Happy St. Lazarus Day

Happy St. Lazarus Day

28 March 2015

The Western tradition celebrates the feast of St. Lazarus of Bethany on Dec. 17. However, the Orthodox Church celebrates this feast in accordance with the assertion in John 12:1 that "six days before the Passover [Jesus] came to Bethany where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead." The Saturday before Palm Sunday thus becomes a feast that celebrates Christ's resurrection of Lazarus from the dead as a prefiguration of Christ's final triumph over death in the Resurrection. And for those of you who've given up liquor (or anything else) for Lent, the Feast of Lazarus, like Sundays, is exempt from the Lenten Fast, which mean you can sip a beer while watching the Elite Eight. Go Gonzaga!

Christ Raising Lazarus
Christ Raising Lazarus

According to Orthodox legend, after Christ's death, Lazarus fled to Larnaca, in Cyprus, a city built on the ancient city-kingdom of Kition, which dated back to the 13th century BCE. He did so in order to avoid the high priests and the Pharisees, who "consulted that they might put Lazarus also to death; because that by reason of him many of the Jews went away, and believed on Jesus" (John 12:1011).

Relics of St. Lazarus, Larnaca, Cyprus
Relics of St. Lazarus, Larnaca, Cyprus

Lazarus was ordained Bishop of Kition by the Apostles Paul and Barnabas on their missionary journey to Cyprus, and that is why the episcopal thrones in the churches of Larnaca bear the icon of St. Lazarus instead of that of Christ, as is customary in the Orthodox Church. Tradition also maintains that Lazarus sent a ship to the Holy Land in order to bring the Virgin Mary and St. John the Apostle to Cyprus. But a storm at sea drove them to Mt. Athos in Greece, where the Virgin was apparently forced to make an emergency stopover in order to convert idolators before she sailed back to Kition to bless the local church and present Lazarus with a bishop's pallium woven by her own hands.

According to legend, Lazarus' four-day stay in the other world gifted him with special powers, especially that of second sight. It followed that he never smiled, except once, when he saw someone stealing a pot and said, "The clay steals clay."

According to another story, the salt lakes outside Larnaca were once an immense vineyard. One day the Saint chanced to pass by, and asked the owner for some grapes. When the owner refused, claiming the baskets of grapes the Saint saw were in fact baskets of salt, the Saint punished him by turning his vineyard into a salt lake.

The Tomb of St.Lazarus, Larnaca, Cyprus
The Tomb of St.Lazarus, Larnaca, Cyprus

Perhaps because of the pallium's good offices, Lazarus lived for thirty years in Larnaca, and a magnificent church was erected on his tomb by Leo the Wise, Emperor of Byzantium, who discovered the saint's relics in a marble sarcophagus inscribed "FILIOU (friend of) JESUS." Although the Saint's relics were transferred to Constantinople in exchange for the money to build the current Church, you can still see the sarcophagus and its inscription, as well as children wearing poppies and wild daisies going round the houses of the parish singing songs about the "son of Lazarus" on the Eve of Palm Sunday.

© - Erica Obey
Photos © - George Baird