Tag Archives: Palm Sunday

The mood and the glow.

Today was Palm Sunday for us Orthodox Christians, and tonight I attended the first of the Bridegroom Matins services. Until this year, at least as long as I’ve been a member, our parish has held this service in the morning, but this year we are doing it in the evening. Here is an explanation of the tradition:

“Bridegroom Matins is a service specific to the first four evenings of Holy Week and commemorates the last days in the earthly life of the Lord. Incorporated into these services is the theme of the first three days of Holy Week; which is the last teachings of Christ to his disciples. As such, these services incorporate readings and hymns inspiring this theme. The mood of the services is to experience sorrow and to feel Christ’s voluntary submission to His passions and highlight the purpose behind the evil that is about to take place against the Lord. The atmosphere is one of mourning (for sins) and is symbolic of the shame the Christian should feel for the Fall of Adam and Eve, the depths of hell, the lost Paradise and the absence of God.”

Those mornings that seem so long ago, I would arrive in the dark, and come out from the service after the sun had risen; many times I’d walk around the church property and take pictures before driving home. This evening, I came straight home and visited my own garden, which was radiant with the setting sun after a rainy day.

One of the Gospel stories featured in today’s Matins service is the parable of the barren fig tree. Here is my own tree, that is not likely to be fully illustrative of that parable, come fall.

At least seven Psalms are read at every Orthodox Matins service, and tonight two more were read, including this one:

Psalm 19 (20)

May the Lord hear thee in the day of tribulation:
may the Name of the God of Jacob protect thee.

May he send thee help from the sanctuary:
and defend thee out of Zion.

May he be mindful of all thy sacrifices:
and may thy whole burnt offering be made fat.

May he give thee according to thine own heart;
and confirm all thy counsels.

We will rejoice in thy salvation;
and in the Name of our God we shall be exalted.

The Lord fulfill all thy petitions:
now have I known that the Lord hath saved his anointed.

He will hear him from his holy heaven:
the salvation of his right hand is in powers.

Some trust in chariots, and some in horses:
but we will call upon the Name of the Lord our God.

They are bound, and have fallen,
but we are risen, and are set upright.

O Lord, save the king:
and hear us in the day that we shall call upon thee.

First Lazarus, then palms.

Today was Lazarus Saturday, which has something of the flavor of Pascha, because when Christ raised Lazarus he showed that He had power over death. And eleven people were baptized this morning before the festal Divine Liturgy! That is a lot of joy right there, flowing from “the same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead.” We had a reception lunch for them, and afterward, no one wanted to go home. The afterglow was clinging to us who rejoiced with the new members, and we also experienced some of the joy of our own baptisms, whether we were able to remember them or not.

The night before, because I was sponsor for one of the catechumens, I attended their last class. Our rector urged the eleven who would the next day be Newly Illumined to forget about social media for Holy Week and Bright Week, and give themselves to accompanying Christ to the Cross by means of the church services. I am trying to do that, too…

But – oops – I looked at Facebook just now, and saw this status from Father Stephen Freeman (from Tennessee):

“It is said that Christ used Lazarus’ name when He raised him from the dead. Had He just said, ‘Come forth!’ everyone in their graves would have come forth.

“St. Paul writes that on the Last Day, Christ will descend from heaven with a shout! I suppose it will be a general, ‘Come forth!’ Sometimes I think it might be, ‘Ya’ll come forth!’ or the Aramaic equivalent.

“That great gettin’ up good morning!”

This evening we had moved on to Vigil for Palm Sunday, and blessing of palm branches. While some of us had been sitting and chatting this afternoon in warmth and light, other dear parishioners had been using the energy from their dose of grace to decorate the church.

“Today the grace of the Holy Spirit has assembled us.” That was one of the lines that I heard a lot at tonight’s service, and then, when the candle chandeliers that had been festooned with palm branches were set swinging, and I was standing under one of them, we sang the long Psalm hymn, “His mercy endureth forever.” Truly.

Blessed is He Who comes in the name of the LORD!

The hours of the ultimate hour.

In 2018 Orthodox Easter, Pascha, falls on April 8th, a week later than Easter in the West. So today is our remembrance of Christ’s Entrance into Jerusalem, Palm Sunday. Saturday evening I am writing after attending our Vigil service for the feast, where  toward the end of the service we were given palm branches to hold, to take home and bring back tomorrow morning and hold them all through Divine Liturgy.

This morning, on the feast of Lazarus Saturday, another feast of victory, five catechumens were baptized and received into the church. The scent of holy chrism drifted over to me as they were being anointed in chrismation and I began to weep.

All week the Newly Illumined will wear their white robes to services. I caught a picture of one of them receiving a hug. What a gloriously happy day for us all!

You can see how even before palms were given into hands, the cathedral was fully decorated with them. Blooms are opening to decorate the church gardens about now as well.

I wanted to share an excerpt from a pamphlet on Holy Week by Fr. Alexander Schmemann:

But as in Lazarus we have recognized the image of each man, in this one city we acknowledge the mystical center of the world and indeed of the whole creation. For such is the biblical meaning of Jerusalem, the focal point of the whole history of salvation and redemption, the holy city of God’s advent. Therefore, the Kingdom inaugurated in Jerusalem is a universal Kingdom, embracing in its perspective all men and the totality of creation.

For a few hours – yet these were the decisive time, the ultimate hour of Jesus, the hour of fulfillment by God of all His promises, of all His decisions. It came at the end of the entire process of preparation revealed in the Bible: it was the end of all that God did for men. And thus this short hour of Christ’s earthly triumph acquires an eternal meaning. It introduces the reality of the Kingdom into our time, into all hours, makes this Kingdom the meaning of time and its ultimate goal.

The Kingdom was revealed in this world – from that hour – its presence judges and transforms human history. And at the most solemn moment of our liturgical celebration, when we receive from the priest a palm branch, we renew our oath to our King and confess His Kingdom as the ultimate meaning and content of our life. We confess that everything in our life and in the world belongs to Christ, nothing can be taken away from its sole real Owner, for there is no area of life in which He is not to rule, to save and to redeem.

– Fr. Alexander Schmemann

We cry like the children, Hosanna!

A palm frond was waiting for me when Kate and I arrived home last night from the road trip, thanks to my thoughtful friends who picked up an extra one at the Mapalm in window 16tins for Palm Sunday service I’d missed. But I forgot to take it to church this morning, so it remains where they saved it, on the windowsill above my kitchen sink.

During the whole of Divine Liturgy today almost everyone held a palm branch, even the clergy and choir, while carrying their usual books or babies, etc. The little girls all know how to weave the leaflets into a sort of mat. There were enough fronds for me to have a second one, and I was handed a branch of pussy willows, too. I tried to hold it alongside my palm, but the soft willow buds one by one were sliced off when they slid between the sharp leaflets of the palm frond, so that the floor around me became littered with them.

We were remembering the first time that Jesus was hailed by people carrying palm branches, a symbol of victory and peace. We learned in the homily this morning that it was common for more than a quarter-million people to be in Jerusalem for Passover, and these gl Christ icon w palms crp 2016 people had heard about Lazarus being raised from the dead. Suddenly Jesus was acclaimed by multitudes — and children are particularly mentioned as joining in with shouting — who spread tree branches and their coats on the streets before him to ride on; it was quite the scene.

But Christ didn’t come to be enthroned as an earthly leader, as most of the crowd assumed, or to rule as they do, by external power. He wants to deliver us from the death in our souls and to rule by His Holy Spirit in our hearts. St. Andrew of Crete (8th century) encourages us to spread before the Lord not branches which wither, but ourselves, “clothed in his grace, clothed completely in Him.”

When it was time to take my goddaughter Mary up for communion, I left my branches on a bench, because Mary is a wiggly child and I didn’t trust myself to securely hold her and them at the same time.  Keeping her in my arms, I picked up the palm frond again when we made our procession out the doors and around the church singing:

By raising Lazarus from the dead before Thy passion,
Thou didst confirm the universal resurrection, O Christ God.
Like the children with the palms of victory
We cry out to Thee, O Vanquisher of Death,
“Hosanna in the highest!
Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord!”

Little Mary was happy gl P1040243 to hold the branch while I carried her, and to wave it around as we walked in the pleasant air, passing under wisteria blooms. Even outdoors on the porch, giant palm branches were decorating the pillars. Inside, green altar cloths were temporarily covering the purple, but later in the day they were removed. Tomorrow we enter Holy Week.

The fact of Lazarus’s being raised from the dead, and its reminder of Christ’s resurrection that we will be celebrating in just a few days, the experience of His grace in which we are clothed — all these realities will sustain us during the many services and the heart preparations of this week. The joy of the Lord will be our strength.

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