The Great Lent is ending we are on the eve of the days of Passion. In the beginning of the Lent, speaking about its meaning, we reflected on the Lent as the time, when we restrain ourselves in everything, which incites us to sin, to stand in repentance in front of our own conscience, of human and God’s truth. Our restraint in everything insignificant, superfluous, in pleasures and entertainment must bring benefit and joy to us and other people.
And now, summing up the results of the Lent, let us give an account before our own conscience: in what did I restrain myself, how much did I succeed in refraining from sinful impulses and was my restraint beneficial and helpful for my neighbours? If not, then my fasting was in vain.
During these days we will remember, how the Lord entered Jerusalem to suffer and die, taking upon Himself the burden of suffering for the sake of others, suffering from sin. Let us, who often live in superfluity and contentment, turn to the way of repentance and doing good, remembering the words of the Apostle: behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation (2 Cor.6:2); let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light. Let us walk honestly, as in the day (Rom.13:12-13).
We stay at the eve of the Passion days, when the Christ’s Easter approaches as a winning reward for temperance and suffering, a beginning of a big joyful hope. This hope was announced to us by the Lord through the resurrecting of Lazarus. He showed that He is stronger than death – upon His single order a four-days dead man raised from the tomb.
In the Holy Gospel, which was read today, we hear about this miracle, performed over Lazarus, friend of the Lord. Lazarus’ sisters, Maria and Martha, asked the Lord to heal their sick brother. Despite the threat of the Jews to stone Him, the Lord went to Bethany, and when He came to the house of Lazarus and he had already died, He heard from Martha: Lord, why haven’t you come earlier, when my brother was alive? If thou hadst been here, my brother had not died… And we hear his word: Do you believe that thy brother shall rise again? Martha answers: Yes, Lord, at the last day. She said it with unshakable hope, for she had always believed, that this is the Lord and God in front of her, and this faith and hope is able to perform the miracle of resurrection. The Lord tells us, as He told Martha, infusing her with perfect hope: I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live…
Here we should remember the following: Martha did not know, that three days before Christ had told His disciples about the fatal disease of His friend and that He let him die so that the miracle of resurrection may happen, so that Lazarus raised from the dead and was enriched with such faith into the victory of the Lord over death, which could not be shattered by anything.
Christ manifested Himself as the Master of life and death, equal to the Father, when He lifted up His eyes to the heaven and said: Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me. Then the people believed in the power of His prayer, when the word turned into deed. The Lord explains: I knew that thou hearest me always: but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that thou hast sent me (Jn.11:42).
And then Christ pronounced loud and powerful words for the sake of the present people: Lazarus, come forth! – and immediately after them the 4-days dead appeared alive. “The Lord exclaimed in a loud voice for the sake of the people standing around, for he could rise him not only with a tempered voice, but with will alone…” – says Holy Hierarch Gregory Palamas. He continues: “All this happened so that through their own eyes, through smelling of the stink of the dead, through touching the stone, shroud and napkin on the head of Lazarus, and through their own hearing of the voice of the Lord, which reached the ears of all, they learned and believed, that He is the One, Who calls into being that which does not exist (Rom.4:17; NASB), Who bears everything with the word of His power and Who in the beginning created all being from non-existence by one word”.
In the tremendous exclamation: Lazarus, come forth! – the Lord reached the depth of hearts of the sinners, when God’s grace appeared in front of them, and simple and humble souls understood all the importance of what was happening. They were strengthened with faith and will to learn the will of God, abandon the way of sin and wickedness, turn to the Saviour and firmly and irrevocably start a new better life. But the Scribes and the Pharisees were so far from faith that they not only did not believe, but were recklessly plotting evil against Him, resented and wanted to put Him to death.
Today, on the eve of the Resurrection of the Lord, the resurrected Lazarus is the joyous harbinger of victory over death. The Lord not only conquered death in the literal sense, in which the resurrection of Lazarus happened, but in the other sense as well, which has to do with every one of us. Having created man according to His image and likeness, God incarnated him as His own friend and co-worker. This friendship is deepened and became more close in our Baptism.
You who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ – this is stated at the Baptism. Each of us became a friend of God at the Baptism and is called to live this friendship, which must deepen and strengthen.
Sometimes during the course of life the purity and strength of this friendship dwindles in us. And being in sin we sometimes feel that our soul is as if lying in tomb, stricken by death, as the one who died and to whose tomb the sisters are afraid to approach, for the dead already decays and stinks. But the creative and contemplative powers of our soul are mourning like Martha and Maria, over a friend of the Lord dying within us. And when this fight between light and darkness, life and death goes on, the Lord approaches closely to us and we may exclaim like Martha: Lord, if you were here, your friend wouldn’t die… And we hear His word: Do you believe, that he will rise? Believe! I am Resurrection and Life! If one believes in me, even if he were dead, he will rise…
The Lord came and ordered Lazarus to rise from the dead – this is the image of rising and transfiguration for us. Dying, hopeless, conquered by sin Lazarus lies in each of us sometimes. The Lord allows us to approach the edge and spiritual fall and death through temptations and falls, but He allows this is not unto death but for the glory of God and the one who believes in the help of the Most High shall never die, but on the contrary, being enriched by the experience of the victory of God and the miracle of his soul, once stinking with sin, will be filled with unshakable faith. Then, after his rising, the one who was tested through what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested (Heb.2:18; NASB).
In today’s Gospel reading on the eve of the days of Passion and the joy of Resurrection the Lord tells us: Do not be afraid! I am Resurrection and Life! The friend of the Lord, who is in your soul, if he is hopelessly sick and dying, can be raised by one word of Jesus – and will truly rise!
Brothers and sisters! Let us go with this hope and confidence through the Passion days to the Holy Easter, from the temporal to the eternal, from death to life, from being struck by sin to the victory of the Lord. Let us enter the hope and the light of the approaching Resurrection with joy that the Lord has loved us as his friend Lazarus.