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Lazarus Saturday, in the Eastern Orthodox Church and those Eastern Catholic Churches which follow the Byzantine Rite, is the day before Palm Sunday, and is liturgically linked to it. The feast celebrates the resurrection of Lazarus of Bethanymarker, the narrative of which is found in the New Testament Gospel of John ( ).

Liturgical aspects

Lazarus Saturday and Palm Sunday together hold a unique position in the church year, as days of joy and triumph interposed between the penitence of Great Lent and the mourning of Holy Week.

During the preceding week, which is the last week of Great Lent, the hymns in the Lenten Triodion track the sickness and then the death of Lazarus, and Christ's journey from beyond Jordanmarker to Bethany. This week is referred to as the "Week of Palms" or the "Flowery Week."

The position of Lazarus Saturday is perfectly summed up in the first sticheron chanted at Vespers on Friday evening:

Having completed the forty days that bring profit to our soul, we beseech Thee in Thy love for man: Grant us also to behold the Holy Week of Thy Passion, that in it we may glorify Thy mighty acts and Thine ineffable dispensation for our sakes, singing with one mind: O Lord, glory to Thee.


During the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts on Friday evening, the reading of Genesis (which began on the first day of Great Lent) is concluded with the description of the death, burial and mourning of Jacob ( ), which corresponds perfectly with the message of Lazarus Saturday, deepening the sense of sorrow and hope. On Friday night, at Compline, the Canon on the Resurrection of Lazarus by Saint Andrew of Crete is read. This is a full canon, having all nine Canticles (most canons omit the Second Canticle).

The scripture readings and hymns for Lazarus Saturday focus on the resurrection of Lazarus as a foreshadowing of the Resurrection of Christ, and a promise of the General Resurrection. The Gospel narrative is interpreted in the hymns as illustrating the two natures of Christ: his humanity in asking, "Where have ye laid him?" ( ), and his divinity by commanding Lazarus to come forth from the dead ( ). A number of the hymns, written in the first or second person, relate Lazarus' death, entombment and burial bonds symbolically to the individual's sinful state. Many of the Resurrectional hymns of the normal Sunday service, which are omitted on Palm Sunday, are chanted on Lazarus Saturday. However, the Litany of the Departed, which is normally forbidden at the Sunday services, is allowed. During the Divine Liturgy, the Baptismal Hymn, "As many as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ" ( ), is sung in place of the Trisagion. This indicates that this was at one time a day on which baptisms were traditionally performed.

Customs

Saturday is the day when, traditionally, hermits would leave their retreats in the wilderness to return to the monastery for the Holy Week services. In many places in the Russian Church, the vestments and church hangings on this day and on Palm Sunday are green, denoting the renewal of life. In the Greek Church, it is customary on Lazarus Saturday to plait elaborate crosses out of palm leaves which will be used on Palm Sunday.

Although the forty days of Great Lent end on the day before Lazarus Saturday, the day is still observed as a fast day, with no meat or dairy products permitted. However, the fast is somewhat mitigated, and wine and oil are permitted. In Russia, it is traditional to eat caviar on Lazarus Saturday. In the Greek Orthodox Church, spice breads called Lazarakia are made and eaten on this day.

History

The ancientness of this commemoration is demonstrated by the homilies of St. John Chrysostom (349 - 407), St Augustine of Hippo Regia (354 - 430), and others. In the 7th and 8th centuries, special hymns and canons for the feast were written by St. Andrew of Crete, St. Cosmas of Maium and St. John Damascene, which are still sung to this day.

Armenian Church

The Resurrection of Lazarus is also commemorated on this same Saturday according to the Church Calendar of the Armenian Apostolic Church.

Notes

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