About the Symbolism of the Branches, the Candles, and the Garments Strewn in the Way


        Brothers and sisters!


        Today we celebrate the triumphal entry of our Lord into Jerusalem before His Passion, an event which occurred shortly after He raised His friend Lazarus from the dead.  Jesus Christ approached the Holy City seated on the foal of a donkey and was accompanied by a huge crowd; another crowd came out of Jerusalem to meet Him.  Both groups of people removed their outer garments and laid them and the branches of palms and other trees in the road to form a carpet for the King of Israel.  In their hands the people held branches, as in a victory celebration, and they shouted, “Hosanna!” which in Hebrew means “save” or “grant good fortune.”  Some of the children continued to exclaim this even after Christ had entered the temple.  On this day we too hold branches, as well as candles, as it were participating in those events of long ago.  Additionally, we reflect on how the time is approaching when we shall meet the Lord, Who will come not meekly seated on a young donkey, but in awesome glory, enthroned upon clouds and escorted by armies of angels.  Thus, as we hold the blessed branches, we meditate on our own resurrection and the life of the age to come.

        In Russia palm fronds (the branches specified in the Gospel) were not readily available; therefore, it became the custom to bless pussy willows in their place.  In cold climates, pussy willows are one of the first plants to bud in the spring.  Look for a moment at the one you have been holding and consider:  all winter, it was seemingly dead, but as soon as the weather warmed, it came to life.  Death is winter for man, but with the springtime of the General Resurrection, we shall come to life:  our flesh, corrupted and decomposed in the earth, will be reconstituted and the soul restored to the body.  If one knew nothing about how deciduous trees and bushes bloom, it would be hard to imagine from their appearance in winter what would happen to them in spring.  Nevertheless, year after year, their bare skeletons come to life and are covered with greenery.  When we see the dead being lowered into their graves, it seems we have said good-bye to them forever.  It is hard to imagine how their cold, hard bodies, which will soon become food for worms, can possibly return to life; nevertheless, they shall return, as life returns to the pussy willow when spring comes.  This is the promise of the resurrection – mortality clothed in immortality, death conquered by life:  death conquered by the risen Christ.

        With the branches, we also hold burning candles.  These signify fervor and longing for Jesus Christ, a fiery yearning to meet Him and to be with Him until the end of the ages.  As the candles burn in our hands, so love for the Saviour should burn in our hearts.  However, to meet the Saviour, it is unnecessary to go all the way to Jerusalem or to wait until the Second Coming.  He stands at the door of the heart of each of us, and we have only to open; that is, to welcome Him with our whole heart.  And when He enters, then what joy fills the inner man!  Christ the Sun of righteousness warms the heart that loves Him as the balmy May sun would warm a frozen January night, if only it could shine then.

        As I mentioned a moment ago, the people in the crowds removed their outer garments and spread them on the road.  The outer garments symbolize the sinful passions, which are also rightly called outer, even though they are passions of the soul, that is, of the inner man.  This is because the sinful passions are extrinsic to the soul, as being unnatural to it and coming to it from the outside, since it is the demons who clothe the soul with the passions; whereas virtue is intrinsic to the soul, as being natural to it and implanted within it by its Creator, God Himself.  Meeting the Saviour, Christ the Bridegroom and the King of Israel, we too should strip off outer garments – namely, the passions – and cast them beneath the Lord so that they may be trampled into the dust:  we should remove and cast down our passions and sinful habits as Christ approaches us as our King.  Otherwise, what good is it for us to shout, “Blessed is He that cometh,” and to sing the fine words of the festal hymns?  We all know what are the “outer garments” which Christ hates:  everything that we do or say, or to which we are attached, that pulls us away from Him.

        O Christ Saviour, as we arrive at the portal of Thy Passion, Thou standest at the door of our hearts and patiently awaitest our true repentance and self amendment!  Thou seest our weakness, our double-mindedness, our hesitancy to remove once and for all the garment of the passions.  Do Thou therefore divest us of it, so that we may cross the saving threshold of Thy sufferings, be clothed in a garment worthy of Thy bridal chamber, and be deemed worthy to greet with pure hearts Thy holy and life-giving Resurrection!  Amen.