On the Saturday before Holy Week, the Orthodox Church commemorates a major feast of the year, the miracle of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ when he raised Lazarus from the dead after he had lain in the grave four days. Here, at the end of Great Lent and the forty days of fasting and penitence, the Church combines this celebration with that of Palm Sunday. In triumph and joy the Church bears witness to the power of Christ over death and exalts Him as King before entering the most solemn week of the year, one that leads the faithful in remembrance of His suffering and death and concludes with the great and glorious Feast of Pascha.
Lazarus becomes ill, and his sisters, Mary and Martha send a message to Jesus stating, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” In response to the message, Jesus says, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it” (vv. 1-4). When Jesus arrived at Bethany, Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Since Bethany was near Jerusalem, many of the people had come to console Mary and Martha. When Martha heard that Jesus was approaching she went to meet Him and said to Him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of Him.” Jesus told her that her brother will rise again.
Jesus came to the tomb and asked that the stone that covered the door be taken away. Martha remarked that Lazarus had now been in the tomb for four days and that there would be a smell. Jesus replied, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” The stone was taken away, and Jesus looked toward heaven and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” When He had said this, He called out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” Lazarus walked out of the tomb, bound with the strips of burial cloth, and Jesus said, “Unbind him, and let him go” (vv. 38-44).
This miracle is performed by Christ as a reassurance to His disciples before the coming Passion: they are to understand that, though He suffers and dies, yet He is Lord and Victor over death. The resurrection of Lazarus is a prophecy in the form of an action. As the liturgical texts emphasize, the miracle at Bethany reveals the two natures of Christ the God-man. Christ asks where Lazarus is laid and weeps for him, and so He shows the fullness of His manhood, involving as it does human ignorance and genuine grief for a beloved friend.
Then, disclosing the fullness of His divine power, Christ raises Lazarus from the dead, even though his corpse has already begun to decompose and stink. This double fullness of the Lord’s divinity and His humanity is to be kept in view throughout Holy Week, and above all on Good Friday. On the Cross we see a genuine human agony, both physical and mental, but we see more than this: we see not only suffering man but suffering God.
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