Russia Religion Subjects Jesus Christ The Raising of Lazarus

The Raising of Lazarus

St Lazarus, the friend of God, was raised from the dead by Jesus Christ on the fourth day. This event is only featured in the Gospel of John: “Now a certain man was sick, named Lazarus, of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha (it was that Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick). Therefore his sisters sent unto Him, saying, ‘Lord, behold, he whom Thou lovest is sick.’ When Jesus heard that, He said, ‘This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby’ … Jesus therefore again groaning in Himself cometh to the grave. It was a cave, and a stone lay upon it. Jesus said, ‘Take ye away the stone.’ Martha, the sister of him that was dead, saith unto Him, ‘Lord, by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days.’ Jesus saith unto her, ‘Said I not unto thee, that, if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God?’ Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead was laid. And Jesus lifted up His eyes, and said, ‘Father, I thank Thee that Thou hast heard Me. And 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.’ And when He thus had spoken, He cried with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come forth.’ And he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with graveclothes: and his face was bound about with a napkin. Jesus saith unto them, ‘Loose him, and let him go’” (John 11:1–44).

The Raising of Lazarus was a popular subject in Christian art and the event is celebrated by the Orthodox Church on Lazarus Saturday during Lent. The image of St Lazarus as a bishop is based on the legend of his ordainment as Bishop of Larnaca on Cyprus. Such representations were popular in Cyprus and Russia, where the worship of the saint was established in the twelfth century.

Images of Lazarus were particularly popular in Novgorod, where pictures of the saint still survive in the murals of St Nicholas’s Cathedral in Yaroslavo Dvorische (circa 1113) and the Church of the Transfiguration on Nereditsa (1199). The widespread worship of Lazarus in Novgorod inspired the construction of the Church of St Lazarus, which was built no later than the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries and dismantled in 1859.

The artistic canons governing the representation of the Raising of Lazarus dictated a dual composition of the icon in Russian art. On the left is Christ, followed by His disciples. On the right, the shrouded figure of Lazarus rises from the tomb, witnessed by a group of Jews from Bethany. The figures linking the two sections – Mary and Martha falling at Christ’s feet and youths lifting the roof off Lazarus’s tomb – were traditionally depicted in the lower centre of the composition. The background of small hills with rocky crags to the right and left and the wall with jagged turrets between them echo the main groups of characters.

The miracle of the Raising of Lazarus after four days in the tomb occurred not long before the triumphal entry into Jerusalem and is regarded as a prototype of the Resurrection of Christ. This explains the inclusion of the subject in the festival row of the iconostasis in Russian Orthodox churches.

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