The Lazarus of the Parable
and Lazarus who was Four Days in the Tomb
by Metropolitan Anthony Khrapovitsky
Have you ever noticed, dear reader, that in all of Christ’s parables there occurs but one proper name? If you have noticed, have you ever attempted to ascertain why the Lord calls only this Lazarus by name, while even his rival during his earthly sojourn remains under the general title of the Rich Man? Evidently, the Divine Teacher wished His followers to keep firmly in mind both the earthly and the eternal lot of poor Lazarus, although the main idea of the parable is concentrated nonetheless in the person of the Rich Man: Lazarus remains silent in the parable, while the Rich Man speaks and prays for himself and his brethren. The Savior’s wish did not go unfulfilled: Lazarus has become a favorite theme in the songs of good Christians! The poor are comforted by such hymns amid their misfortunes, the hearts of the rich are turned from greed thereby, and all are taught to be mindful of death, the judgment of God, and generosity towards the poor. Yet, our problem remains unresolved. The parable of the Prodigal Son is also a favorite topic, if not for folk songs, at least for ecclesiastical hymns, and there are others as well in which mercy and repentance are extolled; but there are no proper names therein. Furthermore, in songs about Lazarus the singers do not draw inspiration from his name, but from the depictions of heaven and hell, the hardheartedness of the Rich Man on earth, and his belated repentance in hell.
Perhaps we would sooner find what we seek, were we to attempt to elucidate the individual ideas expressed in the Lord’s parable. Is everything in it clear? Is our heart reconciled to Abraham’s hope-shattering reply to the Rich Man who was bemoaning his brethren: “If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead”?
These stern words, by the very force of their implications, probably troubled many of the Lord’s followers, and to this day continue to trouble many who read the Gospel, for they seem to be an exaggeration until they are confirmed by actual events. And in fact, they were confirmed. Not Lazarus the pauper of the parable, but another Lazarus, the friend of Christ, known to all the Jews, plainly, rose from the dead, before the eyes of a large crowd of people, having spent four days as an unbreathing, malodorous corpse. “Then many of the Jews which came to Mary, and had seen the things which Jesus did, believed on Him.” Many, but not all. “But some of them went their ways to the Pharisees, and told them what things Jesus had done” (Jn. 11:45, 46). They assembled, and not only were not mollified in their stubborn unbelief, or, more accurately, their disobedience to the truth, but, in accordance with the voiced intent of Caiaphas, determined to kill the Slayer of Death; yet even this did not seem enough for them. “The chief priests consulted that they might put Lazarus also to death; because that by reason of him many of the Jews went away, and believed on Jesus” (12:10, 11). Note that in their decision there is neither a denial of the miracle, nor an indication of any guilt on the part of either of those they had condemned: an unjust execution, decided beforehand, was their sole means of keeping the people in unbelief, and they determined to utilize such means.
The words which the Lord put on the lips of Abraham concerning the extent of man’s hardheartedness were thus proved true in all their terrible accuracy: whoever does not want to listen to Moses and the prophets will not believe one who has risen from the dead. The Apostle John does not cite the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, but somewhat earlier cites Christ’s words which link the Jews’ disbelief in His miracles to disobedience to Moses and secret unbelief in his law, which proceed from moral callousness and the seeking of their own, not God’s glory. “There is one that accuses you, even Moses, in whom ye trust. For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed Me: for he wrote of Me. But if ye believed not his writings, how shall ye believe My words?” (Jn. 5:45-47).
Yet another puzzle remains which is often put to theologians: Why is the resurrection of Lazarus mentioned neither by the evangelist who cites the Lord’s parable of the inheritor of paradise of the same name, nor by the other two synoptic evangelists? Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow asked this question on one Academy examination, and when no one undertook to answer it, he replied thus: when the first three Gospels were written, Lazarus was still alive and, forever burdened as it were by the inquiries of those around him concerning what his soul experienced when it separated from his body, he would have become upset and embarrassed should this event have been made public in all the Churches during his lifetime: therefore, it was included only in the fourth Gospel, which was written after the death of Lazarus.
The scholarly biographer of Metropolitan Philaret marvels at the wisdom and simplicity of this explanation, but he did not know that this explanation is drawn entirely from the synaxarion of the Lenten Triodion. The pre-eminence of the late metropolitan over his colleagues lies in the fact that in their introductory research the latter merely traveled along the paths of the negative critics, trying to defeat them with their own weapon, and studied the Bible too little outside of these polemical maneuvers, while the metropolitan delved into it and into the Church’s Tradition, not only with a critical interest, but with a positive one, free of polemic.
A similar point of view will help us clear up an even more frequent problem. From the very sequence of the narrative of the fourth Gospel, we can see that the Apostle is writing a supplementary narrative to books that were written earlier concerning events already known to his readers. Such a supplementary narrative is the description of the miracle performed on Lazarus who was four days dead, composed with the same clarity of detail which in general distinguishes St. John’s accounts from those of the first three evangelists, and completely demolishes the pitiful theory of the German negative critics on the spuriousness of the fourth Gospel, which they allege was composed in the middle of the second century by “obscure Gnostic philosophers.”
Thus, St. John wishes to relate the raising of Lazarus to those readers who knew of the anointing of the Lord with oil at the meal, of His Entrance into Jerusalem, and of the treachery of Judas, but did not know of this great miracle of the Lord, whereby He assured us of the General Resurrection.
Readers of the first Gospels may have been puzzled as to why the people of Jerusalem who before had met the Lord with wary curiosity and disputations, now so unanimously went forth to meet Him, rendering Him royal, and even divine, veneration. True, the Evangelist Luke says that the people glorified Him for all His miracles, but this hint* is not very clear to the reader, for the miracles of the Lord were known to the teachers of Jerusalem even during His previous visits to the city. Thus, only the Evangelist John, linking this event with the raising of Lazarus, dispels the reader’s perplexity.
It is with precisely this thought that he ended his narrative with the words “For this cause the people also met Him, for that they heard that He had done this miracle” (Jn. 12:18). A similar, more detailed elucidation of events which were known, but not clear, to readers of the first three Gospels, we find in John’s account of the miracle of the five loaves and the Savior’s subsequent walking on the water. The fourth evangelist explains that the people, carried away by the miraculous visitation, wished to seize the Wonderworker by force and proclaim Him king. To escape the frenzy of the people, the Lord hid for a time in the desert, sending His disciples ahead by boat; and later, after the people had fallen asleep, the Lord, postponing the fulfillment of His intention until the next day, withdrew from the people by walking on the waters of the lake.
The tradition of the Church that the Evangelists did not record the Lord’s raising of Lazarus before the day of his second death renders quite plausible the theory that all of chapter eleven, or perhaps only the first 45 verses of it, as well as the second half of the first verse and verses 9-11, 17, and 18 of chapter twelve, were written by the Evangelist after he had completed the Gospel, that is, when Lazarus resposed a second time. We are led to such a conclusion by the narrator’s second return to the day of the raising of Lazarus (“six days before the Passover,” etc.) and to the solemn evening meal which took place that day at his home. Here we are told how Mary poured ointment on the Savior’s feet: while in chapter eleven, where, upon first mention of Mary and Martha, it is said: “It was that Mary which anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped His feet with her hair,” as of an event already known to the reader (but not from the first two Gospels, for there the pouring of ointment on the head of the Lord in the house of Simon the Leper is spoken of). Thus, it is very likely that the Gospel according to John was written during Lazarus’ life, and that the narrative of his resurrection was added by the Evangelist after his death, exactly as all of chapter twenty-one of that Gospel was added by the Apostle later, as a result of the stories spread during his old age that he would never die. This is why, let us add, the Gospel according to John has two concluding epilogues, each rather similar to the other: one at the end of chapter twenty, and another at the end of chapter twenty-one, in which his original silence concerning the appearance of the Lord at the Sea of Tiberias is explained by the words “if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written.” Thus the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, written down by one of the first three evangelists, the synoptics, was, by the resurrection of Lazarus and the unbelief of the Jews described by the Evangelist John, actually vindicated in its puzzling idea expressed in the words: “if they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rose from the dead.” But did the Evangelist have this internal connection between the event and the parable in mind? There are no direct indications of this in the Gospel, but he unintentionally lets reference to the unalterable obstinacy of the unbelief of the Jews slip from his pen and, having finished his depiction of the events of these two great days in the earthly life of the Savior, in disregard of his usual manner, he abandons the tone of an objective, unbiased narrator, and says: “But though He had done so many miracles before them, yet they believed not on Him: That the saying of Esaias the prophet might be fulfilled which he spake, Lord, who hath believed our report? And to whom hath the arm of the Lord been revealed? Therefore they could not believe, because that Esaias said again, He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart; that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them. These things said Esaias, when he saw His glory and spake of Him” (Jn. 12:37-41).
Indeed the unbelief of the leaders of the Jews and of the more influential teachers of Jerusalem, not yielding before such a striking, obvious miracle performed in the sight of a whole crowd of people, is one of the amazing phenomena of the history of mankind; thenceforth, it ceased being unbelief and became rather a conscious opposition to the obvious truth (“Now have they both seen and hated both Me and My Father” – Jn. 15:24), which is also expressed in the mood of the chief priests and the multitude of the people at the trial before Pilate.
In all five of his works, the Evangelist John discloses to his readers his main theme: that, as the world, that is, human obstinacy and malice fought against Christ, even though His righteousness shone upon the world like the sun, so will it fight against His followers, hating their righteous life as Cain hated Abel (I Jn. 3:12), so will it hate God and His servants to the end of time, despite the manifest works of His might and His righteous retribution (Rev. 9:20, et al.)
We have long wished to publish an analysis of St. John’s writings as works which supplement the New Testament teachings of the first evangelists with a view to encouraging the Christian martyrs and shaming the faint-hearted (Rev. 21:8), both of which groups were awaiting the thousand-year reign of Christ in the lifetime of their own generation (II Thess. 2); official duties, however, deprive us of the opportunity of undertaking this worthwhile task in the near future, but we invite the other lovers of the word of God to do so. Having set about it, they would see that all the narratives of the fourth Gospel are permeated and bound together by this thought; the entire Apocalypse is devoted to it, as are all three of the epistles of the Apostle.
The above-mentioned hindrance does not afford us an opportunity to verify our conjecture as to why the Lord called the blessed poor man of His parable by name. All the same, we know one very authoritative corroboration for it in Church teaching: viz., for six days, the whole of the sixth week of the Great Fast, the Church exalts Lazarus who was four days dead and the Lazarus of the parable. Having in mind not the enemies of Christ, but those who worship Him, who gather in the holy churches for the podvig of prayer, the Church teaches us to understand under the guise of both Lazaruses our sovereign mind and conscience, which the sinner neglects as the Rich Man did Lazarus, and which, having died within man’s soul, can be restored to life (like Lazarus who was four days dead) only by the power of Christ; but this connection is nearly the same which we indicated at the beginning of this article, the only difference being that here the historical Lazarus (four days dead) also takes on the significance of a moral symbol.
Instead of the struggle between faith and unbelief, the struggle in the soul of man between the passions and the conscience is depicted, since those who do not believe do not appear among those who pray; on the other hand, according to the teachings of Christ, the struggle between faith and unbelief takes place not in the realm of abstract thought, but is shown to be a particular aspect of the struggle between good and evil in our soul, the struggle between the passions and the conscience. Herein lies the explanation of the Lord’s words: “If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.” The hard-hearted Jews’ disbelief in the risen Lazarus has borne out this saying with such force that now no one can consider it an exaggeration.
* There is a similar hint in the third Gospel: “But I am among you as he that serveth (Lk 22:27), which is elucidated in the fourth Gospel by the account of the Lord’s washing the feet of His disciples at the Mystical Supper.
Translated by Seraphim F. Englehardt from the series The Biography and Works of His Beatitude Metropolitan Anthony of Kiew and Galich, edited and compiled by Archbishop Nikon (Rklitsky), (New York: 1969) Vol. XVII, pp. 49-54.
Taken from Orthodox Life, Volume 30, No. 2, March-April 1980, Published by Holy Trinity Monastery, Jordanville, New York.
P.O. Box 3177
Buena Vista, CO 81211-3177
All rights reserved.