We have now passed the midpoint of Great Lent, the Sunday of the Holy Cross, and we can feel the anticipation growing as we approach our Lord’s victorious third-day resurrection on Pascha. Starting this week, the Presanctified Liturgy has an added litany and prayer for those who are preparing to receive Holy Baptism before Pascha. Also during this time we transition from greeting each other with, “Kali Sarakosti!” (“Blessed 40 Days!”) and instead begin to say, “Kalo Páscha!” (“Blessed Pascha!”)
We are looking with expectation toward Holy Week, when we will experience the fullness of harmolipi, “joyful sorrow,” as we walk with our Lord to the Last Supper, to Gethsemane, to his betrayal and arrest, to the mocking, the beating, the crucifixion, and finally to His glorious resurrection!
Before we enter into the most solemn time of Holy Week, the Church gives us a joyful reprieve: the two-day feast of Lazarus Saturday and Palm Sunday. Great Lent ends on the Friday before Lazarus Saturday. Thus Holy Week is separate from Great Lent. Yet before we start Holy Week, we have these two festive days.
Lazarus Saturday is the commemoration of Jesus’ remarkable miracle: the raising from the dead of His friend Lazarus, four days after he had died! Lazarus had reposed for so many days that Mary, his sister, warned Jesus not to enter the tomb because of the stench. This miracle was so great that it was, for those blind, hard-hearted Jewish leaders, the last straw—an act so great that they decided they must kill Jesus. Yet for the faithful, this miracle is a foreshadowing of our Lord’s own resurrection. He who has power to reach into Hades and pull up Lazarus also has the power to raise Himself from Hades on the third day.
News of this great miracle spread throughout the region around Bethany and Jerusalem. So when Jesus entered the holy city, seated upon a donkey, the people thronged Him, throwing their clothing upon the road, singing hymns of thanksgiving to God for the arrival of their Messiah. Palm Sunday commemorates His glorious entry into Jerusalem. We, together with the faithful Jewish people, celebrate the Messiah’s coming and the great victory that He brings.
The Church, in Her great wisdom, orders everything aright for us. Thus She has given us this festive reprieve after the arduous 40-day fast, a time for us to celebrate Lazarus and the joyful entry into Jerusalem, so that we can be strengthened for the final days before Pascha.
May God give us all the strength we need for these days ahead! Kalo Pascha!
In confirming the common Resurrection, O Christ God, You raised up Lazarus from the dead before Your Passion. Wherefore, we also, like the children, bearing the symbols of victory, cry to You, the Vanquisher of death: Hosanna in the highest; blessed is He Who comes in the Name of the Lord.
– Apolytikion of Lazarus Saturday and Palm Sunday