Sunday, April 28, is the Eastern Orthodox Palm Sunday. It's been 1,969 years since we Orthodox Christians started to celebrate this holiday.
This date is according to the Julian or "old calendar" in use since 46 B.C. The Gregorian, or "new calendar," was initially used in the Roman Catholic parts of Europe starting in 1582 A.D. and by 1927 had replaced all other calendars worldwide for civil purposes.
For religious purposes, several of the Orthodox Christians churches (including the Serbian Ukrainian Orthodox Church in America) still observe their religious holidays using the Julian Calendar.
Before 1582, the Julian Calendar was used throughout Europe. Dates during 1528 to 1927 can belong to either calendar, depending on the date and the place.
To make matters worse, dates are sometimes converted. A good example is the birthday of the first American president, George Washington, who was born under the Julian Calendar, the old calendar, 2/11/1732.
After America adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1752, he converted his birthday to 2/22/1732 under the new calendar. History books always give Washington's converted birth date, but not indicate it is under the "new calendar."
Today is Lazarus Saturday, the day when Jesus Christ resurrected his friend Lazarus. The news of the resurrection preceded Jesus into the city of Jerusalem. The streets were crowded with children and adults waving palm branches and spreading their cloaks on the road as a show of respect.
Palm Sunday is also called Willow Sunday, because branches of the pussy willow are used when palms are not available. The wood of the pussy willow symbolizes the cross of the Lord, and the buds represent the blood drops of the Savior.
Before we leave on a trip, we ought to know exactly where we are going. Christ knew that his journey to the cross and resurrection would be a difficult one, and especially so for his followers, since they had no idea what awaited them in the end.
When Jesus drew near the city, he wept, for he foresaw his own suffering and death at the hands of those who greeted him with such joy. Thus, it is not strange that the road to the cross begins with the joyful events of the raising of Jesus' friend Lazarus and of his triumphal entrance into Jerusalem.
Our excitement this morning, however, pales in comparison to what we will experience next Sunday, as we bask in the glorious radiance of the resurrection of Christ.
Still, we must realize that Holy Week will find us reliving every agonizing moment of our savior's Passion. He came to Jerusalem to observe Passover, but it was a dreaded week for him. With amazing speed, he will be betrayed, arrested, condemned and crucified. He will give up his life upon the cross. Alone and deserted.
To what does Christ call us today, as we wave our branches? Is it to peace and joy, or suffering and death? We still live in a world of suffering, poverty, war and sickness. The joy and peace of his kingdom do not rule this world even though he has entered into it and proclaimed it. In fact, it is this world which killed the King of Glory.
Today, you can see that the country where he lived and was baptized, died and resurrected has no peace! People of that country are dying for something which is earthly and will not last for long. Palestinians and Israelites are killing one another in the name of some human justice.
But we know that no one has the right to take somebody's life, even his own, because life is a gift from God and he is the only one who has the right to take it away.
People of this age looked toward the modern era with great hope. They especially rejoiced in the rapid progress of technology, science and medicine. However, the inescapable fact is that the growth of technology and the modern means of communication have brought about a weakening of faith and a decline in morals.
Our generation is witness to the demise of nature, the depletion of the ozone and the pollution of the atmosphere. We further witness an increase in the diseases that plague man, a rise in warfare and the fact that no growth in technological achievement has resolved the questions of life and death.
Hence, the rise in alcoholism, drug abuse, aggression and crime. All of which fatally combine to cause spiritual death in individuals, of whom the most despairing see the tragedy of suicide as their only option.
This is why the Resurrection is not only the most important, but also the most joyous of all events in history. The Resurrection is the answer to all mankind's questions and difficulties on Earth.
A man begins to die the same moment he is born. Likewise, a person begins to resurrect the same moment he acknowledges the risen Lord, and accepts him as savior and master -- when he begins to live with faith in God.
Can we follow Jesus all the way -- even to the cross -- in order to enter the kingdom with him in his glory? Or will we drop our branches and deny our allegiance to him? Are we truly ready today to declare our allegiance to Christ as our only king and God?
Like the children with palms of victory, we cry out to thee, oh vanquisher of death: "Hosanna in the Highest! Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord!"
XThe Rev. Mijoljub Matic is pastor of Old Holy Trinity Serbian Orthodox Church in Youngstown.