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April 9, 2023

Journey Through Holy Week: Palm Sunday

The Church celebrates Christ's triumphal entry into Jerusalem, a few days before His Passion.

The Event

Christ resurrected His friend Lazarus, while He was already buried and wrapped in the tomb four days after his death.

After the resurrection of Lazarus, the people rejoiced, but the leaders of the Jews plotted against Him. That is why Christ went away for a while.

However, six days before the Passover of the Jews, He came to Bethany, to the village of Lazarus, and dined with Lazarus and his sisters Martha and Mary. There Mary washed Christ's feet with myrrh.

The next day, Christ sent His disciples and they brought a colt and a donkey. Christ, accompanied by His disciples and riding on the donkey, entered Jerusalem. There the whole city welcomed Him with cheers and palm trees, as the conqueror of death, because they had learned that He raised Lazarus. The whole city shook with the triumphant reception.

After entering the city, Christ went to the Temple of Solomon and there he drove out all the merchants and overturned the stalls with their goods, and said the famous phrase: "You have made the house of my Father a house of commerce."

And because the children shouted loudly: "Hosanna, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord," the rulers were indignant, and Christ answered them with the famous prophetic phrase: "Haven't you heard what the prophet said: 'Out of the mouth of babes and nursing infants You have perfected praise?'"

These miraculous events, which signaled freedom from the fear of death and the selfless offering to God, instead of moving the leaders of the people, propelled their envy, and they began to plan how to kill Christ.

The Services and Ceremonies - Various Greek Customs

On the morning of Palm Sunday, a festal Divine Liturgy is held in the churches, which Christians decorate with palms.

The priests wear green vestments.

Before the Divine Liturgy begins, the Bishop - or the Priest - reads a special prayer for the blessing of the palms, which are then distributed to the people, and everyone holds that palms in their hands, just like the residents of Jerusalem at that time.

Today, fish is included in the meal, as it is the end of Great Lent, for the festal nature of the resurrection of Lazarus and the entry of Christ into Jerusalem, and in view of Holy and Great Week in which we observe strict fasting.

Theology of the Feast

By Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou

(From his book The Feasts of the Lord)

The people were not content to just shout and praise Christ as God, but also held in their hands the branches of the palm trees. The Evangelist John writes:

"The next day a great multitude that had come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, took branches of palm trees and went out to meet Him" (Jn. 12:12-13). The other Evangelists mention that they cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road (Matt. 21:8; Mark. 11:8).

This scene is reminiscent of events welcoming a popular leader who defeated the enemies.

According to the testimonies we have, the Church has worshipfully repeated this triumphant scene in Jerusalem since ancient times. There were litanies with palm trees and flowers, the people marched to the Mount of Olives where the Bishop as a type of Christ was sitting on a colt. The procession with palm branches is referred to in many troparia of the Palm Sunday liturgy.

According to Saint Epiphanios, "vaion" is an Egyptian word and means palm branch.

Christians still hold them in their hands on this day because they symbolize, apart from the reception of the triumphant Christ, the existence of virtues. It was preceded by a period of Great Lent, with asceticism, fasting and prayer, and so Christians are ready to welcome the Risen Christ.

Saint Cyril of Alexandria advises Christians not only to hold the palms in their hands, but also to possess the palms of the soul, which are associated with the removal from the soul of the dead garment of skin of ancient times and rejection of all delusion and conceit.

Saint Andrew, the Archbishop of Crete, recommends that we do not pave the way through which Christ will pass with palm branches, but as much as possible to pave ourselves with humility of soul and correctness of opinion, so that we accept the Word and let God fit Himself within us, He who idoes not fit anywhere.

And elsewhere, Saint Andrew says that we must show Christ the virtuous life instead of the palms. After all, the palm branches are the hands that reach out for mercy and compassion.

The resurrection of Lazarus and the triumphant entry of Christ into Jerusalem show the hope of the common resurrection and the entry of Christ into the pure heart of man. They should not be external events, but internal feasts.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

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