Comments on the Main Themes
The solemnities of Great Week are preceded by a two-day festival commemorating the resurrection of Lazaros and the triumphant entry of Christ into Jerusalem. These two events punctuate Christ's ministry in a most dramatic way (Jn 11. l- 12,19). By causing the final eruption of the unrelenting hostility of His enemies, who had been plotting to kill him, these two events precipitate Christ's death. At the very same time, however, these same events emphasize His divine authority. Through them Christ is revealed as the source of all life and the promised Messiah. For this reason, the interlude which separates Great Week from the Great Fast is Paschal in character. It is the harbinger of Christ's victory over death and of the inrush of His kingdom into the life of the world.
The Saturday of Lazaros is counted among the major feasts of the Church. It is celebrated with great reverence and joy. The event of the raising of Lazaros is recorded in the Gospel of John (11. 1-45). The hymnography of the feast interprets the theological significance of the event. Accordingly, the resurrection of Lazaros is viewed as a prophecy in action. It prefigures both the resurrection of Christ, as well as the general resurrection of all the dead in the end times. The hymns of the feast also emphasize the biblical truth that the resurrection as such, is more than an event. It is a person, Christ Himself, who bestows eternal life now upon all who believe in Him, and not at some obscure future time (Jn 11.25-26).
In addition, the resurrection of Lazaros occasioned the disclosure of Christ's two natures, the divine and the human. He manifested His divine power by His foreknowledge of the death of Lazaros and by the final outcome, the miracle of his resurrection. Also, in the course of the dramatic events Jesus displayed deep human emotions. The Gospel records His deep feelings of love, tenderness, sympathy and compassion, as well as distress and sadness. The narrative reports that He sighed from the heart and wept (Jn 11.5, 33, 35, 36, 38).
The Entry into Jerusalem. At the outset of His public ministry Jesus proclaimed the kingdom of God and announced that the powers of the age to come were already active in the present age (Lk 7.18-22). His words and mighty works were performed "to produce repentance as the response to His call, a call to an inward change of mind and heart which would result in concrete changes in one's life, a call to follow Him and accept His messianic destiny.
The triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem is a messianic event, through which His divine authority was declared.
Palm Sunday summons us to behold our king: the Word of God made flesh. We are called to behold Him not simply as the One who came to us once riding on a colt, but as the One who is always present in His Church, coming ceaselessly to us in power and glory at every Eucharist, in every prayer and sacrament, and in every act of love, kindness and mercy. He comes to free us from all our fears and insecurities, "to take solemn possession of our soul, and to be enthroned in our heart," as someone has said. He comes not only to deliver us from our deaths by His death and resurrection, but also to make us capable of attaining the most perfect fellowship or union with Him. He is the king, who liberates us from the darkness of sin and the bondage of death. Palm Sunday summons us to behold our king: the vanquisher of death and the giver of life.
Palm Sunday summons us to accept both the rule and the kingdom of God as the goal and content of our Christian life. We draw our identity from Christ and His kingdom. The kingdom is Christ - His indescribable power, boundless mercy and incomprehensible abundance given freely to man. The kingdom does not lie at some point or place in the distant future. In the words of the Scripture, the kingdom of God is not only at hand (Mt 3.2; 4.17), it is within us (Lk 17.21). The kingdom is a present reality as well as a future realization (Mt 6.10). Theophan the Recluse wrote the following words about the inward rule of Christ the King:
The Kingdom of God is within us when God reigns in us, when the soul in its depths confesses God as its Master, and is obedient to Him in all its powers. Then God acts within it as master "both to will and to do of his good pleasure" (Phil 2.13). This reign begins as soon as we resolve to serve God in our Lord Jesus Christ, by the grace of the Holy Spirit. Then the Christian hands over to God his consciousness and freedom, which comprises the essential substance of our human life, and God accepts the sacrifice; and in this way the alliance of man with God and God with man is achieved, and the covenant with God, which was severed by the Fall and continues to be severed by our wilful sins, is re-established.
The kingdom of God is the life of the Holy Trinity in the world. It is the kingdom of holiness, goodness, truth, beauty, love, peace and joy. These qualities are not works of the human spirit. They proceed from the life of God and reveal God. Christ Himself is the kingdom. He is the God-Man, Who brought God down to earth (Jn 1.1,14). “He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, yet the world knew Him not. He came to His own home, and His own people received Him not” (Jn 1.10-11). He was reviled and hated.
Palm Sunday summons us to behold our king - the Suffering Servant. We cannot understand Jesus' kingship apart from the Passion. Filled with infinite love for the Father and the Holy Spirit, and for creation, in His inexpressible humility Jesus accepted the infinite abasement of the cross. He bore our griefs and carried our sorrows; He was wounded for our transgressions and made Himself an offering for sin (Is 53). His glorification which was accomplished by the resurrection and the ascension was achieved through the cross.
In the fleeting moments of exhuberance that marked Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the world received its King. The king who was on His way to death. His passion, however, was no morbid desire for martyrdom. Jesus' purpose was to accomplish the mission for which the Father sent Him.
The Son and Word of the Father, like Him without beginning and eternal, has come today to the city of Jerusalem, seated on a dumb beast, on a foal. From fear the cherubim dare not gaze upon Him; yet the children honor Him with palms and branches, and mystically they sing a hymn of praise: "Hosanna in the highest, Hosanna to the Son of David, who has come to save from error all mankind." (A hymn of the Light)
With our souls cleansed and in spirit carrying branches, with faith let us sing Christ's praises like the children, crying with a loud voice to the Master: Blessed art Thou, O Savior, who hast come into the world to save Adam from the ancient curse; and in Thy love for mankind Thou hast been pleased to become spiritually the new Adam. O Word, who hast ordered all things for our good, glory to Thee. (A Sessional hymn of the Orthros)
Vestments - The Saturday of Lazaros and Palm Sunday are joyous festivals. Therefore, the priest wears festive vestments (white, gold, or green). The Holy Table is also adorned with a bright cover.
Palm Branches - The priest should make certain that a sufficient number of palm or some other suitable branches are available for the decoration of the Church and for distribution to the faithful, in accordance with local custom and tradition. It is customary to weave the palm branches into small crosses. The priest may assign this task to a group of parishioners. In some places, the faithful bring their own palms or some similar boughs or branches to the Church.
The priest may choose to have a few acolytes hold palm branches during the two Entrances of the Divine Liturgy. At one time the Church held a procession on Palm Sunday. This tradition has fallen into disuse, except in the churches of the Patriarchate of Antioch. In the Antiochene tradition a procession of the faithful takes place after the Divine Liturgy. An emphasis is placed on the participation of children. The roots of this tradition are to be found in the ancient rites of the Jerusalem Church.
The Blessing and Distribution of the Palms - A basket containing the woven palm crosses is placed on a table in front of the icon of the Lord which is on the Iconostasion.
The prayer for the blessing of the Palms is found in the 'Ieratikon or the Euxologion According to the rubrics of the Typikon, this prayer is read at the Orthros just before the Psalms of Praise (Ainoi). The palms are then distributed to the faithful.
In many places today, the prayer is said at the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy, before the apolysis. The text of the prayer, however, indicates clearly that it is less a prayer for the blessing of the palms, even though that is its title, and more a blessing upon those, who in imitation of the New Testament event hold palms in their hands as symbols of Christ's victory and as signs of a virtuous Christian life. It appears then, that it would be more correct to have the faithful hold the palms in their hands during the course of the Divine Liturgy when the Church celebrates both the presence and the coming of the Lord in the mystery of the Eucharist. The palms, therefore, should be distributed before the celebration of the Divine Liturgy.
The Icon - On each day we display the appropriate icon of the feast for veneration.
A Folk Tradition - An interesting sidelight is the folk tradition related to the Saturday of Lazaros. In many places groups of children visit neighboring homes to sing the Carols of Lazaros. In return, the people of the house give the children fresh eggs. The children bring the eggs to their homes. On Great Thursday the eggs are boiled in the traditional red dye for the Paschal celebration.
Fasting - By custom and tradition fish as well as oil and wine are permitted on the Saturday of Lazaros and Palm Sunday.
The Apodosis of Palm Sunday - takes place on the same day in the late afternoon with the celebration of the Vesper Service. The service is conducted in accordance with the order in the Triodion. In current usage, however, few parishes conduct this service. It has fallen into disuse.
Removal of the Palms - The palms are removed from the Church at the conclusion of the Vesper Service of the Apodosis of the Feast, or in the late afternoon Palm Sunday.
The Orthros of Great Monday - On Palm Sunday night we observe the beginning of the reversed order of the services, which was noted above. The Orthros of Great Monday is celebrated on Palm Sunday night.
The Saturday of Lazaros
The Vesper Service is conducted in conjunction with the Pre-Sanctified Liturgy on Friday, the last day of the Great Fast. (If the Pre-Sanctified Liturgy is omitted, the Vesper service is conducted according to the order in the Triodion).
The Orthros is conducted in accordance with the order in the Triodion and the rubrics of the Typikon of the Great Church of Christ. The Divine Liturgy - We celebrate the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom.
At the Entrance we sing the Apolytikion of the Feast.
The Eisodikon is te proskinisomen ... O anastas ex nekron…”-“Come let us ... who was resurrected…”
The Kontakion of the Feast is sung.
The Trisagion is replaced by " "Osoi eis Christon…” –“As many as have been baptized . . ."
The Readings - We read the Epistle and Gospel of the Feast.
The "Axion Estin " is replaced by the Katavasia of the 9th Ode of the Orthros, “Tin agnin endoxos timisomen…”-“With all peoples let us honor . . .”
The Communion Hymn is”Ek stomatos nipion…” "From the mouths of babes…”
The Eidomen to Phos is replaced by the Apolytikion “Tin koinin Anastasin…” - Giving us before Your Passion. . .”
The Apolysis is O anastas ek nekron . . . - He who rose from the dead."
The Sunday of the Palms
The Great Vesper Service is conducted according to the order in the Triodion and the rubrics of the Typikon. The apolysis has a special prologue: “O epi polou onou…-May He who consented to ride on the foal . . ."
The Orthros is chanted in accordance with the order in the Triodion and the rubrics of the Typicon. It is not a regular Sunday Orthros, but an Orthros of a Dominical Feast (Thespotiki Eorti). The Morning Gospel of the Feast is read from the Holy Gate. The Divine Liturgy - We celebrate the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom.
The Antiphons are taken from Psalms 114, 115, and 117. The refrain of the 2nd antiphon is "Soson imas . . . O epi polou onou kathestheis . Save us, O Son of God, who sat upon the foal . . ."
The Entrance - We sing the Apolytikion of the Feast.
The Eisodikon - The "Thefte” is replaced by "Evlogimenos o erhomenos en onomati Kiriou. Theos Kirios kai epefanen Soson imas… -Blessed is He that comes in the Name of the Lord…Save us, O Son of God, who sat upon the foal…”
The two Apolytikia of the Feast are sung.
The Kontakion of the Feast is sung.
The usual Trisagion is sung.
The Readings - The assigned Readings of the Epistle and Gospel of the Feast are read (intoned).
The "Axion Estin " is replaced by the Katavasia of the 9th Ode: "Theos Kirios ... Sistisasthe eortin...” - "The Lord is God…”
The Communion Hymn is "Evlogimenos O Erhomenos" - Blessed is He . . ." (Ps 117.26).
The Eidomen to Phos is replaced by "Tin koinin anastasin . - Giving us before Your Passion . . ."
The Apolysis is the same as at the Vesper Service.