Melkite Greek Catholic Church
 
THE SIXTH WEEK OF THE GREAT FAST has a two-fold designation in our liturgical books. First of all, it marks the end of this fasting season. We also fast during the Great and Holy Week of the Lord’s Passion, but that observance is not part of the Great Fast. The Great Fast has prepared us to celebrate the paschal mystery of Christ’s saving passion, death and resurrection by inviting us to refocus our lives on God in repentance. During the Holy Week, our fasting has a different character: it is a way of observing the sorrowful events of this week: the plotting against Christ, His betrayal, passion, death and burial.

Between the two fast periods we observe the double feast of Lazarus Saturday and Palm Sunday. This last week of the Great Fast is simultaneously a week of preparation for these feasts. In our liturgical books this week, then, is called the Week of Palms, looking forward to that celebration.

The hymns prescribed to be sung this week in Vespers, Orthros (Matins) and the Presanctified Liturgy reflect both of these themes. On one hand the services include chants focused on the end of the Great Fast such as the final sticheron sung this coming Friday: “Count us worthy of beholding the week of Your Passion, O Lover of Mankind, for we have completed the forty days of the Fast for the profit of our souls. Let us glorify Your mighty deeds, Your ineffable dispensation for our sake, singing with one mind: ‘O Lord, glory to You!’”

Other chants reflect the coming feast, recalling Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem. At Orthros on Monday, for example, we sing: “O faithful, let us prepare to celebrate Palm Sunday, joyfully observing the forefeast from this present day onwards, so that we may be counted worthy to see the life-giving Passion.”

The Death of Lazarus

Even more of this week’s hymnody recalls the raising of Lazarus, whom the Gospel describes as having died four days before Christ raised him.

About one-and-a-half miles east of Jerusalem lay the village of Bethany (today’s al-‘Azariya), the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. St. John’s Gospel tells us in detail how Jesus was informed that Lazarus was sick. “This sickness is not unto death,” He answered, “but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it” (John 11:4). By the time Jesus arrived in Bethany Lazarus was already dead for four days.

The dramatic story of the raising of Lazarus from the grave is celebrated in Byzantine Churches on the first day of the Great Week of Christ’s passion, Lazarus Saturday. A day of Resurrection, we observe it as a Sunday with the appropriate Resurrectional prayers and chants. The resuscitation of Lazarus was the Lord’s greatest miracle so far, but would be but a prelude to His own resurrection which we celebrate on Pascha.

The Gospel says that Jesus retuned to Bethany and, while they were at table, Mary anointed Him with costly ointment. When Judas questioned this act of extravagance, Jesus reproved him, “Let her alone; she has kept this for the day of my burial” (John 12:7). The next day, the Gospel tells us, Jesus entered Jerusalem to shouts of “Hosanna!”

The Church rearranges these events in its Great Week observance. It celebrates Christ’s entry into Jerusalem the day after Lazarus Saturday, stressing the connection of Christ’s exuberant reception in Jerusalem with the raising of Lazarus. It defers the memorial of the anointing to the Wednesday of Great Week, the day that we are anointed in preparation for sharing in Christ’s passion.

In the Gospel of John, the raising of Lazarus and Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem are connected. We read that Jesus called Lazarus from the tomb at some time before His final trip to Jerusalem (see John 12:1). Yet the same Gospel points out that: “…the people, who were with Him when He called Lazarus out of his tomb and raised him from the dead, bore witness. For this reason the people also met Him, because they heard that He had done this sign” (John 12:17-18).

Jesus’ return to Bethany sparks the triumphal reception which Jesus received to the excitement over the raising of Lazarus. Our liturgical hymns take up this connection: “The Lord comes, seated upon the colt of a donkey, as it is written. O peoples, make ready to receive Him in awe as the King of all, and to welcome Him with palms as Victor over Death and Hades; for He has raised Lazarus!”

Each day of this week brings us closer to the commemoration of Lazarus’ rising. Thus on Monday we pray: “The door of the forecourt is opened that leads to the raising of Lazarus: for Christ has come to awaken the dead man, as though from sleep, and to overthrow Death by Life.”

At Orthros on Tuesday we sing a similar hymn: “Be glad, Bethany! For Christ shall come to you, performing in you a great and awesome miracle. Binding death with fetters, as God He will raise up Lazarus, who was dead, and who now magnifies the Creator.” On Wednesday, four days before we celebrate Lazarus’ rising, we remember his death: “Lazarus, the friend of Christ, has died today: he is carried out for burial, and Martha’s companions lament in sorrow for her brother. But Christ comes to him in joy, to show the nations that He is Himself the Life of all.”

This hymn sung on Thursday adds another note for our consideration: “For two days Lazarus has been in the tomb and sees those dead from all generations. He beholds strange and awesome things and a countless multitude held within the powers of Death. Looking at his tomb, his relatives weep bitterly; but Christ is on His way to give life to His friend and to consummate His plan for all mankind. Blessed are You, O Savior: have mercy on us!”

The plan of God is not simply to revive Lazarus, but to deliver the human race – that “countless multitude” – from the power of Death.

Resuscitation, not Resurrection

Lazarus’ rising is an icon of both Christ’s resurrection at Pascha and ours at the Last Day. Lazarus, however, was not raised to eternal life at this time. Rather he was brought back to the life of this world. According to St. Epiphanios of Cyprus (367-403), he lived for another thirty years or so. The Gospel asserts that Lazarus was a wanted man; “The chief priests plotted to put Lazarus to death also, because on account of him many of the Jews went away and believed in Jesus” (John 12:10-11). He is said to have fled the wrath of Christ’s enemies for Cyprus where he helped Paul and Barnabas establish a church. Eventually he became Bishop of Kition (today’s Larnaka) and died as a martyr in ad 63.

“As we complete these forty days of profit to our souls, let us exclaim: ‘Rejoice, O Bethany, birthplace of Lazarus.’ And you, his sisters, Mary and Martha, rejoice as well! For tomorrow, Christ will come and give life to your dead brother by a word. Bitter and insatiable Death will hear His voice; and trembling with fear and groaning bitterly, it will release Lazarus still wrapped in his shroud. The Hebrews, astonished at this miracle, come to meet Him, carrying branches and palms. And the children will rejoice to see the One on whom their fathers look with hate. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, the King of Israel!
 
IF YOU HAVE EVER BEEN A PARTY to an important contract, such as a real estate transfer, whether you know it or not, you have entered into a covenant – a formal, solemn and binding agreement between parties concerning serious matters, such as borders, property, finances, or ways of life. A covenant establishes a bond between the parties – whether nations or individuals – which goes beyond the specifics agreed upon. A covenant implies a relationship of trust in other areas of life between the parties as well.

Covenants such as these are called bilateral, because they are between two equal parties – two nations, two companies or two individuals – who agree on the terms of their relationship. The Scriptures speak often of covenants between God and individuals, the people of Israel, or the entire human race. These covenants are not bilateral, but unilateral. They are not mutual agreements between equal parties, but unsought gifts of God to man. As Pope Benedict XVI described it, “The covenant then is not a pact built on reciprocity, but rather a gift, a creative act of God's love” ("The New Covenant: A Theology of Covenant in the New Testament").

It is God who determined the terms of the bond which He offers to the recipients of His covenants. This is not “unfair,” because what God offers is so far above and beyond what the other party can contribute. God gains nothing by making a covenant with man; man has everything to gain by keeping the terms which God has established.

The Covenant with Adam (Genesis 1:27-2:3) – The Jews understood creation itself to be a covenant with mankind. God’s part was to create our first ancestors in His image and likeness, and give them “dominion over … every living thing that moves on the earth” (v.28) with “every herb … and every tree …for food” (v.29), except for “the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden” (Genesis 3:3). Man’s part was to “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it” (Genesis 1:28): to replenish and cultivate, or put in order, the creation God had given.

The Genesis story concludes as follows: “Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made” (Genesis 2:3). The Jews considered keeping the Sabbath as the sign which would remind them of God’s covenant with Adam.

The Covenant with Noah (Genesis 9:9-15) –After the flood waters receded, God made another covenant with mankind through Noah, promising to keep creation from being destroyed: “Behold, I establish My covenant with you … never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” In addition to the herbs and fruit of the trees, God now provided that “Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you” (Genesis 9:3). But man was not to eat “flesh with its blood” (blood was the stuff of sacrifice – it was an offering for God, not for man to consume). Man’s part in the covenant was, again, to “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth” (Genesis 9:2).

Here, too, the covenant had a sign: God says, “I set My rainbow in the cloud, and it shall be for the sign of the covenant between Me and the earth. … and I will look on it to remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth” (Genesis 9:13-16). Unlike the covenant in Eden, this sign of the covenant was to remind God, rather than man, of what he had promised.

The Covenant with Abram – Gen 12 – The next covenant was with Noah’s descendant Abram, whose name God changed to Abraham. “Behold, My covenant is with you, and you shall be a father of many nations. … And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, Also, I give to you and your descendants … all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting possession” (Genesis 17:4-9).

While the earlier covenants were between God and all mankind through Adam and Noah, the covenant with Abram/Abraham was with him and his descendants. Their part was to observe the sign of the covenant, circumcision, which would identify them as being of Abram’s tribe, heirs of God’s promise. “This is My covenant which you shall keep, … Every male child among you shall be circumcised … My covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant” (Genesis 17:10, 11, 13).

The Covenant with Moses (Exodus 19:3-9) – The promise that Abraham’s descendants would inherit the land of Canaan was fulfilled through Moses. God promised, “Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, … you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ (Exodus 19:5)

The people’s part of the covenant was to keep the Ten Commandments and the other precepts God had given them. These precepts were written for posterity and animals were sacrificed to seal the covenant. Moses “…And Moses took the blood, sprinkled it on the people, and said, “This is the blood of the covenant which the Lord has made with you” (Exodus 24:7, 8).

The sign of this covenant was the observance of the three pilgrimage feasts: Pesach (Passover), Shavuot (Pentecost), and Sukkot (Booths): “Three times in the year all your men shall appear before the Lord, the Lord God of Israel” (Exodus 34:23).

The Covenant with David (2 Samuel 7:12-16) – When David was securely established as the Israelite king, he received this promise from God: “The Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house [descendants]. When your days are fulfilled, and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He it is who shall build a house for my name.” This offspring was Solomon, who erected the first temple in Jerusalem.

But then the promise continues and expands: “I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever” (verse 13), and “Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me” (verse 16). What began as a promise concerning Solomon, turns into something greater—the promise of an everlasting kingdom. Another Son of David would rule forever and build a lasting House.

This Covenant is unconditional because God does not place any conditions of obedience upon its fulfillment. The promise made rests solely on God’s faithfulness and does not depend at all on David or Israel’s obedience.

The New Covenant – In the Epistle to the Hebrews Jesus is called the “Mediator of the new covenant” (Hebrews 9:15). In this covenant, prophesied by Jeremiah (see Jeremiah 31:31), Jesus renews many aspects of the Old Covenants described above. As God rested on the seventh day from His work of creation, so Jesus rested on the “Great Sabbath,” from His work of redemption. Animal blood was not to be consumed in the days of Noah because it was an offering to God, but the “blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (Matthew 26:28) is to be consumed in the Eucharist. While Israel under Moses was to be “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation,’ all the baptized are “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people” (1 Peter 2:9). Gabriel told Mary at the Annunciation, that Jesus “will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:31). The New Covenant fulfills all the promises of the earlier Covenants.
 
AS THE GREAT FAST draws to a close, we are presented with the story of St Mary of Egypt. Her Life, by St Sophronios, Patriarch of Jerusalem, is read on the Thursday of Repentance, along with the Great Canon of St Andrew of Crete. On the fifth and last Sunday in the Great Fast, Mary herself is commemorated. The story of her early dissolute life, her remarkable conversion, and the asceticism which characterized the rest of her days made her the classic model of repentance in both East and West.

The second figure in St Sophronios’ Life stands in complete contrast to his principal subject. St Zossima (April 4) is described as a devout monk in an unnamed Palestinian monastery. While Mary lived a free-wheeling and undisciplined life before her conversion, Zossima had been raised in the monastery since his infancy. This practice was not uncommon before the modern age.

We are told in the Life that Zossima “… had been through the whole course of the ascetic life and in everything he adhered to the rule once given to him by his tutors concerning spiritual labors. He had even added much himself in his efforts to subject his flesh to the will of the spirit.” Thus, while Mary was indulging her every carnal desire, satisfying her “insatiable desires and irrepressible passions” (as she described it), Zossima was learning to subject his passions to the spirit.

The Life insists that “he had not failed in his aim. He was so renowned for his spiritual life that many came to him from neighboring monasteries and some even from afar.” Zossima, we are told, “never ceased studying the Divine Scriptures…. his sole aim being to sing of God and to practice the teaching of the Divine Scriptures.”

Zossima’s Dilemma

When Zossima, by then a hieromonk, had spent some 50 years in the monastery, he came to think that he had attained a certain level in the ascetic life beyond his fellows. He knew that he had not exhausted the spiritual life, but did not know where to go from here. “Is there a monk on earth who can be of use to me and show me a kind of asceticism that I have not accomplished? Is there any man to be found in the desert who has surpassed me?”

Was Zossima displaying pride? He was not self-satisfied with his achievements nor was he condescending to others less advanced than himself. He more resembled the young man whom Christ told to keep the Commandments and who replied, “I have kept all these things since my youth. What do I still lack?” (Matthew 19:20) Zossima wanted to deepen his spiritual life but was frustrated that he could not find a spiritual mentor who could help him progress. By way of response, an angel appeared to him and counseled him that there are always unknown struggles in the spiritual life greater that the challenges he had already faced. “That you may know how many other ways lead to salvation, leave your native land like the renowned patriarch Abraham and go to the monastery by the River Jordan.” There he would eventually encounter, not a monk or even another man, but a woman whose witness renewed his spiritual life as well as the lives of countless believers ever since. Zossima remained in his monastery and lived to be over 100. It would be his obedience to tell Mary’s story to the world.

Zossima was not told to imitate Mary’s radical asceticism but to recognize “how many other ways lead to salvation.” In this his story resembles that attributed to St Anthony the Great, who lived in solitude in Egypt. “It was revealed to Father Anthony in the desert that there was one who was his equal in the city. He was a doctor by profession and whatever he had beyond his needs he gave to the poor, and every day he sang the Trisagion with the angels.”

Ways Leading to Salvation Today

As the Great Fast draws to a close, we may feel that we have lived its call to prayer, fasting and almsgiving to the full. Yet there are in our midst others who, like St Mary of Egypt, call us by their example to examine the possibilities of stretching our spiritual muscles further than we imagine possible.

Los Angeles attorney Tony Tolbert recalls how there was always room in his family home for someone down on their luck. This memory prompted him to move back into his parents’ house and offer the use of his own fully furnished home for one year so a homeless family could regroup and move on with their lives. Felicia Dukes was living with three of her children in a single room at a family shelter, but her oldest son was over the age limit and could not stay with them. The family was reunited due to Tolbert’s stunning offer and could begin rebuilding their lives. “You don’t have to be Bill Gates or Warren Buffet or Oprah,” Tolbert said. “We can do it wherever we are, with whatever we have, and for me, I have a home that I can make available.”

When Palm Beach physician Richard Lewis died, friends and colleagues gathered at a local mortuary to pay their respects. They were astonished when the doors opened to admit a group of physically and mentally disabled people who came in to join them. Unknown to anyone – including his own twin brother – Dr Lewis had been supporting six group homes in the area caring for the disabled.

Swedish tourists Annis Lindkvist and her sister Emma were visiting Edinburgh, Scotland when a chance meeting changed their lives. Jimmy Fraser, unemployed and homeless after his marriage failed was begging in the street when the women asked him for directions. They struck up an acquaintance and, ultimately a friendship. The women obtained a passport for Fraser and paid for his flights so that he could join their family for Christmas. The women took him sightseeing and to a hockey match as well as to Midnight Mass. “People promise you things all the time on the street,” Fraser reflected, “but they never materialize … Being homeless is cold, lonely and depressing and you get a lot of abuse from people. This was an incredible act of kindness!” The women are arranging a similar visit for Easter. The extraordinary acts of these secular “Marys” bring to life the following words by the nineteenth century Russian saint, John of Kronstadt: “And God reveals His hidden saints so that some may emulate them and others have no excuse for not doing so. Provided they live a worthy life, both those who choose to dwell in the midst of noise and hubbub and those who dwell in monasteries, mountains and caves can achieve salvation. Solely because of their faith in Him, God bestows great blessings on them. Hence those who because of their laziness have failed to attain salvation will have no excuse to offer on the day of judgment.

“If you love your neighbor, then all of heaven will love you. If you are united in spirit with your fellow creatures, then you will be united with God and all the company of heaven; if you are merciful to your neighbor, then God an all the angels and saints will be merciful to you. If you pray for others then all of heaven will intercede for you. The Lord our God is holy; be holy yourself also.”
 
MEMBERS OF MANY RELIGIOUS GROUPS in the West have become concerned about the number of people divorcing themselves from the religions of their parents or grandparents. Some join other communities but most cease to identify with any religion at all. They identify themselves as “nones” – members of no religion. An growing number of these “nones” come from minimally observant families who may attend church from time to time but whose religion has little impact in their lives. Their congregations may encourage this kind of minimal observance by functioning more as social clubs than as true faith communities. Young people who are raised in such families and congregations are especially susceptible to the influences of the wider society, even when its values contradict traditional values drawn from the Scriptures. Modern life in the West is based on a radical individualism in which truth and morality are completely subjective. When people define truth as “what works for me,” they are not likely to submit themselves to any religious tradition. In this country most people, even the poor, have more at their disposal than the elite of other ages and cultures. We do not feel the need to look to God for “our daily bread” when we have four TVs in the house. In these circumstances people whose only idea of prayer is begging God to meet their needs find they no longer need to beg and, that therefore, they no longer “need” God. This situation has led some commentators to observe that churches which are just coasting along as social communities simply will not survive in a secular age. They feel that religious people need to construct communities in which they can live out their entire lives formed by their authentic faith and a Christian culture, rather than a media-driven and dysfunctional popular culture. Some thinkers have found hope in the words of Scottish philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre. In his 1981 book After Virtue, he compared our age with the last day of the Western Roman Empire when old pagan values were being abandoned. He wrote that “A crucial turning point in that earlier history occurred when men and women of good will turned aside from the task of shoring up the Roman imperium and ceased to identify the continuation of civility and moral community with the maintenance of that imperium. What they set themselves to achieve instead – often not recognizing fully what they were doing — was the construction of new forms of community within which the moral life could be sustained so that both morality and civility might survive the coming ages of barbarism and darkness.”  Based on MacIntyre’s observation, a number of authors have called for Christians of all traditions to adopt what they call the “Benedict Option.” Who is this Benedict and what is his option?

St Benedict of Norcia

The Benedict in question is the father of Western monasticism, St. Benedict of Norcia in southern Italy, whom our Church commemorates on March 14. Born in c. 480 to a noble family he was educated in Rome when its culture was in decline. Over a century before, that city had been replaced as capital of the empire by Constantinople, the Christian “New Rome” built by St Constantine the Great. Old Rome remained a pagan city and its citizens led increasingly empty and dissolute lives. As Pope St Gregory I described it, Benedict “was in the world and was free to enjoy the advantages which the world offers, but drew back his foot which he had, as it were, already set forth in the world… giving over his books, and forsaking his father’s house and wealth, with a mind only to serve God, he sought for some place where he might attain to the desire of his holy purpose; and in this sort he departed [from Rome], instructed with learned ignorance and furnished with unlearned wisdom” (Dialogues, II). Benedict, along with “a company of virtuous men,” settled in a small town in the mountains above Rome to live in simplicity. He was tonsured as a monk by a monk from a nearby monastery and lived for three years as a hermit in a mountain cave. When the abbot of that monastery died, the community asked Benedict to succeed him. Benedict established twelve monasteries in the area, but ultimately left to avoid controversy with a neighboring priest. He built a new monastery on the site of a ruined pagan temple at Monte Cassino, which still stands. Benedict spent the rest of his life forging a monastic rule, based on principles which St John Cassian had absorbed in Palestine and Egypt. Benedict envisioned monasticism essentially as living in community, working and praying together. Monasteries were to develop their own resources so as to be able to help those in need. Monks were to work for the support of the monasteries in any way which did not keep them from the daily services or distract them from their personal life of prayer.

The “Benedict Option”

As the Western empire further disintegrated with the incursions of barbarians, monasteries following St. Benedict’s rule would become increasingly important as anchors of civilization and service to God in a world without them. As Cardinal Newman described that age, “Silent men were observed about the country, or discovered in the forest, digging, clearing and building; and other silent men, not seen, were sitting in the cold cloister, tiring their eyes and keeping their attention on the stretch, while they painfully copied and recopied the manuscripts which they had saved. There was no one who contended or cried out, or drew attention to what was going on, but by degrees the woody swamp became a hermitage, a religious house, a farm, an abbey, a village, a seminary, a school of learning and a city.” Proponents of the Benedict Option hold that our age needs such anchors: monasteries or churches around which might gather fellowships of believers committed to forming their lives and work on the Gospel, making every other goal in life secondary to serving God. The Benedict Option calls Christians to live in communities centered on the prayer, worship, fellowship and service which characterize a fuller Christian life than is generally available in our world. Many Christians, especially in the middle class, will find it extremely difficult to live a fuller life of faith. We live in a culture that expects family men and women to work so hard and so long that they have no time, or insufficient time, for religious life. Proponents of the Benedict Option are convinced that such a culture, devoted to materialism and the “better life” will only exterminate faith within its participants and their children. Eastern Christian Churches are perhaps better equipped than their Western counterparts to become Benedict Option communities, provided that we use the resources already available to us. Parishes need to become the best expression of authentic Eastern Christianity they can be. Our churches need to nurture those disposed to a fuller Christian life through weekday services (vespers, compline, paraclisis, etc.) joined to simple fellowship meals and opportunities for learning and service. Periodic visits to monasteries or shrines support such a commitment. Partnering with other churches to celebrate the Great Feasts or major saints’ days will enrich our own faith life and may draw others to share it. Sharing fellowship and prayer with other congregations, Eastern or Western, may help witness that a fuller Christian life is both possible and rewarding for those who choose to live it.
 
THE SIXTH WEEK OF THE GREAT FAST has a two-fold designation in our liturgical books. First of all, it marks the end of this fasting season. We also fast during the Great and Holy Week of the Lord’s Passion, but that observance is not part of the Great Fast. The Great Fast has prepared us to celebrate the paschal mystery of Christ’s saving passion, death and resurrection by inviting us to refocus our lives on God in repentance. During the Holy Week our fasting has a different character: it is a way of observing the sorrowful events of this week: the plotting against Christ, His betrayal, passion, death and burial. Between the two fast periods we observe the double feast of Lazarus Saturday and Palm Sunday. This last week of the Great Fast is simultaneously a week of preparation for these feasts. In our liturgical books this week, then, is called the Week of Palms, looking forward to that celebration. The hymns prescribed to be sung this week in vespers, orthros (matins) and the Presanctified Liturgy reflect both of these themes. On one hand the services include chants focused on the end of the Great Fast such as the final sticheron sung this coming Friday:
“Count us worthy of beholding the week of Your Passion, O Lover of Mankind, for we have completed the forty days of the Fast for the profit of our souls. Let us glorify Your mighty deeds, Your ineffable dispensation for our sake, singing with one mind: ‘O Lord, glory to You!’”
Other chants reflect the coming feast, recalling Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem. At orthros on Monday, for example, we sing:
“O faithful, let us prepare to celebrate Palm Sunday, joyfully observing the forefeast from this present day onwards, so that we may be counted worthy to see the life-giving Passion.”

The Death of Lazarus

Even more of this week’s hymnody recalls the raising of Lazarus, whom the Gospel describes as having died four days before Christ raised him. We hear about Lazarus’ illness and death as well as Jesus’ assertion that “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it” (John 11:4). In the Gospel of John the raising of Lazarus and Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem are connected. We read that Jesus called Lazarus from the tomb at some time before His final trip to Jerusalem (cf., John 12:1). Yet the same Gospel points out that: “…the people, who were with Him when He called Lazarus out of his tomb and raised him from the dead, bore witness. For this reason the people also met Him, because they heard that He had done this sign” (John 12:17-18). Jesus’ return to Bethany sparks the triumphal reception which Jesus received to the excitement over the raising of Lazarus. Our liturgical hymns take up this connection:
“The Lord comes, seated upon the colt of a donkey, as it is written. O peoples, make ready to receive Him in awe as the King of all, and to welcome Him with palms as Victor over Death and Hades; for He has raised Lazarus!” Each day of this week brings us closer to the commemoration of Lazarus’ rising. Thus on Monday we pray: “The door of the forecourt is opened that leads to the raising of Lazarus: for Christ has come to awaken the dead man, as though from sleep, and to overthrow Death by Life.”
At orthros on Tuesday we sing a similar hymn:
“Be glad, Bethany! For Christ shall come to you, performing in you a great and awesome miracle. Binding death with fetters, as God He will raise up Lazarus, who was dead, and who now magnifies the Creator.”
On Wednesday, four days before we celebrate Lazarus’ rising, we remember his death:
“Lazarus, the friend of Christ, has died today: he is carried out for burial, and Martha’s companions lament in sorrow for her brother. But Christ comes to him in joy, to show the nations that He is Himself the Life of all.”
This hymn sung on Thursday adds another note for our consideration:
“For two days Lazarus has been in the tomb and sees those dead from all generations. He beholds strange and awesome things and a countless multitude held within the powers of Death. Looking at his tomb, his relatives weep bitterly; but Christ is on His way to give life to His friend and to consummate His plan for all mankind. Blessed are You, O Savior: have mercy on us!”
The plan of God is not simply to revive Lazarus, but to deliver the human race – that “countless multitude” – from the power of Death.

The Saturday of Lazarus

The celebration of Lazarus’ rising is based on the Gospel story of that event (John 11). The hymns of the feast point to its meaning for us as the Church has understood it:
  • The raising of Lazarus was to prepare the disciples – and us – for Jesus’ death and resurrection. “O Lord, in Your desire to assure Your disciples about Your resurrection from the dead, You came to the tomb of Lazarus.”
  • The raising of Lazarus also prepared Death for its ultimate defeat. As we pray at compline, “Even before Your crucifixion You made Death tremble before You, O Savior.”
  • The raising of Lazarus provides us with an assurance of our own ultimate resurrection. As we say repeatedly on this feast, “You confirmed the future resurrection of all” (troparion) by this event. Lazarus thus became “the prelude of salvation and rebirth” (vespers) for all believers.
As with Palm Sunday, this feast is popularly celebrated with a focus on children. Many Greeks prepare a Lazarus-shaped bread distributed to the children with fruits and nuts as a feastday treat. In Cyprus, Lebanon and other parts of the Middle East children go from house to house singing carols. They reenact the raising of Lazarus for which they are suitably rewarded.

Resuscitation, not Resurrection

Lazarus’ rising is thus an icon of Christ’s resurrection at Pascha and ours at the Last Day. Lazarus, however, was not raised to eternal life at this time. Rather he was brought back to the life of this world. According to St. Epiphanios of Cyprus (367-403), he lived for another thirty years or so. The Gospel asserts that Lazarus was a wanted man; “The chief priests plotted to put Lazarus to death also, because on account of him many of the Jews went away and believed in Jesus” (John 12:10-11). He is said to have fled the wrath of Christ’s enemies for Cyprus where he helped Paul and Barnabas establish a church. Eventually he became bishop of Kition (today’s Larnaka) and died as a martyr in AD 63.
As we complete these forty days of profit to our souls, let us exclaim: “Rejoice, O Bethany, birthplace of Lazarus.” And you, his sisters, Mary and Martha, rejoice as well! For tomorrow, Christ will come and give life to your dead brother by a word. Bitter and insatiable Death will hear His voice; and trembling with fear and groaning bitterly, it will release Lazarus still wrapped in his shroud. The Hebrews, astonished at this miracle, come to meet Him, carrying branches and palms. And the children will rejoice to see the One on whom their fathers look with hate. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, the King of Israel!
Vespers of Lazarus Saturday
 
“Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and to the scribes; and they will condemn Him to death and deliver Him to the Gentiles; and they will mock Him, and scourge Him, and spit on Him, and kill Him. And the third day He will rise again” (Mark 10:33-34). As the Great Fast draws to a close, we turn our eyes to Jerusalem where the Lord will undergo His life-giving passion and death for us. He had spoken repeatedly of the suffering He would endure but, as the Gospel records, His disciples “did not understand this saying and were afraid to ask Him” (Mark 9:32). When Jesus first spoke of the sufferings awaiting Him, “Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him” (Mark 8:32). By the time recorded in this Sunday’s Gospel selection, the disciples understood the thereat posed by Jesus’ enemies and “they were afraid” (Mark 10:32). In John 10 we read that Jesus’ foes “…sought again to seize Him, but He escaped out of their hand. And He went away again beyond the Jordan… and there He stayed” (John 10:39-40). Still the disciples did not fully comprehend what would happen. At this stage they still saw the Kingdom of God as being “of this world” and were concerned about their own status in this Kingdom as they understood it. They envisioned Jesus restoring Israel’s freedom from the Romans and securing an independent state for God’s people. The sons of Zebedee, James and John, wanted to be Jesus’ principal aides, at His right and left hands in His “glory.” But Jesus’ glory would be the glory of sacrifice, on the cross, and others were destined to be at His right and left hand there.

Why Go to Jerusalem?

The practice of spending the great feasts of the Jews – Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot – in Jerusalem was based on the precept in the Book of Exodus: “Offer a sacrifice to Me three times each year. Keep the festival of Matzos [Passover]... the reaping festival [Shavuot]... the harvest festival [Sukkot]... Three times each year, every male among you must appear before God the Lord” (Exodus 23:14-17). Since sacrifices were only performed in the temple people would regularly visit Jerusalem on these feasts. The Gospels record several visits by the Lord to Jerusalem for these feasts, the first being when He was twelve years old (cf., Luke 2:41-51). This visit, however, would be a climactic one, culminating in His death and resurrection. The version of the Mosaic commandment in the book of Deuteronomy adds a note: “Three times a year all your males shall appear before the Lord your God … and they shall not appear before the Lord empty-handed. Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the Lord your God which He has given you” (Deuteronomy 16:16-17). In His Incarnation Christ received the gift of His human nature – He would now give it back to the Father on the cross. But God, who would not allow the death of Abraham’s son Isaac (cf., [cite-pericope]Genesis 18[/cite-pericope]) would not permit His own Son to remain in the grave, but raised Him up on the third day.

The Road Leads through Bethany

About one-and-a-half miles east of Jerusalem lay the village of Bethany (today’s al- ‘Azariya), the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus. St. John’s Gospel tells us in detail how Jesus was informed that Lazarus was sick. “This sickness is not unto death,” He answered, “but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it” (John 11:4). By the time Jesus arrived in Bethany Lazarus was already dead for four days. The dramatic story of the raising of Lazarus from the grave is celebrated in Byzantine Churches on the first day of the Great Week of Christ’s passion, Lazarus Saturday. A day of resurrection, we observe it as a Sunday with the appropriate resurrectional prayers and chants. The resuscitation of Lazarus was the Lord’s greatest miracle so far, but would be but a prelude to His own resurrection which we celebrate on Pascha. The Gospel says that Jesus retuned to Bethany and, while they were at table, Mary anointed Him with costly ointment. When Judas questioned this act of extravagance, Jesus reproved him, “Let her alone; she has kept this for the day of my burial” (John 12:7). The next day, the Gospel tells us, Jesus entered Jerusalem to shouts of “Hosanna!” The Church rearranges these events in its Great Week observance. It celebrates Christ’s entry into Jerusalem the day after Lazarus Saturday, stressing the connection of Christ’s exuberant reception in Jerusalem with the raising of Lazarus. It defers the memorial of the anointing to the Wednesday of Great Week, the day that we are anointed in preparation for sharing in Christ’s passion.

Another Trip to Jerusalem

On this last Sunday of the Great Fast the Church also remembers another trip to Jerusalem: one that occurred some 300 years after Christ. According to the life written by St. Sophronios, Patriarch of Jerusalem in the seventh century, Mary the Egyptian was a runaway teenager who drifted into a fast lifestyle in Alexandria living in part on the proceeds of the sexual favors she dispensed. When she was 29 Mary attached herself to a group going on pilgrimage to the Holy Land. She went, not out of piety, but to meet others devoted to the same lifestyle. According to Sophronios, she never lacked for companions both on the journey and when she arrived in the Holy City. One day, curiosity prompted her to follow some pilgrims to the Anastasis, the church build over Christ’s tomb. She found herself unable to enter, resisted by an unseen force. Believing that this was because of her wild way of life, she was struck with remorse. She prayed before an icon of the Theotokos in the courtyard, asking for forgiveness and vowing to abandon the world and its pleasures. Returning to the church door she found herself now able to enter. Returning to give thanks before the icon, Mary heard a voice promising, “If you cross the Jordan, you will find glorious rest/ true peace.” After confessing and receiving Communion, she went into the desert where she remained a hermit for the rest of her life. The image of this extraordinary repentance and commitment to asceticism is held up to the Church as an encouragement to enter wholeheartedly into the remainder of the Fast and the Great Week which follows.
After distancing yourself from the weight of the passions by contemplating God, O Mary, you directed your desires and deeds to that which is on high. Gazing at the icon of the all-pure Virgin and resolutely renouncing all sin, you confidently went to worship the precious Cross. You joyfully visited the holy places, nourished by virtue on the path of salvation, rapidly traveling along the road of holiness. Crossing the streams of the Jordan and dwelling in the wilderness like the Baptist you tamed the rebelliousness of the flesh, calming the wild nature of the passions, O venerable Mother Mary, by your holy way of life. (Vespers)
 
OLD TESTAMENT PROPHECIES are often fulfilled in new and definitive ways in the Gospels. Thus Isaiah’s prophecy of a young girl’s conception would be decisively fulfilled in the conception of Christ by the ever-virgin Mary. St Paul recognizes another kind of connection between the Old and the New Testaments. In Colossians 2:17 he notes that Old Testament observances “… are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.” When we stress the connection between actual persons, events, places, and institutions of the Old Testament, and the corresponding reality in the New Testament which they foreshadowed, this is called typology. Thus, for example, the Mosaic Passover (Pascha) celebrating the passage of the Hebrews from slavery to freedom is a “type” of the New Passover (Pascha) in which Christ leads humanity from death to eternal life. Typology is most developed in the Epistle to the Hebrews concerning the temple and the sacrificial role of its priests. When the temple was destroyed and the last High Priest died in AD 70 the Jews were devastated. Here the Christ-believing Jews were reassured that we have the ultimate High Priest in the Lord Jesus of whom earlier High Priests were but a type (see Hebrews 7:23-8:1). “For the Law appoints as high priests men who have weaknesses, but the word of the oath, which came after the Law, appoints the Son who has been perfected forever” (v. 28).

The Temple and its Sacrifices

The arrangements of the Jewish tabernacle and its permanent version, the temple, are set forth in the Torah (Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers) according to a “pattern” shown to Moses on Mount Sinai. The tabernacle- temple is thus a “type,” a reality in itself pointing to something beyond. In Hebrews 8:5 it is described as “the copy and shadow of the heavenly things, as Moses was divinely instructed when he was about to make the tabernacle.” In the Book of Revelation, St John describes his vision of eternity in similar terms: “And after that I looked, and, behold, the temple of the tabernacle of the testimony in heaven was opened” (Revelation 15:5). He describes angels in white robes with their chests girded with golden bands (like deacons) and white-robed elders making prostrations. There is singing and incense and the Lamb who stands before the throne of God, having redeemed mankind by His blood. The earthly temple and its rites were a shadow patterned after the eternal liturgy of heaven where an eternal High Priest would offer Himself to the Father to renew His creation. The sacrifices of the earthly High Priest were types of the sacrifice of Christ the Lamb, who stands before the throne of God bearing the blood of His own self-offering for the salvation of the world. In the Epistle to the Hebrews the work of Christ is described in terms of the Jewish high priest and the temple. The High Priest, we are told, went into the innermost part of the temple, called the Holy of Holies, only once a year (on Yom Kippur) with the blood of the sacrificed sin offering. But now, Christ the eternal High Priest has entered “the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation. Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Holy of Holies once for all, having obtained eternal redemption” (Hebrews 9:11-12). “Now to appear in the presence of God for us” (Hebrews 9:24) He always lives to make intercession for those who come to God through Him (see Hebrews 7:25).

The Temple and Our Churches

The temple, its priesthood and its sacrifices, then, were but types of the eternal sacrifice of Christ which would achieve eternal redemption once for all. Our Eastern Christian temples and our sacrifice of praise, the Divine Liturgy, do more than point us to the heavenly liturgy; through them we are connected to the eternal and ongoing dimension of Christ’s sacrifice which is at the center and summit of all true worship in both the Old and New Testaments. The very design of our churches is meant to show that the mystery of salvation, which was foreshadowed in the Old Testament temple has been fulfilled in Christ. Many elements are similar. We have the holy place (the solea) and the holy of holies (the altar), the incense, the cherubim (ripidia) and the candelabrum. Other elements indicate that what were types have been fulfilled. In place of the jar of manna (see Hebrews 9:1-5) we have the Eucharist. In place of the Tablets of the Law or the Torah we have the Gospel. In place of Aaron’s rod we have the holy cross. And in place of the impenetrable veil we have the iconostasis which makes both visible and accessible the mystery of our salvation in Christ.

What Happens in the Liturgy

Our Divine Liturgy is a kind of living icon, using the imagery of the temple’s sacrificial rite to show that the Eucharist is our participation in Christ’s unique sacrifice. The Liturgy is neither a separate sacrifice nor a mere remembrance of Christ’s sacrifice, but an actual entry into that sacrifice, possible because it is offered in “God’s time” rather than ours. As the sacrificial animals were killed outside the holy place and Christ was killed outside the Holy City, the oblations are prepared outside the holy place, in the prothesis (in smaller churches the prothesis is to the side of the holy place). As the animals were brought by the Levites to the priests to be offered, the holy gifts are brought by the deacons and priests to the bishop who takes them into the holy place. As the High Priest took the annual sin offering behind the veil into the Holy of Holies, Christ is described as taking His own blood into the heavenly sanctuary behind the veil. When the oblations are placed on the holy table, the doors and curtain are closed and the prayer of offering is recited “behind the veil.” This imagery is lost when the doors and curtain are never closed. As Christ, having made His offering, remains before the presence of the Father interceding “for those who come to God through Him” (Hebrews 7:25), so the celebrant, after the holy gifts have been offered and sanctified, stands before the holy table making intercession for the entire Church, the living and the dead. As the sacrificial offerings in the temple would then be shared among the priests and those who offered them, the Eucharist is distributed first to the clergy and then to the members of the congregation. And so we too have a High Priest, whose sacrifice takes away the sin of the world. And through the Divine Liturgy we can connect with that unique and eternal sacrifice again and again. “Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holy of Holies by the blood of Jesus… let us draw near with a true heart, in full assurance of faith” (Hebrews 10:19, 22). Christ’s sacrifice of His whole being is accepted by the Father. For our offering to be joined to His it must also be the complete offering of “ourselves, one another and our whole life” to Him. May the remaining days of the Fast remind us that we are not created to be satisfied by the temporary pleasures of acquisition and consumption but by the everlasting joys of the heavenly liturgy.

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