The somber tone of Holy Week is preceded by a two day feast commemorating the resurrection of Lazarus who had been dead for 4 days, and the triumphant entry of our Lord into Jerusalem. It is significant that Holy Week begins with Christ resurrecting Lazarus from the dead. This event confirms the power of Christ over the living and the dead and foreshadows our Lord’s Second Coming when He will raise all the dead by His command. We begin these events of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Christ with “death beginning to tremble.”
Though I lie in bonds, O Savior,” Lazarus cried from below to Thee his Deliverer, “yet shall I not remain forever in the depth of Hell, if Thou wilt only call to me, ‘Lazarus, come out;’ for Thou art my Light and my Life.”
“I implore thee, Lazarus,” said Hell, “Rise up, depart quickly from my bonds and be gone. It is better for me to lament bitterly for the loss of one, rather than of all those whom I swallowed in my hunger.”
Shaking the gates and iron bars, Thou hast made Hell tremble at Thy voice. Hell and Death were filled with fear, O Savior, seeing Lazarus their prisoner brought to life by Thy word and rising from the tomb.
-from the Canon of the Raising of Lazarus, Tone 1
Celebrated the Day before Palm Sunday
Epistle: Hebrews 12:28-13:8
Gospel: John 11:1-45
O Lord, wishing to see the tomb of Lazarus – for You were soon to dwell by Your own choice within a tomb – You asked, “Where have you laid him?” And learning that which was already known to You, You called to him whom You loved, “Lazarus, come forth.” And he who was without breath obeyed the One Who gave him breath, the Savior of our souls.
O Lord, wishing to give Your disciples an assurance of Your Resurrection from the dead, You came to the tomb of Lazarus and called to him by name. Then was hell despoiled, and it released the one that had been dead four days, as he called upon You, “O blessed Lord, glory to You!”
Verses from the Vespers.
About the Feast
Lazarus Saturday is a paschal celebration. It is the only time in the entire Church Year that the resurrection service of Sunday is celebrated on another day. At the Liturgy of Lazarus Saturday, the Church glorifies Christ as “the Resurrection and the Life” who by raising Lazarus has confirmed the universal resurrection of mankind even before His own suffering and death.
At the Divine Liturgy of Lazarus Saturday, the baptismal verse from Galatians (“As many as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ” Galatians 32:27) replaces the Thrice-Holy Hymn, thus indicating the resurrectional character of the celebration, and the fact that Lazarus Saturday was once among the few great baptismal days in the Orthodox Church Year.
Because of the resurrection of Lazarus from the dead, Christ was hailed by the masses as the long-expected Messiah-King of Israel. Thus, in fulfillment of the prophecies of the Old Testament, he entered Jerusalem, the City of the King, riding on the colt of an ass (Zechariah 9:9; John 12:12) the crowds greeting him with waving branches and shouts of praise: Hosanna! Blessed is He Who comes in the name of the Lord! The Son of David! The King of Israel! Because of this glorification by the people, the Jewish priests and scribes were finally driven “to destroy Him, to put Him to death.” (Luke 19:47; John 11:53, 12:10)
Taken from The Orthodox Faith, Vol. II: Worship, by Fr. Thomas Hopko.
Listen to Father Hopko as he talks about Lazarus Saturday