On Saturday evening, on the eve of the
feast day of the Entrance of the Lord into Jerusalem,
Orthodox churches are transfigured. Church members, gathering in multitudes for the service, bring with them flowers and
branches of pussy willows, so that the church begins to resemble a blossoming
meadow. When did this beautiful ritual begin and what is its spiritual meaning?
The Lord Jesus Christ entered the Holy
City several days before His
suffering and death. Here He concluded His three-year service as the Messiah.
The Hebrew nation, chosen by God in the Old Testament, had to receive evidence
from Christ Himself about His Godly Merit. And so the Lord enters Jerusalem,
accompanied by hordes of people.
The people, feeling the greatness of the event,
from the excess of their hearts, called to Christ: "Hosanna!" (which means "blessed") and spread His path with
green palm branches. Kings and great conquerors have been met with such
festiveness since ancient times, and now, in the placing of the branches, the
thousand-year hope of the Jews was expressed about the coming of the earthly
King who will restore the throne of David. The people could not comprehend,
that Christ’s Kingdom was not of this world…
Since then two thousand years have passed. But
every year we, like the population of Jerusalem,
come to meet Christ in church with tree branches (in Church Slavonic "s
vaiyami"). There are no palm trees in Russia,
and other trees do not leaf so early due to the harshness of the climate, only
pussy willows reveal their tender catkins. The pussy willow — is a sign of
spring, characteristic of this time of year’s spiritual rebirth. It harbors
leaves in itself, but does not yet put them out, and thus gives us to
understand that our joy from the feast of the Lord’s Entrance is not complete,
but conceals in itself the beginnings of the great joy of Pascha.
The blessing of the pussy willows occurs during
the festal service. After the Gospel reading the priests cense the pussy
willows with sweet- smelling incense, read the prayer and bless the branches
with holy water. Usually the blessing is repeated on the day of the feast,
after the liturgy. We bring the blessed pussy willows home, where we keep them
reverently, as a sign of the penetrating grace of God, until the next year. Then
the branches are burned, replaced by new ones, or stuffed into a pillow, which
is laid under the head of a deceased Christian in their coffin.
The Feast of the Lord’s Entrance into Jerusalem
is a sort of threshold which divides the forty day
Great Lent from the Passion Week, fortifying us before the terrible days of
Christ’s Passion. Let us bring live flowers and pussy willows to the festive
church service, so that we may hear the joyous words: "These pussy willows
are being blessed, through the grace of the All-Holy Spirit, by the sprinkling
of this holy water, in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
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