of the Lord, we could mention the following: " As the resurrection and the life of the people, Christ, you went to Lazarus' tomb, verifying for us your two substances, o tolerant One: that as God you also became a man from a chaste Virgin; as a mortal, You asked where is he buried? As God, You resurrected the four-day-old lifeless body, with a life-giving gesture".
The resurrection of Lazarus was the most outstanding example that foretold the coming Resurrection of Christ and a harbinger of the common resurrection - the future resurrection of all the dead. The divine service of the feast-day stresses both these truths. " Lazarus being dead for four days, You raised him, Christ, from Hades, just prior to Your own death; You shook death's authority, and by means of a friend, You foretold the liberation of all people from deterioration .......
Finally, we must observe that the divine services of the Saturday of Lazarus and Palm Sunday share the same hymns. Furthermore, in the hymns of both feast-days, these two events co-exist: the resurrection of Lazarus and the Lord's entry into Jerusalem . Both these events of the Lord's life are celebrated in two consecutive days, which are precursors of His Passion and His Resurrection. In this common hymn, we can clearly see the union between the miracle of Lazarus' Resurrection and Christ's triumphant entrance: " As verifier of the common Resurrection prior to Your passion, You raised Lazarus from the dead, Christ the Lord; therefore we too, as Children, bearing the symbols of victory, shout out to You, the Victor of death: 'Hosanna to the most high; blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord' ".
Description of the icon (pic.9) The picture transfers us to the outskirts of the city, in a rocky landscape. In one of those rocks, according to the tradition of the Judeans, Lazarus' tomb had been hollowed out. Here again, the form of Christ is the most prominent. His grief is obvious, but we can still infer His divinity. This is betrayed firstly by His majestic stance, and secondly, by the fact that the Judeans (these are the people grouped at the right-hand side) are looking at Christ and not at Lazarus. Christ's one hand is holding a scroll, while the other hand is extended towards Lazarus, with an intense gesture. A young man is removing the shroud's bands and another is moving the slab away from the tomb's entrance. Lazarus' sisters are impressively portrayed; they are prostrate before the Lord, their faces lined with their unspeakable grief. It has been aptly observed that " all those portrayed, comprise simply and solely, the varying shades and psychological gradations of the same sentiment, the same psychological state - that of deep solemnity in the face of the event; from the serene movements of the Apostles, to Maria's lamentation so full of self-denial " (Icons of Cretan art, p.364).
Our icon therefore has its divine element, not only the human one. Other icons, such as the Ascension, the Resurrection etc., retain their mystery obscure and their symbolic character obvious. Here, everything is comprehensible and obvious. Ouspensky, who tells us all this, summarizes: " The icon gives us the external, the natural side of the miracle, making it as accessible to human perception and examination, as it was when the actual miracle was performed, and exactly as it was described in the Bible ".
The portrayal is a touching one, with the forms of the Hebrews who have swarmed to console Lazarus' grief-stricken sisters. They become eyewitnesses of the miracle, and many of them, " witnessing what Jesus did, believed in Him ".
The icon of the Raising of Lazarus from the grave, helps us to remember the Lord's significant words: " I am the resurrection and the life. Whomsoever believes in me, though he may die, will live; and all those who live and believe in me, will not die throughout eternity ".