Holy Fire’s source kept se­cret

Many be­lieve it’s a sign Je­sus has not for­got­ten us

SundayXtra - - NEWS CANADA I WORLD - By Ian Deitch

JERUSALEM — The dark hall in­side Chris­tian­ity’s holi­est shrine was il­lu­mi­nated with the flames from thou­sands of can­dles Satur­day as wor­ship­pers par­tic­i­pated in the holy fire cer­e­mony, a mo­men­tous spir­i­tual event in Ortho­dox Easter rites.

Chris­tians be­lieve Je­sus was cru­ci­fied, buried and res­ur­rected at the site where the Church of the Holy Sep­ul­cher now stands in the Old City of Jerusalem. While the source of the holy fire is a closely guarded se­cret, be­liev­ers say the flame ap­pears spon­ta­neously from his tomb on the day be­fore Easter to show Je­sus has not for­got­ten his fol­low­ers. The rit­ual dates back at least 1,200 years. Thou­sands of Chris­tians waited out­side the church for it to open Satur­day morn­ing. Cus­tody of the Church of the Holy Sep­ul­cher is shared by a num­ber of de­nom­i­na­tions that jeal­ously guard their re­spon­si­bil­i­ties un­der a frag­ile net­work of agree­ments ham­mered out over the last mil­len­nia. In ac­cor­dance with tra­di­tion, the church’s doors were unlocked by a mem­ber of a Mus­lim fam­ily, who for cen­turies has been the keeper of the an­cient key that is passed on from gen­er­a­tion to gen­er­a­tion.

Once in­side, cler­gy­men from the var­i­ous Ortho­dox de­nom­i­na­tions in robes and hoods jos­tled for space with lo­cal wor­ship­pers and pil­grims from around the world.

Top Ortho­dox cler­gy­men de­scended into the small cham­ber mark­ing the site of Je­sus’ tomb as wor­ship­pers ea­gerly waited in the dim church clutch­ing bun­dles of un­lit can­dles and torches.

Af­ter a while, can­dles emerged lit with “holy fire” — said to have been lit by a mir­a­cle as a mes­sage to the faith­ful from heaven

Bells rang as wor­ship­pers rushed to use the flames to ig­nite their own can­dles.

In sec­onds, the bursts of light spread through­out the cav­ernous church as flames jumped from one can­dle to an­other. Clouds of smoke wafted through the crammed hall as flashes from cam­eras and mo­bile phones doc­u­mented what is for many the spir­i­tual event of a life­time.

Some held light from the “holy fire” to their faces to bask in the glow, while oth­ers dripped wax on their bod­ies. Is­raeli po­lice spokes­woman Luba Samri said tens of thou­sands of wor­ship­pers par­tic­i­pated in the cer­e­mony.

Many couldn’t fit in­side the church and the nar­row wind­ing streets of the Old City were lined with pil­grims.

The “holy fire” was passed among wor­ship­pers out­side the Church and then taken to the Church of the Na­tiv­ity in the West Bank town of Beth­le­hem, where tra­di­tion holds Je­sus was born, and from there to other Chris­tian com­mu­ni­ties in Is­rael and the West Bank.

Later it is taken aboard spe­cial flights to Athens and other cities, link­ing many of the 200 mil­lion Ortho­dox world­wide.

— The As­so­ci­ated Press

DAN BALILTY / THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Chris­tian pil­grims hold can­dles at the Church of the Holy Sep­ul­cher in Jerusalem, tra­di­tion­ally be­lieved to be the burial site of Je­sus Christ.

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