Archbishop Paul (Pavlov) on Lazarus Saturday
In the Name of the Father and Son and Holy Spirit
The Raising of Lazarus preceded the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. One of the great saints of the Russian Orthodox Church from the 19th century, Bishop Innokenty of Kherson, said that this feast day can be referred to as the holiday of friendship. The Lord Jesus Christ, having heard that His friend Lazarus did, said "Lazarus, our friend, has died,” and hastened to Bethany, despite the danger to His life, for as you know, the Jews had conspired to kill Him.
When the disciples of Christ heard that Lazarus died, and that the Lord was going to Bethany, they said: “Let us, too, go and die with him,” that is, with Lazarus. Only the most fervent love could have inspired such words. Only those to whom we nurture special love can we share everything, even death; and the disciples of Christ, loving Lazarus and learning that he died, wished to go die with him.
And what of Lazarus’ sisters, Martha and Mary? Undoubtedly, their souls and hearts were buried together with their brother and friend. Even the Pharisees, setting aside their hypocrisy and wicked intentions, came to Bethany, which is not far from Jerusalem, in order to console the sisters. The Lord Himself wept at the tomb of Lazarus, dear brothers and sisters, but not from despair or sorrow, for He was soon to say “Arise, Lazarus!” He knew that Lazarus would rise from the dead, but He wept out of love and friendship, for it is difficult to behold a beloved friend in the tomb, his flesh decaying. Even the Jews saw Him weep and exclaimed “How He loved him!”
This is a holiday of true friendship. We see the attitude of the Lord Himself to His friends. He loves all, with such love that He weeps, but not only for Lazarus but for all whom He loves. Lazarus is simply an example of God’s love for us. Jesus did not weep on His Cross, but over Lazarus.
But does the love of the Lord preclude His people from temptation? We see the words of Apostle Paul illustrated in the example of Lazarus and his sisters; that the Lord punishes those whom He loves. The family of Lazarus, Martha and Mary, so dear to the Lord, always welcomed Him. He always paid due attention to them, and they relied upon Him in everything. When Lazarus fell ill, his sisters immediately informed the Lord that His friend was sick, knowing surely that He would come and heal him. This was a pious, righteous family, the Lord’s closest friends. But what a temptation was this to see Lazarus succumb to death? The Lord could certainly have prevented it, but did not do so. He could have miraculously healed Lazarus by appearing instantly in Bethany, even two or three days afterwards, but He only arrived on the fourth day. Why? In order to make Lazarus and his sisters an example of the great glory of God, the work of the salvation of all humanity. The Son of God was glorified in this deed. He cherishes His friends, granting them His mercies constantly, but not always giving them joy and feeding them comfort, like a loving mother who spoil their children. No, the Lord is supremely wise and cannot do this. He wishes not pleasures but true benefit to those who love Him. In order to be perfected in faith, love, humility and dedication to Him, He sends us temptations that even sinners do not experience.
For instance, who among sinners was instructed by the Lord to sacrifice his son? But He did demand this of Abraham. Were not all His disciples beloved by Him? But they all ended their days in suffering, some from the sword, others from the cross, others being stoned to death. This was not only out of their love for the Lord, but from His love for them. For as the Omnipotent God, He could have taken away this temptation for failure from them, but instead He allowed all this to befall them. For enduring it all, however, they attained great heights in the Kingdom of God, receiving crowns of glory, for nothing elevates the spirit to God like enduring sorrows and troubles.
Let us not despair when we see pious Christians fail in life, enduring attacks, false rumors, sickness or suffering. Let us be horrified, however, when we see a sinner who enjoys success in life. For this means that he will not tend to his spiritual life. Let us not grieve when we face sorrow despite out own righteousness, but as true servants of the Lord, let us instead rise in spirit in the knowledge that He views us not as children incapable of enduring temptation, but as adults who can faithfully make the sacrifice of love. Let us then firmly entrench in our minds that earthly failures and sorrows, no matter how great, must be properly endured through devotion to God, and they will never bring us true harm, but will bring instead benefit to our souls. Amen.