‘Blessed is He that comes…’: this is the feast of Christ the King – welcomed by the children at His entry into Jerusalem, and to be welcomed likewise by each one of us into our own heart. ‘Blessed is He that comes…’ – that comes not so much out of the past as out of the future: for on Palm Sunday we welcome not only the Lord who entered Jerusalem long ago, riding on a donkey, but the Lord who comes again in power and great glory, as King of the Future Age. Palms and branches are blessed after the Gospel at Matins, and held with lighted candles during the rest of the service. Although at one time the Eastern Church – like Western Christendom up to the present – used to hold a procession on Palm Sunday, this has now fallen into disuse and there is no mention of it in the existing Triodion.
Very frequently repeated at this feast is the sticheron beginning, ‘Today the grace of the Holy Spirit has gathered us together…’ It is possible to see reflected here the practice of St. Euthymios, St. Sabas and other Palestinian monks in the fifth and sixth centuries. Shortly after the Feast of Epiphany they left their monasteries to make a Lenten retreat in the wilderness, either singly or with a companion, spending the following weeks in silence and continual prayer, eating nothing but wild roots. Then, on Saturday afternoon in the sixth week of Lent, they all returned to their monasteries for the vigil service of Palm Sunday, in order to celebrate Holy Week together with their brethren. In isolated Orthodox parishes throughout the western world, something similar occurs each year. Scattered members of the parish community, living far from the church and scarcely ever able to attend the services at other times, start to appear in church at the vigil service before Palm Sunday, and as Holy Week continues their members steadily increase. Like the monks of ancient Palestine, we in the twentieth century can also say with truth on Palm Sunday, ‘Today the grace of the Holy Spirit has gathered us together…’