Lazarus Saturday

Eric Huntsman continues his series with us for Holy Week. Today: something a little more ‘orthodox’.

Church of Lazarus - Bethany
In the Eastern Orthodox churches, the Saturday before Holy Week begins is known as “Lazarus Saturday,” and that is the day in which our friends of that tradition commemorate the raising of Lazarus as commemorated in John 11. The reason for putting it before Palm Sunday is because in the Fourth Gospel the raising of Lazarus is the proximate cause of the crowds’ rapturous reception of Jesus at the triumphal entry and the plot against Jesus, which the chief priests begin to organize because they see that “the whole world is going after him.” (In the Synoptics it is the cleansing of the temple that leads to their hardening opposition to Jesus, but of course the Gospel according to John placed that event, or an earlier occurrence of it, at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry).

While Western Christian churches, both Roman Catholic and high church Protestants, do not usually recognize Lazarus Saturday as such, when a Palestinian Arab friend acquainted me with it, I began to think of ways into incorporating it into our family’s Holy Week observance. After a month of Advent devotionals and then reading the Infancy Narratives as part of our Christmas traditions, we then work to read one gospel all the way up to Passion Week. This year we have been reading Mark (both the shortest and the easiest to read and understand aloud, it having been written, of course, for public reading in the earliest Christian communities). This year we finished Mark 10 just in time, so tonight we will read much of John 11 and discuss Jesus’ proclamation to Martha that he was “the resurrection and the life” and then read of his raising Lazarus from the dead. We will then discuss how it caused many to believe in Jesus but how it aroused even more dangerous opposition to him among the Jerusalem leadership. But most of all we will focus on how it anticipated Jesus’ own resurrection, which we celebrate in just over a week.

I have not settled on good music to go with this holiday. There are a number of hymns commonly sung at or for funerals, such as “Be Still, My Soul” and “Oh, What Songs of the Heart” that I think might be rather nice. We’ll see how it goes tonight. I love Mack Wilberg’s “Death Shall Not Destroy My Comfort,” which I am featuring as a music sidebar with the discussion of the Raising of Lazarus in my new book, The Miracles of Jesus. It does not deal with raising the dead or the resurrection, but it does speak of a peaceful and joyful passing, which is a miracle of Jesus in itself.

This is the second year that we have preceded our evening devotional with the traditional Greek custom of making Lazarakia, little spicy rolls shaped like a shrouded Lazarus figure! See my Holy Week blog entry for Lazarus Saturday for more on the holiday, as well as pictures of Rachel and I trying to make lazarakia last year (and there is also a link to the recipe!).

Tomorrow is Palm Sunday and our celebration begins in earnest! It is still not too late to call your ward music chair or sacrament chorister and beg her or him to change the opening hymn to “All Glory Laud and Honor.” We are getting ready for three of the four most holy days of the year—Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday. Yes, much of this is more solemn and serious than the Christmas season, but it has become a vital part of my family’s worship.


  1. The link to full Lazarus Saturday post on my seasonal blog is There is a little more discussion there and lots of pictures, including of my daughter baking lazarakia!

  2. Thanks Eric! (I added the link in your post). I, for one, believe we should have more liturgical calendar-based baked goods. Closest thing we’ve got I think is Lion House rolls. NOT GOOD ENOUGH. We need Pie-oneer Day to happen in a big way this July 24.

  3. Thanks, Steve. If you are serving as “admin” at this moment, perhaps you can go ahead and get Palm Sunday up now so it is available right away for people tomorrow. Warning, all, it is a little bit more autobiographical in terms of how I got addicted to the holiday.

  4. Great ideas at your blog. I was in Bethany last year and found the little prayers that people had written in Lazaras’s tomb to be profoundly moving. We came back onto the street in time for Friday prayers at the mosque next door. What a place?

    Pro-tip: Holy Land souvenirs are cheaper in Bethany than in Jerusalem or Bethlehem.

  5. Thanks for this Orthodox perspective. It’s something missing from our Lectionary posts, but, as this post indicates, there’s much good to be found there.

  6. May I suggest Rob Gardner’s “Lam of Gid” for music that sets the tone for Holy Week. “I Am the Resurrection” is spectaclular as is “Hosanna” for Palm Sunday. The hole piece is jsut wonderful and I enjoy it every Easter Season. Here is the link from iTunes.

  7. Well…that would be “Lamb of God”…