Sermon on Lazarus Saturday by Metropolitan Philaret (Voznesensky, +1985)
of Eastern America and New York
It often happens that a child does a bad thing, and his father properly punishes him. But when he sees the child crying in sorrow, parental love takes hold and the father seeks to console the punished child.
A terrible sentence was imposed upon our fallen ancestors living in the Garden of Eden. The Lord, after their terrible sin, when they betrayed Him and heeded the tempter, His enemy, said: “thou return unto the ground, for out of it wast thou taken,” that is “unto dust thou shalt return.” In this way the Lord sentenced our ancestors and their progeny to death, for before this, mankind was not to taste death. Having no sin, man could not before then die and would have lived forever, but after that, he became the prey of death. But our Lord knows that death is terrifying for man, that nothing terrifies him more. That is why, in order to ease the very thought of death, in order to alleviate this fear, the Lord performed His wondrous deeds of which we read in the Holy Gospel.
In particular, He performed the miracle we remember today, the greatest of His miracles—the Raising of Lazarus.
The Lord had earlier told the Apostles: “he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.” He said that the moment would come when those in the grave would hear the voice of the Son of God and would emerge alive. And yet death, which destroys the body of man, horrifies us. And the Lord, consoling us, encouraging us, made an example of Lazarus, who, hearing the voice of the Son of God, came out of his tomb. He spoke, His Omnipotent Voice shook the depths of hell, and Lazarus, whose body had already begun to decay, came out of the tomb alive, unharmed and in good health.
Today’s holiday is for this reason especially close to our hearts, especially joyful. Today we celebrate our future resurrection. In seven or days the Holiday of Holidays will arrive, the Triumph of All Triumphs, when we will celebrate the Resurrection of our Lord, “raising us with Him,” as the Church sings. And so to illustrate how this will occur, how the dead will rise from their graves to the sound of the voice of the Son of God, the Lord raised the dead Lazarus. That this is so is declared by the troparion which will be sung today and tomorrow: “By raising Lazarus from the dead before Your Passion, You confirmed the universal resurrection, O Christ God!”—that is, it confirmed that there will be resurrection for all.
Our souls are filled with special joy on this day, a brilliant joy, because death ceases to terrify us. How unfortunate are the godless! Of course, we know that they are in error, that man is not annihilated after death. But these poor folks think that death comes and everything comes to an end, the person is dead, his body is killed and there is no question of any life. All their talk about how their leaders live in eternity in the hearts of their followers are simply nonsense!
The human soul does not seek this, it seeks only an escape from the fear of death. The Lord grants it, for after all He had done for us, it turns out that death is not disappearance into the abyss of non-existence, but only a temporary slumber, but longer than earthly sleep. But sleep nonetheless, for with His Almighty Voice, He will wake us all at a time known only to Him so that we pass into eternity.
How bright and happy is this day! The human soul cannot but tremble with elation because, again, we are celebrating our universal resurrection! Remember this, o human soul, and thank your Lord for His great mercy to you.