Today is the feast day of Lazarus of Bethany brother of Martha of Bethany (see 29 July 2013) whose tale I recounted on this date last year. The story of the raising of Lazarus from the dead is the longest narrative in the gospel of John outside of the passion narrative. It represents the culmination of Jesus’ ministry. Here it is in its entirety.
Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. (This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.) So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.”
When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days, and then he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.”
“But Rabbi,” they said, “a short while ago the Jews there tried to stone you, and yet you are going back?”
Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Anyone who walks in the daytime will not stumble, for they see by this world’s light. It is when a person walks at night that they stumble, for they have no light.”
After he had said this, he went on to tell them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.”
His disciples replied, “Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.” Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep.
So then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”
Then Thomas (also known as Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. Now Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.
“Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”
Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
Jesus said to her, “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. Do you believe this?”
“Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”
After she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. “The Teacher is here,” she said, “and is asking for you.” When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there.
When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. “Where have you laid him?” he asked.
“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.
Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”
But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”
Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. “Take away the stone,” he said.
“But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”
Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”
So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”
When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.
Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”
This narrative is very commonly depicted in art of all eras:
The reputed first tomb of Lazarus at al-Eizariya in the West Bank (generally believed to be the biblical Bethany) continues to be a place of pilgrimage to this day. Several Christian churches have existed at the site over the centuries. Since the 16th century, the site of the tomb has been occupied by the al-Uzair Mosque. The adjacent Roman Catholic Church of Saint Lazarus, designed by Antonio Barluzzi and built between 1952 and 1955 under the auspices of the Franciscan Order, stands upon the site of several much older ones. In 1965, a Greek Orthodox church was built just west of the tomb.
The entrance to the tomb today is via a flight of uneven rock-cut steps from the street. As it was described in 1896, there were twenty-four steps from the then-modern street level, leading to a square chamber serving as a place of prayer, from which more steps led to a lower chamber traditionally believed to be the tomb of Lazarus.
While there is no further mention of Lazarus in the Bible, the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic traditions offer varying accounts of the later events of his life. He is most commonly associated with Cyprus, where he is said to have become the first bishop of Kition (Larnaka), and Provence, where he is said to have been the first bishop of Marseille.
According to Eastern Orthodox Church tradition, some time after the Resurrection of Jesus, Lazarus was forced to flee Judea because of rumored plots on his life and went to Cyprus. There he was appointed by Paul and Barnabas as the first bishop of Kition. He lived there for thirty more years, and on his death was buried there for the second and last time. There is also a legend that his bishop’s omophorion was presented to Lazarus by the Virgin Mary, who had woven it herself.
According to tradition, Lazarus never smiled during the thirty years after his resurrection, worried by the sight of unredeemed souls he had seen during his four-day stay in Hell. The only exception was, when he saw someone stealing a pot, he smilingly said: “the clay steals the clay” (reference to Adam being made of clay).
In 890, a tomb was found in Larnaca bearing the inscription “Lazarus the friend of Christ.” Emperor Leo VI of Byzantium had the remains from the tomb transferred to Constantinople in 898. The transfer was apostrophized by Arethas, bishop of Caesarea, and is commemorated by the Orthodox Church each year on October 17. In recompense to Larnaca, Emperor Leo had the Church of St. Lazarus, which still exists today, erected over Lazarus’ tomb. The marble sarcophagus can be seen inside the church under the Holy of Holies.
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), where it is kept today.
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 considered as part of the saint’s relics.
In the West, according to an alternative medieval tradition (centered in Provence), Lazarus, Mary, and Martha, were “put out to sea by the Jews hostile to Christianity in a vessel without sails, oars, or helm, and after a miraculous voyage landed in Provence at a place called today the Saintes-Maries.” The family is then said to have separated and gone into different parts of southeastern Gaul to preach; Lazarus going to Marseilles. He became first bishop of Marseilles and converted many people to Christianity there, he becomes the first Bishop of Marseille. According to tradition, during the persecution of Domitian, Lazarus was imprisoned and beheaded in a cave beneath the prison Saint-Lazare. His body was later translated to Autun, where it is buried in the Autun Cathedral, dedicated to Lazarus as Saint Lazare. However, the inhabitants of Marseilles claim to be in possession of his head which they still venerate.
In referring to John’s account of the resurrection of Lazarus, the name Lazarus is often used to connote apparent restoration to life. For example, the scientific term “Lazarus taxon” denotes organisms that reappear in the fossil record after a period of apparent extinction; and the Lazarus phenomenon refers to an event in which a person spontaneously returns to life (the heart starts beating again) after resuscitation has been given up. There are also numerous literary uses of the term.
Here is a favorite dish of mine from Cyprus in the Greek tradition. I enjoy stuffed peppers in many manifestations. In fact when I first began cooking as a student, this was one of my regular dishes to make for dinner parties. Other common fillings I like are spicy beef and rice, or chicken with feta cheese. Always – cook’s choice.
Red Peppers Stuffed with Couscous
1 generous handful couscous
1 small handful of fresh or frozen peas
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp paprika
4 shallots, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed and chopped
6 cherry tomatoes
2 red peppers
salt and pepper to taste
Place the couscous in a bowl and add enough boiling water to cover plus about an inch.
Boil the peas for about 3 to 4 minutes in salted water, drain and set aside.
Heat a little olive oil on medium-low in a heavy sauté pan and then add the spices. Heat for about a minute then add the shallots, garlic and tomatoes. Sauté gently until the shallots have softened and are translucent. Do not let them brown
Spread a little of the couscous into a shallow oven-proof dish.
Cut the peppers in half top to bottom preserving the stalks. Cut out the seeds and any white pith being careful not to puncture the peppers, then place them in the dish bedded into the couscous.
Mix the shallot/tomato mixture with the remaining couscous and the drained peas, and then spoon it into the empty peppers.
Place in a pre-heated oven and bake at 350°F/180°C for about 20 minutes.
Serves 4 as an appetizer