30 - Palm Sunday, April 8, 2012

Centuries ago, St Gregory Palamas said in a Lenten sermon: “Just as the earth cannot yield worthwhile fruit without labor, so the soul cannot acquire anything which pleases God or leads to salvation without spiritual struggles.” (Homily 6, Veniamin, p. 42)

St Gregory is referring to the virtues that sprout and begin to grow in our souls from the spiritual struggles and labors of the ascetic disciplines of the Church. I see an association between St Gregory’s words and the palms that we hold in our hand this morning. For, these “palms of victory” the Church also calls in her Lenten texts, “palms of virtue”. And, with this, I remember the first week of Great Lent, when we heard the Church describe the ascetic discipline of the Lenten Fast as “the flower of abstinence that grows from the wood of the cross.” To me, this clearly indicates that the Lenten Fast is the “likeness” of the Cross. In taking up the Lenten Fast and using it as the weapon by which we labor in the struggle of dying to our ego and to the cravings of the flesh, we are taking up our cross in obedience to Christ in order to unite ourselves to Christ in the “likeness” of His death.

With all of these indications from the Church, I believe we can see the palms that we hold this morning in praise of Christ as emblems of the “flowers” of virtue that have begun to grow in our souls from our spiritual labor of taking up the Lenten Fast of the last six weeks as our cross.

“He who abides in Me and I in Him will bear much fruit, because apart from Me you are not able to do anything,” says Jesus to His disciples in the Upper Room before His Passion (Jn 15:5). If the ascetic discipline of the Lenten Fast is the likeness of Christ’s cross, then it is by taking up the Fast that we labor to unite ourselves to Christ in fulfillment of our baptismal oath. By means of the fast, we renounce the world and ourselves, we die to our ego and we struggle spiritually to turn to Christ in repentance. We “lose our life for Christ’s sake”. And, to the degree that we do the fast in the fear of God, with faith and love, to that degree we begin to abide in Christ and He in us. And, as we abide in Him through the fast, we produce much fruit. We bring forth many “palms of virtue”.

Christ says: “If you abide in Me and if My words abide in you, you may ask whatever you desire, and it will come to pass for you.” (Jn 15:7) If we abide in Christ and are obedient to His words, then Christ Himself abides in us through His words. And, if Christ abides in us, then the chief virtue, the biggest “palm” that should grow in our soul is love for Christ. What we desire in our love for Christ should be that He abide in us so that we can become one with Him in His suffering on the Cross and in the joy of His Holy Resurrection. In love for Christ who abides in us, the desire that we ask of Him is that God’s will, not our will, be done in our lives. And, what is the will of God for us? That none of us should perish, but that all should be saved and come to the knowledge of the Truth, and in this knowledge of the Truth, which is Christ, that we should love one another.

As we unite ourselves to Christ in love by means of the Lenten Fast, then our palms of virtue become palms of victory; for the virtues that sprout in our soul like flowers and begin to grow like fruit are the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy and peace in the Holy Resurrection of Christ. These fruits of the Spirit, then, are the first fruits that grow from our union with Christ in the likeness of His death. They are the fruits of His Holy Resurrection. They are the signs to us that Christ has destroyed death by His death and that the same Holy Spirit that raised Him from the dead is raising us from the death of our souls and bodies that followed from our sins and transgressions. They are the sign to us that we are being saved in Christ.

With these palms in our hands as emblems of the virtue and victory won by Christ on His Cross, we make ready to enter Great and Holy Week in the fear of God, with faith and love. With our eyes fixed on Christ this week through unceasing prayer and vigilance, let us call out to Him and ask Him to grant us our desire: that He would grant us to participate with Him this week, and indeed throughout our whole life, in the likeness of His death and in the likeness of His Holy Resurrection. Amen.