What Does Lazarus Have to Do with the Epiphany? Unraveling a Mystery in the Early Jerusalem Lectionary

Hugo Méndez
Studia Patristica, Vol. CXXV: Papers presented at the Eighteenth International Conference on Patristic Studies held in Oxford 2019, ed. by Markus Vinzent, vol. 21, 51–63

Every year on the sixth day of the Epiphany octave (Epiphany VI/11 January), the residents of Jerusalem gathered in Bethany and read the account of Jesus’ miraculous raising of Lazarus (John 11:1-46). This article reconstructs the meaning of this celebration from the extant homilies of Hesychius of Jerusalem, a fifth-century presbyter in the city. First, the article determines that Hesychius’ Hom. 12, In S. Lazarum, is an artifact of the celebration – that is, a sermon preached on Epiphany VI. Secondly, the article determines from the homily that Epiphany VI had a double significance for the residents of Jerusalem. Like other days in the Epiphany octave, the festivity commemorated Jesus’ birth, but it also – and even primarily – served as the city’s primary celebration of the raising of Lazarus. Lastly, the article revisits the origins and evolution of this festival. It concludes that the celebration was the partial continuation of an older and more complex memorial on the Saturday immediately before Holy Week – one that commemorated all of Jesus’ encounter with Mary, the raising of Lazarus, and a later supper shared in the home of Lazarus. Evidence of this older celebration persists in Cyril of Jerusalem’s Catechetical Lectures, the Itinerarium Egeriae, and perhaps also Hesychius’ Hom. 11. By the mid-fifth century, however, the church of Jerusalem limited the focus of this feast to the supper at Lazarus’ home; simultaneously, it moved the account of Lazarus’ raising to the only other date on which it held a public liturgy in Bethany, Epiphany VI.

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