In the Armenian Church, Holy Week (Աւագ Շաբաթ) begins not on Palm Sunday, but on Lazarus Saturday, the day before Palm Sunday. It is not a fasting day or a saints’ day, even though Lazarus is a saint in the Armenian Church. It is a dominical day on which daily services, including Badarak, are celebrated. St. Gregory of Narek shows us how the story of Lazarus, the last event prior to Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on the first Palm Sunday, properly initiates Holy Week and sets the theme of Zadeeg (Easter), and it is Zadeeg that sets the theme for our lives. From his Ode for the Raising of Lazarus, translated by Abraham Terian, St. Gregory writes:
The Gift able to transform the speechless, dead body,
The dead body wrapped in burial clothes, to be clothed and sealed with breath again by the Caller to Life.
The seal of death was broken as were the torments of hell,
The torments by the (evil) one who cannot harm the blessed assembly.
The great Hebrew assembly, a galaxy of thousands, praises in song the glory,
The glory of the One who bestows light, now and eternally. Amen.
Although the subject of the ode is the raising of Lazarus, St. Gregory is able to link that event with Christ’s entry into Jerusalem on the first Palm Sunday and ground the entire theme in the divinity of Christ. This ode affirms that it is not the story of the person of Lazarus that draws the attention for Armenian Christians, rather what it tells us about Jesus Christ, the Caller to Life, and the temporary chapter that is death. Jesus has conquered death, and shares with us his resurrection life (see Romans 8:11, I Peter 1:3). We read from the story of Lazarus in the gospel of John:
Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:23-26)
Do we live as though Jesus has conquered death, transforming it from something to fear into something not to be feared, no longer a mystery to be explained, but a victory, a proclamation of the Lord’s victory over death. Has dying become our way of life? As St. Paul writes,
For while we live we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh. (see II Corinthians 4:11)
In other words, do we only wear the Cross around our necks, but ignore the suffering that it represents? Jesus doesn’t always remove our trials and suffering, but fills them with his presence, transforming them into something victorious, the catalyst by which we enter into the Kingdom of God and share in the resurrected and eternal life of Christ.
Dn. Eric Vozzy