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SAINT LAZARUS IN THE EAST
THROUGH THE SCRIPTURES AND TRADITION
Bethany, is a Jewish word which means "the home of the Phoenicians". It has remained known in history as the homeland of Lazarus the friend of Christ. Although it is a small and insignificant Palestinian village, it has an important place in the history of Christianity. It was one of the places for which Christ had a special affection and would visit frequently. This was due to the strong bonds of friendship that Jesus Christ had with the family of Lazarus and with the leper who some believed was the father of the saint.
The invitation of Christ to the house of Martha and Maria, sisters of Lazarus is a well-known event. While Martha "was distracted by her many tasks" Maria sat "at Jesuss feet and listened to his preaching" (Luke X, 38-42). The event for which Bethany became renowned was the resurrection of Lazarus (John XI 1-44) through which the Lord forwarned His own resurrection. This is why the hymns sung during the Saturday of Lazarus give prime emphasis on the sacrament of the joint resurrection and then to the memory of the saint.
Other than these two events which took place in Bethany, there are accounts of hospitality extended to Jesus Christis and visits to the home of Simon the Leper (John XII 1-8, Mark XIV 3-9, Matthew XVI 6-13, John XII 9-11, Matthew XXI 17).
Naturally, the miracle of the resurrection of Lazarus aroused the Jews and "the High Priests planned to put Lazarus to death" (John XII 9-11), as he constituted living evidence of the miracle. Therefore the banished saint fled to the island of Cyprus where he encountered the apostles Paul and Barnabas and was ordained as the first Bishop of Citium.
Ancient Citium, home to the philosopher Zeno, had the honour to propagate the teachings of the Lord through a personal friend of Christ. According to Saint Epiphanios, Bishop of Constantia of Cyprus (367-403), the righteous Lazarus lived on for another 30 years after his resurrection.
Historical accounts describe him as sullen and frowning during his lifetime which was due to all that he had witnessed during his 4-day stay in the underworld. The same historical accounts report that he had only smiled once during his lifetime and that was when he saw someone stealing an earthen pot on which he commented aphoristically: "a piece of soil steals another piece of soil".
Another historical account indicates some association of the saint to the salt lake in Larnaka (the present day name of Citium). In the present location of the salt lake there used to be a vineyard. As he was passing by this spot one day the saint felt thirsty and asked for some grapes from the woman who owned the vineyard. She refused and in order to punish her he transformed the enormous vineyard into a salt lake. This account has been confirmed by the workers who collect the salt. They claim to have found roots and branches of the vineyard when digging in the salt lake. Another legend describes the existence of a well with sweet water in the middle of the salt lake, known as the well of "rgas" i.e. the well of the old lady. According to the Synaxarium (Constantinople Biographies of Saints), the lake was contested by two brothers who fought tooth and nail against each other to acquire it. The saint "through prayer drained the lake and reduced its contents to salt".
In the text of "Patria" in Mount Athos, there are strong references associating Cyprus and Saint Lazarus with the Virgin Mary and Mount Athos. Accompanied by John the Evangelist, the Virgin Mary came to Citium where she met Saint Lazarus and offered him a pallium and a pair of maniples before continuing on her way visit Mount Athos.
According to the Constantinople Biographies of Saints, the saint was buried in a marble tomb inscribed with the words "the fourth day Lazarus, friend of Christ". This tomb was later placed in a small church.
In addition to the information provided by Saint Epiphanios regarding the thirty years of Saint Lazaruss second lifetime, there is an even earlier account according to researchers relating to Saint Lazaruss stay in Cyprus taken from Saint John of Eu(r)oia, priest and monk of the Patriarchate of Antioch (circa 744). In his speech "On the fourth day Lazarus", the Saint says: "For an old man told me, who was privy to information about the blessed Lazarus through some of the saints memoranda, that he became bishop on the island of Cyprus and wore the wreath of a martyr for the sake of Jesus Christ; he executed his duties to the full, stayed on the path of virtue and upheld his faith and is now in perpetual bliss in the company of Christ".
Around the year 744 word spread in Antioch about Saint Lazarus. The information surrounding the death of the saint, as being that of a martyr, became a point of interest.
The thirty-year presence of Saint Lazarus on the episcopal throne of Citium has also been recorded by Saint Theodoros of Stoudites (759-826), who reports in his catechitisms: "We celebrate the anniversary of the death or rather the resurrection of the most blessed Lazarus, who, after his return from the dead, lived on for a further thirty years in accordance with the word of God, and served as a bishop".
The exhumation and translation of Saint Lazaruss remains from Citium to Constantinople commemorated by the Church on the 17th of October of each year, was completed during the year 899/900 following the orders of the byzantine Emperor Leo VI the Wise.
Goddess of love, blow us kisses! Cyprus is home to Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of Love, who arose from the sea as a full-grown (and lovely) woman and sailed to shore in a seashell. It's also the third largest island in the Mediterranean Sea with its geological origins in the fiery heat of volcanic eruption. The history of Cyprus begins as far back as the Neolithic Age of 7000 BC. Relics exist showing settlements to the north and south coastlines. The first Greeks came to the island around 1400 BC, Mycenaean merchants who brought Hellenistic influences with them. Between the time of the Greeks and the arrival of the Romans, Cyprus was conquered by Assyria, Egypt and Persia. Alexander the Great claimed Cyprus for his empire as of 333 BC, and it became part of the Roman Empire in 58 BC. It became the first country to be governed by a Christian when St. Paul experienced conversion there. After the fall of Rome Cyprus was annexed into the Byzantine Empire, with Constantinople for its capital. This situation lasted until Richard the Lion-Hearted arrived in 1191 on a Holy Crusade, conquered the island and sold it to the Templars. Since they were basically wiped out at the start of the 14th century, Cyprus turned to Catholic feudal control and stayed that way until 1571, when the Ottoman Empire invaded and took reign. With this came the expulsion of Catholicism, introduction of Islam and the return of Greek Orthodoxy. The Ottomans kept power until the end of WWI, when Britain assumed administrative duties over the island. As of 1925 it was declared a Crown colony, and in 1955 there began an armed rebellion against British rule. The Republic of Cyprus was granted independence by the British in 1960. It joined the European Union in 2004 although dispute remains over who controls it. Right now there are four sectors. The biggest one belongs to the Republic of Cyprus; Turkish Cypriots occupies one third of the island (to the North), the United Nations has control of the border between these two, and Britain hold two sovereign naval base areas. I'm not sure Aphrodite would approve of all these squabbles. Then again, she did have that brawl with Persephone over who got to live with Adonis the heartbreaker... Text by Steve Smith