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FEAST – PALM SUNDAY

image1The week preceding the Feast of the Holy Resurrection (Easter) is marked with events that were ordained and prophesied in the life of Jesus Christ.

Those hallowed events begin with Palm Sunday, the day that marks the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem.

It occurs on the Sunday one week before Easter.  It was the day when Jesus started out from Bethany toward Jerusalem.  The word of His coming had already spread. An enormous crowd was waiting for Him, for the people believed that it was He who was coming to restore the Kingdom of God.

Jesus instructed His disciples to go to the nearby village of Bethphage, where they would find an ass, with a newborn colt, and to bring them to Him.  When the disciples were carrying out their instructions the owner asked them why they needed the ass.  They answered as they were told to do, “The Lord has need of them.” As had been foretold, all took place smoothly, without a hitch.

Jesus, riding on the donkey, entered Jerusalem, as foretold centuries earlier by the prophet Zecharia.  “Rejoice greatly, 0 daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Lo, your King comes to you; triumphant and victorious is He, humble and riding on an ass, on a colt, the foal of an ass” (Zech 9:9).

The crowd greeted Jesus with blessings and hosannas on His coming into view.  The enthusiasm and pride felt by the disciples was evident, as they were reaching the pinnacles of their lives.  The Pharisees were becoming more and more obstinate and impatient.  Some were calling out, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.”

But Jesus, as foretold in Scriptures, answered calmly, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.” (Luke 19:40).  Also, “For the stones will cry out from the wall” (Hab 2: 11).

Jesus had a triumphant day. Having achieved marvelous healings and performed miracles, fulfilling the crowds and leaving them entirely contented, He returned to Bethany for the night.

It is the memorialization of this unique and unprecedentedly thrilling historical event that is called Palm Sunday (“Dzaghgazart,” literally, “flower bedecked”).image2

Springtime was bursting forth, a time in flowering nature for an extraordinary encounter.  For centuries the oppressed people had been waiting with anxiety for the one who had the calling to save them from their misery.  It was custom among ancient peoples to honor their heroes with garlands of olive branches or laurel.  It was natural, then, that on that day outpouring of enthusiasm by the crowd would be expressed in the manner of the times, for their champion, of whom it was being said, had the calling to bring salvation to the people and re-establish the kingdom.

The religious celebrations in the church take on a festive character on Palm Sunday.  The altar that had been closed since Poon Paregentan is once again opened.

On Palm Sunday, during the “Antasdan” (Blessing of the Four Corners of the World) service, the palm fronds or olive or willow branches are blessed and passed out to the faithful.  In the Gospel we read, “The next day a great crowd who had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem.  So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying, ‘Hosanna! Blessed be he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel”‘ (John 12:12-13).  This custom is kept alive today, with emphasis being put on a procession on Palm Sunday when young boys and girls march, carrying decorated candles.

OTHER NAMES FOR PALM SUNDAY
(In Armenian, Dzaghgazart)

Palm Sunday is sometimes referred to in Armenian religious writings as “Armavenyats Giragi” (literally, “Palm Sunday”), of course because of the scriptural account telling of the crowd’s hailing with palm fronds.

DZAGHGAZART SOMETIMES CALLED DZARZARTAR

Sometimes in place of the Armenian name Dzaghgazart for Palm Sunday, the name Dzarzartar (“decorated tree”) is used.  It may be that such a variation has arisen out of a confusion resulting from the following.

From early times there was the tradition of celebrating the New Year on the first day of spring.  And because decorating a tree was part of the celebration of the New Year, the idea of a “Decorated Tree” at the start of spring coinciding clearly with Palm Sunday, retained its applicability for Palm Sunday when the New Year was regarded as occurring at the beginning of January.

In popular practice, persons with the names Ovsanna and Ovsan enjoy a name day celebration on Palm Sunday.  It is then that their friends and relatives gather and celebrate the happy occasion.

The blessed palm fronds were taken home and kept with care, and used as an amulet, especially during storms.  In some areas people burned the fronds and the ashes were given to the winds, thereby, it was believed, to be spared from misfortune.  Or, when kept in the house, the fronds would bring, it was believed, goodness and protection from harm.
Avantabadoum, pg. 116

On Palm Sunday all arose early in the morning and hurried to church. Blessed olive branches were handed out in church, and each person would return home carrying a tiny branch.

Courtesy of “Feasts of the Armenian Church and National Traditions” by Garo Bedrosian, 1993