Palm Sunday marks the last Sunday before Easter and signals the beginning of Holy Week, an important period of prayer and reflection for Christians before the Resurrection of Jesus.
The feast celebrates Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem, an event mentioned in all four of the Gospels.
According to biblical sources, Jesus’s entry into the ancient holy city took place just a few days before he was betrayed at the Last Supper, and is deemed to have marked the beginning of Christ’s Passion, or the events leading up to his suffering and eventual death on the cross.
Jesus rode into Jerusalem just days after Lazarus was risen from the dead
Although the circumstances leading up to Christ’s arrival in Jerusalem differ somewhat in each of the Gospels, all describe Jesus’ entry into the city as a joyous event, as citizens gathered around him and proclaimed him to be the Lord.
In each Gospel, Jesus rides into the city on a donkey, which, compared to the horse, is an animal of peace, not war. This signals that Jesus is king—but a holy king of peace rather than an earthly king of war.
The people of Jerusalem laid down their robes, as well as palm fronds, on the road, welcoming Christ into the city as a royal.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus had just raised Lazarus from the dead only a few days prior, and word of the miraculous event had already spread throughout Jerusalem, where crowds eagerly awaited the arrival of Christ in awe.
In the subsequent Gospels, Christ enters the city from the Mount of Olives, and there is no mention of Lazarus during the event.
As the Greek Orthodox commemorate the Feast of Lazarus, or Lazarus Saturday, just one day before, it is clear that John’s telling of Christ’s entry into Jerusalem is the accepted version for Palm Sunday by the Church.
In many parts of Greece and Cyprus, people commonly bake sweet bread or cookies shaped like Lazarus wrapped in his funerary bandages, called lazarakia, for Lazarus Sunday.
Palm Sunday Liturgy in Greece
Palm Sunday is largely considered a joyous, celebratory feast, as the faithful await Jesus’ own arrival by way of the Resurrection on Easter Sunday.
Much like the people of Jerusalem, Christians celebrate the coming arrival of Christ by praising him as Savior.
Similar to other branches of Christianity, Orthodox celebrations of Palm Sunday include the distribution of palm branches that have been blessed and formed into the shape of a cross.
Traditionally, the branches are arranged into the shape of a cross on Lazarus Saturday, the day before, in preparation for the event.
Believers usually keep the blessed palm branches in their homes until the following year.
In the Western Church, palm branches distributed the previous year are returned to the church the following year just before Lent so that they may be incinerated.
The ashes produced are then used on Ash Wednesday to mark the forehead of believers.