Today is the first day of our Holy Week Journey to Pascha. Last night, in a darkened Church, we processed with the Bridegroom Icon. This is an Icon of Christ which we use as the cover to our Daily Lenten Journey. It normally depicts Christ holding a reed as a staff to remind us that He is our King, but He is heading for His death. During the first several nights of Holy Week, our services are designed to remind us of the need to be vigilantly awaiting the coming of Christ.
Palm Sunday is the commemoration of the Entrance of Christ as the King of Kings into Jerusalem just six days before His Passion. Huge crowds declared Him as their King crying out, “Glory to God in the Highest. Blessed is He Who comes in the name of the Lord.” Our King in coming for us, but our King is not like other kings.
Today is Palm Sunday, the day on which the Church recalls the Triumphant Entrance of Christ into Jerusalem as King. That day, just over two thousand years ago was a great day in the life of God’s people, but it was a day that has been greatly misunderstood. That day, great crowds welcomed the entrance of their king with cheers and proclamation, “Hosanna, Blessed is He who comes in the name of Lord.” Even children participated by laying palm branches along the ground as a sign of honor.
Today and tomorrow are a bridge between Great Lent and Holy Week. Great Lent ended last night, and today and tomorrow are feastdays in the Church. Today is the Saturday of Lazarus, which commemorates the raising of Lazarus from the dead. He had been dead for four days when Jesus spoke just a few words to bring life back into his friend Lazarus.
Now that we have come to the end of Great Lent, (tomorrow and Sunday are Feasts in the Church) it is a good time to remember sometimes our life includes mundane topics such as “Why Easter is not the same.” In the next week you are going to see many posts attempting to explain why Orthodox Easter (we prefer the term Pascha) is not the same date as Western Easter. You will read about calculations and calendars. Then you will most likely read “we have to wait for Passover before we can celebrate Pascha.” This is not true. It is an urban legend based upon a mistaken understanding of history.
You hear it all the time. “Fasting isn’t about reading the labels,” or “If you’re going to spend so much time worrying about what day it is on the calendar, you’re fasting incorrectly.” What if I told you that fasting IS about reading labels, and searching the calendar? What if I told you that fasting IS about spending time searching cookbooks for recipes that do not include all the foods you’re not allowed to eat?
This past Sunday, although it was not included in the Divine Liturgy as we were celebrating the Feast of the Annunciation, we honored the memory of Saint Mary of Egypt. Her life is an example of complete and total repentance after a life of complete and total depravity. In her willingness to repent from her sin, she is an inspiration to us that there is nothing in life which can control us beyond our ability to repent….if we choose repentance.
If there is one thing we can learn during our Great Lenten Journey, is that God will always be present among us. During the weeks of Great Lent our patience is challenged, our hunger is tested, and our endurance to maintain the faith is constantly confronted. Yet through all our difficulties during Great lent, God is always there.
No matter how many times I have walked the Great Lenten Journey, the week before Holy Week is always a bit of a boost for me. At this point, there is no stopping my journey. There have been some grueling moments in the past 36 days, but Great Lent will be over in four days, and I’m already looking ahead to the next race. At least I won’t have to wait long.
The Archangel Gabriel announced to the Virgin Mary that she would give birth to God. There was only one condition. She had to say yes. God gave her the complete free will to accept the struggle to accept His offer. Every day we are faced with the same option. God has a plan for our salvation, and there is only one condition. We must say yes. The choice is ours to make.