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Lazarus Saturday and Palm Sunday

The week fol­low­ing the Sun­day of St Mary of Egypt is called Palm or Branch Week. At the Tues­day ser­vices of this week the Church recalls that Jesus’ friend Lazarus has died and that the Lord is going to raise him from the dead (Jn 11). As the days con­tin­ue toward Sat­ur­day, the Church, in its hymns and vers­es, con­tin­ues to fol­low Christ towards Bethany to the tomb of Lazarus. On Fri­day evening, the eve of the cel­e­bra­tion of the Res­ur­rec­tion of Lazarus, the “great and sav­ing forty days” of Great Lent are for­mal­ly brought to an end:

Hav­ing accom­plished the forty days for the ben­e­fit of our souls, we pray to Thee, O Lover of Man, that we may see the holy week of Thy pas­sion, that in it we may glo­ri­fy Thy great­ness and Thine unspeak­able plan of sal­va­tion for our sake. …(Ves­per Hymn)


Lazarus Sat­ur­day is a paschal cel­e­bra­tion. It is the only time in the entire Church Year that the res­ur­rec­tion­al ser­vice of Sun­day is cel­e­brat­ed on anoth­er day. At the litur­gy of Lazarus Sat­ur­day, the Church glo­ri­fies Christ as “the Res­ur­rec­tion and the Life” who, by rais­ing Lazarus, has con­firmed the uni­ver­sal res­ur­rec­tion of mankind even before his own suf­fer­ing and death.

By rais­ing Lazarus from the dead before Thy pas­sion, Thou didst con­firm the uni­ver­sal res­ur­rec­tion, O Christ God! Like the chil­dren with the branch­es of vic­to­ry, we cry out to Thee, O Van­quish­er of Death: Hosan­na in the high­est! Blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord! (Tropar­i­on).

Christ —the Joy, the Truth and the Light of All, the Life of the world and its Resurrection—has appeared in his good­ness to those on earth. He has become the Image of our Res­ur­rec­tion, grant­i­ng divine for­give­ness to all (Kon­takion).

At the Divine Litur­gy of Lazarus Sat­ur­day the bap­tismal verse from Gala­tians: As many as have been bap­tizedl into Christ have put on Christ (Gal 3:27) replaces the Thrice-holy Hymn thus indi­cat­ing the res­ur­rec­tion­al char­ac­ter of the cel­e­bra­tion, and the fact that Lazarus Sat­ur­day was once among the few great bap­tismal days in the Ortho­dox Church Year. Because of the res­ur­rec­tion of Lazarus from the dead, Christ was hailed by the mass­es as the long-expect­ed Mes­si­ah-King of Israel. Thus, in ful­fill­ment of the prophe­cies of the Old Tes­ta­ment, he entered Jenr­salem, the City of the King, rid­ing on the colt of an ass (Zech 9:9; Jn 12:12). The crowds greet­ed him with branc­fies in their hands and called out to him with shouts of praise: Hosan­na! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! The Son of David! The King of Israel! Because of this glo­ri­fi­ca­tion by the peo­ple, the priests and scribes were final­ly dri­ven “to destroy him, to put him to death” (Lk 19:47; Jn 11:53, 12:10).

The feast of Christ’s tri­umphal Entry into Jerusalem, Palm Sun­day, is one of the twelve major feasts of the Church. The ser­vices of this Sun­day fol­low direct­ly from those of Lazarus Sat­ur­day. The church build­ing con­tin­ues to be Vest­ed in res­ur­rec­tion­al splen­dor, filled with hymns which con­tin­u­al­ly repeat the Hosan­na offered to Christ as the Mes­si­ah-King who comes in the name of God the Father for the sal­va­tion of the world.

The main tropar­i­on of Palm Sun­day is the same one sung on Lazarus Sat­ur­day. It is sung at all of the ser­vices, and is used at the Divine Litur­gy as the third antiphon which fol­lows the oth­er spe­cial psalm vers­es which are sung as the litur­gi­cal antiphons in the place of those nor­mal­ly used. The sec­ond tropar­i­on of the feast, as well as the kon­takion and the oth­er vers­es and hymns, all con­tin­ue to glo­ril­fy Christ s tri­umphal man­i­fes­ta­tion “six days before the Passover” when he will give him­self at the Sup­per and on the Cross for the life of the world.

Today the grace of the Holy Spir­it has gath­ered us togeth­er. Let us all take up Thy cross and say: Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosan­na in the high­est! (First Verse of Vespers).

hen we were buried with Thee in bap­tism, O Christ God, we were made wor­thy of eter­nal life by Thy res­ur­rec­tion. Now we praise Thee and sing: Hosan­na in the high­est! Blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord! (Sec­ond Troparion).

Sit­ting on Thy throne in heav­en, and car­ried on a foal on earth, O Christ God, accept the praise of angels and the songs of chil­dren who sing: BIessed is he who comes to recall Adam! (Kon­takion).

At the vig­il of the feast of Palm Sun­day the prophe­cies of the Old Tes­ta­ment about the Mes­si­ah-King are read togeth­er with the Cospel accounts of the entry of Christ into Jerusalem. At Matins branch­es are blessed which the peo­ple car­ry through­out the cel­e­bra­tion as the sign of their own glo­ri­fi­ca­tion of Jesus as Sav­iour and King. These branch­es are usu­al­ly palms, or, in the Slav­ic church­es, pussy wil­lows which came to be cus­tom­ary because of their avail­abil­i­ty and their ear­ly blos­som­ing in the springtime.

As the peo­ple car­ry their branch­es and sing their songs to the Lord on Palm Sun­day, they are judged togeth­er with the Jerusalem crowd. For it was the very same voic­es which cried Hosan­na to Christ, which, a few days lat­er, cried Cru­ci­fy him! Thus in the litur­gy of the Church the lives of men con­tin­ue to be judged as they hail Christ with the “branch­es of vic­to­ry” and enter togeth­er with him into the days of his “vol­un­tary passion.”