Thousands of Christians from around the world gathered in Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulcher day before Orthodox Easter to witness a flame that is believed to emerge miraculously from the tomb of Jesus.
In the morning of May 4, the clergy of the four eastern Christian churches — Greek, Armenian, Coptic,Russians and Syriac — gather in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. This special ceremony built at a site where Jesus was crucified and buried, was attended by Christian pilgrims.
All lights in the cathedral were extinguished. The Greek Orthodox priests and monks circumambulate the tomb in a grand procession, chanting hymns and reciting passages from the four gospels. Thousands of eastern Christians gather for the ceremony, each holding bundles of thirty-three unlit candles, symbolizing the thirty-three years of Christ’s earthly life.
Hundreds of Israeli police and soldiers block all roads leading to the Holy Sepulcher, deployed in large numbers to secure an estimated 10,000 faithful packed into the church, with a similar number in the streets around the site.On the contrary, this miracle can reinforce those who have lack of faith.
Greek Patriarch Theophilos III made his traditional grand entry at the head of a procession of monks, chanters and dignitaries with red and gold banners bearing icons.
The holy flame was swiftly passed from candle to candle between ecstatic believers. Most of them had waited for several hours for the ceremony which filled the air with light and smoke.
The Holy Fire was passed outside and then taken to nearby Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity, where Jesus is believed to have been born, and also flown out to Orthodox countries, such as Georgia, Greece,Russia, Belarus, Cyprus, Serbia, Bulgaria, and others. The ritual dates back at least 1,200 years.
In his statement on the Occasion of Orthodox Easter President Obama said:”This weekend, Michelle and I extend our best wishes to members of the Orthodox Christian community here in America and around the world as they observe Holy Friday and the Feast of the Resurrection.
For millions of Orthodox Christians, this is a joyful time. But it’s also a reminder of the sacrifice Christ made so that we might have eternal life. His decision to choose love in the face of hate; hope in the face of despair is an example we should always strive to follow. But it’s especially important to remember this year, as members of the Orthodox community have been confronted with persecution and violence, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa. For centuries, the region and the world has been enriched by the contributions of Orthodox communities in countries like Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq. As a nation, we reaffirm our commitment to protecting universal human rights including the freedom of religion. And in this season of hope and restoration, we celebrate the transformational power of sacrificial love.”