|By Niels Christian Hvidt
"On Holy Saturday believers gather in great crowds in the Church
of the Holy Sepulchre. For on this day fire comes down from Heaven
and puts fire on lamps in the church."
This ceremony, described above by one of the many pilgrims visiting
Jerusalem during Easter, has occurred yearly for centuries and includes
the unexplainable event of the Holy Fire igniting candles and oil
lamps. Orthodox Christians cherish it as the greatest of miracles
and see it as a continuous reminder of the Lord's resurrection.
The author and his companions travelled to Israel to be present
at this ceremony and to speak to some of the persons who have witnessed
the miracle and whose lives it has inspired.
|The ceremony of the Holy Fire has taken place
ever year for nearly fifteen centuries, at the same time, in the
same manner, and at the same location. It draws ever-growing crowds
of pilgrims to the Holy City each Easter season. The ceremony surrounding
"The Miracle of the Holy Fire" appears to be one of the
oldest recurring Christian ceremonies in the world. From the fourth
century AD all the way up to our own time, sources recall the ceremony.
The Church Historian, Eusebius, writes in his Vita Constantini
which dates from around 328 about an interesting occurrence in Jerusalem
of Easter in the year 162. When the churchwardens were about to
fill the lamps to make them ready to symbolise the resurrection
of Christ, they suddenly noticed that there was no more oil left
to pour in the lamps.
Upon this, Bishop Narkissos ordered the candles to be filled with
water. He then told the wardens to ignite them. In front of the
eyes of all present every single lamp burned as if filled with pure
The Orthodox Church believes that this miracle, which predates the
construction of the Holy Sepulchre in the fourth Century, is related
to the Miracle of the Holy Fire. They admit that the two differ,
as the former was a one-time occurrence while the Miracle of the
Holy Fire occurs every year. However, they have in common premise
that God has produced fire where there logically speaking should
have been none.
Around 385 Etheria, a noble woman from Spain, traveled to Palestine.
In the account of her journey, she speaks of a ceremony by the Holy
Sepulchre of Christ, where a light comes forth (ejicitur) from the
small chapel enclosing the tomb, by which the entire church is filled
with an infinite light (lumen infinitum).
It is not clear, whether her words refer to an alleged miraculous
occurrence or to the bishop, who emerged from the tomb with the
flame, possibly ignited from a perpetual flame inside the sepulchre
Things become clearer in an itinerary written by a monk named Bernhard
after his journey to Jerusalem in the year 870. He describes an
angel who came down after the singing of the "Kyrie Eleison"
and ignited the lamps hanging over the burial slab of Christ, whereupon
the Patriarch passed the flame to the bishops and to everyone else
in the church.
In 926 the Arabic historian Ma'sûdi travelled to Palestine,
and his account describes a similar event: on Easter Saturday Christians
gathered from the entire country at the sepulchre, as on that particular
day fire came down from heaven igniting the candles of those present.
"The Chapel with the tomb where the fire first proceeds."
|Different sources reveal varying practices around
the ceremony of the Holy Fire. Ancient and modern sources alike
relate that pilgrims see the fire not only inside the Holy Sepulchre
but also in Saint James Church next to the sepulchre itself, although
the basic elements of the miraculous ignition of candles remain
The Russian abbot Daniel, in his itinerary, written in the years
1106-07, presents the "Miracle of the Holy Light" and
the ceremonies that frame it in detail. According to Daniel, the
night before the miracle, churchwardens cleaned the church and all
the lamps inside it. They then filled the lamps with pure oil and
left them darkened.
Daniel reports that the tomb was sealed with wax at the second hour
of the night, and remained sealed with the closed oil lamps standing
on the tomb
"the Greek lamps being there where the head
lay, and that of Saint Sabas and all the monasteries in the position
of the breast."
While the doors remained sealed, the entire church waited for the
Holy Fire. The next day, after the fire had come, the "Bishop,
followed by four deacons, then opened the doors of the Tomb and
entered with the taper of Prince Baldwin so as to light it first
with the Holy Light". Daniel concludes, "We lighted our
tapers from that of the Prince, and so passed on the flame to everyone
in the church".
It appears that during some vigils pilgrims waited for hours for
the fire to come, as it did not always appear at the same hour.
Thus Theoderich, who wrote his account in 1172, says that sometimes
the Holy Fire appeared about the first hour, sometimes about the
third hour, the sixth, the ninth hour, or even so late as the time
Also Theoderich-admits that the fire would appear first in a variety
of places-sometimes in the Holy Sepulchre, sometimes in the Temple
of the Lord, and sometimes in the Church of St. John outside the
Holy Sepulchre itself.
"Orthodox Christians have celebrated the ceremony of the
Holy Fire for many centuries. It is considered the greatest of
|The number of similar testimonies have increased
along with the growing number of pilgrims going to the Holy Land,
producing in an uninterrupted flow of first-hand accounts right
to our times. However, the report written by the English chronicler,
Gautier Vinisauf, deserves special attention as it relates a very
interesting anecdote about the ceremony as it occurred in the year
In 1187, the Saracens under the direction of Sultan Salah ad-Dîn
took Jerusalem. In that year, the Sultan desired to be present at
the celebration, even though he was not a Christian. Gautier Vinisauf
tells us what happened: "On his arrival, the celestial fire
descended suddenly, and the assistants were deeply moved.
The Christians demonstrated their joy by chanting the greatness
of God, the Saracens on the contrary said that the fire which they
had seen to come down was produced by fraudulent means. Salah ad-Dîn,
wishing to expose the imposture, caused the lamp, which the fire
from heaven had lighted, to be extinguished, but the lamp relit
He caused it to be extinguished a second time and a third time,
but it relit as of itself. Thereupon, the Sultan confounded cried
out in prophetic transport: 'Yes, soon shall I die, or I shall lose
Jerusalem.' This prophecy was accomplished, for Salah ad-Dîn
died the following Lent."
But what exactly happens in the Holy Sepulchre Church on Easter
Saturday? Why does it have such an impact on the Orthodox tradition?
And why does it seem as if nobody has heard anything about this
miracle in Protestant and Catholic countries when it in many ways
is more stunning than many Western miracles ?
|One of the Most Famous Ceremonies in the
|In fact, the miracle still occurs today in the
Church of the Holy Sepulchre in much the same manner as medieval
sources reported it. It is no coincidence that millions of believers
consider this the holiest place on earth: theologians, historians
and archaeologists believe it includes both Golgotha, the little
hill on which Jesus Christ was crucified, as well as the "new
tomb" near Golgotha that received Christ's dead body, according
to the Gospel account. It is on this same spot that Christ rose
from the dead.
Since Constantine the Great built The Holy Sepulchre Church in the
middle of the fourth century, the church has been destroyed many
times. The Crusaders constructed the church that we see today. Around
Jesus' tomb was erected a little chapel with two rooms, one little
room in front of the tomb and the tomb itself, which holds no more
than four people. It is this chapel that is the centre of the miraculous
Being present at the celebration fully justifies the term "event,"
for on no other day of the year is the Holy Sepulchre Church so
packed than on Orthodox Easter Saturday. If one wishes to enter
it, one has to reckon with six hours of queuing, and each year hundreds
of people cannot enter because the crowds are so large.
|Pilgrims come from all over the world, the majority
from Greece, but in recent years increasing numbers from Russia
and the former Eastern European Countries have also come.
In order to be as close to the tomb as possible, the pilgrims camp
around the tomb-chapel on Good Friday afternoon in anticipation
of the wonderful event on Holy Saturday. The miracle happens at
2:00 PM, but by 11:00 AM the Church is bustling with activity.
Every year, small fights occur between the different groups of Christians
in the Church. If one finds no other reason why Christians ought
to seek greater unity it would be enough to go to Jerusalem for
the ceremony of the Holy Fire to observe the confusion and lack
of peace that reigns in the Holy Sepulchre among the many Christian
"Prior to the arrival of the miraculous fire, Palestinian
dance according to their custom at the ceremony."
|From around 11:00 AM till 1:00 PM, the Christian
Arabs sing traditional songs in loud voices. These songs date back
to the Turkish occupation of Jerusalem in the 13th Century, a period
in which Christians were not allowed to sing their songs anywhere
but in the Churches.
"We are the Christians, this we have been for centuries and
this we shall be for ever and ever, Amen!" they sing at the
top of their voices, accompanied by the sound of drums. The drum-players
sit on the shoulders of others who dance ferociously around the
Sepulchre Chapel. But at 1:00 PM the songs fade out, leaving silence-a
tense and loaded silence electrified by the anticipation of the
manifestation of God that all are waiting to witness.
"Every year Israeli authority check the tomb so it does
not conceal any lights, whereafter it is sealed until the arrival
of the patriarch."
|At 1:00 PM a delegation of the local authorities
elbows through the crowds. Even though these officials are not Christian,
they are part of the ceremonies. In the times of the Turkish occupation
of Palestine they were Moslem Turks; today they are Israelis. For
centuries the presence of these officials has been an integral part
of the ceremony, as their function is to represent the Romans in
the time of Jesus.
The Gospels speak of Romans that went to seal the tomb of Jesus,
so his disciples would not steal his body and claim he had risen.
In the same way the Israeli authorities on this Easter Saturday
come and seal the tomb with wax. Before they seal the door it is
customary that they enter the tomb to check for any hidden source
of fire, which could produce the miracle through fraud.
Just as the Romans were to guarantee that there was no deceit after
the death of Jesus, likewise the Israeli Local Authorities are to
guarantee that there will be no trickery in the year 2000.
The Patriarch enters and encircles the tomb chapel three times
|After the tomb has been checked and sealed, all
people in the Church chant the Kyrie Eleison. At 1:45 PM
the Patriarch enters the scene. In the wake of a large procession
holding liturgical banners, he circles the tomb three times and
then stops in front of its entrance.
Then he takes off his royal liturgical vestments, leaving upon himself
only his white alba as a sign of humility and respect in front of
the portent of God that he is about to witness. All the oil-lamps
have been blown out prior to the ceremony, and now all remains of
artificial light are extinguished, so that the Church is enveloped
Holding two large unlighted candles, the patriarch enters the Chapel
of the Holy Sepulchre - first into the small room in front of the
tomb and from there into the tomb itself.
To understand what happens when the patriarch enters the inner room,
we need to hear his personal testimony. The following testimony
is that of His Beatitude, Pattiarch Diodorus I.
Three former patriarchs in the long chain of those
Greek-Orthodox leaders who first receive the flame.
|Interview with His Beatitude Patriarch
Diodorus I on the
Miracle of the Holy Fire
|His Beatitude Patriarch Diodorus I was born in
1923. He first came to Jerusalem in 1938 and assisted the Miracle
of the Holy Fire ever since. In 1981 he was elected Patriarch and
was thus the key witness to the Holy Fire 19 times until his death
in December 2000, as the Greek-Orthodox patriarchs always enter
the little tomb chapel where the flame first occurs. I spoke with
him at the Orthodox Easter, 2000.
His Beatitude Diodorus I during interview with the author.
|"Your Beatitude, what actually occurs
when you enter the tomb on Holy Saturday during the ceremony of
the Holy Fire?"
"After all the lights are extinguished, I bow down and enter
the first chamber of the tomb. From here I find my way through the
darkness to the inner room of the tomb where Christ was buried.
Here, I kneel in holy fear in front of the place where our Lord
lay after his death and where he rose again from the dead.
Praying in the Holy Sepulchre in itself for me is always a very
holy moment in a very holy place. It is from here that he rose again
in glory and spread his light to the world. John the Evangelist
writes in the first chapter of his gospel that Jesus is the light
of the World.
Kneeling in front of the place where he rose from the dead, we are
brought within the immediate closeness of his glorious resurrection.
Catholics and Protestants call this church "The Church of the
Holy Sepulchre." We call it "The Church of the Resurrection".
The resurrection of Christ for us Orthodox is the centre of our
faith, as Christ has gained the final victory over death, not just
his own death but the death of all those who will stay close to
"I believe it to be no coincidence that the Holy Fire comes
in exactly this spot. In Matthew 28:3, the Gospel says that when
Christ rose from the dead, an angel came, dressed all in a fearful
light. I believe that the intense light that enveloped the angel
at the Lord's resurrection is the same light that appears miraculously
every Easter Saturday.
Christ wants to remind us that his resurrection is a reality and
not just a myth; he really came to the world in order to offer the
necessary sacrifice through his death and resurrection so that man
could be re-united with his creator.
"In the tomb, I say particular prayers that have been handed
down to us through the centuries and, having said them, I wait.
Sometimes I may wait a few minutes, but normally the miracle happens
immediately after I have said the prayers. From the core of the
very stone on which Jesus lay an indefinable light pours forth.
It usually has a blue tint, but the colour may change and take on
many different hues. It cannot be described in human terms. The
light rises out of the stone as mist may rise out of a lake - it
almost looks as if the stone is covered by a moist cloud, but it
This light behaves differently each year. Sometimes it covers just
the stone, while other times it gives light to the whole sepulchre,
so that people who are standing outside the tomb and look into it
see the tomb filled with light. The light does not burn - I have
never had my beard burnt in all the sixteen years I have been Patriarch
in Jerusalem and have received the Holy Fire. The light is of a
different consistency than the normal fire that burns in an oil-lamp.
"At a certain point the light rises and forms a column in which
the fire is of a different nature, so that I am able to light my
candles from it. When I thus have received the flame on my candles,
I go out and give the fire first to the Armenian Patriarch and then
to the Coptic. Thereafter I give the flame to all people present
in the Church."
"The Patriarch proceeds from the tomb with the ignited
|"How do you yourself experience the miracle
and what does it mean to your spiritual life?"
"The miracle touches me just as deeply every single year. Every
time it is another step towards conversion. For me it is of great
comfort to consider Christ's faithfulness towards us, which he displays
by giving us the holy flame every year in spite of our human frailties
and failures. We experience many wonders in our churches, and miracles
are nothing strange to us.
It happens often that icons cry, when Heaven wants to display its
closeness to us; likewise we have saints, to whom God gives many
spiritual gifts. But none of these miracles have such a penetrating
and symbolic meaning for us as the Miracle of the Holy Fire. The
miracle is almost like a sacrament. It makes the resurrection of
Christ as real to us as if he had died only a few years ago."
"Spreading of the flame"
|After the Patriarch passes the fire to the Armenian
and Coptic metropolitans, they in turn pass it through holes in
the walls of the tomb chapel to runners who are ready to carry it
swiftly to the various quarters of the denominations in the church.
Thus, the fire spreads like brush-fire.
While the patriarch remains inside the chapel kneeling in front
of the stone, outside the tomb it is dark but far from silent. One
hears a rather loud mumbling, and the atmosphere is very tense.
When the Patriarch finally emerges with the lit candles shining
brightly in the darkness, a roar of jubilee resounds in the Church.
|As with any other miracle, the Miracle of the
Holy Fire is a matter of faith and conviction, and there are those,
both non-orthodox and Orthodox, who do not believe it actually happens.
Both Greek and Latin authors have proposed the idea that the miracle
is fraud and nothing but a masterpiece of Orthodox propaganda. They
suggest that the Patriarch has a lighter or matches inside of the
tomb and lights his candles himself.
Such understandable criticism is, however, are confronted with a
number of problems. Matches and other means of ignition are recent
inventions. Not many decades ago, lighting a fire was an undertaking
that lasted much longer than the few minutes during which the Patriarch
is inside the tomb.
One could suggest that he had an oil lamp burning inside, from which
he kindled the candles, but the Israeli authorities always have
confirmed that they have checked the tomb and found no light inside
The best arguments against fraud, however, are not the testimonies
of the various patriarchs but the thousands of independent pilgrims
who during the centuries have written of how they saw the blue light
outside the tomb spontaneously lighting the candles in front of
their eyes without any possible explanation.
Often closed oil-lamps hanging in different places in the church
beyond the reach of the pilgrims caught fire by themselves. And
the person who experiences the miracle at close range, seeing the
fire igniting the candle or the blue light swaying through the church,
usually leaves Jerusalem changed. For many pilgrims I spoke to who
attended the ceremony, there was a "before and after"
the Miracle of the Holy Fire.
"Pilgrims express profound joy over the yearly arrival
of the Holy Fire."
|Several books have been written in Greek containing
testimonies of those who experienced the miracle. However, none
of these contain testimonies from recent decades. Archbishop Alexios
of Tiberias (Italiano Tiberiade) has taken upon himself this task
of collecting more current testimonies from pilgrims who had miraculous
experiences during the ceremony of the Holy Fire.
During four years, he has gathered these testimonies, signed by
the pilgrims, and his aim is to publish these in the near future.
Archbishop Alexios, who has participated in the ceremony every year
since 1967 decided to do this work after an experience related to
the Holy Fire in 1996.
"Archbishop Alexios of Tiberias who participated at the
ceremony for over 35 years.
| "After the ceremony, I went home to my
apartment situated in the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, up the hill
west of the Holy Sepulchre", he explains. "From here I
looked out of my window, and suddenly I saw a great luminous red
cross over the Dome of the Holy Sepulchre.
I blinked my eyes and looked again, yet the cross remained. I rushed
on to the roof of the house, thinking the cross might be the product
of the sun's reflections in the golden cross standing on the roof.
However, once I had arrived on the dome, I saw the same phenomenon
that I had seen from the window: Many meters above the dome's golden
cross, another cross of red light was hovering, extending its rays
far beyond the dome itself.
|"This experience was very profound for me,"
Archbishop Alexios continues. "I have assisted at the ceremony
since I was young and seen and experienced many unexplainable things
there. But this sign was so clear that I today can never doubt God's
miraculous interventions. If people say they don't believe in the
Miracle of the Holy Fire, I am not the one to try to correct them,
but I know they are wrong."
Metropolitan Vasilis, Delegate of Jerusalem Greek Orthodox Patriarch
Diodorus I, confirms Archbishop Alexios' affirmation. "I have
been in Jerusalem since 1939 when I came to the city at the age
of fifteen. I have attended the ceremony of the Holy Fire during
all these years, and have thus been a witness to the miracle 61
times. For me it is not a question of whether I believe in the miracle
I know it is true. Like many other believers, I testify that
the Holy Fire does not burn. Many times I passed the Holy Flame
under my beard it was not burned. Year after year, I have seen the
immediate and spontaneous lighting of the candles that the believers
held enclosed in their hands, and I have heard many testimonies
of people who either had their candles lit or saw the miraculous
flame as it passed through the church of the Holy Sepulchre.
To me the miracle is very important, especially as a memorial of
the resurrection of Our Lord. The Holy Bible says that when the
Lord rose from the dead, his tomb was bright, shining as if it were
day. I believe it is in memory of this most central element of our
faith that the Lord gives this marvelous sign, and so that it may
never be forgotten!"
"The flame is received with the same enthusiasm every
year. Each year, pilgrims have reported to have seen the blue
flame moving and acting freely, igniting closed candles and oil
lamps in the Church.
|Mr. Souhel Thalgieh, a young engineer from Bethlehem,
is another witness. Mr. Thalgieh has been present at the ceremony
of the Holy Fire since his early childhood. In 1996 he was asked
to film the ceremony from the balcony of the dome of the Church.
Present with him on the balcony were a nun and four other believers,
including the mother of Metropolitan Timothy. The nun stood at the
right hand of Thalgieh. On the video one can see how he aims the
camera down down at the crowds. At the designated moment, all lights
are turned off and the Patriarch enters the tomb to receive the
While the Patriarch is still inside the tomb one suddenly hears
a scream of surprise and wonder originating from the nun standing
next to Thalgieh. The camera begins to shake, and one hears the
excited voices of the other people present on the balcony.
The camera then turns to the right, capturing the cause of the emotion:
A large candle, held in the hand of the Russian nun, caught fire
in front of all people present apparently before the patriarch came
out of the tomb. With shaking hands she holds the candle while over
and over making the sign of the Cross in awe of the portent she
"Orthodox pilgrims consider the flame a great treasure".
|In another of the many testimonies, Archimedes
Pendaki of Athens, Greece, reports that the experience of the miracle
became the impetus that eventually led him to become an Orthodox
priest. Father Pendaki experienced the miracle in 1983. In the preceeding
years, he had drifted further and further away from the Orthodox
faith of his family, and only rarely did he enter a church.
His mother, who was very religious, convinced him after much arguing
to come to Jerusalem and witness the Miracle of the Holy Fire. While
mother and son were standing in the Holy Sepulchre Church it so
happened that the candle of Pendaki's mother lighted spontaneously
before their eyes.
Archimedes at first raged at her, accusing her of trickery to make
him believe, but deep inside he knew very well that she would never
invent such a thing. Furthermore she was not able to produce the
portent herself. The event continued to disturb his thoughts until
he could not ignore it any more, and the need to explore the faith
of his youth in depth led him to the Holy Mountain of Athos. After
some years, he decided to become a priest.
In the year 2000, the blue flame again lighted the candles of many
people. According to Archbishop Alexios, a monk was standing close
to the door of the sepulchre. While the patriarch was still inside
the tomb, the monk received the flame on his candle to the great
astonishment of the people standing around him. From his candle,
the fire spread on the side of the tomb.
A young man from the Greek island of Rhodos testified that he saw
the fire coming as a cloud above the monk, descending to light his
|Fire and The Presence of God
|The Orthodox Christians are not the only ones
to associate light with the presence and activity of God. In the
Biblical writings, light often accompanies great miraculous works
of God. About Moses' meetings with God on Mount Sinai the Bible
says: "Mount Sinai was entirely wrapped in smoke, because Yahweh
had descended on it in the form of fire.
The smoke rose like smoke from a furnace and the whole mountain
shook violently" (Ex 19,18 ff). Later in Exodus, it says: "To
the watching Israelites, the glory of Yahweh looked like a devouring
fire on the mountain top" (Ex 24,17). After Moses had stood
face to face with God, his face shone so powerfully that he had
to cover it, lest the people get hurt (Ex 34,29 ff).
When Jesus was transfigured in front of the disciples on Mount Tabor,
"the aspect of his face changed and his clothing became sparkling
white" (Lk. 9,29). Likewise, after Jesus' resurrection, the
women met by the grave "two men in brilliant clothes"
(Lk 24,4). Light and the mighty works of God go hand in glove.
"The fire is considered holy."
|The Church Fathers considered light to be a symbol
of God, especially of God's love. Thus Gregory the Great (530-604)
writes: "God is called light because he embraces the flames
of his love-the souls in which he abides." In the same way,
Orthodox Christians consider the Miracle of the Holy Fire a manifestation
of God's power and of His presence.
"We believe the flame to be holy", says Archbishop Alexios,
"almost as a sacrament, ontologically related directly to God
himself. The pilgrims move their hands back and forth over the flame
and caress their faces with the hands that touched the flames."
|The Pan-Orthodox and Ecumenical Significance
of the Ceremony
|The miracle is important not only to the individual
Christians whose faith it strengthened, but also because it plays
a very important ecumenical role. The ceremony takes place every
year on the Orthodox Easter Saturday and is celebrated together
with all the Orthodox Christian communities. There are many types
of Orthodox Christians: Syrian, Armenian, Russian and Greek Orthodox
as well as Copts.
In the Holy Sepulchre Church alone there are seven different Christian
Denominations, and all, except the Catholics, take part in the ceremony.
The Orthodox Easter date is fixed according to the Julian Calendar,
which means that their Easter normally falls on a different date
than the Protestant and Catholic Easter which is determined by the
Eurpoean Gregorian calendar. Thus in the year 2000 the Orthodox
Easter fell one week after the Easter of the West.
Since the schism between East and West in 1054 the "Two lungs
of the Body of Christ," as Pope John Paul II describes the
Orthodox and Catholic communities, have lived separate existences.
But for the first two hundred years after the schism, the Miracle
of the Holy Fire had such unifying power that it gathered Catholics
and Orthodox to celebrate the event together despite their differences.
Only after 1246, when Catholic Christians left Jerusalem with the
defeated Crusaders, did the Miracle of the Holy Fire become a purely
Orthodox ceremony as the Orthodox remained in Jerusalem even after
the Turks' occupation of Palestine.
Metropolitan Timothy, who was the Patriarchate's representative
to the recent ecumenical celebration of the opening of the Holy
Doors of Saint Paul's Cathedral in Rome, said to me that the ecumenical
and unifying power of the Holy Fire is quite exceptional.
"Until the thirteenth Century the entire church celebrated
the ceremony of the Holy Fire," he says. "Even after the
Catholics left Jerusalem with the crusaders it has remained a unifying
ceremony for those of us who stayed here, that is, for all the different
branches of the Orthodox world.
"The ceremony of the Holy Fire gathers representatives from
all the Orthodox communities."
| "The flame first comes in a miraculous
way from Christ to the Greek Orthodox Patriarch inside the Tomb.
He gives it to the Armenian and Coptic metropolitans, who hand it
on to the remaining communities and they in turn, spread it to their
"From them it passes beyond the Holy Sepulchre to every corner
of the Orthodox world. After the ceremony is over, believers from
all Israel and Palestine carry it to the homes of their relatives.
Pilgrims who come from far away make provisions, buying special
oil-lamps with which they carry the flame to their countries. Olympic
Airways helps the Orthodox to distribute the flame to many countries,
especially to Alexandria in Egypt and to Russia, but also to Georgia,
Bulgaria, and the USA.
Each year we write letters of recommendation to the Israeli Ministry
of Religious Affairs, which in turn assist pilgrims who carry the
lanterns with the Holy Fire through customs and into their respective
aircrafts. This is how important the spreading of the flame is to
It is holy, and it keeps reminding us of how the one Holy Spirit
is present in all the parts of the Body of Christ. Like blood being
pumped by the heart into all members of a body, so the fire spreads
from Jerusalem to all parts of the Orthodox community, reminding
the faithful of the origins and unity of their faith. It has a tremendous
unifying power to the Orthodox communion," Metropolitan Timothy
"Archbishop Alexios of Tiberias brings the Holy Fire to Athens
and is received with the honours of a statesman."
|One might ask the question why the Miracle of
the Holy Fire is hardly known in Western Europe. In the Protestant
areas it may be explained by the fact that there is little traditional
teaching regarding miracles; people don't really know how to approach
them, and they don't take up much space in newspapers.
The Catholic Church, however, has a long tradition of miracles,
so why is the Miraculous Fire not better known amoung Western Catholics?
One important reason may be that the ceremony is performed only
by Orthodox Christians, on the Orthodox Holy Saturday; hence, Christians
of other communities may consider it an internal Orthodox affair.
Also, apologetic motives could play a role. Some Orthodox might
insist that the miracle occurs in the presence of Orthodox Christians
because the Orthodox Church is the only legitimate Church of Christ
in the world. This tendentious explanation would cause a certain
uneasiness in Catholic and Protestant circles. However, Archbishop
Alexios disagrees with this stance: "The miracle does not prove
anything of the sort.
It is not a weapon of proselytism, creating division. It is not
a proof that we are the only legitimate Christians. Rather, for
us Orthodox, the miracle is a source of joy as it leads to greater
unity in the Orthodox world, uniting us around this event. But not
only this. I personally hope that the miracle can augment the awareness
among Catholic Christians of how God is alive and active in the
Orthodox Church, just as we are aware that he is present and active
in the Catholic Church.
Christ is one and works wonders for all his children. How I wish
that this awareness of the oneness of Christ and his wondrous creativity
would be an incentive towards full unity between us Christians."
Meinardus, Otto. The Ceremony of the Holy Fire in the Middle
Ages and to-day. Bulletin de la Société d'Archéologie
Copte, 16, 1961-2. Page 242-253
Klameth, Dr. Gustav. Das Karsamstagsfeuerwunder der heiligen
Grabeskirche. Wien, 1913.