Palm Sunday: The Feast of the Entrance of our Lord Jesus Christ into Jerusalem
On the Sunday before the Feast of Great and Holy Pascha
and at the beginning of Holy Week, the Orthodox Church celebrates one
of its most joyous feasts of the year. Palm Sunday is the commemoration
of the Entrance of our Lord into Jerusalem following His glorious miracle
of raising Lazarus from the dead. Having anticipated His arrival and having
heard of the miracle, the people when out to meet the Lord and welcomed
Him with displays of honor and shouts of praise. On this day, we receive
and worship Christ in this same manner, acknowledging Him as our King
The biblical story of Palm Sunday is recorded in all
four of the Gospels (Matthew 21:1-11; Mark 11:1-10; Luke 19:28-38; and
John 12:12-18). Five days before the Passover, Jesus came from Bethany
to Jerusalem. Having sent two of His disciples to bring Him a colt of
a donkey, Jesus sat upon it and entered the city.
People had gathered in Jerusalem for the Passover and
were looking for Jesus, both because of His great works and teaching and because they had heard of the miracle of the resurrection of Lazarus.
When they heard that Christ was entering the city, they went out to meet
Him with palm branches, laying their garments on the ground before Him,
and shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is he that comes in the Name of
the Lord, the King of Israel!”
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 (Luke 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 (Matthew 3:2; 4:17), it is within us (Luke 17:21). The kingdom
is a present reality as well as a future realization (Matthew 6:10). Theophan
the Recluse wrote the following words about the inward rule of Christ
“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’ (Philippians
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 willful 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 (John 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”
(John 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 (Isaiah 53).
His glorification, which was accomplished by the resurrection and the
ascension, was achieved through the Cross.
In the fleeting moments of exuberance 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)
Icon of the Feast<
In the Icon of the Feast of Palm Sunday, Christ is the
central figure, depicted seated upon the colt of a donkey as He enters
Jerusalem, a fulfillment of the prophecy found in Zechariah 9:9 (1). Christ
is blessing with His right hand, and in His left hand is a scroll (2),
symbolizing that He is the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies
concerning the Messiah, the Anointed One who has come to redeem us from
our sins and break the power of death. The colt, one of the animals that
were considered unclean according to the Law, is symbolic of the inclusion
of all peoples of all nations in the new covenant that will come through
the death and Resurrection of Christ (Isaiah 62:10-11). It is also a sign
that our Lord has revealed a heavenly and spiritual kingdom that offers
true and enduring peace.
|1. “…See your King comes to you, righteous and
having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal
of a donkey.” Zechariah 9:9
|2. Christ blesses the crowd with His right hand and
carries a scroll in His left.
On the left, the disciples accompany Jesus in His Triumphal
Entry (3). Depicted on the right are the Jews (4) who greet Him crying
“Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even
the King of Israel!” The word “Hosanna” means “Save,
I pray” or “Save now.”
|3. The disciples accompany Christ on his entry into
|4. The crowd greets Christ with palm branches and shouting
“Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!”
The children are the small people who are greeting Christ
with palm branches (5) and laying these and their garments on the ground
before Christ as tokens of honor for one who is acknowledged as a King.
The city of Jerusalem is shown as the walled buildings, and the temple
is depicted as the building with the dome (6).
|5. The children also greet Christ with palm branches
and lay their garments on the ground honoring Him as King.
|6. The walls of Jerusalem.|
Orthodox Christian Celebration of Palm Sunday
Palm Sunday is celebrated with the Divine Liturgy of
Saint John Chrysostom, which is preceded by the Matins service. A Great
Vespers is conducted on Saturday evening according to the order prescribed
in the Triodion. Scripture readings for Palm Sunday are: At the Vespers:
Genesis 49:1,8-12; Zephaniah 3:14-19; Zechariah 9:9-15. At the Orthros
(Matins): Matthew 21:1-17. At the Divine Liturgy: Philippians 4:4-9; John
On this Sunday, in addition to the Divine Liturgy, the
Church observes 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.
|Photo courtesy of John Thomas and used with
permission. Experience more of Holy Week in pictures through John Thomas’ book “Sacred Light: Following the Paschal Journey”
Hymns and Prayers of Palm Sunday
Apolytikion: First Tone
By raising Lazarus from the dead before Your passion, You did confirm
the universal resurrection, O Christ God! Like the children with the palms
of victory, we cry out to You, O Vanquisher of death: Hosanna in the highest!
Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord!
Kontakion: Second Tone
Sitting on Your throne in heaven, carried on a foal on earth, O Christ
God! Accept the praise of angels and songs of children who sing: Blessed
is He that comes to recall Adam!
Prayer at the Blessing of the Branches
O Lord our God, Who sits upon the Cherubim, You have
reaffirmed Your power by sending Your Only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus
Christ, to save the world through His cross, burial and resurrection.
When He came into Jerusalem to suffer His voluntary passion, the people
that sat in darkness and in the shadow of death took boughs of trees and
branches of palms as signs of victory, thus foretelling His Resurrection.
Do You, Yourself, O Master, keep and preserve us who, in imitation of
them, carry palms and branches in our hands. As we join the crowds and
the children who sang Hosanna to You, may we, with hymns and spiritual
songs, attain the life-giving resurrection of the third day.
The Lenten Triodion. translated by Mother
Mary and Kallistos Ware (South Canaan, PA: St. Tikhon’s Seminary
Press, 1994), pp. 58-59, 489-510.
Calivas, Alkiviadis C. Great Week and
Pascha in the Greek Orthodox Church (Brookline: Holy Cross Press, 1992),
Schmemann, Alexander. Great Lent: Journey to Pascha
(Crestwood, New York: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1969), pp.
Farley, Donna. Seasons of Grace: Reflections on the
Orthodox Church Year (Ben Lomond, CA: Conciliar Press, 2002), pp. 127-129.
Wybrew, Hugh. Orthodox Lent, Holy Week and Easter:
Liturgical Texts with Commentary (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s
Seminary Press, 1997), pp. 83-87.