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The Resurrection of Lazarus | What happened on Lazarus Saturday?

Lazarus Saturday in the Orthodox Church

ressurection of lazarus icon

A handpainted icon of the Resurrection of Lazarus created in our Convent*

In the final days of Lent, we prepare to commemorate the passion and resurrection of our Lord. As an overture to the Passion Week comes the Resurrection of Lazarus, followed by Palm Sunday. In the Bible, these two events are only days apart and symbolise our solid faith in the resurrection of the dead. Both feasts share a common Troparion: “By raising Lazarus from the dead before Your passion, You confirmed the universal resurrection, O Christ God.”

If there is one thing most people fear and dread, it is death. “Try to deny death. It will deny you, and that will be the end of it,” says the hero of a known novel by Turgenev. And even the promise of a future resurrection, however comforting, does not diminish its anguish. “I weep and I wail, when I think upon death, and behold our beauty, fashioned after the image of God, lying in the tomb dishonoured, disfigured, bereft of form,” reads Saint John of Damascus’ hymn heard at the burial services.

Jesus came to the home of his deceased friend, the Righteous Lazarus of Bethany who had been four days dead. His body was sealed in the tomb and had begun to decompose. Previously, Christ had brought to life several people, but they had not been dead for very long. No one had ever resurrected someone who had been dead for four days. Even Lazarus’ sisters, Martha and Mary, had their doubts. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died,” said Martha as she met the Lord. And when Jesus asked for the stone of his grave to be removed, she exclaimed, “but there will be a smell!”.

lazarus saturday

Jesus prayed to His Father and then cried with a loud voice: “Lazarus, come out.” The icon of the feast shows Lazarus’ appearance at the door in grave clothes. His friends are holding their noses because of the smell. With the biblical story of raising Lazarus from the dead, Jesus sends a powerful and reassuring message: “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.” (John 11:25-26)

Importantly, Lazarus’ sisters were not the only ones who witnessed Lazarus’ resurrection. So who else was present at the raising of Lazarus? Some were neighbours who had come to share their grief. Many others joined later. Soon, a crowd began to gather around Jesus at the news of the miracle of Lazarus’ return from the dead. Eventually, many of them would shout in the square for Christ to be crucified. That teaches us that true belief is a labour of the heart, and just bearing witness to a miracle of the Son of God is not enough.

Saint John the Theologian

The only evangelist who tells us about Lazarus’s return to life is Saint John the Theologian. But why is the raising of Lazarus narrated only in John? Possibly, John wishes to draw our attention to Christ’s divinity and also to His humanity. As God, Christ breaks the laws of nature, but He also sheds tears over Lazarus’ death, as a grieving human. John wants all of us to identify with Lazarus as Christ’s friend and look into our inner world, corruptible by sin and spiritual death. With his narration, he assures us the Lord will come to rescue us from death and corruption as he did his friend Lazarus. He will raise the dead from sin.

So what ultimate lesson can the resurrection of Lazarus teach us?

What is the significance of raising Lazarus back to life? Christ’s friend Lazarus rests within us, dead and vanquished. But Christ, Who is the Resurrection and Life, will come to raise his dead friend again. Let there be hope, light and joy in our hearts at this coming resurrection.

Here at Saint Elisabeth Convent, we will celebrate Lazarus Saturday with an all-night vigil at our Church of Saint Lazarus of Four Days at the Northern Cemetery. This year, Father Andrey Lemeshonok turns 67 on Lazarus Sunday. He has made a profound and positive impact on many of our lives as our beloved confessor and kind spiritual father. Grant, O Lord, a prosperous and peaceful life, health, salvation, and furtherance in all good things to Your servant Archpriest Andrey, and preserve him for many years!

You can request that we pray for your friends or family, living or deceased, at our festal liturgy by sending us a prayer note.

* You can also commission an icon of the feast and browse our other offerings by clicking on this link.


April 06, 2023
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