In the Tomb of Lazarus

img_1088Largely ignored by much of Christendom, the Orthodox today celebrate “Lazarus Saturday” in something of a prequel to next weekend’s Pascha. It is, indeed a little Pascha just before the greater one. And this, of course, was arranged by Christ Himself, who raised His friend Lazarus from the dead as something of a last action before entering Jerusalem and beginning His slow ascent to Golgotha through the days of next week (Orthodox celebrate Pascha a week later than Western Christians this year).

One of the hymns of the Vigil of Lazarus Saturday says that Christ “stole him from among the dead.” I rather like the phrase. Next weekend there will be no stealing, but a blasting of the gates of hell itself. What he does for Lazarus he will do for all. 

Lazarus, of course, is different from those previously raised from the dead by Christ (such as the daughter of Jairus). Lazarus had been four days day and corruption of the body had already set in. “My Lord, he stinks!” one of his sisters explained when Christ requested to be shown to the tomb.

I sat in that tomb last September, as I mentioned in my last post. It is not particularly notable as a shrine. It is today, in the possession of a private, Muslim family. You pay to get in. Several of our pilgrims did not want to pay to go in. I could not stop myself.

Lazarus is an important character in 19th century Russian literature. Raskolnikov, in Crime and Punishment, finds the beginning of his repentance of the crime of murder, by listening to a reading of the story of Lazarus. It is, for many, and properly so, a reminder of the universal resurrection. What Christ has done for Lazarus He will do for all.

For me, he is also a sign of the universal entombment. That even before we die, we have frequently begun to inhabit our tombs. We live our life with the doors closed (and we stink). Our hearts are often places of corruption and not the habitation of the good God. Or, at best, we ask Him to visit us as He visited Lazarus. That visit brought tears to the eyes of Christ. The state of our corruption makes Him weep. It is such a contradiction to the will of God. We were not created for the tomb.

I also note that in the story of Lazarus – even in his being raised from the dead – he rises in weakness. He remains bound by his graveclothes. Someone must “unbind” him. We ourselves, having been plunged into the waters of Baptism and robed with the righteousness of Christ, too often exchange those glorious robes for graveclothes. Christ has made us alive, be we remain bound like dead men.

I sat in the tomb of Lazarus because it seemed so familiar. 

I have to go now. Someone is calling.

6 Responses to “In the Tomb of Lazarus”

  1. fatherstephen Says:

    Photo: Met. Kallistos Ware leads pilgrims in prayer within the tomb of St. Lazarus. The light you see is from the flash of a camera. Lazarus doubtless saw a different light.

  2. Margaret Says:

    Thank you, Fr. Stephen! There is much for my heart to meditate on here and much for me to confess and give to God. Especially in the final paragraphs, when you say this:

    “The state of our corruption makes Him weep. It is such a contradiction to the will of God. We were not created for the tomb.”

    and this:

    “We ourselves, having been plunged into the waters of Baptism and robed with the righteousness of Christ, too often exchange those glorious robes for graveclothes. Christ has made us alive, be we remained bound like dead men.”

  3. Steve Says:

    St. Lazarus pray for us!

  4. katia Says:

    “…Besides physical death, there is mental death. Physical death is visible to everyone, but mental death is usually not noticeable to people. It is felt only by the dead person himself. Bishop Theophan the Recluse said much about this. Sometimes it happens that a sinful thought darts into your mind and awakens a sinful feeling, but the soul catches itself and calls to the Lord in repentance. And the Lord, as with the daughter of Jairus, will as if stretch out His hand and say, “Soul, arise!” And life will return to its joyous flow. But sometimes it happens that we do not catch ourselves in time and sin enters more deeply into our soul (like going out from the house) and the result will be full acceptance of the sin, and turmoil. But also here, by the prayers of our Mother, the Church of Christ, who cries before the Lord for her children, we can be alerted; and the Lord will tell us as He did the son of the widow of Nain: “Soul, I say unto thee, Arise!” This is salvation.
    But what shall we do if sin completely enslaves our soul, as if covering it with a tombstone; and so day after day goes by and passions start to exude their sinful stench, just as with Lazarus? What should we do then? Well, then we need confession, the sacrament which Christ established after His Resurrection, when He said to His disciples, “Receive ye the Holy Spirit: Whose so ever sins ye forgive, they are forgiven” (Jn. 20:22-23). See how all this is reflected in the resurrection of Lazarus. Lazarus, on his own, could not go out from the tomb because it was blocked by a stone. He couldn’t even walk, because he was bound hand and foot with funeral bandages. And here Christ said to His disciples, “Loose him.” In application to us, this means that the Lord orders our clergy, who have received in the Sacrament of the Priesthood the gift of the Holy Spirit, to loose our sins. What joy!
    And more: death is not the cause but only the result, the consequence of sin. And Christ is, first of all, the Conqueror of sin, and then along with it, the Conqueror of death. So let us triumph: “Hosanna in the highest!”

    Archbishop Andrei (Rymarenko, 1893-1978)

  5. David Says:

    Fr. Stephen,

    I’ve have read your blog since shortly after you first began sharing your insights over the web. Your writing was good then and it is even better today. I am not Orthodox and do not foresee a change to Orthodoxy but your writing has allowed me to explore a much deeper faith than I thought possible.

    “I sat in the tomb of Lazarus because it seemed so familiar. ”

    That statement is incredibly insightful to me. Thank you.

  6. fatherjamesearly Says:

    David,

    Great profile pic!

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