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.
To celebrate this great feast of the Church year St. Vladimir Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral in Parma, OH was blessed to welcome among their midst their spiritual father and the ruling hierarch of the Western Eparchy of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA – His Eminence Archbishop Daniel.
“It’s all about unleashing the Gospel,” Archbishop Daniel said during his homily. “Not only in your life, but in your world: the world of your home, the world of your workplace, the world of your neighborhood…Today is most significant time for the liturgical year for the church."
Protopresbyter John Nakonachny, Very Rev. Fr. Michael Hontaruk and Protodeacon Ihor Mahlay, clergy of St. Vladimir Ukrainian Orthodox cathedral greeted the archbishop on behalf of the parish board of administration as well as the faithful of the parish family. His Eminence delivered a powerful sermon in both Ukrainian and English languages, in which he stated: “…Today we celebrate together one of the great feasts of the Church calendar- the feast of Palm Sunday. Today we gather together to celebrate Christ’s entry into the city of Jerusalem. Today we celebrate Christ as the king who enters our own personal Jerusalem - our hearts. Today’s feast day is a momentary feast of joy and celebration, because tonight we begin the final leg of our journey towards Pascha. Our mood changes from one of joy this morning to one of solemnity, almost of sorrow this evening as we reflect upon the great sacrifice that Christ performed for us on the cross.
Palm Sunday marks the start of Holy Week - the final days of Lent for Orthodox Christians and others. "This is the time where we follow the passion, the death and resurrection of Christ," Vladyka Daniel said.
As parishioners held palm branches and pussy willows, the hierarch explained that this is a time to celebrate Christ's triumphant entrance into Jerusalem. "We begin with kind of a sense of the joyfulness of Christ, but within a very short period of time, the turning on Christ and his condemnation and death on the cross," Archbishop Daniel said.
It is only through embracing the cross that the resurrection is understood.
"Each of the days represents, if you want, a continuous action of following Christ from the upper room. On Holy Thursday right though the suffering on the cross on Good Friday to the glorious resurrection on Pascha (Easter) Saturday -- the Pascha Morning, which is a celebration of the empty tomb and resurrection of Christ… During Holy Week,” Vladyka Daniel says “…it's crucial to integrate spirituality into one's life and contemplate God's love for us.”
"Think in terms of a God that so loves us he becomes one with us and enters into every aspect of our life, our suffering, our death -- everything Christ identified with us except for sin. Therefore by doing that it's a statement that God is never apart from us in everything we experience in life," Archbishop Daniel stated to the parishioners of the cathedral.
“Let’s discover the significance of some of the events that took place on this first day of the week that Jesus would be crucified (commonly known now as Palm Sunday).
Let’s first look at the branches that were spread upon the road. In John 12:12, these branches are described as “palm branches”. The palm branches carry several meanings.
First of all, palm branches were often used in the celebration of victory and in King David’s time, they were used to honor royalty. This fact of the history of palm branches makes a perfect connection to the true identity of Jesus as the King of Kings.
Not only that, but palm branches also represent Jesus being worthy as the High Priest for all who believe. A palm tree takes 30 years to bear fruit and a man could not become a High Priest until he was 30 years old. The ministry of Jesus began when he was 30 years old.
Palm branches point to Jesus being King and High Priest but there was something else that was laid before Jesus that day that carries great meaning as well.
Peoples “cloaks” or other interpretations say “garments” were also spread out on the road for the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. This was more than just an act of honor, this was also an acknowledgment and declaration that Jesus was the King of Kings, the promised Messiah.
The word garment here is the “tallit” or “prayer shawl”, which was a seamless garment with four corners, with a tassel attached to each of the four corners to remind the Jewish people of all the commands of God.
Upon its collar, the Hebrew letters spell, “Lord of lords and King of kings” as a symbolic reminder of the promised Messiah. By laying their “tallit’s” down, the people were acknowledging Jesus as God’s promised Messiah. They were declaring that Jesus was the one worthy to be called the “Lord of lords and King of kings”.
Whether it was the palm branches or the tallit’s, it all pointed to Jesus being the Messiah, High Priest and King. I pray our lives are continually laid down before Him and that our response is continually a life of worship unto Him.”
Archbishop added in his reflections: “…This year, more so than in decades, Palm Sunday and the celebration of Pascha prompts us to consider the costs of human folly and the devastating acts of the ongoing war - the massacre of our brothers and sisters in Ukraine. One cannot receive such horrific news without tears and fears. The feelings of great joy at the Feast of Feasts – and the sadness at the horror of our suffering brothers and sisters in Ukraine are difficult to reconcile, but the Peace offered by our Lord gives us hope. The modern-day aggressor will never be able to erase our nation and people from the face of the earth – because the blessing of Lord has been with our people through the history, it preserved them and their self-identity – this blessing is with US today, as we are joined by the world-wide community, fighting the evil of death, as it is being exemplified by the acts of merciless slaughter of the innocent people of Ukraine by the Russian military, their political and yes – the religious leaders as well.”
The liturgical services concluded with a prayerful chanting of the Ukrainian People’s Anthem “God, Great and Almighty, Protect and Safeguard our Ukraine” as well as a prayerful song “God, bless America”, which was sang by the cathedral\s choir, under the leadership of Maestro Markian Komichak.
Following the celebration of the Eucharistic Divine Liturgy, Protopresbyter Ivan Nakonachny and Very Rev. Fr. Michael Hontaruk greeted the archbishop, welcoming him on a prayerful visit of his spiritual flock and expressing gratitude for the archpastoral visit, while already looking forward to the next opportunity for the parish to pray with their bishop.
At the traditional coffee hour, the cathedral’s Sisterhood presented His Eminence Archbishop Daniel with a donation of $2,000 for the charitable aid to Ukraine, thus transferring funds from the most recent fundraising effort in the cathedral community, benefitting the needs of the people of Ukraine in the most crucial time of their struggle for survival and independence.
Palm Sunday brought hundreds of faithful, both young and old, to celebrate this feast together with their bishop. Many received the Holy Mysteries of Confession and Eucharist in preparation for the Feast of Feasts – Pascha – in a week.
Each parishioner, holding in their hands the palm branches, received a blessing from their bishop with the sprinkling of Holy Water, thus blessing the branches and prayerfully imitating the biblical act of the Entrance of our Lord into Jerusalem.