Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem–St. Lazarus Day meditation
The Saturday before Palm Sunday
“Unbind him, and let him go.”
In the Orthodox Holy Week calendars, St. Lazarus Day, the day before Palm Sunday, is really the first day of Holy Week, not Palm Sunday like it is in the Western Church. St. Lazarus Day provides the foretaste for the Orthodox of the Divine Drama that is going to unfold throughout Holy Week. For the Orthodox, they know “the outcome” of Holy Week because of “the raising” of St. Lazarus. Because of St. Lazarus, Holy Week is celebrated in a very different way in the Orthodox Church than it is in the Western Church.
In Al-Izariyah on St. Lazarus Day, the Church gathers first at the Church of St. Mary and Martha. There in presence of the Greek Orthodox Patriarch, the Eucharist is celebrated. The Church is small so the hundreds of faithful worshippers spend only a few minutes in the church lighting candles. The rest of the time for the faithful is spent outside in the courtyard of the Church.
Following the Eucharist, there is a procession from the Church of St. Mary and Martha to the Tomb of Lazarus, some 500 meters away. What happens in that procession is quite remarkable. Banana vendors are out in full force that day selling bananas. And everyone is eating a banana in the procession to St. Lazarus’ tomb. When one of the Orthodox Palestinian Christians was asked, “Why are you eating a banana today in this procession?” The answer was quite simple. “Unbind him, and let him go.” As we peel back our bananas on St. Lazarus Day, indeed we are preparing for events of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday, the ultimate peeling back, the ultimate unbinding.
This information comes to you as a courtesy of St. George’s College, one of more than thirty institutions of education, rehabilitation, and healthcare of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem, covering Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon. St. George’s College, a continuing education center of the Anglican Communion, offers educational pilgrimages.