Today the Holy Church celebrates two great events simultaneously: the raising of Lazarus the Righteous and the triumphal entry of our Lord and Savior into Jerusalem. These events are closely interconnected. The Holy Church sings on this feast: “Thou didst raise Lazarus from the dead. 0 Christ-God, making certain the universal resurrection, be fore Thy Passion…”, (troparion for the feast).
Christ’s Resurrection and the raising of Lazarus indicate the future universal resurrection of all man kind. Thus do we commemorate these two events together in today’s service.
During the service today, the Holy Church sings: “Today bath the grace of the Holy Spirit assembled us together…” (sticheron to “Lord, I have cried…”), and these words are a great source of comfort for each and every one of us. They tell us that the Holy Spirit has gathered us together for this feast day, for this celebration, in order that we may take up the cross of our Lord and Savior and sing: Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord… Hosanna in the highest.
After this feast day we enter Holy Week and in the services during this week we constantly remember the Holy Cross, the Passion of our Lord and Savior “for us men, and for our salvation”, His agony on the Cross, His Death and then His glorious Resurrection.
On this feast, the Holy Church prepares us to enter Holy Week in a proper frame of mind. Listen once again to these most edifying words of the hymn: “Today hath the grace of the Holy Spirit assembled us together, and taking up Thy Cross let us all say: Blessed is He that cometh in the Name of the Lord, Hosanna in the Highest”.
The Holy Church bids us repeat the triumphant hymns of praise which the people chanted waving palms as they went out to meet Him as He approached Jerusalem. But, says the Holy Church, we must sing these hymns taking hold of the Lord’s Cross, and not only by holding branches in our hands.
And what does taking hold of the Lord’s Cross mean? How are we to do it? This act was performed during our Savior’s life on earth by Simon of Cy-rene (Mt. 27. 31-32), Simon lifted the heavy wooden Cross, during our Lord’s ascent to Golgotha when He collapsed beneath its weight, and helped Him carry the Cross up to Golgotha.
If we were able to take upon ourselves the Cross of our Lord there would, as the Holy Fathers say, be paradise on earth. To take upon one’s self the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Just as He suffered for us so must we suffer for one another. If He suffered for the sake of our salvation, so must we labor strenuously for the salvation of our neighbor, performing deeds of Christian love.
The Holy Church cannot exist without the Cross. She was founded upon the Cross, with the Cross she treads her life path and is crowned by the Cross. Such too should be the life path of every Christian.
The Holy Church her children a cross, which for them is the Lord’s. Thus, for example, when a man is ordained to the priesthood a cross is placed upon him, to remind him that the pastor of the Church must be a bearer of Christ’s Cross throughout his ministry; and not only bear the Cross but fulfill those deeds which our Lord fulfilled for mankind. Christ’s Cross is also placed upon the Christian when he is pro-fessed. Inscribed on the paraman (a square piece of cloth worn by monks on their necks) are the words: “I bear the wounds of my Lord Jesus Christ on my own body.” And let me remind you, dear brothers and sisters, that Christ’s Cross is placed upon each of us, on our breast, at Holy Baptism. Christ’s Cross is also placed into the hands of the Christian when he dies, this is often done without his knowledge or will. It is a very rare thing for a person to take the cross himself at the hour of his death, usually the cross is placed in his hands after his soul has departed from his body. In all the above-mentioned cases the placing of the cross is a symbol of bearing the cross.
But there is one thing that cannot but sadden us. We are all believers, all baptized in the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and yet we come across cases of worshippers coming to receive Holy Communion without wearing their cross. All too often we display a far too causal attitude to this holy thing.
Thus there are cases when we our selves, in the most responsible moments of our lives, decline to wear the cross. And this means that our presence here today with willow branches becomes valueless, because they are good in our hands when Christ’s Cross is on our breast.
Thus, on the eve of Holy Week, when every day we recall the Life-Giving Cross of Christ, the Holy Church prepares us to take Christ’s Cross upon ourselves and not to drop it, to lift it up and carry it as once Simon of Cyrene did. Only then will we be able to spend Holy Week in a proper manner and will we in joyous communion with Christ be able to greet His glorious Resurrection.
The willow branches are a symbol of life. It is a cause for you to see the trees begin to blossom and the leaves to unfold as spring approaches – to see Nature coming to life once again. I find myself recalling here the words of one of the hierarchs of our Church, who sang the praises of our Lord as follows: “How wonderful Thou art in the splendor of spring, when all creatures call out in joy and in a thousand voices sing to Thee: ‘Thou art the Source of Life, Thou art the Lord of Death. In the light of the moon the valleys and forests stand swathed in their snowy white finery: all the world is Thy bride. She awaits her Incorruptible Bridegroom. If Thou dost thus array the very grass, flow wilt Thou transfigure us in the future age of our resurrection, how radiant will our bodies be, how will our souls shine forth?!”
This sort of spiritual elation can be experienced by every one of us. Let us recall another utterance by this same bishop of the Church: “Why does all Nature smile so mysteriously during the days of this feast, why at this time does the heart fill with such wondrous incomparable elation, and the very air of the sanctuary and the church appear radiant with light? Tins is the breath of Thy grace.”
We all feel this breath of God’s grace not only on Great Feasts, but at every divine service and in every church. I wish you on today’s feast to be unmurmuring bearers of Christ’s Cross and I wish also that Christ’s Cross may help us to prepare, in a manner pleasing unto God, for the glorious Feast of the Resurrection of Christ and to meet it with true rejoicing.