Written by Marisa Hazakis
Saturday of Lazarus celebrates the miracle of Jesus Christ when he raised Lazarus from the dead. Here’s what you need to know:
The Saturday before Holy Week begins, the Orthodox church celebrates the miracle of Christ raising Lazarus from the dead, after he had lain in the grave for four days. The feast occurs at the end of the 40 days of lent and is combined with the celebration of Palm Sunday.
Biblical Story of Lazarus (Gospel of John 11:1-45)
Lazarus lived in Bethany with his sisters Mary and Martha. When he fell ill, his sisters sent a message to Jesus stating, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” To which He replied, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it” (vv. 1-4). Jesus waited two days before he travelled to Bethany. He told His disciples that Lazarus had fallen asleep and He was going to wake Him. His disciples expressed concern, since Bethany was close to Jerusalem and the Jews there had recently tried to stone Him. Reassuringly Jesus replied, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them” (vv. 5-10).
When He arrived, Lazarus had been in the tomb for four days. Many Jews had come to console Martha and Mary, so when Martha heard that Jesus was approaching she went to meet Him and told Him that if He had been there, her brother would not have died. Jesus told her that her brother would rise again. He said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” (vv. 17-27). Martha was sent to fetch Mary to meet Jesus.
Mary was in tears when she arrived, as were those who were consoling her. Jesus was moved by the weeping mourners and asked to be taken to the tomb of Lazarus. At the tomb, Jesus also wept for Lazarus and asked for the stone that covered the door be taken away. Jesus looked toward heaven and said “Father, I thank you for having heard me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me” (vv. 38-44). When He said this, he commanded Lazarus to come out and Lazarus walked out of the tomb.
Many Jews who were present to witness this miracle, believed in Jesus. Others went and told the Pharisees what Jesus had done, who, along with chief priests, later considered how they might arrest Him and put Him to death. This miracle is a reassurance to Jesus’ disciples that though He suffers and dies, He is Lord and Victor over death. Sometimes called “first Easter”, the resurrection of Lazarus foreshadows Christ’s own resurrection eight days later.
Icon of the Feast
The icon of the Saturday of Lazarus shows Christ calling Lazarus, who is still bound by strips of burial cloth, to come out of the tomb. Mary and Martha are shown to be bowing before Christ expressing both their sorrow for the death of their brother and their faith in Christ as the Messiah. Standing with Christ are His disciples and witnesses to the miracle, that would later bring them assurance during the Passion of our Lord. A crowd of witnesses are depicted in the centre, some of whom believed, while others told the Pharisees what had happened. In the background we see the walls of Jerusalem, where Christ will be welcomed the following day.
Lazarakia (Little Lazarus Buns)
One common tradition throughout Greece, to celebrate the miracle of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, is the baking of Lazarakia. These are small, sweet and spiced bread, made only once a year. They are shaped like a man wrapped in burial clothes, just as Lazarus was, with cloves for eyes. They are also Nistisima (Lenten), so they do not contain and dairy or egg products, instead olive oil is used to achieve a glossy effect.
Find the recipe here.
Church of Saint Lazarus, Larnaca
Saturday of Lazarus is particularly significant in Cyprus. After Christ raised him from the dead, Lazarus received threats on his life, so he was forced to flee to Cyprus. In 45 AD, Apostles Paul and Barnabas came to Cyprus and consecrated him as the first bishop of Kition (modern-day Larnaca). Around 63 AD, he died for the second time and was buried at the Church of Saint Lazarus in Larnaca, where his relics remain to this day. On this day, young boys in Cyprus go from house to house singing songs about Lazarus’ resurrection. They are rewarded with uncooked eggs that are boiled and dyed on Holy Thursday in preparation for Anastasi (Resurrection).
- “Greek Orthodox Lazarus Saturday Religious Service Overview.” Greek Boston, 7 Mar. 2004, www.greekboston.com/religion/lazarus-saturday/.
- “HISTORY | Agios Lazaros.” Holy Church of Saint Lazarus, en.agioslazaros.org.cy/history/. Accessed 11 Apr. 2020.
- “Lazarus Saturday.” Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, www.goarch.org/lazarus. Accessed 11 Apr. 2020.
- Petrezikis, Akis. “Little Lazarus Buns.” Άκης Πετρετζίκης, akispetretzikis.com/categories/pswmia-zymes/lazarakia. Accessed 11 Apr. 2020.
- Rouvelas, Marilyn, and George Papaioannou. A Guide to Greek Traditions and Customs in America. Nea Attiki Press, 2002.