Today’s feast mentally transitions us to the grave final days in the earthly life of our Lord Jesus Christ. On the day after the miraculous resurrection of His friend Lazarus from the dead, the Lord Jesus Christ went from Bethany to Jerusalem.
Numerous crowds of people followed Christ and went to meet Him. On the Mount of Olives, before the entrance to the city, He stopped and sent two of His disciples Peter and John to the village that was on the way, saying to them: There you will find a colt, on which no one has sat; untie it and bring it, and if anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘the Lord has need of it’.
The disciples went and did everything as Jesus commanded them. They brought the colt, and Christ sat on it, and went forth to Jerusalem, concordant with the prophecy of Zechariah, who predicted: Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Behold, your King comes to you; He is righteous and saving; He is gentle and mounted upon a donkey, even a young foal (Zech. 9:9). The prophet with these words revealed that the true King of Zion would not appear before the people as a terrible and formidable ruler, escorted by many brutal warriors, but, on the contrary, He, in the form of humility, poverty and modesty, will enter His Kingdom, sitting on an ass. Jesus, the righteous King, came to save in meekness, as the Lord says of Himself: Learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart (Matt. 11:29). St. Gregory Palamas writes: “So, having resurrected Lazarus from the dead, the King mounted a donkey, and thus entered Jerusalem; all the people: children and elderly, men and women, immediately flowed toward Him as the Giver of life and Victor over death, prostrated themselves and then chanted in unison: Hosanna, son of David! Blessed is He that cometh in the Name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest! The song of praise ‘Hosanna’ is offered up to God, for in its translation it means: “Save, O Lord”. Adding ‘in the highest’, they revealed that not only on earth from the people, but also in heaven from the Angels, the Son of David is glorified.”
Many of those who welcomed the Saviour delightedly removed their outer garments and laid them out on the path of Christ, others cut the branches off of palm trees, which are seen as a symbol of victory, and also placed them on the path, and all in one voice, even small children, exclaimed: Hosanna, blessed is He that cometh in the Name of the Lord, the King of Israel, Hosanna in the highest!
Thus, the people, inspired by the Holy Spirit, in infantile good nature, offered praise up to the Lord, rejoicing that He revived the four-day dead Lazarus, thus revealing Himself as God. The Lord humbly received glorification and chanting of Him, because He knew: If these should keep silent, the stones would immediately cry out (Luke 19:40).
But the scribes and Pharisees were indignant; these evil people did not understand the prophecy: Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings hast Thou perfected praise. The learned scribes could not understand that the previously announced coming of the Saviour to Earth, is now coming true before their eyes. They, like blind men, did not want to see the many miracles of the Lord: the healing of the sick; the resurrection of the dead. Their earthly and haughty wisdom made them blind.
But not only in Jerusalem can we see such blind sages, for in our time there are people who do not know God, who in seeing do not see, in hearing do not understand; these are people who do not see the providence of God in anything, and do not appeal to Him with their mind and heart. Such wise men still do not see the Hand of God in all things, so tangible for people of simple faith. And over these so-called proud “scholars” the voice of God is realised: For judgment I have come into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may be made blind (John 9:39). The knowledge of the truth is available only to a humble mind and a good heart; only the simplicity of a child’s heart can discern the radiance of Divine light and accept the Kingdom of God. Let us too be gentle and simple, like babies, when we go to meet the Lord, when we glorify Him as the Victor over passions, over visible and invisible enemies, when we hope for His timely help.
There are three necessary conditions that we Christians must satisfy when we go to meet the Lord Saviour. First, in true repentance, to cast off the “garments of sin” under His feet. Such clothing is our passionate, carnal attachment, which we must subdue to the spirit. We have worn these “garments of sin” for so long, and now in true repentance we will shed them, having put off the old man with his deeds (Col. 3:9). Secondly, we must have in our hands symbolic branches of victory, like those of the people who greeted the Lord. We can raise these victorious branches, having defeated our enemies: the sinful world and the devil. And, thirdly, by repenting and defeating ourselves, we can exclaim with great spiritual joy and reverence: Hosanna, blessed is He that cometh! – and meet Christ in the great mystery of the Communion of the Holy Meal – His Life-giving Body and Blood!
At the all-night vigil, we hold willow branches. What does this mean? According to ancient custom, victors are greeted with branches. We give honour to Christ as the Victor over death, as the Herald of the future Resurrection. The branches that we have in our hands are cut from a willow – a tree that comes alive before others after the deadening cold of winter – which symbolises the victory of life over death by the power of the resurrected Life-giving Christ.
Brethren! The Lord entered Jerusalem as a meek and saving King, but He will return someday as a dreadful and punitive Judge. With what will we meet Him then? He Himself explains this to us in the Parable of the Terrible Judgment, when the entire human race will stand before Him, and great Divine justice will be revealed. At the second formidable coming, the Son of Man in His glory will separate one from the other, like a shepherd dividing the sheep from the goats, as determined by the indication: what did a man live for and what did he strive for. At the Terrible Judgment He will not ask about our political convictions, about the position we occupied in society, about our achievements, our authority, career, property… He will ask about those matters which, though minor by the standards of this world, are great for the salvation of our souls: did we feel the pain of another person; did we respond to it with our concern; did we help our neighbour, who was suffering from grief and loss. This is what the Lord expects from us and what He will ask us about at his second Terrible and Just Judgment.
Let us keep the branches of our spiritual life perpetually green and fruiting, adorned with the spiritual fruits of good deeds; let us cherish them as an immortal treasure, as the priceless oil of the prudent virgins, who met their Bridegroom with burning lamps. In doing prayers and good deeds, let us prepare ourselves spiritually for the bright day of the Resurrection of Christ, which follows His passions. In these pre-Paschal days, let us not simply worry ourselves with acquiring good food or tidying and cleaning our homes, for the most fundamental thing is to strive towards Christ, to fulfil His holy will, whereby we may be deemed worthy to meet the King and Lord here on earth, and upon departing this earthly life, to have earned the reward of being with Him in the Kingdom of Heaven.
The entrance of our Saviour into Jerusalem was triumphantly festive. The Jews welcomed Him as their King, in the hope that, upon expelling the Roman conquerors, He would restore the kingdom of Israel. But, in contrast to the joyous sentiment of the people, the Saviour was filled with grief. He saw the vain hopes to make Him the ruler of the earthly kingdom, He knew that the scribes and elders of the Jews were secretly indignant and, blinded by envy and hatred, they were plotting to kill Him and His friend Lazarus.
The Lord foresaw and perceived in spirit that many of this jubilant crowd, who were giving royal honours to Him now, would abandon Him in several days and side with His persecutors. Those who here cried out: “Hosanna to the Son of David, to the King of Israel,” will soon cry out: “Away with Him, away with Him! Crucify Him! We have no king but Caesar!” (John 19:15)
But the gaze of the Lord extended even further. He saw not only the present, but the future of the holy city of Jerusalem. The foolishness and unrepentance of the Jews were the cause of the Lord’s sorrow and tears. Despite the fulfilment of the prophecies regarding Him, the three years He preached about the Kingdom of God, the countless signs and wonders performed by Him, and finally, the greatest miracle which was performed on the eve, the resurrection from the grave of a person dead for four-days, the Jewish people remained only spectators to all this, with the exception of a small number of those faithful to Him in heart and soul, who followed Him, who recognised Him as the promised Saviour of the world, their Master and Lord. This indifferent, and subsequently gloating crowd, guided by the scribes and Pharisees, will later accompany Him to Golgotha, and will abuse Him as He is crucified on the Cross. And the Lord, seeing the city, wept for it: after all, because the Jews did not recognise their true Messiah, the Romans would soon come and destroy this city, mercilessly beat all its children and leave no stone unturned in it. But the tears of the Lord did not affect those who lived in Jerusalem, and it was consigned to be oppressed by the nations.
What happened, my brethren, with Jerusalem and its people (the once chosen and beloved by the Lord), can happen to us, who call ourselves Christians, the holy nation, people of renewal. We are all, as it were, in this crowd of people who are meeting the Lord at the gates of Jerusalem. We either receive our Saviour and Lord with meekness, humility and living faith, live with Him in one spirit and life, bear the cross in our lifetime, enduring and suffering with Him; or, on the contrary, we reject Him like the Jews did, remaining in a state of sin and alienation from His commands, living in a prison of temptations and passions. And then the tears of the Lord will not help us, just as with the Jews. It is necessary to mix the Lord’s tears for us with our own bitter tears for our sinful failings, so that the
Lord’s sorrow may pass into our souls, expel everything impure from them and fill them with repentance, the desire to be renewed and reborn, leaving our sinful life behind us forever, and to start a God-pleasing and holy life.
Today we are entering the difficult days of Passion Week, when Christ’s passions are remembered, when our participation is demanded in what is taking place in these days of fear and horror, when we hear of how God and Man was tortured and killed. Let us face this truth. What the Holy Church remembers these days is not just the history of the events that took place two thousand years ago; they are now at the centre of attention, the organisation of the Christian world is founded upon them and they are the means by which our whole life is being tested. All this is happening in our time; we are also in the crowd that surrounds Christ. Will we pass judgment upon ourselves, who are we with, who are we following and where are we going?
And no matter how difficult it may be for us, let us diligently attend the Divine church services in these passionate days. Let us listen attentively to the events affecting Christ, and present ourselves as participants in those events. Let us stand before God, listening to the Gospel, remembering our own mortality, that our life on earth may end any day, and we will stand before God, before His judgment and our conscience. Let us repent, that is, let us aspire from death to life, from ourselves to God. Let us stand before Him with a purified soul and with a compunctious heart, so that the pain and suffering of our life may be the fruit not of death, but of our unity with Christ, the healing of soul and body, so that we may suffer the wounds of Christ, becoming strong by the power of the Lord.
Brothers and sisters!
Having overcome the difficult days of Passion Week, we will reach Great Saturday, when Christ will be laid in His tomb. And when on the night of Pascha we hear the joyful news of the Resurrection of Christ, which was the joyful victory over death and hades, then we will be able to exult, wherefore may God help us!