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The Raising of Lazarus

The righteous saint Lazarus, also Lazarus the Four Days Dead,[note 1] or Lazarus of Bethany (latinized from the Hebrew: אלעזר, Elʿāzār, Eleazar - "God is my help"[1]) was a friend and one of the first disciples of Jesus Christ, and the first Bishop of Kition in Cyprus.[note 2] He was resuscitated by Jesus Christ shortly before His triumphal entry into the city of Jerusalem.[2][3][4][5][note 3][note 4]

The Church commemorates his feast on Lazarus Saturday,[6] which together with Palm Sunday, hold a unique position in the church year as days of joy and triumph between the penitence of Great Lent and the mourning of Holy Week.[7]

Lazarus is also commemorated on the fixed feast day of March 17,[8][note 5] while the translation of his relics from Cyprus to Constantinople in the year 898 AD[9] is commemorated on October 17.[10][11][note 6]

The Lazarene Miracle

According to the Gospel of John, Lazarus lived in the town of Bethany (approximately two miles outside of Jerusalem in the present day West Bank) with his two sisters, Mary and Martha. On His way to Jerusalem before the Passover, the sisters had sent word to Jesus and His Apostles that Lazarus was ill. The Lord tarried where He was, later perceiving Lazarus' death. When He arrived, Lazarus had already been in his tomb for four days. When Martha reproached Our Lord for not arriving sooner, Christ assured her that Lazarus would rise. Martha mistook this for the universal resurrection on Judgment Day, to which He replied, "I am the resurrection and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live. And whosoever believeth in me shall never die" (John 11:25-26, KJV).

In the presence of the mourners, the Lord ordered the stone rolled away from Lazarus' tomb and bade him to come forth. Lazarus did so, still in his grave wrappings. Jesus then called for the crowd to remove the wrappings and free him. St. John goes on to explain that even more Jews were convinced of Jesus' divinity. This event struck fear into the hearts of the Jewish leaders, so much so that they even considered putting Lazarus to death (John 12:9-11). The religious hierarchy of the Jews at this time was dominated by Sadducees, who denied the resurrection. The Raising of Lazarus represents a testimony to the resurrection - both Christ's and the universal resurrection, as well as Our Lord as victor over death.

According to the V. Rev. Fr. Thomas Hopko, the Lazarene Miracle is the "climactic high point" of St. John's Gospel and the proof of Christ's divinity. It is also the act which serves as the catalyst of the events leading to Our Lord's arrest and Passion.[12]

Later Life

Bishop of Kition

According to Scripture and the tradition of the Cypriot church, Lazarus was compelled to seek refuge away from Jerusalem to avoid the anger of the high priests and the pharisees, who wanted to kill him, ...the chief priests consulted that they might put Lazarus also to death; because that by reason of him many of the Jews went away, and believed in Jesus (John 12:10-11). Many Christians too ... were scattered abroad upon the persecution that arose about. Stephen travelled as far as Phoenicia, and Cyprus, and Antioch ...; just like Stephen, Lazarus would have had to leave Judea to seek refuge in another country. This location was Kition in Cyprus.

When Apostle Paul and Apostle Barnabas travelled to Cyprus, they ordained Lazarus as the first Bishop of Kition. This is why all episcopal thrones in Larnaca have the icon of St. Lazarus instead of Christ, which is the standard custom of the church.

Another famous tradition related to Lazarus is the discovery of Mount Athos in 52 AD by the Theotokos. Lazarus was very close to the Virgin Mary and he was very grieved that he could not return to Jerusalem to visit her (he was still in fear of the Jews). The Theotokos learned of his sorrow and sent him a letter to comfort him. She asked that he might send a ship to her that she might visit him in Cyprus. With great joy, Lazarus sent a ship to the Holy Land to bring the Virgin Mary and John, the beloved disciple to Cyprus for a visit. However on their journey, a great storm blew them off course and carried them to the shores of Ephesus and then the ship to the shores of Athos, Greece. Unaware that divine providence had brought her to this area, the Virgin Mary completely taken by the beauty of the area, prayed to her son that this could be her garden devoted to prayer to "fight the good fight of faith". Having converted, blessed and established a new Christian community from the local idolaters they set sail for Cyprus and met with Lazarus.

Tomb of Saint Lazarus in Bethany.

Further establishing the apostolic nature of Lazarus' appointment, was the tradition that the bishop's omophorion and epimanikia were presented to Lazarus by the Virgin Mary, who had woven it herself.[note 7]

Little more is known about Lazarus after Our Lord's Resurrection and Ascension, except that during his thirty years after his resuscitation, he never smiled or joked except on one occasion, recorded in the Synaxarion. One day, he saw someone stealing a clay pot and he smiled saying, "the clay steals the clay".[6][13]

The first tomb of Lazarus in Bethany remains as a site for pilgrims to this very day.

The second tomb on the island of Cyprus, was found in Kition sometime in 890 AD, with his relics inside, and bearing the inscription: "Lazarus, the Friend of Christ."

Church of Saint Lazarus in Larnaca and Relics

After St. Lazarus' tomb was found in Larnaca in 890 AD, Emperor Leo VI of Byzantium had Lazarus' remains transferred to Constantinople in 898. The transfer was apostrophized by Arethas, Bishop of Caesarea (Caesarea Palestinae), and is commemorated by the Orthodox Church each year on October 17.

In recompense to Larnaca, Emperor Leo had the Church of St. Lazarus erected over Lazarus' tomb, which still exists today. The marble sarcophagus can be seen inside the church under the Holy of Holies.

St Lazarus' relics are translated to Moscow from Cyprus (June 11, 2012).

After the sacking of Constantinople by the Franks during the Fourth Crusade in 1204, the Crusaders carried the saint's relics to Marseilles, France as part of the booty of war. From there, "later on, they disappeared and up to the present day they have not been traced."[13]

In the 16th century, a Russian monk from the Monastery of Pskov visited St. Lazarus’s tomb in Larnaca and took with him a small piece of the relics. Perhaps that piece led to the erection of the St. Lazarus chapel at the Pskov Monastery (Spaso-Eleazar Monastery, Pskov),[note 8] where it is kept today.[14]

On November 23, 1972, human remains in a marble sarcophagus were discovered under the altar, during renovation works in the church of Church of St. Lazarus at Larnaka, and were identified as part of the saint's relics.[15][note 9]

In June 2012 the Church of Cyprus gave a part of the holy relics of St. Lazarus to a delegation of the Russian Orthodox Church, led by Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia, after a four-day visit to Cyprus. The relics were translated to Moscow on June 11, 2012, and were given to Archbishop Arseniy of Istra, who took them to the Zachatievsky monastery (Conception Convent), where they were put up for veneration.[16]

Local Traditions

Though not as widespread as they used to be, "Lazarine Carols" are still sung in certain parts of Greece as a cherished tradition. On the day before Lazarus Saturday, children would go out into the fields to gather flowers to decorate their baskets and go out singing carols. In some cases they will also have prepared special outfits. In return for singing the Lazarine Carols, the children would receive gifts in the form of eggs, money or other foods.[17][note 10]

See Also



  1. (Greek)
    Ὁ Ἅγιος Λάζαρος ο Τετραήμερος, Επίσκοπος Κιτίου Κύπρου.
  2. Kition (Ancient Greek: Κίτιον), also known by its Latin name Citium, was a city-kingdom on the southern coast of Cyprus (in present-day Larnaca). It was established in the 13th century BC. On this basis, the whole island became known as "Kittim" in Hebrew, including the Hebrew Bible. The expression "isles of Kittim", found in the Book of Jeremiah 2:10 and Ezekiel 27:6, indicates that, some centuries prior to Josephus, this designation had already become a general descriptor for the Mediterranean islands.
  3. The Greek and Russian usages are as follows:
    • (Greek)
    Έγερση του Λαζάρου ( "egersis" ), raising of Lazarus;
    • (Russian)
    воскрешения Лазарь ( "voskreshenie" ), resuscitation of Lazarus.
  4. "While St. Lazarus, like Christ, experienced the fullness of death and a descent into Hades, the word in English employed by discerning Eastern and Oriental Orthodox scholars and theologians is ‘resuscitated’ when applied to St. Lazarus’ return and rising from death. True, as a pre-figurer of Christ Jesus’ Resurrection, St. Lazarus was raised from death; but unlike Our Lord, St. Lazarus was not glorified as Christ was in His humanity, and therefore a distinction must be made between the singularity of Christ’s raising and that of St. Lazarus’ raising. Our Lord rose as the New Adam and a Life-giving Spirit (1 Cor 15:44-45). Instead, St. Lazarus arose still as a participant in the Old Adam, having a body subject to death (cf. Rm 7:24), and hence he later died and was buried. (Nor was St. Lazarus’ first or second passing in death singular as the holy Dormition of the Theotokos). Thus in English religion scholars and theologians employ the word ‘resuscitation’ in reference to St. Lazarus."
    • Monk Pierre (Blais), ThD, elder, Hesychastic Society of the Most Holy Mary.
    "The Church does not shout, "Christ rose from the dead! Fact! Fact! Fact!" It shouts, "Christ is risen from the dead! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!" Lazarus was raised from the dead. Christ is risen from the dead. The difference is everything. Our hope is not in being resuscitated to our present form, but a true transformation into the life of resurrection."
    • Archpriest Stephen Freeman. The Strange Case of Lazarus. PRAVMIR.COM (Orthodox Christianity and the World). 12 April, 2014. Retrieved: 23 March, 2015.
    "Often, the word "resuscitation" is used in commentaries to make the distinction between those who will "die again" and resurrection which ends death, "trampling down death by death." "
  5. In the Synaxarion of Constantinople and in the Lavreotic Codex, reference is made to the "Raising of Lazarus" - the Holy and Just Lazarus, the friend of Christ. This is also confirmed in the entry for October 17 in the Prologue from Ohrid , which mentions that: "Lazarus's principle feasts are on March 17 and Lazarus Saturday during Great Lent."
  6. "...Under today's date is commemorated the translation of his relics from the island of Cyprus to Constantinople. This occurred when Emperor Leo the Wise built the Church of St. Lazarus in Constantinople, and translated Lazarus's relics there in the year 890. When, after almost a thousand years, Lazarus's grave in the town of Kition on Cyprus was unearthed, a marble tablet was found with the inscription: "Lazarus of the Four Days, the friend of Christ.""
  7. Such apostolic connections were central to the claims to autocephaly made by the bishops of Kition — subject to the Patriarch of Jerusalem — during the period 325–431.
  8. (Russian) Спасо-Елеазаровский монастырь. Russian Wikipedia.
  9. In 1970 a fire that broke out in Church of St. Lazarus at Larnaka destroyed almost all of the internal furnishings of the church. Subsequent archaeological excavations and renovations led to the discovery of a portion of the saint's relics.
  10. "...More important is the Raising of Lazarus, also on Palm Sunday. Children go from house to house with bunches of wildflowers and wreathed frames like our May-garlands, - and like the bronze frames and wreaths in the royal tomb at Alaga Huyuk in Asia Minor. They sing a long invocation of Lazarus and other saints. I have seen several versions, - the best from Melos - but all imperfect and corrupt. The children expect some reward for their singing, like the ancient Greek singers of the Eiresione ditty, and they carry a basket for the eggs and coppers which they collect."
    • John L. Myers. Easter in a Greek Village. Folklore, Vol. 61, No. 4 (Dec., 1950), pp. 203-208. p. 204.


  1. William Barclay. The Parables of Jesus. Westminster John Knox Press, 1999. pp. 92-98. ISBN 0-664-25828-X
  2. Fr. S. Janos (Transl.). The Transfer of the Relics of Righteous Lazarus of the Four-Days, Bishop of Kiteia. Holy Trinity Russian Orthodox Church (A parish of the Patriarchate of Moscow).
  3. The Shepherd, 5 May 2008. St. Edward the Martyr Orthodox Brotherhood.
  4. Alfredo Tradigo. Icons and Saints of the Eastern Orthodox Church. Getty Publications, 2006. p. 128.
  5. Fr. Moses Samaan. On the Resurrection of Lazarus. Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria: Diocese of Los Angeles.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Great Synaxaristes: (Greek) Ἀνάστασις τοῦ Λαζάρου. ΜΕΓΑΣ ΣΥΝΑΞΑΡΙΣΤΗΣ.
  7. Archimandrite Kallistos Ware and Mother Mary, (Transl.). The Lenten Triodion. St. Tikhon's Seminary Press, South Canaan, Pennsylvania, 2002. p. 57. ISBN 1-878997-51-3
  8. Great Synaxaristes: (Greek) Ὁ Ἅγιος Λάζαρος ὁ Δίκαιος, ὁ φίλος τοῦ Χριστοῦ. 17 Μαρτίου. ΜΕΓΑΣ ΣΥΝΑΞΑΡΙΣΤΗΣ.
  9. Translation of the relics of St Lazarus “of the Four Days in the Tomb” the Bishop of Kiteia on Cyprus. OCA - Lives of the Saints. Retrieved: 2013-04-17.
  10. Great Synaxaristes: (Greek) Ἀνακομιδὴ καὶ Κατάθεσις τοῦ Λειψάνου τοῦ Ἁγίου καὶ Δικαίου Λαζάρου. 17 Οκτωβρίου. ΜΕΓΑΣ ΣΥΝΑΞΑΡΙΣΤΗΣ.
  11. Bishop Nikolai Velimirovic. October 17 - The Prologue from Ohrid. (Serbian Orthodox Church Diocese of Western America). Retrieved 2013-04-15.
  12. Lazarus Saturday. Speaking the Truth in Love Podcast by Fr. Thomas Hopko. Ancient Faith Radio. 18 April 2008.
  13. 13.0 13.1 Michaelides, M.G. "Saint Lazarus, The Friend Of Christ And First Bishop Of Kition." Larnaca, Cyprus, 1984.
    Reprinted by Fr. Demetrios Serfes (Comp.): "St. Lazarus The Friend Of Christ And First Bishop Of Kition, Cyprus."
  14. St. Lazarus Church & Ecclesiastical Museum, Larnaca. Cyprus Tourism Organisation. p. 4. Retrieved: 2013-04-17.
  15. St. Lazarus Church & Ecclesiastical Museum, Larnaca. Cyprus Tourism Organisation. p. 14. Retrieved: 2013-04-17.
  17. John Sanidopoulos. Greek Traditions for the Saturday of Lazarus. Mystagogy. April 16, 2011. Retrieved: March 31, 2015.