On Palm Sunday morning, the Orthodox Church celebrates the Great Feast of the Triumphant Entry of our Lord into Jerusalem. Following the resurrection of His friend Lazarus – an awesome miracle that made Christ even more famous among the people – our Lord took His last journey to Jerusalem. He entered the city sitting on a donkey’s colt, fulfilling Zachariah’s prophecy (Zachariah 9:9). The miracle of Lazarus and the public acclamation of Christ further enraged the Pharisees who were determined to have both Christ and Lazarus killed. Therefore, on one hand, this Feast fills us with joy that our Lord is coming to all of us as King and Savior; on the other hand, it prepares us for the approaching Holy Passion.
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FREE PRINTABLES FOR THIS LESSON
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SUNDAYS OF GREAT LENT:
Free printable teaching packet
GREAT LENT LAPBOOK:
Free printable hands-on activity
GREAT LENT CRAFT KIT
Templates and instructions for making one craft each Sunday of Great Lent.
REPENTANCE AND TEMPTATION: Great Lent Week 6
Extra free printable activities for the sixth week of Great Lent.
TEACHING ABOUT THE TRIUMPHANT ENTRY OF OUR LORD INTO JERUSALEM
At the end of the lesson, the children should be able to:
- On the icon, point to: Our Lord Jesus Christ, the disciples, the city of Jerusalem, the people waving palm branches, the children spreading their clothes on the ground and climbing on trees.
- Briefly retell the story of the Entry of our Lord into Jerusalem.
- Explain that we, just like the people in the Gospel account, proclaim Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.
- Demonstrate knowledge of the word “Hosanna”.
Older children should additionally be able to:
- Describe the icon in more detail.
- Explain how the story is mentioned on all four of the Gospels, commenting on similarities and differences.
- Demonstrate knowledge of the whole phrase: “Hosanna! Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord!”
- Discuss the celebration of the Feast of Palm Sunday around the world.
Using our printable packet above, the children can:
- Use paper puppets to act out the scene or to make a craft.
- Work on the icon of the Feast .
- Work on the phrase “Hosanna! Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord”.
- Fill in a crossword puzzle.
- Explore the Gospel accounts of this story.
- Explore the celebration of the Feast around the world (also see the Background section below).
Craft option 1: “Palm crosses” made out of paper
You will need
- Thin strips of green paper, any length around 11-12 inches will do – scrapbooking paper works very well.
- Scissors and glue.
How to make the craft
- Cut one of the paper strips in half crosswise. Glue one of the halves onto the back side of the bottom half of a whole strip. Fold the top part of the long strip over, forming a loop, and glue it exactly where the short strip ends.
- Glue a second long strip onto the back of the first one perpendicularly, forming a cross. The second strip should be positioned onto the first strip where the loop ends and the straight part begins.
- To finish the cross, fold the two parts of the second strip to the center, gluing them in place. Cut a piece off of the remaining half-strip, about 1/3 of its total length. Form this piece into a loop and secure with a little glue. Glue the loop onto the center of the paper cross. Ready!
Craft option 2: Palm waiver
For detailed instructions, please visit our older post HERE.
The triumphant entry of our Lord in the holy city of Jerusalem is recorded in all four Gospel accounts: Matthew (21:1-11), Mark (11:1-10), Luke (19:29-40), and John (12:12-19).
It was the third year of Christ’s ministry and the Passover was approaching. Our Lord had raised his dear friend Lazarus who had been dead for four days, and His fame had grown among the people. The Pharisees had grown more envious and had decided to have him killed at any cost.
Five days before the Passover, the Lord asked two of His disciples to go to a certain house and bring him a donkey with her young colt. He sat on the colt and they started their journey to the holy city. Throughout the journey, the people lined up alongside the street waiting to greet the Lord Who would pass by. Children were laying their garments on the dirt road, climbing up trees, waving palm branches as a symbol of glory and of victory, shouting “Hosanna!”, and blessing their Lord and Messiah.
As the King of All, but meek and peaceful, our Lord Jesus Christ entered the holy city of Jerusalem and went to the Temple where He would teach every day until the day of the Preparation before Passover.
- Sitting on a donkey’s colt, our Lord was fulfilling the prophecy of Zachariah (Zachariah 9:9), prophesied over four hundred years before the triumphal event:
“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your King is coming to you;
He is just and having salvation,
Lowly and riding on a donkey,
A colt, the foal of a donkey.”
- The crowd’s mistaken understanding was that Christ was coming as a political leader, whereas He was establishing a Kingdom “not of this world” (John 18:36).
- The exclamation “Hosanna” means “save, I pray”, or “save now”. These exclamations are taken directly from the messianic Psalm 117 (118): “Save now, I pray, O Lord; […] – Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” They were normally recited during the Feast of Tabernacles.
- The donkey is a representation of peace and also of humility, able to bear very heavy burdens, but also very headstrong. Our Lord specifically asked for the donkey’s colt, and sat on it, because the mother donkey would not let anyone sit on her. The Holy Fathers teach that she is a symbol of those among the Israelites who wouldn’t accept Christ as the Messiah, whereas the colt is a symbol of those Gentile nations who accepted and believed in Him. Another interpretation is that the colt and donkey represent the faithful Jews and the Gentiles who are brought together in the Kingdom of God.
- The children laying down their garments and cutting down palm branches are not explicitly described in the Scriptures. However, they are specifically mentioned in the hymns of the Church: “Sitting on Your throne in heaven, carried on a foal on earth, O Christ God! Accept the praise of angels and the songs of children who sing: Blessed is He that comes to recall Adam!” (Kontakion, see below). The children represent those with child-like simplicity and devotion who truly praise and believe in the Lord.
- The road to Jerusalem, covered with garments and palm branches, is a symbol of the road to the Kingdom of Heaven.
- The entry into Jerusalem is the only time during our Lord’s earthly ministry that He allowed the people to express their feelings about Him openly.
ICON OF THE FEAST
To the left of the composition we see the Mount of Olives, and to the right the city of Jerusalem, often depicted with the domed Temple at the center. Our Lord is placed in the middle of the icon, riding the donkey, and is often larger in size than the other figures because He is the most important one. Two groups of people are standing on each side of Him: the disciples behind Him, with an expression combining wonder and concern; on the other side, people of all ages are greeting the Lord waving palms. Many children are moving around the Lord, laying their coats on the dirt road, and climbing on tree branches to see Him.
The Lord is sitting sideways on the humble donkey, like a real earthly King, allowing the people to express their jubilation. He is blessing them with His right hand, and in His left hand He is holding a wrapped scroll which signifies the New Testament.
The title of the icon is “The Palm-bearing day”, in Greek «Η Βαϊοφόρος». In English it bears the title “The Entry into Jerusalem”, or “The Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem”.
Troparion — Tone 1
By raising Lazarus from the dead before Your passion,
You did confirm the universal Resurrection, O Christ God!
Like the children with the palms of victory,
we cry out to You, O Vanquisher of death:
Hosanna in the Highest!
Blessed is He that comes in the Name of the Lord!
Kontakion — Tone 4
When we were buried with You in Baptism, O Christ God,
we were made worthy of eternal life by Your Resurrection!
Now we praise You and sing:
Hosanna in the highest!
Blessed is He that comes in the Name of the Lord!
Kontakion – Tone 6
Sitting on Your throne in heaven,
carried on a foal on earth, O Christ God!
Accept the praise of angels and the songs of children who sing:
Blessed is He that comes to recall Adam!
CELEBRATION OF THE FEAST
Both Lazarus Saturday and Palm Sunday foretell of the Lord’s own Resurrection, as well as the universal resurrection; therefore both days are celebrated with great glory. Palm Sunday, together with the Annunciation, are the only days within the Great Lent period that the faithful are instructed to consume fish.
Palm Sunday is celebrated with the Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom, which is preceded by the Orthros (Matins) service. A Great Vespers is conducted on Saturday evening according to the order prescribed in the Triodion.
Scripture readings for Palm Sunday are:
- At the Vespers: Genesis 49:1,8-12; Zephaniah 3:14-19; Zachariah 9:9-15.
- At the Orthros (Matins): Matthew 21:1-17.
- At the Divine Liturgy: Philippians 4:4-9; John 12:1-18.
The hymns of the Feast glorify Christ’s triumphal manifestation “six days before the Passover”, when he will offer Himself for the life of the world.
THE ORTHODOX CELEBRATION OF PALM SUNDAY AROUND THE WORLD
A beautiful custom for Palm Sunday is the preparation of palm crosses, usually following the Divine Liturgy of Lazarus Saturday. The church is decorated with palm fronds at that time. On Palm Sunday, either during the Orthros service, or after the Divine Liturgy, the priest reads a special prayer to bless the palm crosses, and distributes them to the congregation at the end of the service. The faithful keep the blessed palm crosses in the icon corner of their homes for a whole year until the following Palm Sunday.
Orthodox people around the world go to church on Palm Sunday carrying palms or other kinds of tree branches. Slavic people carry pussy willow branches as it is a tree that blooms in early spring in cold climates.
In the tradition of Greece and Cyprus, people carry laurel or olive branches – in Cyprus Palm Sunday is also called Olive Sunday. The Orthodox in the Middle East and Asia carry mostly palm fronds and olive branches. In Romania and Bulgaria, the faithful celebrate with bouquets of flowers – in Bulgaria Palm Sunday is also called Flower Day, and women with flower-related names celebrate their name day on that day.
In many Orthodox churches and monasteries, the Divine Liturgy is followed by a glorious procession outside the church. The faithful and the clergy carry branches and walk slowly around the perimeter of the church yard, and in many cases around the whole neighborhood. The procession ends outside the main entrance of the church, where the Gospel account is read once more. Then the priests distribute blessed palm crosses and antidoron to the faithful.
Palm Sunday procession at the Greek Orthodox Church of Saint Porphyrius in Gaza, Palestine, April 2012. Photos by Joe Catron, Creative Commons License CC BY-NC 2.0 via Flickr.
Once all services and celebrations of the day are finished, the decorations are taken down, and the church vestments get changed into the solemn purple ones to signify the passage to the Holy and Great Week, starting on Palm Sunday evening.
Helpful links for exploring the celebration of Palm Sunday around the world
- The Children’s Word, Vol. 9 – Issue 17, Orthodox Christian Network. Page 2 is an excellent resource for exploring the Orthodox celebration of Palm Sunday around the world with children.
- Palm Sunday: 10 amazing pictures of Orthodox celebrations around the world, Christian Today website.
- 10 ways people celebrate Palm Sunday around the world, CBC Kids website. This post includes great photos of Orthodox and non-Orthodox Palm Sunday celebrations.
- Palm Sunday around the world – in pictures, the Guardian. This post also features excellent photos of Orthodox and non-Orthodox Palm Sunday celebrations.
- Palm Sunday, Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.
- Entry of our Lord into Jerusalem, Orthodox Church in America.
- Palm Sunday, Holy Week Sermon Series, Department of Religious Education, Greek Orthodox Church of America.
- The Orthodox Faith: Lazarus Saturday and Palm Sunday by Fr. Thomas Hopko, Orthodox Church in America.
- Homily on Palm Sunday by St. Ignatius Brianchaninov, Orthodox Christianity website.
- Entry into Jerusalem | The Palm Sunday Icon, “A Reader’s Guide to Orthodox Icons” blog.