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The Resurrection of Lazarus: A Discourse Attributed to St. Athanasius the Apostolic

The following homily, attributed to St. Athanasius, is one of ten contained in a synaxary formerly in use during Eastertide and Whitsuntide at the Monastery of the Archangel Michael at Hamouli on the southern border of the province of Fayyum. The manuscript, written in A.D. 855 in the Sahidic dialect of the Coptic language, is still in excellent condition and is preserved in the Pierpont Morgan Library, New York, which has published a facsimile of it under the capable editorship of Professor Henry Hyvernat.[1]


The same manuscript contains two other homilies attributed to St. Athanasius. One, In Passionem domini et iudicium, was published in the Journal of Theological Studies, XXXVIII (April, 1937), 113-29; the other, Cathechesis in festum Pentecostes, has not as yet been published. The genuineness of these and other Coptic Athanasian homilies awaits a thorough investigation of all the available evidence. In the following homily the biblical quotations are made with freedom, and the internal evidence is of little help in dating its composition. The text reproduced here has been edited, and diacritical lines and punctuation have been added.


(M595, fol. 108rβ) A discourse of St. Athanasius, Archbishop of Alexandria, which he made concerning Lazarus, whom Christ raised from the dead. In the peace of God. Amen.


The eyes of the Lord are rays of light, which lighten those who are in the darkness and in the shadow of death. The tongue of Christ is full of life for everyone whom death has conquered. The hands of Christ are restorers of life, with which He aids all and sets them on their feet. The garments of Christ are restorers of life, by which women (108vα) with issues of blood are healed. The feet of Christ are converters of the strayed sheep, which He brings back to the good fold. The commandment of Christ is a healer, by which He heals those who are leprous and cleanses them. The salivas within Christ’s mouth are healing, sight-giving salves, by which He gives sight to the eyes of the man blind from birth. The gaze of Christ is a restorer of life; He looked on the son of the widow as they were carrying him out dead, and restored him to life. The hand of Christ is an inviter of man to life; He came walking and calling His apostles to the kingdom of heaven. (108vβ) The passing-by of Christ is beneficent; as He was passing by He gave sight to two blind men by the wayside. The mercies of Christ are innumerable; for He had pity on five thousand men who were hungry. They were needed five barley loaves; He caused them all to eat and they were satisfied.


What shall I say? For the time would not permit me if I spoke about the mighty works which Christ did in the world and of all the wonders which no human being could number. Neither is there a zealous scribe who would be able to enumerate them and write them in a book. Water was made wine; and the lame man took up his bed and (109rα) walked; and the demons which He cast out; and the dumb which He caused to speak; and the deaf which He caused to hear; and the withered hands which He healed; and the sea upon whose waters He walked as upon a stony rock; and the fig tree on which He did not find fruit, which He caused to wither; and the waves of the sea which were thoroughly frightened at His speech and calmed down; and the daughter of the ruler of the synagogue who leapt up, stood on her feet, and lived, when the hand of her Creator took hold of her. These things have we spoken and disclosed concerning the mighty works which Christ did.


But, moreover, give heed that we may recall what (109rβ) was read to us today, and fulfil it because of the administration of the holy and universal liturgy — this which summons us to the holy bridal chamber. The word which was read to us today in the Gospel according to John leads me to a great and joyful teaching. What, indeed, is the word which was read to us? Give heed that we may declare it!


Now there was one, namely Lazarus, sick in Bethany, the village of Martha and Mary her sister. This is the Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped His feet with the hair of her head. This, then, was the one whose brother Lazarus was ill. His disciples said to Jesus, “Lord, behold, he whom Thou (109vα) lovest is ill.”


Note well the statement and the saying of the Gospel. It says, “She who anointed the Lord with ointment.” O this great wonder which is promised! “Thou, indeed, hast anointed me with an ointment; I myself shall anoint thee with the oil of the unbreakable seal, in My Name and the Name of My Father and the Holy Spirit. Thou, indeed, Mary, a name worthily beloved, hast wiped My feet with the hair of thy head; I Myself shall wipe away thy sins which thou hast committed from thy youth until now. I shall hold thee fast in My hand and give joy to My soul. Thou, indeed, hast anointed Me with the ointment of this world (109vβ) in the gladness of thy soul; I Myself shall anoint thee with the ointment of heaven — that which came down upon Me upon the Jordan at the time when I received baptism. Verily, I say to thee, Mary, that in whatever place this Gospel is preached in all the world, moreover that which this woman has done will be spoken of in remembrance of her.”


Now, indeed, was her brother Lazarus ill. His disciples said to Jesus, “Lord, behold, he whom thou lovest is ill.” O this great favor which He showed these three relations! Lazarus, indeed, did Jesus love. Likewise Martha (110rα) was serving the supper of Christ. Once again Mary wiped His feet with her hair. They were like a cord of three strands which He was not in a hurry to cut.

After these things Jesus said to His disciples, “Let us go to Judaea.” They said to Him, “Lord, behold, the Jews seek to slay Thee, and Thou wilt go there.” Jesus said to them, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? But he who goes in the light does not stumble, because he sees the Light of this world. But if one goes in the night one stumbles, because the Light is not in him.” (110rβ) Consider, moreover, what I have said, that the Light is Christ. Everyone who will walk in His commandments will not be laid hold of by evil. These twelve hours which are in the day are the twelve apostles. The devil, on the other hand, is compared with the night. He who walks in the will of the devil will stumble, because he has not the light of Christ.


Jesus said to them, “Lazarus, our friend, has fallen asleep.” Jesus said to them, “If he has fallen asleep, he will rise again.” But Jesus was speaking of his death, but they truly thought that He was speaking of the sleep of slumber. For all who have fallen asleep since Adam (110vα) until now, who have fallen asleep in Christ, at the day of resurrection will He call to them in His divine voice, and they will all rise immediately incorruptible and act like those who have arisen from forgetfulness because of sleep. Then Jesus said to them plainly, “Lazarus is dead; but I rejoice for your sake that I was not there. But let us go to him, in order that I may raise him up.”


Didymus, however, one of the Twelve, said, “Let us go ourselves that we may die with him.” “Thomas, how dost thou fear death, when the Life goes with thee? Thou wilt know Him now, because He Whom they will put to death among us, is He Who seizes another from the hand of death. (110vβ) Follow Me, Thomas, and I shall show thee the type of My resurrection, which I shall display to the whole creation. Come with Me, and I shall show thee the body of Lazarus which has decayed and spread abroad a foul smell; and the manner in which I shall call to his soul and cause it to enter his body again. Follow Me, Didymus, and I shall cause thee to behold the hands of Lazarus and his feet which were bound with the cords and bands of death. I shall give them life again, and they will minister to Me. Go with Me, Didymus, and I shall show thee the eyes of Lazarus which have closed, and there is no sight in them. I shall open them again and I shall give them sight. Come to the tomb with Me, Thomas, and I shall show thee the (111rα) mouth of the grave closed, and his tongue decayed, and no breath in his nostrils. I shall open its mouth, and I shall cause his tongue to speak, and I shall give him breath. Come with Me, all ye My holy disciples, and ye will hear Me when I shall call in My divine voice; and Lazarus will hear Me and will walk and come to Me alive.” And when He had said these things, He went with His disciples to go to him.


Martha, moreover, when she heard that Jesus was coming, went forth to meet Him. But Mary was sitting in the house. Martha, then, threw herself down at His feet, saying, “Lord, if Thou hadst been here, my brother would not have died.” Jesus said to her, “Thy brother will rise.” Martha said to Him, “I know (111rβ) that he will rise in the resurrection at the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Everyone who believes on Me, even though he die, will live again; and everyone who lives who believes on Me will never taste of death. I am the voice of life which awakens the dead. I am the good odor which takes away the foul odor. I am the voice of joy which takes away sorrow and grief. I am the good Teacher Who rejoices in those who hear Me. I am the comfort of those who are in grief; those who belong to Me do I give them joy. I am the joy of the whole world. All My friends (111vα) do I gladden, and I rejoice with them. I am the Bread of life; those who are hungry do I satisfy with every good thing. I am the Physician, the Healer of all who are sick. Come to Me, I heal you for nothing. I am the Shepherd Who seeks after all His strayed sheep. Come to Me! Why art thou weeping, Martha, and art disturbed and lamenting? I am He Who will give thee thy brother alive, and he will speak with thee. Dost thou believe this?” She said, “Yea, Lord, I believe that Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God, the One Who came down into the world. I have known Thee that Thou art the resurrection of the whole creation.”


(111vβ) And when Martha had said these things, she called Mary, her sister, privately, saying to her, “Behold, the Master has come and calls thee.” Mary, therefore, arose in haste and came to Him. And when she saw Him, she stood behind His feet, saying, “Lord, if Thou hadst been here, my brother would not have died.” But Jesus, when He saw her weeping, and the other Jews who came with her weeping, was troubled in spirit, and His eyes shed tears. He said to them, “Where have ye laid him?” Thou art He Who said to them previously, my Savior, “Lazarus our friend has fallen asleep.” And now Thou askest, (112rα) “Where have ye laid him?” Observe the God Who has created the heaven and the earth and sea and the things in it, Who sits upon the cherubim in the seventh heaven, and Whose eyes behold those who are buried in the underworld, asking, “Where have ye laid him?” Is He, then, without knowledge of this where they have laid him? Heaven forbid! But since the Jews are always ignorant about this, He wished to cause them to be witnesses to what He was about to do, in order that they might not find a word to say or be able to deny the mighty works which Christ did.


They said, “Lord, come and see.” And Jesus wept. O this great love and this great affection of Christ for His saints! (112rβ) Why dost Thou weep, Lord, when the life of the whole creation is in Thy hands? They said, then, “See how He loves him!” Others again among the Jews were saying, “Is it not possible for this Man Who opened the eyes of the man blind from birth to prevent this one from dying?” But Jesus was sorely grieved within Himself. He came to the tomb; but there was a stone at the mouth of the cave. Jesus said to them, “Take away the stone.” Observe the wisdom of this merciful God. Is He not able to cause the stone to roll away? Yea, I tell you that He is able. But He was saying these things on account of witnesses, in order that they might not find a way of denying, if they wished.


(112vα) Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to Him, “Lord, now he is already decayed, for it is his fourth day. His whole body has poured forth pus; his eyeballs have dropped out; and his interior organs have become useless. How, moreover, will the body rise again? His hands and his feet and all his parts are bound with grave clothes, and his head is bound with a napkin; the whole body is bound with cloths lest it dissolve and fall to pieces. And how will he rise again, and all of those there? Again I know that all things which Thou wilt ask of God, God will give them to Thee.” But Christ, the Comfort of those who are in (112vβ) grief, answered and said to her, “Did I not say to thee that, if thou believe, thou wilt see the glory of God?”


They took, then, the stone there from the mouth of the tomb. The whole crowd marveled, witnessing the smell of pus of Lazarus who was decayed. He had rotted so that they were not able to approach within the tomb on account of the smell of his body and its decay. But into the midst came Jesus, the Storehouse which is full of life, the Mouth which is full of sweet odor, the Tongue which frightens death, the Mighty One in His commands, the Joy of those who are sorrowful, the Rising of those who have fallen, the Resurrection of the dead, the Assembly of the strong, the Hope of the hopeless.


(113rα) He came and stood openly by the mouth of the tomb, with the preparations of salvation in His divine mouth. Now all the crowd were standing and beholding and wondering what He would do in starting to raise him from the dead. Now the body was lying dead; but God Himself was standing over it, looking down upon him and grieving for him. First, He raised His eyes to heaven and spoke with His Father in a gentle voice, saying, “My Father, I am able to do this gracious act through Thee, because Thou hast heard Me. Now I know that Thou always hearest Me; but speak on account of this crowd standing here, in order that they may believe that Thou art the One Who has sent Me.”


But when He had said these things, (113rβ) He ceased speaking with His Father, and turned to the body of Lazarus, which was lying without breath in it, nor movement in any limb. He called at the mouth of the tomb in His divine voice, “Lazarus, come forth.” Immediately the voice of Christ awoke him who was slumbering, like a man who has arisen who was asleep. He said to him, “Come forth. Behold, I am standing by thee. I am thy Lord; thou art the work of My hands. Why hast thou not known Me, because in the beginning I Myself formed Adam from the earth and gave him breath? Open thy mouth thyself, in order that I may give thee breath. Stand upon thy feet and receive strength to thyself; for I am the Strength of (113vα) the whole creation. Stretch out thy hands and I shall give them strength; for I am the straight Staff. I command the foul odor to depart from thee; for I am the sweet odor of the trees of paradise. Behold, the prophecy of Isaiah the prophet will be fulfilled in thee, namely, ‘I shall open your tombs and I shall bring you forth.’ Open thy mouth and speak with Me; it is I Who command thee. Cast from thee the fear, and know Me, that I am the living God. Do not be frightened about the things which thou hast seen; for I have taken thee out of their hands. Observe the place where thou wast sleeping, that it is full of pus and stinks. (113vβ) How have they come out of thy body? Cast from thee the corruption of the valley of death, as again thou hast seen the Life, which is I Who am standing by thee. Do not be disturbed about what thou hast seen, for they are greatly disturbed since thou hast received strength and entered into the world again. Be strong about thy ministry. Notice the place where thou art standing, that thou art inside a tomb, in order that thou mayest know that I have taken thee out of the hand of death. Observe the grave clothes which cover thy body, in order that thou mayest know that I have placed thee in the world again after thou hadst become a stranger to it. Come out of the tomb; it is I Who command thee.”


The dead man, indeed, came (114rα) forth, with his hands and his feet bound with grave clothes, and his face bound with a napkin. Jesus said, “Loose him and release him, that he may go.” Notice particularly the saying, “He came forth with his hands and his feet bound, and after he came forth, Jesus said to them, ‘Loose him and release him, that he may walk.’” How did he come forth with his hands and his feet bound so that he was not able to walk? Who raised him up, being buried? For truly he came forth with the grave clothes covering his body, and his hands and his feet bound; and his eyes were not uncovered, for truly there was a napkin bound about his head and his (114rβ) face; and he came forth with no man to support him. How did he come forth, my faithful one, except by the command of our Savior Who raised him? Moreover, He said to those standing by, “Loose him.” What, therefore, is the meaning of this saying, my Savior? Thou hast granted him life after the fourth day. Thou hast brought him forth from the tomb with no one to lift him up. Why, on the other hand, didst Thou not command the grave clothes to loose themselves, in order that the unbelieving might not touch him, although Thou knowest them better, my Savior? “But My wish is not this,” He said. “For I (114vα) have brought him forth, ye yourselves come release him, in order that your own hands themselves may testify to you that ye have not believed Me. For I have not done this in the case of Lazarus alone, but I did it again another time in Cana of Galilee, when I was invited to their wedding feast and I had the power to cause them to find the water jars full of water. No one filled them; but I said, ‘Fill the water jars with water.’ And they found that they had become wine as a witness to them.”


Now they loosed Lazarus, and all the crowd saw Him speaking quite openly with Lazarus, whose body was clothed. This one who had arisen came forth from the tomb with all of his members (114vβ) full of life in the life of Christ. The eyes, which had closed so as never to open, opened again filled with light and saw everyone. The head, which had been bound with a napkin, loosed itself and became strong again and bowed to Christ. The ears, which had been closed by the stroke of death, opened again and heard Christ calling in the tomb in His divine voice. His nose, which had been a stranger to the breath of life, functioned again and smelt the sweet odor of Christ. The tongue, which had ceased speaking forever, moved once more, stretched, and praised God. The lips, which had closed so as not to speak again, opened (115rα) once more and spoke with the Son of God. The mind, which had dissolved so as not to speak or to think or to be able to see a man to know him or to be able to perceive anything, became strong again and knew its Creator. All the members, which had decayed and dissolved in the earth, became alive again and ministered to the body. The feet, which had been bound so as never to walk, were loosed again and stretched and ministered patiently to Christ Jesus, the Son of God.


The prophecy of David was fulfilled in the case of Lazarus, when he says, “The Lord will loose those who are bound. The Lord will cause those who have fallen to stand. The Lord will instruct the blind. The Lord loves the righteous.” (115rβ) All these were fulfilled in the case of the body of Lazarus, which Christ loosed, being bound; He set him up, after he had fallen; He opened his eyes, being blind; and, furthermore, He loves them all. For his sister told us this at the time when she said to the Savior, “Lord, behold, he whom Thou lovest is ill.” Furthermore it is said, “Jesus loved Martha and Mary her sister and also Lazarus.” O this such great grace! O this great praise which rejoices everyone who hears it! O this great fame which no one will be able to prevent! O this great boldness which God granted to men! (115vα) O this promised fruit which these good workmen joyfully acquired for themselves! O this great and holy light in which these blessed ones walk!


But the Jews who came with Martha and Mary to comfort them concerning their brother Lazarus saw the things which Jesus did and believed on Him. But the Pharisees said to one another, “Ye have seen that we shall not profit anything. Behold, the whole world has gone after Him.” O the evil shepherds who scatter the sheep of Christ! O the corrupt shepherds who scatter the herd of which God made them the head! O the merciless shepherds who tear in pieces the sheep instead of the wolves! (115vβ) O the unclean shepherds who foul the pasture of the sheep! “The good among My sheep have ye devoured with insatiable eyes. The wool have ye given to yourselves. The weak have ye not strengthened; the scattered have ye not assembled; the strayed have ye not sought; the fallen have ye not raised; the strong have ye not employed; the sick have ye not healed. My sheep are scattered because they have no shepherd.”


“For this reason, lawless shepherds, hear the word of the Lord. This is what the Lord says, ‘I shall seek after My sheep by your hand; and I shall take My vengeance on you in My wrath and My anger; (116rα) and I shall bring My wrath upon you in accordance with your lawless acts; and I shall send My curse upon you and scatter your counsel and take away My countenance from you, because I hate you.’ For I am He Who will pasture My sheep. I shall seek them and gather them that there may be one flock and one shepherd. The scattered shall I gather; the weak shall I strengthen; the sick shall I heal; the strayed shall I bring back to Myself; that I may be to them God, and that they may be to Me a people.” All these sayings have I spoken concerning the high priests of the Jews, because they attempted to disparage the resurrection (116rβ) of Lazarus, in order that no one might believe on the mighty works which Christ did and be saved.


When the crowd took the palm branches from the date palms and went before Christ as He was about to go up to the feast, all of them bore witness that He had called Lazarus forth from the grave and had raised him from the dead. Because of this, this great throng believed on Him when they heard that He had done this sign. For all the men had come out of the tomb before they buried him and closed the mouth of the tomb. A great wonder seized them all when they heard that he was alive again; even though this is truly a great wonder to hear it about a man that he has risen from (116vα) the dead after being four days dead.

But the lawless ones took counsel full of guile to kill Lazarus also, because a crowd of the Jews came on his account to see him alive again; and believed on Jesus.


But Jesus, then, six days before the Passover, came to Bethany, the place where He raised Lazarus from the dead. Now they prepared a supper for Him there, and Martha was serving. Lazarus, however, was one of those reclining with Him. Mary, moreover, took a pound of ointment, pure nard, costly in price, and poured it upon His head, as He (116vβ) was reclining. She anointed His feet with the ointment and wiped them with the hair of her head. The whole house was filled with the odor of that ointment. Thou hast seen this great public favor, that Lazarus was one of those who were reclining with Jesus; not only that He gave him life again and took him from the hand of death but also that He granted him this great honor of eating with Him at His supper. O these great favors which God grants to those who love Him and keep His commandments!


Moreover, thou hast seen the favor well fulfilled. Lazarus was reclining, eating with Jesus. For He relied on His holy apostles to suffer with (117rα) mankind, when He said to them, “Behold, I shall establish My covenant with you, that ye may eat and drink with Me at the table of My kingdom. And ye will sit upon your twelve thrones and judge the twelve tribes of Israel. Lazarus, on the other hand, ate and drank with My Father. Come to Me, Lazarus, and I shall take away the evil odor which is in thy flesh, over which death ruled; and I shall give thee the sweet odor. Behold, I shall go to Jerusalem, and everyone will see thee going with Me in this body in which thou hast slept in the grave for four days. Afterward I gave thee life, for truly (117rβ) again thou thyself hast served others; for in accordance with the measure which a man measures, it will be measured to himself.”


Hail to thee, Lazarus, because Christ has granted thee this great honor beyond all those whom he has healed! For these fled to Him and besought Him to heal them. Thou wishest to know; listen and I shall instruct thee. First, then, the nobleman went to Him and besought Him, and his son was healed. Likewise the centurion, when his son was paralyzed, came and besought Him. He said, “It is I Who shall go and heal him.” Now when the daughter of the ruler of the synagogue died, her father went and besought Him, until (117vα) He came and raised his daughter. The two blind men who were sitting beside the way, when they heard that Jesus was to pass by, cried out, “Have mercy upon us, Son of David.” The man who was a leper came to Him and asked Him, and He caused his flesh to be cleansed. Again, as He was coming down the mountain, a man besought Him, “Lord, have mercy upon me, because the only son that I have has a demon.” And He cast out the demon, and his son was whole from that day. Other multitude of signs did Christ without number; as they all besought Him, whom He had not yet healed.


Now Lazarus, on the other hand, did Christ love. But when he died, Christ went this interval with His twelve (117vβ) apostles until He came to him and gave him life; not only the life of this place, but that of the other place did He grant to him. Ye have heard, moreover, my beloved brethren, the great honor of these people and the variation in the esteem of each one. Now Lazarus did the Lord love, as he was reclining with Him at supper. Martha herself was taking great care with the service and was ministering to Christ with all her heart. Mary herself was seated at the feet of Jesus and kissing them. The vessel of ointment of pure nard was in her hands, and she was anointing Him on His feet and wiping them with the hair of her head. The whole desire of her heart (118rα) clove to Him in an embraceless token. The whole house was full of the odor of the ointment. For this reason there was nothing evil in her life at all, but rather her conversation was in heaven, full of sweet odor and virtue. Christ beholds them with His divine eyes and is cheered and rejoices over the purity of their mode of life and the offering to Him of their undefiled service.


O this kissing of the feet of Christ! O the holy woman because of how her deed succeeded! O this famous purified one! O this wiping of the feet of God, which caused the forgiveness of the sins of the repentant woman! (118rβ) O this holy and pure anointing, because it effected a permanent cure of the soul of the woman! O the greatness of the loving-kindness of God, which we shall not be able to reckon! O this goodness, of which there is no measure to its greatness, and which extends to the whole creation! He provides for them all and has mercy upon them and forgives all their sins, because great are the mercies which He shows to him who is good and His creature; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to Whom be glory and honor now and forevermore. Amen.


[1] Bybliothecae Pierpont Morgan codices Coptici photographice expressi (Romae, A.D. MCMXXII), Tomus XLIII.


Adapted from Joseph Buchanan Bernardin, "The Resurrection of Lazarus," The American Journal of Semitic Languages and Literatures, Vol. 57, No. 3 (Jul. 1940), 262-290.

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