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Entrance of Our Lord Into Jerusalem

On the day following the resurrection of Lazarus, and six days before the Jewish Passover, the Lord Jesus Christ made a triumphant entrance into Jerusalem, in order to show that He was truly a King, and that He was going to His death voluntarily. There was a great deal of bustle and agitation among the Jews when Christ entered the capital. Millions of people annually came to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover, and the city already overflowed with people when the ceremonious welcome of the long-awaited Messiah took place. Moreover, news of the extraordinary resurrection of Lazarus spread like wildfire among the populace, and everyone joyously glorified God. The Apostles were waiting for the moment when their Teacher would come to Jerusalem to be glorified as an earthly king. They believed that this moment had finally arrived, and so they cried out exultantly: “Hosannah, blessed is the One Who comes in the name of the Lord!” So great was the enthusiasm of the populace, that people spread their clothes along the Lord’s path, cut off palm branches and spread them before Him, or held them as a symbol of triumph and celebration. In ancient times, green branches were used to welcome kings who were returning victorious from battle. Thus we now have the custom for the faithful to receive blessed willow branches during the all-night vigil, to hold as a symbol of Christ’s victory over death.

Great was the enthusiasm of the apostles and the populace. But the One Who was the cause of this celebration did not Himself take part in the general rejoicing. The Lord knew how unstable was the populace and how changeable was the crowd. He foresaw that even a week would not pass, and the cries “Hosannah to the Son of David” would be replaced with the shouts “Take Him, take Him and crucify Him,” and that these terrible words would be shouted by the same crowd which was now greeting Him so exultantly. This filled His saintly soul with great sadness. But one thing was of great comfort and joy to the Lord as He entered the capital - and that was the innocent voices of children, who cried out to Him from their pure souls and hearts: “Hosannah to the Son of David!” The Lord was filled with gladness as He witnessed this pure childish delight, and the children rejoiced and celebrated with all their hearts, expressing their love for Him spontaneously.

Immediately following upon the feast of the entrance of the Lord into Jerusalem (or Palm Sunday), we embark upon the Passion Week, which commemorates the passion of our Lord and brings us to the feast of feasts - the glorious Resurrection of Christ.

Entrance of the Lord into Jerusalem
Entrance of the Lord into Jerusalem.
Moscow School. 16th century.
Homily for Palm Sunday

Today, dear brethren, we commemorate that triumphant day nearly 2,000 ago, when the populace of Jerusalem welcomed our Lord Jesus Christ into the city and greeted Him joyously, celebrating the arrival of their Saviour, the Messiah. Everyone was full of joy and celebration, only the Lord alone was sad and sorrowful.

He was sorrowful because in this present joy He foresaw the forthcoming lies and betrayal. The same people who today sang laudations to Him, tomorrow would mock Him, beat Him cruelly and, in the end, would cry: “Crucify, crucify Him!”

But those were people of former times, – you will say, dear brethren. Those were the inhabitants of Jerusalem. We had no part in those events. However, knowledge of all that took place in Jerusalem in those days has reached us, too. But how did it reach us – only as a rumor, as a narrative, or did it pierce our very soul? Did our heart truly feel that terrible betrayal, that terrible outrage against the Son of God?

The Pharisees and the scribes, those elders of the people of Israel, knew full well Whom they were murdering, but the rest of the people were expecting an earthly king and were, therefore, unaware of the truth of all that was happening. But we now know much more. From the holy apostles and evangelists we know all about what happened there, so our betrayal of the Saviour is far worse than the betrayal on the part of the people of those times.

Each one of you will say of course: “But I have not betrayed the Lord!” However, let us ponder the following, dear brethren: if we do not follow God’s commandments on loving God and our neighbors – is that not a betrayal of the Lord? If we do not forgive others, do not give charity, do not keep the fasts – is that not a betrayal of the Lord? If we do not come to church for all the services – is that not a betrayal of the Lord? If, while standing in church, we do not immerse ourselves in prayer, but let our thoughts wander to all manner of earthly cares and concerns, and if we do not pray at home, even though prayer is our direct contact with God – is that not a betrayal of the Lord?

Today we have gathered here in this church, and we have sung hymns to the Lord, just as the populace of Jerusalem did nearly 2,000 years ago: “Hosannah in the highest, blessed is He Who comes in the name of the Lord.” But what will we do the rest of the week? Will we, together with those same inhabitants of Jerusalem, revile God by our inattentiveness to His passion?

No, dear brethren, let us all gather together in the church, just as we did today, and together with the Most Holy Theotokos, the holy women who remained faithful to Christ, and His loyal disciples – let us agonize and shed tears over the unholy betrayal to which our Lord Jesus Christ was subjected for the sake of our salvation. Then we, too, will participate together with them in the joy of the forthcoming Resurrection of Christ. Amen.

Father Rostislav Sheniloff

Entry of the Lord into Jerusalem

After Christ showed His absolute power over death by raising Lazarus from the dead, and after Mary anointed His body with precious myrrh, of which He spoke as of His anointment for burial, the Lord stepped upon the path of voluntary passion to His Cross, in order to fulfill the Gospel – the glad tidings of God’s love for mankind – to the very end, to show this love in deed and not only in word.

His entire life from Nativity to Baptism, from embarking upon His public service with the words “repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” to today’s entry into Jerusalem – has been the blossoming of a miracle. Beginning with the first miracle in Cana of Galilee, when at His Mother’s humble request He turned water into good wine, and ending with this last miracle, which He performed in the home of His dearest friends Lazarus, Mary, and Martha, who of all believers in Him were the firmest in their belief.

In response to the prayers of Mary, sister of Lazarus, He raises him to life and at the same time demonstrates His glory, as it was said in the Gospel of the first miracle. However, at that time He told His Mother that His hour had not yet come. But now, three years later, His hour has finally come. There are no more impediments to the performance of the greatest miracle. The Lord Himself speaks of this in the Gospel: “The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified” (John 12:23). “Now is the Son of man glorified, and God is glorified in Him” (John 13:31).

The Lord always goes this way, and only for those who believe in Him does He perform miracles and manifest His glory. Only for them. Earlier, in His secret conversation with Nicodemus, the Lord said that man must change by being born from on high – through water and the Spirit – for a new eternal life. And even Nicodemus, a Judaic teacher, who searched for true faith, was unable to understand this concept.

And now, having raised Lazarus from the dead, the Lord demonstrated this complete change, this prophecy of what will happen to all mankind. However, this concept presented an insurmountable difficulty for those who had no faith in Him, and this lack of belief led them to a scheme to kill both Lazarus and Christ. This was the scheme of Satan, the original murderer of man, and of his servants – to kill Christ. And not only Christ, but all mankind. Satan’s intent is to kill all mankind, while Christ wishes to give everyone life, and life in abundance, “affirming before His passion the universal resurrection.” For this reason Christ’s passion begins immediately upon the resurrection of Lazarus.

Entry of our Lord into Jerusalem
Entry of our Lord into Jerusalem

The resurrection of Lazarus opens the doors to the death of Christ. Christ openly reveals Himself, entering into Jerusalem as the King of Israel, as the Master of the temple, as the Lord Who, according to the prophet, “shall suddenly come to His temple, and who may abide the day of His coming?” (Mal. 3:1-2). The high priests and the scribes, keepers of the sacred mysteries of the faith, were unable to tolerate the sight of Him. And not because He entered into Jerusalem and into the temple with unsurpassed glory, but on the contrary, because His entry – meek and humble – deceived their expectations.

Pascha begins precisely with complete rejection, humiliation, and hate of Christ on the part of the high priests. He was coming, meek and humble, and this was irreconcilable with their dreams of Judea’s majesty.

Christ enters into Jerusalem through narrow gates, and here begins the way of the Cross for those who love the truth. Passion week begins with Palm Sunday. Great praises are sung to Christ on this day, and we cry out together with the crowd: “Hosannah! Save us on high, King of Israel! Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord!” But the rejoicing of the people, the welcome to Christ Who is on His way to death reveal the depth of mankind’s fall, reveal the blindness of people before the light of Christ’s love. He is delivering them from death, while they are condemning Him to death.

In greeting Christ the crowd (and even His disciples) expected to see worldly triumph. They did not think of the fact that He was going to His death, and this in itself was condemning Him to death. We are amazed at how easily the cries of “Hosannah!” become the cries of “Crucify Him!” But in truth, as the Holy Fathers say, even at this moment we could hear the words of Christ said on the Cross: “Father! Forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). And through all this the Lord, the Conqueror of death, continues coming.

“Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord!” Blessed is He Who comes to save mankind through the passion of the Cross! The Lord speaks of mankind just as He does of His friend Lazarus: “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby” (John 11:4).

“Rejoice, O Zion, for the Master, Who is carried by the seraphim, Who holds all within His hand, is coming on a young ass.” Fulfilling the prophecies of the prophets, Christ comes to the city in which the prophets were put to death, in order to be put to death Himself and save us from eternal death. The Church knows that the rejection of Christ, the suffering to which He is subjected – humiliation, blows, spitting, the Cross – represent the mystery of our salvation. The Lord endures everything meekly, in order for our suffering and our death to become – through Him – a gift of God. Today, in our modern world of criminal injustice, the Church of martyrs and confessors is approaching a new time of trial. But if we are with Christ, the more our suffering grows – the more we participate in His sacrifice on the Cross, the stronger becomes our tie with His victory over death, with His divine joy, and the more we come to know His love for us.

The Lord enters into Jerusalem, and the meaning of His unjust suffering is turned around completely: formerly it was a sign of the blind tyranny of sin over mankind in accordance with sinful law, and now it becomes the measure of the gift of His glory and resurrection. Having formerly suffered defeat, we now greet Him with palms and follow after Him, “carrying the banners of victory.” Amen.

Protopriest Alexander Shargunov

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