Panel showing the Nativity, the Entry, and the Crucifixion (Mt Sinai)
Behind Christ, His disciples follow, usually headed by Peter and John – both Apostles being described as “pillars of the Church” by the Fathers.
John and Peter follow Christ (Venice, 12th Century)
For this reason, in some Icons, Christ is shown turning back to the Apostles, as if exhorting them to continue.
Russian Icon with a Willow instead of a Palm tree (18th Century)
That children are laying down their garments and cutting down palm branches is a detail found in almost all Icons of the Entry into Jerusalem, despite not being explicitly stated in Scriptures. However, the Icons are in perfect harmony with the hymns of the Church, which do specifically mention children:
Mounted on the throne in heaven, Christ God, and on the foal on earth, you accepted the praise of the Angels and the hymn of the children who cried to you: Blessed are you who come to call back Adam.(Kontakion for Palm Sunday)
The message is clear: it is those with child-like simplicity and devotion who truly praise the Lord, whilst the adults – both the Apostles and the Jews – tend to get distracted and start wondering among themselves. In many icons the children taking off their clothes are revealed to be wearing white robes underneath, further emphasizing their purity and innocence. From the 14th century onwards a small detail appears of a child pulling a thorn from the foot of another. The thorn is picked up from climbing the palms, but the message behind this is that it is the spiritual ascent which is rough and uncomfortable, even for innocents.
The didactic function of the images reflects the ancient homilies of the Church Fathers, which link the event with the celebration, and the rituals of the celebration with our own lives. From St Andrew of Crete’s homily for Palm Sunday:“Let us go together to meet Christ on the Mount of Olives. Today he returns from Bethany and proceeds of his own free will toward his holy and blessed passion, to consummate the mystery of our salvation.… Let us run to accompany him as he hastens toward his passion, and imitate those who met him then, not by covering his path with garments, olive branches or palms, but by doing all we can to prostrate ourselves before him by being humble and by trying to live as he would wish. Then we shall be able to receive the Word at his coming, and God, whom no limits can contain, will be within us.”