Parishioners of St. George Serbian Orthodox Church began gathering long before preparation for Divine Liturgy on Lazarus Saturday, April 20th. As has become customary for the church community, Fr. Aleksa offered an educational Divine Liturgy where the church school parents, families, and general parishioners could observe “Proskemedia” – the Preparation of the Gifts – as well as vesting and entry prayers.
With children gathered closely around him, Fr. Aleksa explained the prayers associated with each vestment, and quizzed the children on the liturgical tools and commemorations. As this was the fourth annual Lazarus Saturday educational Liturgy, many of the children in attendance were able to identify and articulate the process and the various components present on the table of oblation.
During the commemoration of the living, the many people there early lined up to offer their names on the diskos. Near the end of the service the children, as is customary, rang their bells in joyous procession.
The following day, on Sunday, April 21st, parishioners at St. George Serbian Orthodox Church gathered for Matins and the blessing of the Palms. People held their branches high in the air as the choir sang the Festal Troparion, “By raising Lazarus from the tomb…” and Fr. Aleksa blessed the waving branches with holy water.
This Palm Sunday, with the festal emphasis on children, Fr. Aleksa offered a “Children’s Sermon”, although it was as much for the adults as it was for the young people. Immediately after the reading of the Gospel, the children of the St. George parish came to the front of the church and took a seat on the floor at the foot of the steps. Fr. Aleksa spoke to the children of happiness that always seems to fade, causing us to seek more and more. He then gave the children an easy way to remember how to find a happiness that does not dissappear – “joy”: Jesus, first; Others, second; Yourself, last.
To the first, Father reminded the children that knowing who Jesus Christ is, as our Lord and Savior, reveals to us the depth of God’s love for humankind. Making our Lord Jesus Christ the first priority in this life not only teaches us that we are not alone, but it opens for us to a life that is rooted in light and resurrection.
To the second, Fr. Aleksa then reminded the children of the many times in Scripture where we are called to love our neighbor. He then offered that when we care for others, we open our hearts to a type of happiness that is firmly planted in the love of God. That kind of happiness does not fade away so quickly. In fact, spreading the love of God to other people spreads happiness an joy in the world.
Finally, Fr. Aleksa reminded the children that in true “joy”, “yourself” is last – and he spoke of the Lord’s great humility on the Feast of Palms. He asked the children a series of questions: Did our Lord ride in on a noble steed, or a great horse of war? No? What animal did carry him triumphantly into Jerusalem? Did politicians and noblemen greet him with money and accolades? No? Who was waving the palms of victory and shouting Hosanna? In every instance the children, who sat quietly and with great attention, raised their hands and answered well.
The children’s sermon concluded with a final thought on ‘happiness’ in this life: From our humility, and by putting ourselves last – after our Lord Jesus Christ and the “other” – we find a joy that does not end.
After Liturgy, the children of the parish joined their church school teachers to complete their “Passport to Pascha” as the parents and other members of the church community enjoyed fellowship over Lenten food and coffee.