Thoughts from the Early Church

Commentary, Blessing of the Palms, by Gregory Palamas

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord..

Because of all he had done, the simple people believed in the Lord not only with a silent faith, but with a faith that proclaimed his divinity both by word and by deed.

After raising Lazarus, who had been dead four days, the Lord found the young donkey his disciples had brought for him, as the evangelist Matthew relates.

Seated on it he entered Jerusalem, in fulfillment of the prophecy of Zechariah: “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold your king comes to you, the just one, the savior. He is gentle, and rides on a beast of burden, on the colt of a donkey.”

By these words the Prophet shows that Christ was the king he was foretelling, the only true king of Zion. He is saying:

  “Your king will not frighten those who look upon him; he is not an overbearing kind of person, or an evildoer.
He does not come with a bodyguard, an armed escort, at the head of hosts of cavalry and foot soldiers.

Nor does he live by extortion, demanding taxes and the payment of tribute and ignoble services, hurtful to those who perform them.

No, he is recognized by his lowliness, poverty, and frugality, for he enters the city riding on a donkey, and with no crowd of attendants.

Therefore, this king alone is just, and injustice he saves. He is also meek, meekness is his own special characteristic.

In fact, the Lord’s own words regarding himself were: “Learn from me, for I am meek and lowly in heart.”

He who raised Lazarus from the dead enters Jerusalem today as king, seated on a donkey. Almost at once all the people, children and grown-ups, young and old alike, spread their garments on the road; and taking palm branches, symbols of victory, they went to meet him as the giver of life and conqueror of death.

They worshipped him, and formed an escort. Within the temple precincts as well as without they sang with one voice, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Hosanna in the highest!” This hosanna is a hymn of praise addressed to God.

It means, “Lord, save us.” The other words, “in the highest,” show that God is praised not only on earth by human beings, but also on high by the angels of heaven.

(Homily XV: PG 151, 184-185 )

Gregory Palamas (1296-1359) was born at Constantinople, and prepared by the piety of his parents for a monastic vocation. At the age of about 20 he became a monk of Mount Athos. In 1347 he was made bishop of Thessalonica.

Gregory stressed the biblical teaching that the human body and soul form a single united whole. On this basis he defended the physical exercises used by the Hesychasts in prayer, although he saw these only as a means to an end for those who found them helpful.

He followed Saint Basil the Great and Saint Gregory of Nyssa in teaching that although no created intelligence can ever comprehend God in his essence, he can be directly experienced through his uncreated “energies,” through which he manifests himself to and is present in the world.

God’s substance and his energies are distinct from one another, but they are also inseparable. One of these energies is the uncreated divine light, which was seen by the apostles on Mount Tabor. At times this is an inward illumination; at other times it is outwardly manifested.

Commentary, Passion: Augustine

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.

 

 “Jesus’ hour had not yet come”—not the hour when he would be forced to die, but the hour when he would choose to be put to death. He knew the appointed hour for him to die; he had pondered all the prophecies concerning himself and was waiting until everything had taken place that the prophets said would occur before his passion began. When all was accomplished the passion would then follow, in the due ordering of events and not at the compulsion of fate.
Listen to these prophecies, and see if they are true. Among the other things that were foretold of Christ, it is written: “They mingled gall with my food, and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.” How this came about we know from the gospel.

First they gave Jesus gall; he took it, tasted it, and rejected it. Then, to fulfill the Scriptures as he hung on the cross, he said: “I am thirsty.” They took a sponge soaked in vinegar, tied it to a reed, and lifted it up to him where he hung.

When he had taken it he said: “It is finished.” What did he mean by that? It is as though he said: “All the prophecies foretelling what would happen before my passion have been fulfilled. What then is left for me to do?” So, after saying “It is finished, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.”

Did the thieves crucified beside him choose when to die? They were imprisoned in the flesh with no power over its limitations. But it was when he himself chose to do so that the Lord took flesh in a virgin’s womb. He chose the moment of his coming among us and the duration of his life on earth.

He also chose the hour when he would depart this earthly life. It was in his power to do all this; he was under no compulsion. So in waiting for the hour of his choice, not the hour decreed by fate, he made sure that everything that had to be fulfilled before he suffered was duly accomplished.

How could Christ be subject to the decree of fate, when elsewhere he had said: “I have power to lay down my life, and I have power to take it up again. No one can take it from me; I lay it down of my own accord, and I will take it up again?” 

He showed that power when the Jewish authorities came in search of him. “Who are you looking for?” he asked them. “Jesus of Nazareth,” they answered, and he in turn replied: “I am he.” At these words they recoiled and fell to the ground.

Someone is sure to ask: If he had such power, why did he not demonstrate it when his enemies were taunting him and saying: “If he is the son of God, let him come down from the cross?” He was showing us how to endure; that was why he deferred the exercise of his power.

If he were to come down because he was stung by their words, they would think he had succumbed to their mockery. He chose not to come down. He chose to stay where he was, refusing to die until the moment of his choice.

If Jesus had the power to rise from the tomb, could he have found it so very difficult to come down from the cross? We, then, for whom all these things were done, should understand that the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was then hidden, will be revealed at the Last Judgment.
   “Our God will come openly,” we are told. “He will no longer keep silence.” What does this mean? It means that previously when he was being judged he had been silent, in order to fulfill the prophecy: “He was led away like a sheep to be sacrificed; and like a lamb, dumb before the shearer, he did not open his mouth.”
Thus, unless he had been willing he would not have suffered, his blood would not have been shed; and if that blood had not been shed, the world would not have been redeemed. So let us pour out our thanks to him, both for the power of his divinity and for the compassion of his suffering humanity..

(Homilies on the Gospel of John
37, 9-10: CCL 36, 336-338)

 

Augustine (354-430) was born at Thagaste in Africa and received a Christian education, although he was not baptized until 387. In 391 he was ordained priest and in 395 he became coadjutor bishop to Valerius of Hippo, whom he succeeded in 396.

Augustine’s theology was formulated in the course of his struggle with three heresies: Manichaeism, Donatism, and Pelagianism. His writings are voluminous and his influence on subsequent theology immense. He molded the thought of the Middle Ages down to the thirteenth century. Yet he was above all a pastor and a great spiritual writer.

**From Saint Louis University

Kristin Clauson