Today, 7 April 2012, thousands of faithful and over 700 priests participated in the traditional Palm Sunday pilgrimage in Bucharest. The pilgrimage was opened with the “toaca” (wooden slab beaten rhythmically with wooden hammers. Toaca or semantron (Greek: σήμαντρον) or semanterion (σημαντήριον), also called a xylon (ξύλον) (Romanian: toacă; Russian: било, bilo; Bulgarian and Serbian: клепало, klepalo) is a percussion instrument used in monasteries to summon monks to prayer or at the start of a procession ), followed by monks bearing religious flags, ripidions and the Holy Cross, by the group of priests, the icons of the Feast, of the Lord’s Entering Jerusalem, carried on shoulders by four clergymen, and by His Grace Varsanufie Prahoveanul, Assistant Bishop to the Archdiocese of Bucharest and by the thousands of faithful willow branches in their hands.
The pilgrimage began around 16.15 hours from Radu Voda Monastery, after the Vesper service was celebrated in the church monastery of Bucharest founded by prince Radu. After finishing the Vespers celebration, His Grace Varsanufie Prahoveanul, Assistant Bishop to the Archdiocese of Bucharest, consecrated the willow branches.
Then, His Grace shared the willow branches to the pilgrims and set off on the pilgrimage to the Metropolitan Cathedral of Saint Spiridon the New – Patriarchal chapel, on the route Radu Voda St, Marasesti Ave, Dimitrie Cantemir Ave, Bibescu Voda St, Serban Voda St. Here, at the Metropolitan Cathedral the first stop took place, at 17.15 hours, where a treble litany was said, while His Grace said the 2nd Condac of the Lord’s Entry in Jerusalem.
After this short liturgical moment the group of priests went to Saint Ecaterina church, chapel of “Patriarch Justinian” Faculty of Theology of Bucharest taking the following route: Principatele Unite St., Ienachita Vacarscu St., Saint Ecaterina St. At 17.30 hours, the same treble litany was said in front of Saint Ecaterina church and the 2nd Condac of the Akatistos of the Lord’s Entry in Jerusalem too, and then they all set off to the Patriarchal Cathedral.
At the Patriarchal Cathedral the pilgrims were met by His Beatitude Daniel, Patriarch of the Romanian Orthodox Church. His Beatitude consecrated the icon of the feast and delivered a sermon for all those preset on the Joy Hill.
His Beatitude explained the meaning of pilgrimage.
“The Palm Sunday pilgrimage has many spiritual meanings and it is very useful for our Christian life. Certainly, we remember only four of its many useful meanings. First, Palm Sunday pilgrimage is a commemoration or remembrance of our Lord’s entry in Jerusalem. Secondly, it is a proclamation of Christ’s victory over Lasarus’ death and a prediction of His own death as well as of the universal Resurrection at the Second coming of Jesus Christ, our Lord. Thirdly, the Palm Sunday pilgrimage is a blessing both for the people and for the city. Fourthly, the Palm Sunday pilgrimage is a prefiguration of our passage from this world into the heavenly Jerusalem, just as Christ, our Lord, passed through His Resurrection from the earthly Jerusalem to the heavenly Jerusalem”.
“The pilgrimage we are going on is a confirmation of what happened, of what took place when the Lord entered Jerusalem. So, just as those who loved and met Him with great joy in the Jerusalem on the earth, so must we meet Christ, our Lord, with joy in our city, house, and soul. (...) The participation in the Palm Sunday pilgrimage is not a wasted time, but a consecrated time, a time opened to eternity, it is the time when the scent and fragrance of eternal life come down, it is Lasarus’ joy, the joy of his sisters Martha and Maria, the joy of the Apostles and of the angels alike. The Palm Sunday pilgrimage is a prefiguration or pre-imagination, an anticipation of our passage from the earth to the eternal life in the never passing Kingdom of Heaven, as Saint Paul the Apostle says that here, in the world, we have no permanent but temporary city. Everything passes and we pass through the city too, and one day to the eternal life and the only thing that matters in our life is how much light we gathered in our souls through faith and good deeds and how much light we spread in our soul through the confessed faith as well as through virtues and good deeds in bloom and fruitful”.
His Beatitude Patriarch Daniel has also shown the significance of the branches and flowers the pilgrims hold in their hands during the pilgrimage.
“We are holding willow branches in our hands now. The willow shows both the joy of spring and the lowliness of the faithful man, especially the willow called weeping willow. After we have wept for 40 days for our sins, we are making for the Holy Week of the Holy Passions of Jesus Christ, our Saviour, to reach the Resurrection. We spiritually suffer together with Him in order to spiritually rejoice together with the One Risen from the dead. Saint John Chrysostom says that these branches and flowers that we hold in our hands on the Sunday of the Lord’s Entry in Jerusalem – and we did it in advance after the Vesper on the Saturday of Lasarus because we have already reached the Sunday of the Lord’s Entry in Jerusalem – symbolise the flowers of the virtues that we gathered in our souls during the Lent, after we have cleansed our souls of sins through confession, after we received light by listening to the Holy Scriptures, by attending the holy services, reading the writings of the saints and especially by taking the Eucharist of the flesh and blood of the Lord more often. Thus, these flowers and branches are the flowers and branches of the faith. So, we confess our faith through burning candles as well as through the flowers or branches of the feast of the Lord’s Entry in Jerusalem”.
“May God help us feel that Christ loves us just as He loved His friend Lasarus from Betania. He loved him so much that when He was in front of his grave Jesus was weeping! This is the shortest line of the New Testament: “ Jesus was weeping!“ (John 11:25). And the Jews said: “Look how much He loved him!” So, Christ, our Lord, loves every Christian who believes in Him and stays close to Him, who believes in Him and fulfils His will in his life. May Christ, our Lord, give us this joy, bless our life, houses, city and our country too, especially because such pilgrimages were organised all over the country today”, also said His Beatitude Patriarch Daniel.
To end with, His Beatitude Patriarch Daniel congratulated the organisers of the Palm Sunday pilgrimage and those who took active part in the publicizing of this event. The faithful present were given 5000 small icons on behalf of the Patriarch of Romania, representing the Lord’ Entry in Jerusalem.
The priests of deaneries 1, 2 and 3 of Bucharest, of Ilfov county, deanery Ilfov North and Ilfov South, the charitable priests of Bucharest, as well as the members of the Standing Meeting of the Church National Council participated in the Palm Sunday pilgrimage.
The origin of the Palm Sunday pilgrimage dates from the period of the 4th century when the Christians used to celebrate the Palm Sunday in quite a special way. There are some relations about the way in which the Entry of the Lord in Jerusalem was celebrated. The Western pilgrim Egeria (alias Silvia or Etheria) speaks in her travel notes to the Holy Places about the procession organised on this day after the celebration of the Divine Liturgy. At 13.00 hours all Christians gathered and went together with the servants and Bishop of the city to the Olive Mountain, till the place where the Lord rose to Heaven. So, around 17.00 hours, they came down to the Holy City, and the Christians of all ages and the children too, going in front of the Bishop, branches of willow and olive in their hands, were shouting: “Blessed is the One who comes in the Name of the Lord.” Upon arriving in the city, they went to the Holy Resurrection church where the Vesper services were celebrated. This beautiful tradition has been conveyed to our people too, till nowadays.
In 1948, the Palm Sunday pilgrimage was interdicted by the communist regime, but it was resumed in 2008 with the blessing of His Beatitude Patriarch Daniel.