April 25, 2021

Interpretation of the Icon of Palm-Bearing


The Lord's entrance into Jerusalem was a triumphant one. The crowds that flooded the streets, the enthusiasm that was displayed during the welcome, and the praises that were heard, all compose a festive picture. The hagiographer depicts this joyous atmosphere with warm, vivid colors. These can be seen in Christ's garments, the Apostles, the Jews, the buildings, the clothes that are spread out over the road by children.

This type of welcome was a popular custom for the Jews. It was a show of honor that was reserved only for a king who was to rise to his office by being anointed with sanctified oil. Jesus is hailed as the Messiah, which means "the anointed one". Icons depicting this scene are called in Greek "Vaiophoros", which is translated as "Palm-Bearing", because it depicts the people holding palm branches.

The icon has a duality in its appearance, at its upper and its lower area. Below, we have two groups of people: one group is the Apostles who are following the Lord, and the other group is of adults and children. In between these two groups, the Lord dominates the scene imposingly. His head is turned towards the disciples, whom He blesses with His right hand. He holds a closed scroll in His left hand, because He comes with His gospel message. Docility as well as sorrow line His face. His entrance into Jerusalem was the road to His Passion. As God, Christ knew that many from the crowd who were cheering Him as a king, would after a few days be cursing Him as though He were a criminal, and would be shouting "Crucify Him! Crucify him!".

At the top of the icon, we see on one side the golden-yellow mountains and on the opposite side, the city with the Temple of Solomon in its center. These two views merge beautifully in the center, where the palm tree is, and the boy cutting its branches.

With its hymns, its feasts and its divine services, our Church invites us to also glorify the Lord, by participating in His Passion, by walking alongside Him, by crucifying ourselves along with Him. The following Vespers hymn reminds all of us of our obligations as members of the Christ's Church.

On this day, the grace of the Holy Spirit has gathered us together; and with all of us bearing Your Cross, we say: 'Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord, Hosanna to the Most High'.