Painted in 1497, it is held in the Monastery-Museum of Saint Cyril on the White Lake, in northern Russia.
As news spread of the raising of Lazarus, the people of Jerusalem learned of Jesus’ approach to the Holy City: here the crowds come out to greet him with a triumphal welcome (Jn 12:12-13). In the shadow of the Mount of Olives, symbol of the divine presence, Jesus advances. The prophecies (Zec 9:9) and the Gospels (Mt 21:5) describe him as seated on a young donkey. As this was an unknown animal in the northern regions of 15th-century Russia, the hagiographer replaces it here with a horse.
The Apostles follow the Lord, with Peter and John at their forefront, as they will soon also be at the tomb. Jesus looks back at them and, in a reference to the episode in which they beg him not to return to Jerusalem (Jn 11:7-16), points out to them the city gates with his right hand. The tree of life planted firmly on the holy mountain figures in the center of the icon, as it was in the center of the Garden of Eden. It will provide the palms to hail the New Adam, as well as the wood of the cross. It divides the icon in two, the discernment between the old and the new covenants.
They had foreseen the Savior and so long desired his coming
On the right, coming out of the city toward Jesus, a crowd of the just of the Old Testament stand before him with palms in hand. They had foreseen the Savior and so long desired his coming that they receive him in triumph. At their head, Elijah and Moses point Jesus out as the true Messiah. And with them rush forward all Jesus’ Jewish contemporaries who believed in him. Finally, leading the crowd of the sons of the promise, children strew their cloaks in the Lord’s path, bringing to life the words of Psalm 8:2-3:
How great is your name, O Lord our God,
through all the earth!
Your majesty is praised above the heavens;
on the lips of children and of babes
you have found praise to foil your enemy,
to silence the foe and the rebel.
On the lips of children your majesty is praised!
Once in the city, Jesus will go to the Temple. There, the priests and the scribes will be scandalized by the children again crying out: Hosanna to the son of David! (Mt 21:9). Jesus will silence them precisely by quoting Psalm 8. He had already warned his disciples that the real scandal, the worst, is, on the contrary, to harm any of the children who believe in him (Mt 18:6). Again and again, he insisted:
Do not despise any of these little ones,
for I say to you that their angels in heaven always
look upon the face of my heavenly Father (Mt 18:10).
At the beginning of Holy Week, let us contemplate this icon that underscores the eagerness of the little children to bless him who comes in the name of the Lord, and rediscover why the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these (Mt 19:14).