April 12, 2020

"Blessed is He Who Comes in the Name of the Lord" (Photios Kontoglou)

"Blessed is He Who Comes in the Name of the Lord"

By Photios Kontoglou

2 March 1953

He Whose throne is heaven, and Whose footstool is the earth, the Son of God His co-eternal Word, today humbles Himself, and comes to Bethany on a little donkey.

And the children of the Hebrews received Him, crying out: "Hosanna in the highest, blessed is He Who comes, the King of Israel."

The warlords of the world, when they would finish a war and threw down their enemies, they would return glorified, and sitting on golden chariots to enter their city. Before them would go the trumpets and flags and brave generals and a multitude of soldiers, covered with iron armor and bearing weapons around a chariot that was filled with many pieces of armor and swords and spears that remained from the conquered nation.

Similar things like these were the great nails that they used in the Crucifixion of our Savior Jesus Christ!

All of these warriors were iron-clad like wild beasts, their heads locked within fearsome helmets, their spears and hairy hands were bloodied from war, their strong legs walked proudly and stretched, like a lion that tore apart a deer with its claws and stretches out with roars that frightens the world.

Later would come the golden chariot of the warlord, where he would sit on a throne, adorned with precious stones, proud, haughty, fearsome, who could not be looked in the eye without one averting their gaze, carrying his awesome scepter, whose every movement of his command was an order, without the one holding it opening his mouth.

Horses on that day were harnessed to that chariot, with gold-embroidered straps with carousels and they also walked pompously and proudly like the humans. A beautiful girl, like a fairy, was decorated, holding a golden crown above the head of the champion, and other girls and boys tossed incense and other spices in great censers shaped like candelabras.

Behind them came the men and women who were taken as slaves, who were sick and wounded, and they were being dragged by the soldiers who struck them.

As much glory as the people had in front, so much disdain and misfortune had those who followed behind. They were bound with ropes and chains, many were pierced, tattered, wounded, jaundiced and half-dead, from their tortures and from their sleeplessness. Many were half-naked and their backs were darkened from the whips. Among them were women, shamed virgins, stolen mothers with their innocent children in their hands, elderly who were holding on to their grandchildren by the hand, all traumatized like lambs going to the butcher. Around them, the people grew insane and cried out, glorifying the victor, with many mouths foaming. A cry rose like smoke above the whole city. This scene they called a "triumph."

One such triumph is performed today by Christ, the Prince of Peace and of Love. However, He has changed all the rest and turned it upside down from what men were used to, and thus, His triumph is the triumph of poverty and humility.

The Roman ruler was seated upon a throne and golden chariot, but Christ is seated on a little donkey, possibly among the most humble and disdained among the animals.

And He Himself was humble, meek, silent, poorly-dressed, as the prophecy which says: "Say to the daughter of Zion: Behold your King is coming, meek and having salvation is He, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey" (Zachariah 9:9). His hand had never held a scepter, but blessed the world. He Himself is returning from war, but a war much more difficult to win, a war against evil and falsehood and hypocrisy and love of money.

And He was not going to rest from that war, but was going to begin another, even harder, to be crowned with a crown of thorns, and to be beaten and to be mocked, and in the end, to be nailed upon a Cross like an evil-doer.

He was not surrounded by savage servants, but by innocent fishermen, who were disdained like Him. And He neither carried behind Him slaves that He tyrannized, but men whom He freed from the slavery of the devil, and the dead whom He had raised through His voice.

They did not blare trumpets and beat drums to glorify Him, but innocent children, which symbolized the simplicity which Christians have, cried out: "Blessed is He Who comes", and instead of holding flags they waved the green branches of trees; verdant branches and clothes strewn on the road for the donkey to walk over.

And this blessed donkey, with a bowed head, humble, ignorant, bore Christ Who was sitting on its back, Whom the fiery six-winged Seraphim stand about with fear. He was not carried by a golden chariot, nor a prized stallion, nor even a seat held by others, but by a little donkey. What eye does not shed a tear and is not astonished by this mystery!

Christ overturned what sinful mankind saw regarding what is right and true. Who, however, is in the position to sense the freedom which He brings us, and would follow the donkey, and not the fine horses that glow proudly, which enter Rome with many idols, instead of entering together into the Kingdom of Peace, the Jerusalem on high?

Many "serious" people, one could say, did not understand this, saying that the children where childish, and the men were manly. The same was said by the high priests, men of authority: "But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying out in the temple, 'Hosanna to the Son of David!' they were indignant; and they said to him, 'Do you hear what these are saying?' And Jesus said to them, 'Yes; have you never read, Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast brought perfect praise?' And leaving them, he went out of the city to Bethany and lodged there" (Matthew 21:15-17).

The chief priests and the scribes had read the Psalm of David which said how the Christ would be met by the babes and they did not believe Him Whom they praised. And if we have read today's Gospel and the Psalm and what Christ said to the Hebrews, would we not be judged more strictly than if we had not believed Him? Our vanity and our pride prevent us from going along His poor path, and we are ashamed to follow a leader Who is riding upon a donkey. We don't want the humble, the poor. Can one become a Christian who does not love that which Christ loved?

Yesterday, Saturday, He raised a dead man, Lazarus. Who was this Lazarus? Was he a notable, famous person? Lazarus was a poor villager, but as the Gospel says, he was a friend of Christ, Who would have all men as His friends.

The Gospel notes that Christ had a friend in the world, and that he was poor and unlearned. But who among us loves this rich poverty of Christ? Where Christ is missing, there is the true poverty, because where Christ is missing, there is also missing true life and death rules. This you would understand well if you look around and ponder. Where are those almighty Roman leaders who made their triumphant entry, as we described above? What happened to them, and the myriads that worshiped them and knelt before them like the reeds before the north wind? Who brings to mind those who wrote the history of that time?

Bodies, souls, thrones, diamonds, horses, pride, horrors, voices, all fell into a pit and were lost and extinguished as if they had never existed. And what is left of all these in people's hearts? Nothing and even less than nothing.

But man is unfaithful even to what he sees and what he grasps with his hands, and walks the path that they have taken, and he happily drags Nero's chariot, because "his neck is iron." His ears are pricked by Him Who says: "I am God, the first and the last, I am. I nourish my sheep and I will give them rest." He Who was sitting upon the donkey, it is He Who remains alive within simple souls unto the ages, and is for them a source of nourishment, a source of immortality, joy and delight, according to the words that say: "The heart of those who seek the Lord shall rejoice."

Yes, whoever senses the joy of Christ, is like that dead man [Lazarus] who was raised. There are many kinds of pains in the world. Those who suffer in body and soul, their pain cleanses them and takes them to God, and these are the beloved ones of Christ and walk in His army with His consoling light. The others suffer in futility. That is why the Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians: "Now I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting; for you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation and brings no regret, but worldly grief produces death" (2 Corinthians 7:9-10).

For those who hope in God, Christ transforms their futile sweat into sweat of salvation, "a refreshing sweat", but we mourn and are pained in every way like the idolaters, slaughtered by the knives of fate. They did not allow their sweat of agony to become transformed into sweat of prayer and hope.

Whoever does not believe in Christ and in the Gospel is dead, as no true life exists within them. Because life does not mean to breath and to walk and to eat and drink, but to sense the grace of immortality. Then, one can chant together with that exceptional hymn that is the Apolytikion:

"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!"