Friday of the sixth week of Great Lent marks the end of the 40 days of preparatory lent, during which the Church taught us about repentance, inner prayer, the bearing of one’s cross, ascending the ladder of virtues; taught us to supplicate the Mother of God, in order to obtain the most powerful aid in the matter of penitence; and finally, as the supreme example of its teaching, the Church offered us the image of Saint Mary of Egypt, a great sinner, who, by means of penitence, fasting and obedience to the Holy Virgin, attained the angelic state in which man was originally created.
Now the Church turns to a direct commemoration of the historic events of almost 2,000 years ago, which were instrumental in achieving the salvation of mankind. The Jewish feast of Passover was approaching, and with it the last days of the Lord Jesus Christ’s life on earth. The rage of the Pharisees and the Jewish elders against Christ was extreme, and they waited for an opportune moment to seize the Lord and put Him to death.
Already at the start of the sixth week of Lent, church hymns begin to mention the illness of Lazarus, brother of Martha and Mary, from the town of Bethany. The Lord loved this pious family and often visited it. But Christ was not in Judea at this time, and the sisters sent word to Him of Lazarus’s illness. Then the Lord said to His disciples: “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby.” The Lord then deliberately stayed in place for two more days and finally said to His disciples: “Let us go into Judea. Our friend Lazarus sleeps, but I go to awake him.” Jesus Christ was telling them about Lazarus’s death, but the disciples thought that He was talking about ordinary sleep, which is often beneficial during an illness, and so they said: “Lord, if he sleeps, he shall do well.” Then Jesus said to them plainly: “Lazarus is dead, and I am glad for your sake that I was not there, so that you may believe. However, let us go to him.”
In one of the holiday hymns the Lord is called “the conqueror of death.” There have been many conquerors in the history of mankind: talented physicians conquered illness, military leaders conquered huge armies; there are conquerors of space and conquerors of distance. But the world does not know any other “conqueror of death” except Jesus Christ. None of the most prominent men in the world have ever aspired to that title. He alone could do so – our Lord and Saviour. During His life on earth He showed His power in three cases: the resurrection of the daughter of Jairus, the resurrection of the son of the widow from Nain, and the resurrection of Lazarus.
The death of the daughter of Jairus was a very recent death. She died while Christ and her father were on their way to her. Even Christ called her death “sleep,” but everyone laughed at Him, knowing that she had died. But He sent everyone out and, taking her by the hand, said: “Maiden, arise!” And her spirit returned, and she arose.
In the case of the son of the widow from Nain death had taken a stronger hold: the deceased had already been placed on a bier and not only carried out of the house, but was already being carried out of the city gates for burial. The Lord stopped the procession, touched the bier and said: “Young man, I say unto thee – arise!” The dead youth sat up and began talking. And Jesus gave him back to his mother.
And now – Lazarus. Here the triumph of death was final and complete. Lazarus had already been dead for four days. There was weeping all around, but no one had absolutely any hope of resurrection. And when the Lord said to Martha, the sister of the deceased: “Thy brother shall rise again,” even she answered: “I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” And here the Lord spoke wondrous and remarkable words, which are a pledge of eternal life also for all of us, Orthodox Christians: “I am the resurrection and the life; he that believes in Me, even though he were dead, shall live again. And whosoever lives and believes in Me, shall never die.”
Then the Lord, seeing Martha and Mary weeping, and all the Jews who came with them also weeping, in His humanity felt grief Himself, and wept. Finally He said: “Take away the stone.” At this point even the deceased’s sister could not contain herself and said to Him: “Lord! He rots already, for he has been dead four days.” And so the stone was taken away from the cave where the dead man lay. And Christ cried out in a loud voice: “Lazarus! Come forth!” And the dead man came forth, bound hand and foot with graveclothes, and his face was bound about with a napkin. And Jesus said to them: “Loosen him, and let him go.”
Then many of the Jews who were there and had seen the incredible miracle came to believe in Jesus Christ. But others went to the Pharisees and told them of what Jesus had done. Christ’s enemies became worried, and fearing that the entire populace might come to believe in Christ, they convened a council and decided to kill Him. But news of the great miracle spread all over Jerusalem. Many Jews came to the house of Lazarus to see him, and having seen him, believed in Jesus Christ. Then the Jewish elders decided to kill Lazarus, too. But Lazarus lived for a long time after his resurrection, and later served as bishop on the island of Cyprus