March 25, 2010

He That Believeth Shall Live

Lazarus Saturday

There are no wasted or superfluous motions in God's economy. He never lets even the most seemingly insignificant event or word to proceed without the utmost advantage to us. During our Lord's earthly ministry, His every deed, every action was directed towards our salvation. The healing of the sick, the restoring of sight to the blind, the feeding of the multitudes--all were accomplished with an eternal purpose which far surpassed the immediate benefit conferred on those actually involved. We could derive great profit for our souls if only we would learn to discern the spiritual significance of these events and apply it to our lives. Let us look, for example, at the raising of Lazarus which our holy Church will soon celebrate.

Christ was in Galilee when He heard of the grave illness of His beloved friend Lazarus. He did not pronounce a cure from a distance as He did once before with the centurion's servant (Matt. 8:5-13), and He reached Bethany Only after Lazarus had already been four days dead. Why this delay? If Christ is all-powerful, surely He could have prevented the cause of so much grief. Christ did, of course, have this power, but His delay was inspired by a loftier design: to reveal to all men the power of His divine nature as the "Conqueror of death." Just how was this accomplished? If we look carefully, there are several lessons which we can learn from this one event.

Whilst Lazarus was still alive, his sisters Martha and Mary entreated Christ to come and cure their ailing brother (John 11:3). Similarly, through prayer, we ask God to cure our illnesses arid to help us in times of misfortune. When He delayed and Lazarus died, what sorrow and despondency overcame the household, Martha even began to blame Christ: "Lord, if Thou hadst been here, my brother had not died" (John 11:21). Do not our hopes and entreaties also suffer when we do not receive what we pray for, especially in times of great sorrow? Here we can see our own natures being revealed, since we too tend to grumble and complain in times of hardship, thinking that God has either forgotten us or is punishing us for something. What is Christ's reply to Martha? "...He that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live." The same was repeated to Mary.

Here then is the key spiritual lesson that we are taught on Lazarus Saturday: to believe in Christ. Instead of grumbling and losing hope in times of misfortune, we should pay heed to this lesson--believe, and all the more zealously turn to God in prayer. Then we too shall, as Christ promised Mary, "see the glory of God."

Here we are likewise given the supreme manifestation of the human nature which Christ took upon Himself in His Incarnation. While He was true God and foresaw the resurrection of Lazarus, as true Man He wept at the death of His friend, sharing the grief of Lazarus' relatives. This shows us Christ's exceeding compassion towards us. Being led to the tomb where Lazarus had been laid, Christ ordered the stone at the entrance to be roiled away and then, raising His eyes, He prayed: "Father, I thank Thee that Thou hast heard Me." Here we witness a great wonder: Jesus Christ, the God Man, praying to God the Father. Surely this is a great precept for us, His creatures, to pray. Notice the form of the prayer; it. is full of absolute confidence that it was heard and, above all, full of thanksgiving. If Christ, Who is God and lacks nothing, gives thanks in His prayer, then should not we, the created and needy, also give thanks in our prayers?

Having prayed, Christ with great boldness commands: "Lazarus, come forth!" The great miracle is manifest in front of many witnesses: Lazarus, dead for four days and already decomposing and stinking, now comes out of the tomb perfectly whole and alive. Here is our assurance that Christ truly does have power over life and death. Here is our sure hope that at the general resurrection of the dead all people will be raised with renewed bodies. At the same time, Christ reveals a greater mystery in the words: "He that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live," This applies to our souls. If we believe in Christ and live according to His commandments, then even though our bodies may die, our souls will live. A "dead soul" is one which has been corrupted by sin, for death is the direct consequence of sin. A "live soul" is one which has been cleansed and restored by faith, prayer, repentance, by partaking of Communion and abstaining from sin; in short, by living according to God's commandments. Such a soul truly never sees death but lives always fruitfully hereon earth, awaiting a still more perfect life in the eternal Heavenly Kingdom.

The late Archbishop Andrew adds yet another dimension to the meaning of Lazarus' death and resurrection. Speaking about the death of the soul, he refers also to the two other incidents recorded in the Gospels of Christ's power to resurrect the dead: the raising of Jairus' daughter (Luke 8:53-55) and the raising of the son of the widow of Nain (Luke 7:14-15).

"Sometimes it happens that a sinful thought darts into your mind and awakens a sinful feeling, but the soul catches itself and calls to the Lord in repentance. And the Lord, as with the daughter of Jairus, will as if stretch out His hand and say, 'Soul, arise!' And life will return to its joyous flow. But sometimes it happens that we do not catch ourselves in time and sin enters more deeply into our soul (like going out from the house) and the result will be full acceptance of the sin, and turmoil. But also here, by the prayers of our Mother, the Church of Christ, who cries before the Lord for her children, we capn be alerted and the Lord, will tell us, as He did the son of the widow of Nain: 'Soul, I say unto thee, Arise!' This is salvation.

"But what shall we do if sin completely enslaves our soul, as if covering it with a tombstone; and so day after day goes by and passions start to exude their sinful stench, just as with Lazarus? What should we do then? Well then we need confession, the sacrament which Christ established after His Resurrection, when He said to His disciples, 'Receive ye the Holy Spirit; Whosesoever sins ye forgive, they are forgiven; (John 20:22-23).

See how all this is reflected in the resurrection of Lazarus. Lazarus , on his own , could not go out from the tomb because it was blocked by a stone. He couldn't even walk because he was hound hand and foot with funeral bandages. And here Christ said to His disciples, 'Loose him.' In application to us, this means that the Lord orders our clergy, who have received in the Sacrament of the Priesthood the gift of the Holy Spirit, to loose our sins. What a joy'" [From The One Thing Needful, Novo-Divevo Convent, 1979]

The resurrection of Lazarus teaches us yet another lesson on faith and belief. How often have we said to ourselves or to others: "If only I could see a sign or a miracle then I would believe"? True, we learn from Scripture that many of the people who witnessed the resurrection of Lazarus became believers. But among these same witnesses were those who left and plotted to kill Christ.

To what envy, hatred and degradation they stooped. Before their very eyes a dead man is raised and instead of rejoicing, they plot murder. What could be more senseless?! After seeing such a miracle and knowing that it was no mere illusion, do not these plotters of hatred deserve the greatest of punishments? We should beware of asking God for signs lest. if they be granted and we still disbelieve and do not make an effort to change our sinful ways, we condemn ourselves all the more. Instead, we should strive to follow God's commandments and pray that our faith be strengthened. We must pray as Christ did and entreat God to grant us our desires according to His will (Matt. 26:39). We are told to pray with thanks giving in everything (John 11:41); to pray with full confidence and hope that cur prayers will be heard and answered (Luke 11:9-10). If we do not receive the answer as quickly as we would like, or in the way we expect, we should not grumble or become despondent. Rather, we should remember that just as with Lazarus, God is delaying so that we may be led to things far more beneficial for our soul's salvation. If we approach our spiritual lives in this way, then God will give us the grace to be patient, persistent in prayer, righteous in our deeds, and joyful in our hearts.

St. Xenia Press
Melbourne, Australia

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