Palm Sunday is celebrated with the Divine Liturgy, when the altar curtain reopens, after being closed for the period of Lent.
The celebration marks the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem as he rode on a donkey. Crowds gathered to greet him spreading cloaks and branches before him, shouting “Hosanna in the highest” to welcome the long awaited Messiah.
Following the Divine Liturgy, the Trnpatsek ceremony (Opening of the Doors) takes place.
The story of Palm Sunday itself is going through a door, as Jesus enters Jerusalem. In the Armenian Church, it’s also the doorway to Holy Week. The door is the vivid central image of Trnpatsek. This ceremony involves two voices, the priest and the deacon, each positioned on either side of the door (or the closed altar curtain).
The deacon, is outside, kneeling in front of the door or curtain as he pleads on behalf of the faithful for the Lord to open His Kingdom to us.
The priest, who is positioned behind the door, inside the church or near the altar, represent the voice of Jesus Christ, guarding the gates of the Kingdom.
The service commences with the words “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. From the Lord’s house, we praise You!” These words are from the book of Psalms. The crowds of Jerusalem shouted them at Jesus when he entered the city on the first Palm Sunday.
“Confess the Lord, for He is good; His mercy will last forever. Out of my distress I called on the Lord, but with the Lord on my side, I have no fear. The Lord is my strength and my might; He has become my Salvation. Open to me this door of righteousness, that I may enter through it and confess the Lord.”
As the deacon is speaking for us, the faithful can join their voices with the deacon’s sharagan “Grant us vigilance…let the door of the mercy of the heavenly bridegroom be opened to us. You are my hope, O Lord…make me worthy of Your Holy Kingdom.” It’s at this point we hear the knock at the door as the deacon knocks three times. If the deacon is kneeling before the altar curtain, he strikes a wooden plank. All the while he chants the beautiful melody “Pats Mez Der” (Open for Us, Lord). “Open for us, Lord, the door of mercy, we cry to You lamenting.”
Now, from the other side of the door or curtain, we hear the priest, the voice of Christ calling to us “Come O blessed of My Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the beginning of the world.” It’s the answer all the faithful have been praying for. The doors open, the faithful enter the church and with spiritual joy we sing, “Open the doors of righteousness for me; Let me enter and confess the Lord.”
Trnpatsek points us to the true door and brings to life the words of Christ “I am the door; if anyone enters by Me, he will be saved.”
Palm Sunday is also proclaimed Children’s Blessing Day in the Armenian Apostolic Church. Traditionally, children come to Church with their families dressed in their Sunday best to partake in Holy Mass and a special blessing service before the altar. At the conclusion of the Church service, a procession is led outside the Church, by the celebrant, with the children holding decorated candles.
On Palm Sunday, churches are decorated with branches from willow trees and palm trees. Following a solemn morning service, the blessed branches are distributed to the faithful.
The triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem introduces the historical events leading up to Christ’s betrayal, crucifixion and resurrection. Together with Lazarus Saturday, the day before, it also commences the dense liturgical time of Holy Week. With joyous shouts of “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” the residents of Jerusalem greeted Jesus, telling those who were unsure of what was happing, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”
Jesus, Himself greeted as a prophet, was also the fulfillment and culmination of prophecies. This fulfillment is in part why we celebrate the Resurrection of Lazarus the week before Easter. Just like Jonah, who was in the belly of the great fish for three days, was a foreshadowing of Jesus’ Resurrection, so the resurrection of Lazarus anticipates the Resurrection of Christ, which all Christians celebrate on Easter.
Palm Sunday reminds each of us about the Coming of Christ, and teaches us to live in a manner that can make us worthy to stand before the Lord and exclaim: “Hosanna (Praise God)! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!”