Icon of St Lazarus flanked by SS Martha and Mary

The name, Lazarus, means "God has helped", and there are two men of this name mentioned in the Bible. The first was the brother of Mary and Martha of Bethany, and a friend of Jesus. This Lazarus of Bethany, whom our Lord raised from the dead (John, Chapters 11 & 12), subsequently attended a banquet given by Simon the Leper. The second was a beggar whom Jesus mentions in the "parable of the rich man and Lazarus" (Luke, Chapter 16, vv. 19-31). He is described as being "full of sores" and is generally thought to have been suffering from leprosy,  the disease being endemic in the Holy Land at the time. Both episodes were probably taken into account when the monks of St Basil originally selected a name for their leper hospital. The name eventually gave rise to the terms "lazar", meaning a leper, and "lazaretto", a leprosarium, or Leper House. The gate of the city of Jerusalem by which the St Lazarus hospital was established is still known today as the St Lazarus Gate.

Lazarus was born in Bethany, a small town near Jerusalem. Jesus knew his father Simon, and used to visit their home every time he was in the area, developing a close friendship with Lazarus, who followed his teaching and ideals.

In contemporary Christian tradition, he is the brother of Mary and Martha of Bethany who falls ill and dies, and whom Jesus raises from the dead. "And when he thus had spoken, he cried with a loud voice, 'Lazarus, come forth.'  And he that was dead came forth..." (Gospel of St John). Jesus was close to Lazarus: elsewhere in John, Jesus is told of Lazarus, "Lord, he whom you love is ill," and upon the discovery that Lazarus had been entombed in a cave for four days we are told, "Jesus wept." In a letter written by Clement of Alexandria about 200 AD, reference is made to the lost "Secret Gospel of Mark", suggesting Lazarus may have been the friend of Our Lord secretly initiated into a mystery tradition by Jesus.

Church of St Lazarus at Larnaca, CyprusNo mention is made in the New Testament of his activities after having been brought back to life, but it is now believed that Lazarus and his sisters were set adrift by the Jews in a small boat which eventually came to land in Cyprus, where he became bishop of Kition - modern day Larnaca. Lazarus is said to have died at the age of sixty and been buried in a sarcophagus at Kition. In 890 AD the emperor of Byzantium, Leon VI Sopho, transferred Lazarus' remains to Constantinople, building instead a church at Larnaca dedicated to St Lazarus, for devotion to him was commonplace in the Early Church. The church survives today. It is an inspiring place, and a visit is highly recommended.

(See Saint Lazarus church for more details.)


(©) Copyright 2017 Grand Priory of England and Wales