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April 25, 2021

Palm Sunday - The Rulers and the People (Metr. Hierotheos of Nafpaktos)

By Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou

"The next day a great crowd had come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, took branches of palm trees and went out to meet Him..." (Jn 12:12-13)

When the Lord entered Jerusalem to suffer for the whole world, He was praised by the people as the conqueror of death, because of the resurrection of Lazarus. The amazing thing is that the people who are now praising Christ, are the same who will ask for His condemnation in a few days. Enthusiasm for Christ will soon turn into rage against Him. It seems did not change, but their rulers will change them. It is one of the many that exist in history, a typical case of alteration of the opinion, the will and the real interest of the people by those ordered to rule them. Let's take a closer look at the issue because it is quite interesting and topical.

The Pharisees and the Crowd

The Scribes and Pharisees were the rulers of the Jewish people in Christ's day, doing with them what they wanted. They had taken away every personality from them, turned them into a mass, into a crowd. And in fact they did it in the name of the Law. They behaved very arrogantly and haughtily. They underestimated the people. Concerning those who followed Christ, the Pharisees said, "This crowd that does not know the law are cursed" (John 7:49). The bad thing is that they themselves did not know it nor did they want the people to know the Law. They even oversaw their moral life. The Pharisees said to the disciples of Christ, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?" (Matt. 9:11).

Moreover, in the Gospels we see a constant effort of the rulers to pervert the truth and deceive the people. They wanted to keep them in error. They did everything to slander the true work of Christ. It is well known that the rulers of the Jews basically used two categories to kill Christ, one religious and one political. The religious was that He called himself the Son of God, for He said "God was his Father, making Himself equal with God" (John 5:18). The political was that by His conduct He caused the Romans to come and destroy Israel: “For this man is performing many signs. If we let Him go on like this, all men will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” (John 10:47-48). They presented Him as an enemy of the nation! Even during the unjust trial they did everything to "convince" the people to demand the release of Barabbas and the condemnation of Christ.

Christ and the People. (The People of God)

Unlike the rulers of Israel, Christ loved these people very much. He saw them as having no shepherd. "But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd" (Matt. 9:39). So for Christ the problem of the people is a problem of shepherds-rulers. And the Lord was their true Shepherd, so He declared: "I am the Good Shepherd, the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep" (John 10:11).

Indeed, the Lord, as it is repeatedly emphasized in the holy Gospels, had mercy on the people, taught them, healed them, satisfied their material needs, died for them. He also told His disciples not to rule over them, as the "rulers of the Gentiles" do, but to lead them humbly as His servants. This Holy Week we will hear the Church chanting: "Arbitrariness is not My institution and law, but that of tyrants." Christ is not a tyrant, but the true ruler. No such Shepherd has ever appeared before mankind. The Lord with all His work, made the helpless crowd, who were the victims of the earthly rulers, the people of God, His holy Body.

Thus in the Church we live this intimacy with our eternal and true ruler. We have personal communication with God, our freedom is restored. In the Church the person is not abolished, nor are people a mass. The universal experience of the Church is experienced by the specific person and the personal element has a reference to the universal truth of the Church. In this way, the universality is perfectly maintained and at the same time the freedom of the person is preserved.

When we say people of God we do not mean simply the laity or the democracy, nor the clergy or the cleritocracy, but the unity of clergy and laity in Christ. The laity are neither the independent nor the passive element within the Church, but the charismatic, who together with the clergy constitute the glorious and honored people of God. Thus the Orthodox state is not democratic in the usual sense of the word, but hierarchical. There is hierarchy and respect.

The Current Rulers and the People

Unfortunately, in many cases in modern society the pre-Christian situation prevails. In general, it is observed that the rulers are interested in their own sovereignty (power) and not so much in serving the people. By decisions, taken by large international organizations, they serve individual interests and by laws or ways that are not usually understood, they wrong the people. Beneath beautiful humanitarian slogans lies all the injustice and the interest of the great ones. The same story is repeated, as in the case of Christ. That which is just is destroyed in the name of "justice".

They also oppress the people (the peoples) in various ways and thus push them into reactions/revolutions. Saint Gregory the Theologian remarked that "what is forced, like a plant violently drawn aside by our hands, when set free, returns to what it was before, but that which is the result of choice is both most legitimate and enduring, for it is preserved by the bond of good will." They disorient his thoughts and interests leading him to debauchery. This is done through the media or rather the obscuring of the people. The modern government often does not seek the enlightenment of the people, but the imposition of its thoughts. So it uses all the depths of its psychology (with slogans, advertisements, etc.) to make him stop thinking.

In general, earthly rulers, when they do not have Christ, consider the people a mass, a herd, a crowd and treat them that way, taking advantage of the psychology of the crowd. They want him to be a number in their lists, a voter in their elections, the income for their economy, a ticket to pornographic movies! But this is the greatest crime against man. Also while others for the sake of unity abolish the freedom of the person, another for the sake of their own freedom abolish the unity of the people.

Christ fought the political and religious establishment of His time with His love and the Cross. He is the "Good Shepherd" who set people free and made us His people out of a helpless crowd. The role of the Church today, as always, is to help man avoid extinction, alienation and nihilism.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.