NICOSIA (Reuters) – Eight days before Orthodox Easter each year, a casket containing remains of Jesus’s friend Lazarus is carried through the streets of the Cypriot town of Larnaca, believed by many Christians to be the saint’s second resting place.
Only this year, Lazarus’s remains are staying inside a stone church in the town due to the coronavirus outbreak and a strict lockdown on the Mediterranean island, which has reported 595 cases of the virus and 10 deaths.
Normally a major celebration attended by hundreds of worshippers, Saturday’s mass marking Lazarus’s Biblical resurrection was low-key and the doors of the church were shut to the faithful.
A procession of a small silver casket containing what the Church says are relics of Lazarus, and which takes place through the seaside town each year was cancelled. Instead clerics took a short walk around the church building.
“We share the pain of people who have to stay away from churches over Easter,” said Bishop Nektarios, of Kitium, the diocese of the Larnaca district.
The Church of Cyprus, which traces its lineage back to Jesus’s first followers, has closed its doors to services during Easter week, the most important on the Christian Orthodox calendar. Orthodox Easter falls on April 19.
“This pandemic might be an opportunity for us all to start anew, to come even closer to God and to others, (and be) people able to live and savour the beauty of life offered by Christ,” Nektarios said in a speech transmitted live by a local news website, Larnakaonline.com.
According to the Biblical Gospel of John, Lazarus was restored to life by Jesus four days after his death.
The Greek Orthodox Church believes that after Jesus’s crucifixion Lazarus fled to Cyprus, where he lived for another 30 years and became a Christian Bishop, the first in Kitium. Legend has it that he only ever smiled once after resurrection.
The St. Lazarus church is thought to have been built over his tomb, which lies under the iconostasis of the church and contains a stone sarcophagus.
Clerics say that most of Lazarus’s relics were transferred to Constantinople in the ninth century by Byzantine emperor Leo the Wise in return for money to build the church, but that locals managed to retain some of the remains.
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