Sunday of Palms, Sunday of Hosannas.

Sunday is Palm Sunday, “Glorious Sunday of Hosannas” according to the prayer books of the Church of the East, combines two celebrations in the prayer life of the Church:

  • Seventh Sunday of the Great Fast, which highlights that the Resurrection of Christ that we celebrate each Sunday is chief and not overtaken by the Glorious Feast of Hosannas. This is the main title given to this day in the Gaza, the Book of Feast-day Prayers and Liturgies. Palm Sunday combines with the Seventh Sunday of the Fast so that these two aspects of one reality comment on each other.
  • Glorious Sunday of Hosannas, which is the secondary title in the Khudra (the main prayer-book of the Church). This title focuses on the exalted cries of the crowd at Christ’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem: “Hosanna for the Son of David; Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, Hosanna in the heights (Matthew 21.9).”

Palm Sunday is linked in our faith and our prayer life to the raising of Lazarus three days dead and the Resurrection of Christ. Like the resurrection of Lazarus, Palm Sunday begins to prepare us for Holy Week where we experience the Passover of our Lord, His Betrayal, His Death, and His Resurrection. These events happen as one great truth revealed and re-lived as the completion of Great Lent and the walk to the joy of the Resurrection.

On the Friday before Great Holy Week, we commemorate the raising of Lazarus by Christ on his way to Jerusalem, so this day is called “The Friday of Lazarus”. In the “Hymn of Lazarus” from Vespers (ܨܠܘܬܐ ܕܪܡܫܐ), we sing: “From Bethany, Lazarus heard the voice of the Son and he answered and said that “Behold I am”. The tombs, those homes of the departed, quivered. Death cried its lamentation and the foundations of Sheol shattered. Tremendous wonder betook all peoples, who wondered: “what is this that has visited upon us that one calls life to the dead and the dead answers the living?” Then did a sign rule over them, that this is the Jesus, Son of David, the garment of the Word from the Father, who made him Lord and Judge, of the heavens and the depths.”

In this liturgical spirit we understand Christ entering Jerusalem not to his death, but to our resurrection. Christ enters Jerusalem as a king in a victory procession. He is entering Jerusalem as the king of the city, and he is received with acclamation by the people. We process, ܚܘܓܝܐ, on Palm Sunday as it celebrates Christ’s victory. All processions are victory marches. From Palm Sunday until the Great Procession of the Resurrection of Our Lord, we do not process but experience the cross, without which there is no Resurrection just as there is no victory until the war is won.

The fathers of the Church, especially Saints Theodore the Interpreter and Isho’dad of Merv, pay close attention to the significance of what Christ rides upon. When he rides upon a female donkey it signifies Israel toiling under the Law, but here, at Palm Sunday, Christ rides upon a new, impetuous, unbroken-in colt donkey. This new and fresh donkey, that had never had a master before, is a symbol of the people who will become the citizens of New Israel, the Church, after the messiah of old, biblical, Israel is rejected. Christ’s people are to be a new people, inheritors of all the promises and truth of the Old Law, but born of baptism into the Kingdom and not by earthly birth-rite. This is important for us because it is easy to take our Christianity for granted and not as something we must live-out.

We know that many of those laying tree branches and crying our “Hosanna to the Son of David” will be crying out that this same Son of David should be crucified. Certainly, the leaders of the people turn sharply against Christ. The key prayer of Palm Sunday is a dangerous one: “Hosanna for the Son of David; Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, Hosanna in the heights (Matthew 21.9).” It ties what we do on this day with the action of the crowd in Jerusalem, but it also reminds us that we are in the same dangerous place as the people of ancient Israel. Our Lord does not tolerate hypocrisy. The first event Christ does, according the Gospel According to Saint Matthew, is to overturn the money-changers’ tables in the Temple.

A powerful meditation emerges for Holy Week, which is a time we should spend with the scriptures, especially the Holy Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Christ establishes a New Israel: the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. The blessings God bestowed upon Israel are inherited by the faithful of many nations, in the Church. Christ founds the Church as a new Israel because of old Israel’s lack of love to the outsider, the sinner, the marginalized person who we would like to ignore. How many times do we see Jesus heal the blind, the leper, or visit the tax collector and sinner only to be mocked or chastised? The week leading to the Resurrection of the Lord is a holy time not just because it refreshes and renews us by taking us inside of church more, and the prayers are more intense, the emotions sharper, but because it must lead us outside of ourselves to not only experience but practice the life in Christ. What would Christ experience among us if he were to come in judgement this Easter? As we take up our palms and branches, we should begin to search our souls for repentance.

The Hallowing of Mar Nestorius, the Patriarch of Constantinople

[gview file=””]

The Hallowing of Addai and Mari Disciplers of the East in Syriac.

[gview file=””]

The Hallowing of Mar Theodore the Interpreter, the Bishop of Mopsuestia

[gview file=””]

The Hallowing of Addai and Mari Disciplers of the East

[gview file=””]

On the Feast of the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ

The Feast of the Nativity, or, as it is known in America, “Christmas,” is an ancient Feast whose origins are somewhat obscure. By the fifth century AD it is mentioned by the Council of Isaac (AD 410) in conjunction with the Feast of the Epiphany: “. . . we should together, as one, keep the holy feast, the first-born of blessed feasts, the glorious day of the birth and epiphany of Christ our Savior.” [Chabot, J. B., ed., Synodicon Orientale, Paris, 1892, p.20, lines 15-16 (Eng. trans. by M. J. Birnie).] At some later time the Epiphany was separated into two Festivals, one celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, the other celebrating his Baptism (and retaining the name “Epiphany”). All the churches (with the exception of the Armenians) adopted December 25 as the day to celebrate the Nativity of our Lord, leaving the Feast of the Epiphany on the older January 6 date.

Read more

The Feast of the Epiphany

On January 6 the Church of the East, along with most other Christian churches, celebrates the Feast of the Epiphany. The Epiphany (Beth Denkha) is an ancient festival observance of the Church. It has been celebrated at least from the 3rd century of the Christian era. The word Epiphany is of Greek origin, and it means “manifestation”, and the Greek title of the feast has usually carried over into other languages, though it has been translated among the Syriac-speaking churches (“Denkha” carries the same meaning). The feast was from the beginning a celebration of the Baptism of Christ, and was one of the three principle feasts of the early Church: Epiphany, Easter, and Pentecost. From the 5th century the Western churches began to transform the feast-day into a celebration of Christ’s manifestation to the Gentiles, and the three “Kings” (Magi) became the central figures (apart from our Lord) in the day’s festivities. However, in the Eastern churches the commemoration of the Baptism is still the central feature.

The word “manifestation” refers to the public revelation of the special relationship Jesus of Nazareth had with the God of Israel: “Now when Jesus was baptized, as soon as he had gone up from the water the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming upon him, and lo, [there was] a voice from heaven saying, `This is my beloved Son, with whom I have been well-pleased.’” (Mk. 3:16-17) Here a miraculous occurrence before the large crowds that had come to be baptized by John (or to observe him and hear his preaching) confirmed the unique status of Jesus, setting him off on his ministry of teaching, healing, and proclaiming the advent of the Kingdom of God. But more than that, the Holy Trinity was here first proclaimed openly, opening up a vast new world of understanding, though the fullness of what it all meant would not be known until the final triumph of our Lord over sin and death, and his glorification and session at the right hand of the Father in heaven.

This two-fold revelation–of the Sonship of Christ and of the Holy Trinity–is our reason for rejoicing and celebrating this special day. “Creation was made glad in its Lord and acknowledged its Savior who was baptized and who revealed in the Jordan the doctrine of the Trinity: the Father who cried out and proclaimed, `This is my beloved Son with whom I have been well-pleased,’ and the Spirit who came and remained upon him, making known his glory in the presence of the nations.” [“Anthem of the Mysteries” for Epiphany.]

The Great Fast (Lent)

The “Great Fast” is a seven week period of self-discipline and penitence which precedes the Feast of the Resurrection (Easter). This fast is universally observed throughout the Apostolic Church, and is known in English-speaking lands as “Lent”, from an old English word meaning “to lengthen”. Lent originally just meant “Spring”, that is, the time when the days are lengthening.

Fasting is a discipline which has been observed in the Church from the very beginning of its existence. The practice of fasting had been an important feature of Old Testament life. Moses fasted 40 days, as did Elijah. In the New Testament the followers of John the Baptist were rigorous in the observance of fasts, and Jesus, both in his practice and in his teaching, recommended fasting to his followers (Lk. 4:2; Mt. 6:16-18; Mk. 2:20). After the Ascension of our Lord into Heaven his Apostles practiced fasting (Acts 13:2; 14:23; 2 Cor. 11:27), and first century Christian written sources indicate that members of the Church fasted twice a week, on Wednesdays and Fridays.

The fast before Easter was originally observed differently in different regions. Some only fasted between Thursday evening (Passover Thursday) and Easter Sunday, others for the week between Palm Sunday (Hosannas) and Easter, others for three weeks (this could be the origin of the three “Weeks of the Mysteries” in the Church of the East). But following the Council of Nicea (AD 325), the “Forty Days Fast” became universally observed. The first canonical mention of the Great Fast in the Church of the East is in the acts of the Council of Mar Isaac (AD 410): “Again, as one and at one appointed time we should together keep the complete fast of forty days, seven weeks.” [Synodicon Orientale, ed., J. B. Chabot, Paris, 1892, p. 20 (Eng. tr. by M. J. Birnie).]

The fast of Lent in the beginning consisted of abstinence from all flesh meat, including fish, and from eggs and milk products. It allowed for one meal a day, taken towards the evening. This rigorous schedule was carefully maintained for some generations, but in the West it was gradually eased, until today there are only two fast days remaining, Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. However, the Eastern churches still enjoin abstinence from meat, eggs, and milk products throughout the Great Fast.

The Great Fast provides us with the opportunity of reflecting on our lives and focusing our vision as we approach the great drama of our salvation, the Passion, Death, Burial, and Resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. It is a time to put away, insofar as possible, the besetting cares of this life and the demands of appetite, and even the innocent pleasures which are satisfying to us, but often distract us altogether too much from following our Lord, or sometimes even take control of our lives to such an extent as to damage our usefulness as instruments of Christ’s will. This is the time for taking back the direction and control of our appetites and of our lives, and turning them back over to the service of Christ.

“Know this as well, that now is the time and the hour to awaken from our sleep. For now our salvation is much nearer to us than when we believed. Now the night is passing and the day is drawing near. Let us then put away from ourselves the deeds of darkness, and put on the armor of light. Let us walk with decorum, as in the day, not with reveling, nor with drunkenness, nor with sexual impurity, nor with envy and strife. Instead, put on our Lord Jesus Christ, and pay no mind to the lusts of your flesh.” (Rom. 13:11-14)

How Do I Benefit Personally From Attending Qurbana?

The question “How do I benefit personally from the Qurbana?” might be answered best if we first ask ourselves another question, “What do I need help with?” This is not always the easiest question to answer, but the liturgy itself spells out the specific needs it intends to address in its prayers, and it repeats these needs several times: remission of sins, a clear conscience before God, the hope of resurrection, and new life in the Kingdom of Heaven. Each of these benefits is prayed for, not just for some abstract “humanity”, but for each and every participating worshipper. It is healing of the brokenness of our condition that the Sacrament is administered for.

“For all have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God.” (Rom. 3:23) Who but the most hardened hypocrite does not feel pain at his own shortcomings and sins? What conscience is so callous that it fails to recognize the anguish we inflict on one another through our indifference or forgetful neglect of moral responsibility? Can anyone say that, because he is a Christian, he no longer is subject to the failures of being human? It is to Christians that St. Paul writes, “For it is God, in Christ, who has reconciled the world with his majesty, not imputing to them their sins. And he has placed in us our word of reconciliation. Therefore we are ambassadors for Christ, and, as it were, God beseeches you through us. In behalf of Christ, then, we beseech you, be reconciled to God, for he made him, who knew no sin, to be sin for you, that we may be made in him the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor. 5:19-20) The Christian man or woman, having been reconciled to God through Christ, must continue to strive to make that promised state a reality in his or her personal life in this world. He or she must face up to the failures that beset the course of life, and the brokenness which recurs with every sin of omission or commission along the way, and “be reconciled to God.”

God gave to the Apostles, and through them to the Church, the ministry of reconciliation. This ministry is exercised regularly, whenever the Church meets together at the place of reconciliation, before the Altar of God. There it prays for forgiveness and cleansing. There it offers the counsels of love and forbearance. There it reaches out to offer the kiss of peace, succors the ailing, and draws to itself the alienated and confused. There it calls to renewal and reconciliation all who feel broken by sin. And there it offers the hope of resurrection and new life in God and in his Kingdom. The benefit personally is great, for there we have the opportunity to participate in all these things ourselves, to be a part of that healing and reconciliation. There we can fulfill this ministry of service to which we are all called as members of Christ’s body.

At the center of this ministry of word and deed is the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ himself. Jesus said, “I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread he shall live for ever. And the bread which I will give is my body, which I give for the life of the world.” (Jn. 6:51) What we come to Qurbana to receive and give is possible only in Christ and through his Self-offering. Forgiveness, healing, hope, reconciliation–all these Christ conveys according to his promise to each and every believer who in true faith partakes of his gift of himself. This gift of himself is the first and greatest benefit of faithful attendance at Qurbana.

Why do we call the Qurbana a “Sacrifice”?

In another entry on this internet page the question is posed, “What is the Qurbana?”, and it is answered by referring to early Christian practice and Holy Scripture: it is the Offering made by the Lord’s body, his Church and her members, in which they identify themselves with his own self-offering upon the Cross, and through which they realize his presence, both in the offered bread and wine, and in one another.

But throughout the service of Qurbana the word “sacrifice” is also employed to describe the Offering we are making. The word “offering”, or “sacrifice”, is used in more than one sense, of course, but in religious ritual it usually conjures up an image of a priest offering a victim upon an altar, and this is, in fact, its primary sense. In early Biblical times priests offered sacrifices because of a break which had taken place in the unity men were created to have with their Creator. The sacrifice renewed that unity which had been broken. In English we use the word atonement (that is “at-one-ment”) to describe what happens in religious sacrifice: a bringing together into one the people for whom the sacrifice was offered and God, from whom they had been alienated because of their sin.

To an outside observer it might seem strange, then, that we speak of the Qurbana as a sacrifice. Though there is a priest and an altar, there doesn’t seem to be any apparent victim–only the bread and wine, a somewhat peculiar sacrifice. The use of the terminology of sacrifice may strike him as somewhat inappropriate. If he is knowledgeable at all about the purpose of sacrifice, and of the need for a ritual death, he may write off our sacrifice as an exercise in futility. But he would be wrong.

Our sacrifice is very different from, but yet similar to, those ritual sacrifices of Old Testament times. It is one in which our Lord Jesus is at once the priest and the victim. Once and for all, in time and in the humanity which he took from us, the Son of God offered himself, a sinless priest and a pure and acceptable sacrifice, to repair the breach that existed between mankind and God, that we might achieve at-one-ment with our Creator. Once and for all he entered the Sanctuary in Heaven, leaving this world and entering a timeless realm, with his own pure blood as his sufficient offering, and there he eternally intercedes for us before his Father.

“A priest such as this is right for us: pure, harmless, undefiled, separated from sinners, exalted above the heavens. There is no need for him to offer sacrifices daily like the high priests, first for his own sins and then for the people, for he did this once, offering himself. . . But now, at the end of the age, he has offered himself once by his sacrificial act, that he might abolish sin.” (Heb. 7:26-27; 9:26) Here we see both the uniqueness and finality in time of our Lord’s sacrifice. “But the Christ who came was made high priest of the good things which he brought to pass, and he entered a great and perfect tabernacle, which is not made with hands and is not of this created world, and he did not enter with the blood of kids or calves, but entered the sanctuary once with his own blood and acquired [for us] eternal salvation. . . . But the priesthood of this [Jesus], because he remains for ever, does not pass away, and he is able to save for ever those who approach God through him, for he is ever alive and offering prayer on their behalf.” (Heb. 9:11-13; 7:24,25) Here we see the permanence and ongoing character of our Lord’s priestly ministry being carried out in eternity, outside of time and without limitation.

The Qurbana is where these two realities, time and eternity–this age and the age to come–meet in the faithful prayers and expectations of the worshippers. Here Christ Jesus himself is present: in bread and wine, in the celebrant (the presbyter or bishop), in the Word which is administered, and in his Body’s members. Here the Priest and Victim, whose passion, death, resurrection, and glorification are now an integral part of who he is and what he is about, offers himself by accepting sacrificial suffering, death, burial, and resurrection, mediating on our behalf with his Father and healing the transgressions and sins which come between us and God. This meeting between the Body of Christ and the eternal High Priest of our religion occurs when we in faith join the heavenly choirs, the cherubim and seraphim and all the spiritual hosts, and escape for the moment our time-bound existence in union with our Lord and his sacrifice.

When the Apostle Paul was urging the Corinthian Christians to moral renewal he called to remembrance the passion of our Lord: “Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse yourselves of the old leaven, since you are unleavened bread. For our Passover is Christ, who is slain for us.” (1 Cor. 5:6-7) As elsewhere in this epistle, the Apostle draws together teaching on moral conduct among Christians and the imagery of sacrifice (see especially chapter 11 where he draws upon the Qurbana and the Passover Supper in the Upper Room for this imagery). It is the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ which is the central fact of God’s provision for our atonement, our reconciliation with him. And it is the exercise of the Son of God’s eternal High Priesthood which is the guarantee of our ultimate salvation, for sin is a besetting reality in the human situation.

When Christ is present with his people sacramentally and in fulfillment of his promise, “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, I am there among them,” (Mt. 18:20) he is there not only as friend, brother, and teacher, but among the sinful and unworthy congregation he is there pre-eminently as eternal High Priest of our religion, ever alive and offering prayer on our behalf. We, in our Offering, are united with him in that once-in-time, but for ever sufficient, sacrifice.

But let us, like Paul, draw upon this image to stimulate ourselves to moral renewal. Jesus once said, “Whoever desires to follow me should deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me.” (Mt. 16:24. Cf. Mk 8:34; 10:21; Lk. 9:23; 14:27) Our Lord lived a life of ongoing self-sacrifice. He set a pattern of self-giving and demanded we emulate it: “Whoever does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” (Mt. 10:38) In the Qurbana Christ’s supreme sacrifice is depicted before our eyes. To be joined with him in his sacrifice, and to be united with him in his life, brings to the believer the necessity of taking up his own cross, a life of self-giving, and following his Lord in sacrificial service to his family, his fellow members in the Body of Christ, his community, and ultimately his Lord (“Inasmuch as you have done it to one of the least of these, my brothers, you have done it to me.” [Mt. 25:40]) The imperative of sacrifice may seem demanding and beyond our feeble powers to fulfill, but its spiritual benefits to the obedient are richly rewarding. Also, the imperative carries with it words of consolation: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in my heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is mild, and my burden is light.” (Mt. 11:29-30)